- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

An older sibling once owned an MGA that Bruce Leinberger fondly recalled.

In 1978 Mr. Leinberger told his bride of his intention to one day own an MGA. She agreeably smiled with visions of classic TC and TD models in her head.

“I had to own a sports car before I was 30,” Mr. Leinberger says. Prior to the arrival of any children, Mr. Leinberger in 1981 informed his wife that he had seen an ad offering a 1959 MGA for sale. He elaborated by saying that it would be one of the great buys of the century.

They went to see the car which turned out to be yellow with (a sign of the times) brown shag carpeting. The original rusty rocker panels had been replaced and a rebuilt engine under the hood was pronounced “solid.” The engine came from a 1961 MGA.

As Mr. Leinberger backed the 13-foot-long sports car out of the garage, he saw the reflection in the mirror of his disappointed wife. She had anticipated an older MG, one with open fenders. Nevertheless, they bought the car. For a two-year period he remembers happily driving the yellow MG, with his wife by his side, in New Jersey to Asbury Park to get foot-long hot dogs at the beach. Basic maintenance kept the MGA running.

In 1983, with Mrs. Leinberger 81/2 months pregnant, they moved to the D.C. area. The MGA made the trip, with the furniture, in the moving van. Daughter Kristin was born 10 days later. Son John arrived three years after his sister.

“I drove the car occasionally,” he says, “but I was getting busy with the kids.”

The family moved to a new house in Great Falls in 1988 and there it sat in the garage for almost eight years.

In 1996 Mr. Leinberger set out to totally restore his MGA To his delight, his 9-year-old son enthusiastically joined in the project.

The first task was to free the frozen four-cylinder engine. Filling each piston with oil and letting it soak soon did the trick.

“We took the car apart,” he recalls, and had it towed to Matchless Auto Body in Great Falls. “They completely stripped off the paint and removed 40 pounds of Bondo,” Mr. Leinberger says.

As the car was stripped it became apparent that the original color had been red. Despite the evidence, he opted for British Racing Green when it came time to paint the car. It was painted while it was disassembled, which explains the silver fender welts defining the separate parts of the car.

When Mr. Leinberger went to have the wire wheels restored, he was advised to start anew with a new set of wheels with the familiar knockoff hubs.

Making one car out of the many restored pieces is where, he maintains, “I learned patience.”

During reassembly, a new wiring harness was installed along with new bumpers. The brown shag carpet was replaced with original-style black carpeting. The wooden frames for the seats had to be rebuilt and then were covered with black vinyl.

In the summer of 1997 the last screw had been tightened and a proud Mr. Leinberger slid behind the four-spoke steering wheel, turned the ignition key and pulled the starter. “The engine turned,” he says, “but it wouldn’t start.”

He double checked all his work to no avail before the MGA was towed to London Auto in Falls Church where the technicians didn’t take long to discover the problem. “The shaft to the distributor was slightly bent, so it rotated in an oblong pattern which wouldn’t strike the rotor and make a spark,” Mr. Leinberger says. The dilemma was soon eliminated. Soon thereafter, he says, “My son learned to drive on this car as soon as he could reach the clutch pedal.”

The 7,000 rpm tachometer redlines at 5,500 rpm. With a four-speed manual transmission, the top three being synchronized, and a 94-inch wheelbase, the MGA is quite nimble. It is known more for its handling prowess than its top speed. However, Mr. Leinberger says, “I’ve had it up to 80.”

When new, according to factory literature, the top speed was 98 mph with a zero-to-60 mph time of 14.2 seconds. “You have to love those two SU carburetors,” he says.

The base car sold for about $2,200.

Since restoration, Mr. Leinberger has driven the MGA only about 3,000 miles despite its readiness to go anywhere.

He acknowledges that the car has its shortcomings — such as no door handles and limited luggage space — but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

“There’s no room in this car,” he says. “But it looks so nice. The proportions are perfect.”

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