A 1988 PennySaver ad led Bob Polastre to Great River, New York, where a 1958 MGA 1500 roadster sat in a garage, unused for years. Its only owner had died 14 years earlier and his widow was ready to sell it.
Polastre, who lives in North Highlands, arrived with $86 in cash, which she accepted as a down payment on his $1,000 offer.
She then began getting phone calls from England with offers of up to $4,000, but kept her word, telling Polastre, “A deal’s a deal.”
“She knew I loved the car, and she wanted it to go to a good home,” he recalled.
The vehicle was not in pristine shape. The body was rusted, the door hinges were broken and the interior leather split. Polastre taped the doors shut because he thought they might fall off.
“But it was all there; all original,” he said, including the distinctive “very 1950s” glacier-blue paint. The odometer read 46,305 miles.
Because MGA 1500s barely changed during the eight years they were produced, they are identified by sales year rather than production year.
“You have to be an expert to tell the difference between a 1955 and 1962 model, the differences are so subtle.” Polastre said. “Number 100,000 was painted gold and sold in the U.S.”
By 1990 the rescued MGA was back on the road, complete with a new coat of glacier-blue paint applied by a friend who is a fellow MGA buff.
Restoring the car “was so much work; if I’d known then what I know now, I might not have done it,” Polastre said. “But I was single then.”
His MGA has few options; the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust said it had “disc wheels, a heater, adjustable steering column, windscreen washer and tubeless tyres” when built. Polastre added a radio and LED headlights.
What it lacks in options, the MGA makes up for with engineering.
“These little British cars were far ahead of American technology,’ Polastre said. “It has rack-and-pinion steering, which the U.S. didn’t have for another 20 years.”
Model: MGA 1500
Body: 2-door coupe or 2-door roadster
Assembly: Abington, England
Production period: 1955-62
Total production: 101,081
Engine: Straight 4-cylinder, dual carb, 1489 cc
Transmission: 4-speed, floor manual
Top Speed: 102 mph
Fuel Economy: 25 mpg
1958 price: $2,620 ($27,713 today)
It was also the first car tested in wind tunnels, technology used for World War II aircraft. Designers wanted the car to reach 100 mph; improved aerodynamics, including eliminating exterior door handles and mirrors, achieved that.
England’s postwar economy needed exports and most MGAs were shipped to the U.S., where drivers unfamiliar with its features sometimes complained about performance.
Polastre said the MGA has dials to regulate timing and carburation, useful because gas octane levels varied after the war. “If the engine started to knock because the octane was too low, you could make manual adjustments,” he said.
That technology was foreign to a lot of American drivers, Polastre said. “I think that’s where stories about performance originated.”
Although its ride is “incredibly smooth,” Polastre admits the MGA takes getting used to.
“It’s not an easy car to drive; first gear is unsynchronized, and I’ve read synchro for second gear goes out in the showroom,” he said with a laugh. “Getting four shifts like butter is tricky.” (A synchronizer allows for the smooth engagement of the gears.)
But shifting wouldn’t be the first thing he’d change.
“I like the convertible, but it leaks like a sieve,” he said. “It’s really unpleasant in the rain.”
Polastre chuckles about one feature. “The windshield washer is a button on the dash,” he said. “It’s like a Windex bottle.”
Polastre belongs to the Eastern New York MGA Club and has won many car-show trophies, including a second place at the 1990 national meet.
Today he diligently avoids parallel parking. The MGA sits low and drivers of “big American boats back right into it,” he said.
“It’s fun for me to drive; it brings out the niceness in people” Polastre said. “It puts a smile on people’s face, and that’s cool.”
MG closed its factory in Abington, England, in 1980 after the MG Midget and MGB were discontinued. The brand was acquired in 2007 by SAIC Motor Corp., China’s largest car company. Assembly continued at MG’s Birmingham, England, plant until 2016; SAIC still operates a technical and design center there. MGs are now built in China, India and Thailand.