When Ian Macnab bought his first car, a beat-up Austin-Healey Sprite, in the late 1960s he had no idea he was planting the first seed for what would become a lifelong passion.
The Haliburton resident looks back fondly on his years as an early adult, where he spent whatever free time he had away from his studies at McMaster University learning how to restore and care for the classic car. Better known in Europe as the MG Midget, the vehicle was among the most popular affordable sportscars on the market right around the time of the moon landing.
“I didn’t really know or appreciate what I had back then, but I was deeply enamoured with the MG brand. It’s fair to say that’s where my passion began,” Macnab recently told The Highlander.
While he would sell his Sprite after graduating, Macnab remained faithful to the Morris Garages brand. Today, he has one of the most impressive MG collections on the continent. The crown jewel is an emeraldcoloured 1970 Midget that Macnab says he’s owned and meticulously maintained for almost 25 years.
He purchased the vehicle from its previous owner in North Carolina in 1999. Back then, it wasn’t much to look at.
“It came up here in boxes. The parts were all painted in grey primer, it was a total rebuild job. But it was exactly what I had been looking for,” Macnab said, noting he paid $500 for it. “I spent the better part of three years working until it was finally ready to hit the road. I haven’t looked back since.”
The car regularly turns heads at shows across North America. It won first place in its class at an MG conference in Niagara Falls in 2015, with other awards earned at events in Louisville, Kentucky, Peterborough, Port Perry and Kingston. The Midget has become a regular feature at the annual Brits in the Park car show that takes place in Lindsay each summer.
The early years
“The older I’ve gotten, the more interested I’ve become in the origins of the MG brand. It’s really quite the success story,” Macnab said.
Founded by Cecil Kimber in the 1920s, MG established its home base in Oxford, England and became known as the manufacturer that made the marque famous. Renowned for its open two-seater sports cars, MG also produced saloons and coupes. The company is celebrating its centennial this year.
Since its conception, MG has led the way in sports car development, Macnab claims.
“There are sports cars that are far better cars than MG, faster than MG. But MG was the one that started it all. They were the pioneer.”
Macnab has dozens of items from those formative years on display in his garage in Haliburton, part of a 300-plus piece collection that he estimates is worth in the region of $25,000. Whether it’s newspaper clippings of old stories or advertisements, framed posters of some of the earliest MG models, branded teapots, or actual pieces of the original factory and assembly line that was decommissioned in 1972, the collector has a little bit of everything.
“I’ve got several pewter models, die cast models. I have a plate that formed part of the engine in an MG T-type – that car is long gone, production stopped in 1950, but I was able to find this online from a seller in the UK,” Macnab said. “I was able to take the information from the plate to find out exactly what car it was from, and when and where it was made.”
The walls inside the garage are filled with various other keepsakes. There’s an enthusiast medal handed out by the British Car Council of Canada in 2017 in honour of Macnab’s collection; the original steering wheel from his 1970 Midget; a one-of-a-kind commemorative plaque MG assigned to Macnab in honour of the company’s centennial – they only made and distributed 100, Macnab has number 59; and a watercolour painting of the emerald green Midget that an admirer in Lindsay put together around 10 years ago
“I don’t know that it’s the most valuable collection in the world, but it’s definitely unique. And it’s been a lot of fun pulling all this stuff together,” Macnab said.
Macnab said he has some wonderful memories with the car, most notably from his wedding to his second wife, Jane, in 2008. The couple were married in Gravenhurst on an old Muskoka steamship but made sure to bring the Midget along so they could ride off into the sunset.
“Jane insisted – we decorated the car with a ‘just married’ sign, we had it waiting on the pier once we got off the boat. That’s something that will stay with me forever,” he said.
It’s recollections like that which will make it hard for Macnab to let go. He said he’s considering parting with his collection, including the 1970 Midget, but only for the right owner.
“I’d like to think this all can live on in some way,” he said.
Not that he’ll be getting out of the MG business completely – Macnab said he’s long toyed with the idea of purchasing a rare MGB GT hard top if he can find the right deal.
“That’s on the bucket list. Again, it’s not the fastest or most shiny car, but it appeals to me. The whole point of this is to have a little fun, bring some enjoyment into your life and put a smile on your face,” Macnab said. “I’ve had enough smiles and good times out of this thing to last me two [lifetimes].”