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My First Little British Car

Dwight McCullough

My First Little British Car by Dwight McCullough

When I was a young man of 19,  just coming home from my six months of active duty in the Minnesota Army National Guard, from Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. And getting back into the swing of civilian life, doing the chores again on the family farm, working with my Dad building house's, and other odd jobs. I met Ross Pugsley, a year or so younger than myself. He was the son of my Dad's friend, Donald Pugsley. They had taken a job running a farm in Texas, with millionaire/philanthropist /earth mover manufacturer, LeTourneau.

They had worked there for about two years when they decided to return to Minnesota in Rush City, Minnesota. Ross had bought a 1961 Austin Healey Sprite in Texas, and drove in home to Minnesota. When he returned, he had picked up some Texas slang. Quite a bit in fact, as he called the Sprite, a "Spraat"  When he told me what he had bought, I had to question him several times before I could understand what kind of car it was.

But then back when I was still in high school, and they were building I35 near Pine City, a road construction worker had driven his early 50's Austin Healey Le Mans into town where I had a chance to see this car and talk to him. I was really hooked, as a young man had seen and talked about owning and driving "foreign sports cars" like MG's. Then later, in high school,  read the book, "The Red Car"  It was about a MG TC  that had been wrecked, rebuilt, and raced. This was far from the life I

had grown up in, riding around in, and getting my drivers training from my Dad, in 1950's Dodges with their fluid drive clutches, or non-syncromesh transmissions in his 1952 3/4 ton pickup.

Well, to get on with the story of my first LBC. Ross's car needed a engine rebuild, as it was smoking and leaking oil, and not running well. So he pulled the engine and sent it off to a friend who worked for one of the dealers in the city. This friend proceeded to rebuild the engine in his basement. And while Ross waited for this to get done, he kept pestering me to give him a hand putting it back together when he got it back.  So being the car nut I am, agreed.

Well it finally came, and we got 'er back together, and running. But it was leaking fuel from those awful cork glands on the jets, and the water pump was spraying water back unto the ignition wires and cap. Needless to say it ran terrible. Ross's solution was to "break it in" by doing what Phil Ethier calls "An Italian Tune-up".  Translated, means, revving the engine to high rpm's and driving like mad.

Well a few days later Ross let me know that in driving around town had skidded off the road into a telephone pole, breaking it off at the bottom. And as he couldn't get it to run right and was very discouraged, disappointed that it didn't have a bunch more power, decided to bail out of the car while he was ahead.

He offered to sell me the car!

Shocked and surprised, I didn't think I could afford it, nor was I capable of rebuilding the wreck,  to say nothing of getting this complicated, sophisticated "foreign sports car" running right. After all, these S.U. carburetors were the closest thing to fuel injection that you can get; As Ross had told me. Wow! This car has rack and pinion steering, and a four speed transmission, a tachometer, and other gauges, plus these sophisticated S.U. carburetors!

I gave it a couple of days, and told him on the condition that I could pay for it over a period of several months, store it in his Dad's pole barn and let me work on it there. His Dad agreed to those terms, and promised that he wouldn't let my Dad know. Whew!

Because I knew my Dad would never go along with this, and as I understood the law, couldn't sign for the car myself, as I was not 21 years old yet. [Don't know if this was true or not in 1964]

Well the left front of the bonnet was pushed in quite hard, the lower control arm was bent, but the steering seemed to be OK. I proceeded to tear it apart, and to assess the total damage. And then made my first trip to the cities' to buy parts from the dealer and looked for an used bonnet. Well Han's Auto parts had a bonnet that had been smashed in on the right side. So I drove down to Washington Avenue, at their old location, and brought that home in the trunk of my first car, a 1956 Plymouth two door hardtop. [Red and white] with the two speed push-button drive automatic. 270 c.i. V8. and started to collect parts, and plan how to get this all done. I found a body shop in Pine City that said they would work on it, and brought it into town. worried that Dad might find out.

Well this shop was located near the south end of town by the railroad tracks. But it sat and sat for what seemed like months to tthis then 20 year old. Finally, I asked them if they would do it, and they said they were too busy. So across town to another shop near the Plymouth dealer behind a service station. Where they got to work on it, and even let me help some. I did some of the sanding and other trim work. [what little there is on a Bugeye] They proceeded to cut both bonnets, in two, and weld them together. Welded over the old antenna hole, and sanded and paint the car. If only I could remember how much they charged me. If memory serves me, I think I paid $225 for the car, and still ,had less than $800 in the car when it was done. But please don't quote me, that's just too many years ago.

Well here's where the story gets exciting. One day I told my folk's I was going into town to take care of some business. Well turns out Dad followed me to town, and as I was working, pulled in and got out of his car.

He asked me, "What are you up to?"

My answer, "working on a car"

He said, "Whose car is it?"

My answer, "mine"

So he comes in, takes a look, and not remembering all that was said, I do remember, him saying,

"A Fool And His Money Are Soon Parted"

Nor do I remember if he asked me how and where I bought it. My growing up and becoming independent was difficult to say the least. Dad really wanted to control much of what I did, thought and believed, and owning a foreign car wasn't in the plan. After all, he was a "Dodge Man" But to his credit, he didn't make too much of a fuss. Mom was much more accepting.

By this time, my 21st birthday had come and gone, I had the car out by the freeway, south of town  at the Sinclair station, [Hwy 70 & I 35]  replaced the water pump, and fuel leak stopped. By October, in frustration at not having any say in the farmin' arguing with Dad about various things, decided it was time to leave.

So off to the "city" found some college friends of my brother in-law & sister to live with. In a big old house between Portland and Park Avenue in south Minneapolis. $100 a month rent divided between 5 guys was cheap. Got a job driving truck/fork lift, throwing mail bags at Billy Graham Evangelistic

Association. Whole $1.25 an hour! A few months later a friend from work rode with me and drove the Sprite to my place in Minneapolis. And early the next year in February of 1966 traded the car for a year old '65 MGB. that car had wire wheels, was red and had about 12,000 miles on it. The salesman at B& K Imports was John Nardi, who still in his eighties sells cars for Downtown Jaguar.

Is there more to this story?

Is this a true story?

Yes, there is!

Will I tell more about later?

Only if I can remember.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 February 2010 20:18 Written by Dwight McCullough

About the Author: Dwight Mc Cullough was born in the mid 1940's and grew up living in rural Minnesota on the farm and working under his father, who was also a self-employed Carpenter. A mechanic was not his fathers choice. Dwight later married and moved to the Suburbs where he, his wife and five kids lived for many years. Dwight's working year included working for a few small shops and later worked for dealerships including through the 1970s and the mid-1980's, for Sears Imported Autos, as a Mercedes-Benz Technician. After a back injury, he took the way Many Generations of men before him took with self-employment as a Mechanic. Running his small business, Dependable Car Maintenance, from the mid 1980's until late in the 1990's. He took up working with a tool repair and sales company between Minneapolis and Waite Park. During what others consider retirement years, he still runs a part time business serving others in the industry with Amsoil products, Fasteners and hardware needed in small service departments, as well as sales of tools and equipment. He considers himself a servant of those in the industry and loves working with others. 

Note: Here in 2024, Dwight can still be found at BMC a couple times a week helping us.          *Thanks Dad, and Happy Fathers Day!  -Brian Mc Cullough.

BMC British Automobile, brian June 16, 2024
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So your car has Fourty Thousand Miles on it?
* Sorry.  That Doesn't Count.  Anymore. *