- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2011

The USS Independence aircraft carrier was cruising in the Mediterranean Sea 47 years ago. Even mighty warships occasionally dock if for no other reason than to give the sailors some free time ashore.

That is where Bill Derryberry was in 1960. A number of representatives of various car companies came aboard and made pitches to the Americans. Mr. Derryberry was taken by the appearance of an MGA sports car. The Independence was about to return to the United States so he placed an order for an all-white MGA with an all-black interior and a black convertible top. The $2,150 price he paid for the car included white sidewall tires.

The U.S. Navy crossed the Atlantic Ocean with Mr. Derryberry aboard before the MGA left Great Britain. When the car arrived in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Derryberry was notified and he went to take possession of his car. The car proved to be reliable and served him well until the day in 1967 when the Navy needed his services in the Philippines. He could take only one car and by then he had a wife and a daughter, so the two-seat MGA was the car to be sacrificed.

“I sold it in 1967,” Mr. Derryberry says, “and I’ve always regretted it.”

Life goes on and a lot of things change and by 1986 he was living in Fairfax and for his birthday his wife presented him with an all-white 1960 MGA like his first one. Although the odometer read 113,292 miles, Mr. Derrberry says the seller had bought the car to restore and then a job transfer brought him to an apartment complex in Manassas where there was no garage or space to work on the car.

“It was drivable,” Mr. Derryberry says. “I drove it for three years.”

By 1989 the little car was showing it’s age and Mr. Derryberry quit driving it with the thought of eventual restoration.

A decade passed before the restoration project began. “I got one fender off and knew I was in over my head,” Mr. Derryberry says.

In January 2002 the car was trucked to Louisa, Va., where the restoration began in earnest. To help keep the cost of restoration under control, Mr. Derryberry made himself available, he says, whenever grunge work needed to be done. Skilled labor was left to the restorer.

“No two pieces of the car were left together,” the owner says. “You could see the rust holes in the frame,” he says. That was disquieting knowing that he had been driving the car not long before on the highway in that frail condition.

All the cancerous metal was cut out and replaced with healthy steel. What brightwork was on the car, such as the windshield frame, grille and bumpers, was either sent off to be replated with chrome or replaced with a new part. The all-black interior was replaced and a new black top hides beneath a new black boot, all of which stand in stark contrast to the whiter than white paint on the exterior of the car.

Records indicate that between 1955 through 1962 a total of 101,081 MGAs were manufactured, the vast majority for the U.S. market.

Mr. Derryberry says the best part of the car was and is the four-cylinder, 1,588 cc, 80-horsepower engine with twin S.U. H4 carburetors. The carburetors draw fuel from the 10-gallon gasoline tank. “The compression on each cylinder checked out good,” he says. The 2,020-pound windowless roadster rides on a 90-inch wheelbase supported by 5.60x15-inch tires. The short wheelbase in conjunction with the cam gears rack-and-pinion steering give the car a nimbleness not found on larger cars. The floor-mounted gear-shift lever controls the four-speed manual transmission with the top three ratios synchromeshed. Stopping chores are handled by the hydraulic disc brakes on the front wheel and drum brakes on the rear.

The restoration was complete within two years and in the last three years Mr. Derryberry has driven his restored MGA about 4,500 miles. “It runs fine,” he says, “it runs great.”

He has discovered that he can reduce the thrill factor of driving his MGA by taking secondary roads and avoiding the interstate highways and the big trucks and buses that can blow a small car off the road.

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