(Reprinted with permission of George Herschell)
MG (S)MILESThe MG TF Rochester Connection Part XXX
Last summer at a Cruise Night in Fairport I was brought up short by a young man and our ensuing conversation. He asked me if I was George Herschell and when I told him I was, he said "you designed my car". I looked at him, with what must have been a really dumb look, and said I didn’t understand what he was talking about. He then asked me if I remembered Victor Motor Coach Company. Immediately the light began to come on in my otherwise dim brain. I was taken back to 1982 when MG TF’s were built in Victor. Yes you read that right. Victor Motor Coach built MG TF’s in their shop in Fishers New York and I did design a body for one of their cars. But I am getting ahead of myself. The design came later. But the MG TF’s had a direct connection to our Western NY Centre .
In the early 80’s there were a lot of replicars around and a number of those looked like TD’s. They were VW powered and you could tell one from a mile away by the many tell tales that branded them as replicas. I wasn’t too keen on them at all and heard the most idiotic comment at the RIT show one year about them. I had our TD on display when a man came along with his female companion and told her, "these are MG’s but I really don’t like them because they look too much like the replicas." He had no idea how close he came to being "road kill" with that comment.
Dan and Rich Columbo, Mike Perry and Brian Metcalfe, had been building wooden bodied replicas of the Model A Ford woodies in the mid 70"s under the name of Victor Replicars. The cost for these replicars was around the $20,000. The idea of an MG TF came to them and they purchased a basket case from MG CC member Al Isselhard. (Club connection 1) Al had purchased the car and never got around to doing anything with it. It had a good solid body, which is just what was needed to form a good set of molds. First they assembled the car then disassembled it to get measurements and the parts needed for the molds. The chassis were built from scratch and in many ways were an improvement over the original. The cars were designed to accept the MG B engine, drive train, and much of the running gear. Wheels were the same size as the original but with 60 spoke wire wheels, and the brakes were discs as used on the MGB. The body panels were so well done that they could be interchanged with the originals and fit perfectly. The door hinges were purchased from the company that made the original hinges for the TF. The rest of the car was as good a reproduction of the original car as could be made. Interior, top, grille, etc were all exactly as original. But the big difference was in the weight. 1650 lbs. compared to 1930 lbs. for the original. Add to this the fact that the "new" TF had a horsepower of 95 bhp vs. 57 bhp and one can see what a vast improvement this was over the original car. One of the biggest distractions to the original appearance of the car was the dash (sorry facia) board. It was modernized with a complete set of instruments including a gas gauge which the original did not have. (The original had a "fuel warning light").
The cars were available in kit form for $7400. Or as a completely finished, drive away car, for $16,500. Not too bad when one considers the price of a restored TF at the time was about $20,000.
I had a chance to get to the factory on a number of occasions and was very impressed with the quality of the workmanship and also the detail in keeping the car looking as close to the original as possible. From a distance (without seeing the interior) one would be hard pressed to tell the TF 1800 (as it was called) from the original TF. From the rear the only give away was the exhaust pipe which was on the opposite side of the car from the original. My visits to the factory were beneficial to both the people there and myself because we traded ideas and I learned as much from them as they did from me, and my knowledge of TF’s and suppliers of parts.
In total they built and sold about 100 cars and Don Stahl (MG CC connection 2) founding member of the WNY MG CC owned one. He drove it on the first New England Mountain Adventure and had a ball with it. With the power to weight ratio and the torque the car was really something to drive. Rich brought one to the T Registers meet in Virginia Beach and the folks there were amazed with the car. Rich was demonstrating the strength of the fiberglass and at one point literally walked up the left fender over the hood (bonnet) and down the right fender. Almost everyone was impressed but there were a few die hards who could not accept replicas, and they have the right to their opinion. Personally, I thought the folks at Victor Antique Auto did a remarkable job and kept the fact uppermost in their minds to keep it all MG. It was a good way to recycle a B whose body had suffered the ravages of rust and rot and have a classic looking sports car that was still an MG.
Some time later they changed their name again to Great Lakes Motor Cars Corp. It was about this time that they decided they would like to build a coupe and asked me if I had any ideas. I immediately thought of the Airline Coupe and designed a body along those lines. At the time Dick Gordon, Dan’s brother in law and a former MG CC member (connection 3) had his MG TA Tickford at the shop, and we decided the windscreen assembly could be used as a pattern for the one required for the Airline Body. They began work and then somewhere along the way decided to widen the body and lengthen it to seat four people. This was about the time I lost track of them due to my increased work load and lack of "disposable time".
They did complete the car and I saw it (in person) for the first time last summer at that cruise night. The lines are still there but I feel it lost something when it got stretched and widened. But then that’s my opinion and probably biased because I drew the original concept. The TF was a logical source for an Airline Body because the flow of the fenders matches the flow of the original Airline Body. When the car was finished they produced a brochure and called the car the "Phantom". I was a little disappointed when I read the brochure though because they mention the styling and the theory that went into the car and to quote, "Depending on your automotive background, the Phantom may at many times resemble a 34 Ford, an early Bugatti, or a Talbot". Never once is MG or the Airline Coupe mentioned, which is what the body was patterned after. Oh well so it goes.
I heard later that after the company disbanded, the molds went to Canada and then Naylor Brothers in the UK started to produce the same type of replica. I also heard that at one time someone in Penn Yan N.Y. had the molds but I never bothered to track them down.
It was an interesting time and the "TF’s" were interesting replicas or rather "modern MG TF 1800’s". I have no idea of how many are still around or where they might be. It would be interesting sometime to search out them and find out how they are doing. It was a interesting venture and I give Victor Antique Auto all the credit for producing a remarkable automobile that looked good, performed well, was well built and was something truly unique.