Keith Murphy with his "driven to all shows" MG. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)
GREENWICH, CT—The Greenwich Concours d’Elegance is a very high-end car show, with million-dollar cars sitting cheek by jowl. But among the mouthwatering treats (usually trailered to the shows) are more prosaic cars that speak to a lifetime of all-weather use.
One of those that made the cut in Greenwich was a 1954 MG Midget, the last in the series known as the TF (just before the ground-breaking MGA). Owned by Keith Murphy of New Jersey, it had a big sign on it saying “driven to all events.”
Murphy bought the TF for $1,600 from a neighbor (who tried repeatedly to buy it back) in 1973, had it restored by 1980, then drove it 40,000 miles while life took him all over the country. It’s been to the Florida Keys and to Newfoundland, too. From 2006 to 2014 it was off the road again for restoration. What was going to be a quick refurbishment turned into an eight-year odyssey.
For Murphy, the culmination of decades of TF ownership was winning first place over a dozen other similar MGs in a recent club meet. He wasn’t looking for big awards in Greenwich, but he got them anyway. "We were astonished when the judges awarded us the 'Best English Sports Car 1954-1960,' Murphy said. "Then to top it off we won what to us was the top prize of 'People’s Choice'! We believe this is a first for an MG at a major concours." He added, "I will drive this car until they pry my hands off the steering wheel."
The MG was in very fast company; it was parked next to such big-ticket royalty as a Jaguar C-Type, a 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 owned by TV star Wayne Carini, and a rare-as-hen's-teeth ’51 Cisitalia 202C roadster.
The latter bore some resemblance to a totally different but equally exotic car I’d seen the day before at the Dragone Auction — Manny Dragone’s personal 1951 Simca Abarth SC Cabriolet. Both showed some American influence in the use of decorative chrome (and both had Buick-type “portholes”). The similar good looks aren't surprising, because both designs came out of Pinin Farina's active Italian studio.
Although plenty of cars went way over $100,000 at both the Dragone and Bonhams auctions, there were plenty of bargains that could become daily drivers like Murphy’s MG. For instance, the very last Checker cab in active service in New York City, a ’65 named “Janie,” went for just $7,700 (plus premium) at Bonhams. And $12,100 bought a pretty nice ’79 Porsche 928.
Veterans are still pretty good deals, even rare ones — I’d never seen an Elgin before, but a 1916 Elgin Six Touring in fine condition went for $17,600.
Even less, $12,100, was all you needed to buy a fully restored 1965 Austin A35 Van that would certainly be a lively conversation piece (more than most Corvettes!) if parked at the suburban mall. If you’d instead bought the ex-Miles Coverdale 1938 Bugatti 57C Stelvio drop-top for $1.595 million, my guess is that mall duty would fall to some other vehicle in the stable.
Dragone had some incredible deals, too. Many cars there came out of Sterling Walsh’s collection, and among other things he liked big American boats. A pristine ’75 Chevy Caprice convertible with a 454 big block V-8 was had for just $10,500, and his equally baroque (and immaculate) ’76 Cadillac Eldorado convertible went for $16,500. You couldn't fault the black 1968 American Motors AMX with 390 power, and $18,500 was a good price for it.
And if you wanted a project, a very evocative barn-find 1966 Morgan Plus 4 Drophead was $15,000. A 1910 Sears Model K Runabout, restored to no-expense-spared concours condition and proudly bearing national first-prize badges, was sold for $34,000. You can lose your shirt if you get caught up in auction fever, but you can also practically steal a car you’ll treasure for decades.
A funny addendum to all this was a parking-lot car I saw at the Greenwich show. You're not going to find a better place to sell your classic, so some gorgeous metal was lined up. I was intrigued by a 1965 Morris Mini Traveler Woody Wagon, because I once passed up an only mildly weathered version of it for $800. Well, this one was (if anything) over-restored, and they wanted $49,500 for it. Wow, that's some nice appreciation.
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