The MGA With An Attitude
British Society - First All British car show

In summer of 1987, there was to be a (first annual) British Car Festival in the Chicago area. There seem to be various stories about how it all started. There are at least two dozen clubs in the Chicago metropolitan area for various makes and models of British cars, but in fact there is no all British car club here. Some of the single mark or single model British car clubs conspired to pool resources to put on a car show. It was done under the new organizational name "British Car Union". This is still not a traditional car club per se, having no membership. But each of a number of local car clubs send a representative to periodic meetings of the British Car Union (like a board of directors). Several of the clubs contributed some seed money, perhaps a few thousand dollars total, to get the ball rolling and to finance the initial advertising and other expenses involved. As formally organized, the British Car Union has a charter and a treasury, and is chartered as a non-profit corporation specifically for the purpose of organizing the British Car Festival. Pursuant to the Board meetings the individual planning representatives return to their respective clubs to spread the word and to distribute the work load and coordinate the various clubs in the common effort. Somehow it actually works.

Just coincidentally this happened during the first summer after my MGA was back on the road. Also just coincidentally the British Car Fest was to be held about a mile from my house at Danada Equestrian Center in Wheaton, Illinois. This is a nice traditional English style riding center, apparently not many horses there, but space enough to accommodate perhaps 150 vehicles in the paved car park. The show was to happen on a Sunday in early September, and more coincidentally my father happened to be visiting us for a few days leading up to the show date. It took a little convincing, but he did decide to go the car show before heading out of town. The evening before the show dad and I were out for a short cruise in the MGA, just for kicks. Arriving home to put the car in the garage, the gearbox got stuck firmly in 1st gear. Seems like the shift lever was cocked just a little farther than normal beyond the desired stopping place for 1st gear and it would shift no more, all available muscle power not withstanding. And this with only a few hundred miles on the clock since restoration. BIG bummer.

So there ensued an all night work stint in the shop to R&R the engine and the gearbox, to open the box to see what was amiss. Having the thing out of the car, and removing the remote shift housing, top cover and side cover, the gearbox problem mysteriously went away, and the entire mechanism looked perfectly normal. Go figure. Being totally perplexed, and pretty sure that the problem (whatever it was) was not actually cured, all I could do was to put it all back together and hope for the best. Fortunately to this day the problem has never re-occurred, and that particular gearbox has since been rebuilt (more than once), so I have by now let my guard down and do not expect it to happen again. With all due effort the car was once again motivated under its own power by the next morning, and we were able to attend the British Car Festival. Mind you this was not to be the last time an all night jam session in the garage was to be required, just never again for the same reason. During the night the center carpet section had to be virtually ripped off of the tunnel where it had previously been glued in place, so afterward it looked a little the worse for wear at the car show. Also the car was still missing a front bumper because I was having trouble sourcing one with the correct original profile, so I wasn't really expecting any trophy from the car show.

The car fest planning was a little slow or a little late, and there was not much advanced notice time prior to the show, with a lot of communication going about by word of mouth. As such there were not many pre-registrations. Thirty days prior to the show, three cars were registered. A week prior to the show maybe ten cars were registered. Prospects were so low that the organizers had to pay a vendor with a catering truck an advanced payment to show up for food service at the event. On the morning of the show about 30 cars were pre-registered. Everyone had fingers crossed waiting for more to come and register at the gate, hoping for at least 50 cars total so the gig might break even and not lose money. What actually happened here was that about 300 British cars came to the Festival, a lot of them had to be parked on the grass, and visitors had to park on the main road and walk in. The catering vendor ran out of food before noon and left. As a result of having so many cars parked on the grass we were informed that the show would not be welcome there the next year, so the show would ultimately find a new home at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Illinois.

But at least for that day we had a blast at the British Car Festival. Maybe half of the various car models represented there I had never seen before, so I took a quick trip home to grab a camera and some film, lots of film actually, and ended up taking a couple hundred pictures. Now many years and many car shows past I can identify most of the cars in those pictures, but I believe every car show manages to turn up another rare model I have never seen anywhere else. Perhaps the most memorable car that day was a 1933 Morgan Super Sport three wheel barrel back roadster with a two cylinder engine hung out on the extreme front end. That was supposed to be a two passenger car, but for sure you had to be really friendly so squeeze two people into the tiny cockpit. I had ferried my younger daughter (then 12 years old) to the show with the extra trip for the camera. She was impressed by a Mini Cooper that seemed just about her size, maybe appropriate for a family cruiser. Dad wanted to leave a little early to hit the road, so I took him home first then came back for my daughter.

The whole festival experience was impressive enough to start me thinking about the next NAMGAR national MGA meet to be held in Marietta, Ohio, the following July. I was wondering what it might be like to have up to a hundred MGA all in one place. Suddenly the priorities were being re-arranged and some new commitments posted on the calendar. Time would surely tell.

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