Long road to build a dream machine
Appeal Staff Writer
It began at a race in California in May 1999. Jim Phelps and his wife, Muriel, were approached by friends with an offer: Two MG cars, both in questionable condition, for $1,000.
“We had an MG Magnette in 1961, and it was a great little car. Our daughters were raised in that car,” Jim Phelps said.
So Phelps bought the cars sight unseen to help him accomplish his dream of again owning a working MG.
“I had two cars that I used to make one; they were both pretty much junk when I started. They were rusted throughout, and it took me four months to disassemble them when I got them home,” Phelps said.
The MG ZA Magnette, introduced in 1953, was considered the first car to be classified a sports sedan. In 1956, the ZA gave way to the ZB model, which had an improved power unit and was capable of over 90 mph, making it the fastest 1.5-liter saloon – or, in America, sedan – available. Production on the MG Magnettes ceased in 1958, with a total of 36,600 manufactured.
“At the time, they were kind of expensive little cars,” Phelps said.
The final year of production, the Magnette could be purchased for a total cost of $2,470 – $600 more than a Mercedes.
After disassembly, the slow process began of restoring the current vehicle to the car he remembered.
“I tried to restore it back to as close to original as you can with the parts available,” Phelps said. “Having owned one before, I knew what the car was supposed to look like.”
Using a combination of old parts from the cars and new parts ordered over the Internet from the United Kingdom, Phelps’ MG Magnette began to take shape.
Three years and $24,000 later, the 1958 MG ZB Magnette, known as “Miss Daisy,” was reborn.
She boasts a button turn signal, a rearview mirror-mounted clock and the signature MG octagon-shaped steering wheel hub that remains fixed in place as the wheel spins around it.
At her first car show, Miss Daisy took first in her class. She has since racked up more than a dozen awards, including Best in Show and People’s Choice at the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, car show and a national first place at the North American MGA Registry show in Welches, Ore.
Miss Daisy’s latest honor is an invitation to be showcased in the National Auto Museum (The Harrah’s Collection) as part of the orphan car exhibit. The car will be on display for six months, beginning in November.
Museum curator Denise Sins said the exhibit, titled “Orphan Cars: Detours From Destiny,” will feature eight cars whose makers have gone out of business or whose line is no longer made, including an American Bantam station wagon, a BMW Izetta and a Messerschmidt.
“We always try to have a variety of interesting cars to show the public and not a lot of people have seen these cars,” Sins said.
Phelps said, “We are very proud of that car, and it is really an honor to be invited to the museum. It’s kind of nice to let the public see the car because it’s a rare automobile.”
Of the more than 36,000 produced, less than a 1,000 are estimated to be left worldwide, in any condition.
While his car is considered one of the best examples of a restored Magnette in the country, to Phelps, it’s still not where he wants it to be.
“There are always things to do. I’ve got a door that doesn’t close, so I’ve still got to tinker with it,” Phelps said.
n Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.
If you go
What: “Orphan Cars: Detours from Destiny” exhibit.
Where: National Auto Museum (The Harrah’s Collection), 10 S. Lake St.,
When: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. The exhibit is up Nov. 3 to April 26.
Price: $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $3 for children ages 6-18, children under 5 are free.