Customs & Classics
One of the perks of a mechanic's job is being surrounded by fine automobiles - but there was one classic in particular over which Don Burgess marvelled at.
The climax to this story is that the veteran mechanic was eventually able to purchase the classic, drive it home and park it in his garage. But that was only after servicing the British-built 1966 MGB GT sports car for nearly 30 years at his auto repair shop in New Plymouth.
In the car's glovebox is the car's original service booklet, which confirms the first time he came in to contact with the two-door coupe.
It was in May 1970. Burgess was working for Dynamometer Automotive when the late Jean Higgins first rolled the British hardtop into the workshop for a service. The sight of the MGB rendered Burgess speechless - all he could manage was "wow," he remembers. "It was quite something back in those days," he says.
In October 1965 Higgins had attended the public debut of the sporty hatchback at the Earls Court Motor Show in London. As soon as she laid eyes on the car she decided she wanted one, and immediately tried to purchase it.
"But she was told she would have to go back to New Zealand and buy one through the agencies. And so she did," says Burgess.
The car was first registered in December 1966; the now-ecstatic New Plymouth woman had been won over by its sporty character, he adds.
He was not at all surprised to see Higgins driving such a fine motor, explaining that she was an excellent driver and that the car was an apt fit.
"She used to drive the car wearing a pair of light-coloured leather gloves," he fondly remembers.
In the following years Higgins continued to take her GT to Burgess, who in 1973 went into partnership with New Plymouth man John Raven to begin Fitzroy Automotive. Burgess would go on to become sole owner in 1983.
The New Plymouth businessman says although he had always admired the hawthorn-green MGB he never thought he would have the opportunity to become its owner.
But that changed in 1995 when Higgins began experiencing difficulties driving the car because of its four-speed manual transmission, and so Burgess approached her to cut a deal.
"She started to get arthritis in her shoulders and found it hard to drive, and so I told her if she ever wanted to sell it, I would like to buy it."
Two years later the arthritis finally took its toll on Higgins who then handed the keys to her beloved MGB GT to Burgess.
"It finally got too hard for her to drive and so she bought a new car with an automatic transmission and power steering," he says.
Since owning the MGB Burgess has reconditioned the motor and rebuilt the gearbox.
"I also renewed the king pins and replaced the bushes - being a mechanic I couldn't keep my sticky fingers off it," he laughs.
The car is powered by an 1800cc BMC B-series engine. Burgess says the classic remains in original condition except for a fresh coat of paint about 30 years ago.
"It drives just lovely out on the open road," he says.
- Taranaki Daily News
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