I have always had a soft spot for rusty old saloons. Over the years I have collected several neglected MG VA saloons, put them back on the road and I was usually able to find a new owner who shared my feelings and wanted to care for it.
It is through this weakness that I came across MG saloon with chassis number VA 0251 languishing in a barn in Suffolk. From then on I noticed a certain atmosphere around these, until then unwanted, MG saloons. In a funny way I felt whether there was history to be found or not.
It was the basis of my interest in VA’s history. Through VA 0251 I was definitely pulled into the mysterious world of the past and from then on I sometimes started to see a kind of an aureole around old VA saloons.
One splendid example of this happening was the SVW weekend in Cirencester some years ago which concluded in a meeting in Abingdon on the Sunday.
On entering the Rallyfield near the river I was absolutely stricken by the sight of that rusty saloon that stood forlorn in the middle of the field.
Even at a distance I could clearly see the air vibrate around this rusty VA.
I immediately parked right next to it and spoke to Malcolm Simmonds, who turned out to be the proud owner and who told me he had just acquired the saloon after a lot of hassle. Malcolm was not aware at all of what he had bought. I knew it a minute later when I realised its registration number: CBL 109 It had been Kimber’s transport during the early war years. Maybe even the last MG Kimber had ever driven!
About 20 years ago I spend a holiday in England with my wife Suze . One late afternoon I found myself talking to a previous owner of one of my saloons and he mentioned Phill Passey’s scrap yard in Newbury as a source for spare parts. It was already late but as it wasn’t too far away from where I was at that moment me and Suze decided to go and have a look to see what was available there. Even if it is only to write down the chassis numbers.
On arrival we found out that the scrap yard had already closed. Walking up and down along the fence we tried to pick up a glimpse from what was in the yard, but apart from some Hillmans and a Ford Popular there wasn’t much that attracted our interest.
Just when we wanted to make our way back to the hotel a chap came towards us asking what we wanted. “Oh…. Old MG’s , well I can’t help you, you see, its my friends yard and he is not around at this time of day but do come into my house have a cupper and maybe you’re interested in old clocks, I have got a collection of old grandfather clocks”.
The next minute we were sitting in the kitchen of next doors house which can hardly be described as such. The old chap had to make room for us to sit and he excused for all the rubbish he had collected over the years. Magazines and bits of clock everywhere. He started the ritual of the making while we were gasping the atmosphere of this place. He had a stove which was also used for storage of magazines and the kettle was on a small electric device in the middle of the kitchen floor.
After a while we were presented the tea which wasn’t as bad as expected after all! Rattling on about his clock collection it quickly became later and the sun outside had started to set.
We couldn’t leave without a second cup and also had to view his collection of grandfather clocks. Just when we were starting to loose interest he said: “If you want to look in the scrap yard, just go for it and have look around. I am sure my friend doesn’t mind”.
Next minute we found ourselves climbing over the fence.
There in the back of the field, exactly where our MG friend had told us we found what we wanted. MG saloons in all sorts of disintegration. Most of them hadn’t been touched for a long time and were completely overgrown. There was even a fairly large elm growing in the remains of what looked like an SA Tickford. What a shame!! If only we could safe them all. These cars had deserved better.
Most of the bright work had gone too and guarantee plates had all been robbed.
Making my way through the rubble I had a constant feeling that we were not alone. Of course it is the tension of the excitement that gives you the shivers but still………..
When I turned round to look for my wife I looked straight into the eyes of an old man sitting in a collapsed VA saloon! Got the shock of my life. It seemed my eyes would only focus on this man and the rest of the surroundings faded away. . The only thing I was able to observe was the distinct smell of rotting upholstery. I wanted to run away but I could not, I could hardly breath and was frozen to the ground. I seemed to faint.
Suddenly I woke up from the barking of dogs. Oh my God, we have been discovered. Where is my wife? It took me minutes to recover. It seemed ages….. She was already talking to the apparently unfriendly guard with his dogs, explaining that we were not thieves and that we were advised to go into the yard by the next-door neighbour.
The yard attended did not seem to be impressed at all by my wife’s story but as he could clearly see my only tool was a camera he let us escape. Phew…. That was an unpleasant experience.
Next year I decided to make my way back to Phill Passey’s yard to see what could be salvaged from the saloons. As useal on these sort of excursions we took the trailer down as well.
On arriving at the yard we had no trouble finding the owner this time. We enquired about the MG SVW cars we saw in his yard in the past but it seemed he couldn’t remember having any. “Ah.” He said “You mean those large bangers”. And then: “we have had a fire you see down the back of the yard and they are all gone now. We cleared the lot. Hang on a bit” he said “ we kept one that wasn’t damaged by the fire, but it won’t be of much use to you. Its totally collapsed.” I said I was interested to see it anyway so we made our way to where it was. On seeing the car it turned out to be the VA saloon in which I thought I had seen the old man. Obviously there was nobody in it now, but there was a certain atmosphere around it which attracted me. The car was a right mess. Lying flat on its chassis with no wheels etc……
It was however a saloon here which might be salvaged if it were for parts alone! And also, if I could find out its chassis number there may even be a bit of history to be found. So a deal was struck. Found some wheels that fitted as well to get it rolling. Loaded the VA and the trailer and towed the whole assembly to Harwich.
After the useal discussions with the Dutch customs in Hook of Holland about the value of the MG we made our way to Hellevoetsluis .Late that night we arrived at our house. We had been lucky as it had been remarkably good whether all the time so the VA was still dry. We put it straight into the shed with the other cars.
Usually after such a new acquirement you wander back to the shed before you finally go to sleep. I wish I had never done that this time! As soon as I opened the door there was again this smell of rotting upholstery and believe it or not: sitting in a sort of deck chair beside the collapsed VA was this old chap who was sitting in the VA at the scrap yard last year. As he was not looking into my direction there was no eye contact but again I was frozen to the ground. Unable to move for some time. I do not know how long I have been standing there but it seemed ages. Suddenly the man faded away and I seemed to be able to move again. When I walked to the VA there was nothing at all, no man, no deckchair but oh dear that indistinguishable smell of rotting upholstery! Finally went to bed.
I did not tell my wife as I did not want to bother her with it. Didn’t sleep well at all that night.
Next morning straight back to the shed. Looked: nothing special. Not even that smell.
Nothing special happened for several month.
One day late in October I decided to do some work on the carburettors of my TD. As the whether wasn’t too good I decided to do the job inside in the shed with the other cars. Took the carbs of cleaned them, fitted new cork seals and put them back on. The TD fired up instantly but as usual they needed balancing and tuning. So completely taken by this job I was sitting on my knees next to the running TD and busy adjusting the jets.
Suddenly I got that feeling again that somebody else was watching to see what I was doing. Remembering the strange experiences with the collapsed VA I hardly dared to look around. I noticed that apart from the usual petrol and exhaust fumes I also noticed again the smell of rotting upholstery.
Oh my God. He must be back again. I tried to act as normal as possible and continued what I was doing. But suddenly I could not help the urge to look around in the direction of the old VA saloon.
Yes, he was back again. I could now clearly see the man, sitting in the VA again this time, wearing a brown leather jacket. Somehow we made eye contact and it seemed he was trying to make something clear to me. Strangely enough I was not afraid this time. There was a strange feeling that I wanted to communicate with this fellow. It also seemed as if the old man was trying to say something to me. I stood up and walked towards him. Just when I was close enough to notice the wrinkles in his face he was starting to vanish again, but before he had totally disappeared I could clearly hear what he said: “thank you for saving me from the scrap yard, but please bring me back to England”.
The minut he was disappeared the smell was gone too. I ran back too the TD which was still running, switched it off and ran into the house to tell my wife what had just happened. As she had never seen the man in the VA she could only laugh and say that I was imagining things. “You spend too much time with these old MG’s” she said and walked away still amused. Well, I wasn’t at all. Why did this “ghostman” want to go back?
Next day I decided I had had enough of this VA. It was not worth saving anyway as a complete car so I decided it must go back to England.
Advertised it and back it went.
It seems it was converted into a special later on and possibly still running around now. Anybody noticed the ghost?