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Z Magnette Group of North America welcomes a favorite Brit

by Allen Bachelder

This story begins with a friendship that began over 20 years ago. It seems that Grant Howlett, of Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, had taken up residence in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States in order to further to extend his development of five-star hotels to North America. It so happened that Grant was custodian of a priceless automotive treasure: his late grandfather’s 1955 MG ZA Magnette, purchased new. Readers of Safety Fast are doubtless familiar with this distinctive, incredibly-maintained, unrestored totally original car – probably the best example of its kind in the world. And it’s driven – regularly!

Grant brought his treasure to Virginia with him, and soon joined the Shenandoah Valley British Car Club, participating in their annual premier British Car Festival in Waynesboro, Virginia – in fact – serving up hot-dogs and hamburgers, while daughter Abby tended to the Magnette.

Also present at these events was Allen Bachelder, from Blacksburg, Virginia. Allen had grown up in Minneapolis Minnesota where he once owned a new 1959 Morris Minor. Trips to the dealer for routine maintenance brought Allen face-to-face with a new 1958 MG ZB Magnette and Allen was totally smitten. One day he would own such a car – far beyond the resources of a 19-year-old college student. That promise to himself was never forgotten, and it was reawakened on sight of Grant’s car at one of these shows.

Grant and Allen travelled to many MG events together for several years and became the fast friends they remain today. As time moved on, Grant’s career took him back to the UK, but contact remained close. Most memorable was a visit to the Z Magnette 60th anniversary celebration in 2013. By this time, the friendship expanded to a triumvirate with the addition of Steve Kirby, also on Allen’s list of very best friends. Steve and Grant hit it off MAGnificently, and the event became incredibly memorable.

This long introduction finally brings us to 2016. Every five years since 1996, the various registers of North American MGs come together for a joint event. The first, in 1996 was at the home of the Indianapolis 500; the second in 2001, in St Paul Minnesota; the third in 2006 in Gatlinburg Tennessee, the fourth in Reno Nevada in 2011, and this last summer in Louisville Kentucky. Grant found that his schedule allowed attendance at this event and ZMGNA members flocked to make this as attractive as possible. So… Grant flew in to Detroit Michigan where Allen and his ZB Varitone, “Geraldine” picked him up on June 12th. From there, it was about 400 miles to Louisville, and “Geraldine”, with her MGB engine, five-speed transmission, 3.9 rear end, disc brakes and air-conditioning made that trip much too short and much too easy. I will not brag about “Geraldine”, I will simply admire her she cruising effortlessly down US Interstate 75 at speeds of 75-80 mph.

British Magnette owners have less cause to consider these modifications, as Allen and Steve learned during their 2013 visit to the UK. Except perhaps on the “M” roads, distances are on a smaller scale and original Magnettes are so comfortable, North American owners may wonder why they’ve gone to all the trouble. Long distances in North America practically force us to resort to the high-speed “dual-carriageways”. In any given year, many participants in any annual register event will find themselves driving anywhere from 1000 to 3000 miles. Driving such distances at less than 60 mph - with time to pass through intervening towns and cities - is almost unthinkable. Except for us fortunate retirees, there are time constraints requiring us to minimize the travel time to these events. And even for those of us who are retired, there are large parts of the US that do not always require our detailed attention. It is often most attractive to pass through these areas with dispatch. Thus we do not seek to build hot rods of our Magnettes, and certainly, Geraldine is no hot rod. But in her own quiet way, she will sustain freeway speeds without effort or noise. That is all that was expected from her. For Grant, we hope that was its own pleasure.

So, what is to be expected from Louisville Kentucky? Two things, mostly: horse-racing and “bourbon”. With horse-racing, we associate Churchill Downs, one of the most famous horse-racing tracks in the world. Regarding “bourbon”, a note to our UK readers. When you, in the UK, refer to “whiskey”, you refer to what we Americans call “Scotch”. And then we think of “single malt” Scotch, including all those brands that start with “Glen” and others that do not. So our top choices include bourbon and Scotch. Both wonderful, and neither comparable. There are other kinds of whiskeys also available in North America that are not bourbon. MG 2016 featured tours to Churchill Downs, and to Bardstown Bourbon distilleries. Churchill Downs reminds us of the movie Harry and Snowman. There is much interesting history here, although my interest lies more in the kind of horse power that is generated by internal combustion.

A real highlight of the entire week was also the first event – our Magnette Dinner. We ended up with about 60 attending. These annual events are always heartwarming – the bond between Magnette folk being so tight. But this year’s Magnette Dinner was beyond the norm as Grant Howlett presented our Z Magnette Group of North America the Magnetteers of the Year award from the MGCC Magnette Register. On behalf of ZMGNA I can say that we are humbled by this honor and we will continue our efforts to deserve the Magnette Register Board. We didn’t even know you guys were looking! We are proud of ZMGNA – and its unique place among all car clubs here in North America. Basically, we are only a glorified email chat list – emphasis “glorified”! We have no governance, no officers, and no treasury. But we keep growing - and now we number close to 150 members. And new Magnettic finds keep showing up over here. The following photos are highlights of our week together.

 Our ZB Varitone - “Geraldine” - zipped us through a 900-mile round-trip in air-conditioned, as well as air-smoothed comfort. We can report only one problem: there is a #10-32 machine-screw attaching the boot-lid release lever to the boot-lid release mechanism. Should the nut work its way off that screw, the consequences for a passenger whose luggage is in the boot and who just happens to be flying from the US to the UK within hours, could be inconvenient to say the least.

New screw, spring, extra jamb-nut and some lock-tite™ took care of this part of the problem. The real fun was getting the boot open in the first place! We had plenty of tools – all safely stored, in the boot of course! We managed to attract a “good Samaritan” who came bearing tools – and he stuck with us until success was ours. Fortunately, our new rear parcel-shelf panel was unattached, allowing us to lift it, reach in with a broom handle, and release the latch. It wasn’t quite that simple, but you get the idea…

Many wonderful hours – but not enough days to spend with new and old Magnette friends… This was a wonderful MG event; eclipsed only by the usual great camaraderie of those who attended. Indeed, MG is the Marque of Friendship.

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