The one item of clothing that I no longer possess used to represent quite a lot when I was a formative teenager. It was a leather jacket. The first one that I had was tan in colour and had all manner of press-stud closing breast pockets, side pockets, a deep inside pocket and a built-in leather belt around the waistband. Looking back through rose-tinted glasses, it was still a God-awful item.
Moving on a year or so and I had saved enough money from my working in a butchers, washing cars and being on a milk round, that I took a trip with friends to Birmingham one weekend in order to head to the Bull Ring and it’s world* famous Rag Market for a deal. I needed new leather. It needed to be smooth, supple and a clean, simple design but most of all, it had to be black. I’d realised that the tan leather highlighted my poor fashion choice and having all manner of studs and belts accentuated it. No, this time around, I would be all James Dean and have a simple black leather jacket to hang over my plain white t-shirt.
This was back when the market in the Bull Ring was full of Brummies under either canvas or large plastic sheeting covering the tubular, rusting framework of the open-air market and all the while if not being drenched in rain it was all being lightly dusted with the mix of city centre traffic fumes and frying food. And there was a deal in it for me.
There happened to be a couple of leather clothing traders within the open air market but tradition had been whispered down through my friends as to which one we needed to go to. The trick was to go to both, find the jacket you wanted and then let the vendor know that the other guy had the same jacket at a better price. Simple.
It would’ve been except that one thing that the delightfully young and uninitiated team of would be businessmen that we were had failed to understand, is that they were owned by the same family. Launching boldly into the trade, I had selected my new threads and went about the business of bartering. Now, it must be said that as with many traders, there is typically a deal to be done that works for both parties, but I had made a fatal error; I lied. Here I was, full of teenage cockiness acting the big ‘I’ve got the cash if you do this price’ line like a pro when I inadvertently stated that ‘I can buy the same jacket over there for forty pounds less.’ The guy stopped. I thought the deal was about to happen when he looked at me and whispered, ‘In that case, I’m coming with you to buy a couple myself.’
I hadn’t expected any of that and now had that cold clammy feeling you get when you realize you’re about to face the music. I was young, stupid and instead of backing down, I went with it and thought I could double bluff him. So, we’re now going over to the competition to buy some jackets at a price that doesn’t exist and apparently I’m going to get a good deal? Inside, there was poo.
Halfway across the market, the guy stopped, turned and said, ‘Mate, fair play but you and I both know that this is going to be embarrassing for you. Do you think I don’t know how much the jacket is worth?’ I stared back, thinking for the entire world that he could sense the bullshit from my mouth now matched the trickle in my pants. ‘So, because you’ve had the balls to front this, I’ll do the jacket to you for one-twenty, deal?’ and he held out his hand.
The slightly broken tone in my voice betrayed me as I opened my mouth and a very pubescent squeal of ‘deal’ flew out of my face as I grabbed his hand, thankful that I could walk out of the market without being laughed out. The jacket was paid for and as with a lot of stuff that you get at the market, was folded into a microbe thin plastic bag that was pink and white in colour and off I went to the Woolworths around the corner for some well needed pick ‘n’ mix.
Since this time I’ve not owned another leather jacket. I think that this experience was enough for me but I do love leather. Not in the paddle-whacker way of say a politician in a Soho sex dungeon way more in an old interior of a classic car way. The inside of a Ferrari with that supple supporting Daytona interior for example, is a very beautiful way to use the product. But the reason for me harping on about my old leather jacket experience is that my very first coat that had all manner of buckles around it came flooding back to my memory the other day when I saw the bonnet straps on this 1968 MGC GT Sebring.
Now, I must confess that I am nowhere near a specialist on any particular vehicle, even ones that I’ve owned, and MG has one of the largest owners club following in the world so I was going to break out all the history books/DVD’s and get learning when I was informed that this car here is a replica.
Great. That means the purists will already be spitting feathers and rolling up their brown check shirt sleeves, putting their hands on their hips and tutting profusely through their beards. And I can get on with lavishing my comments on this thing.
Firstly, I’m glad it isn’t British Racing Green. This isn’t because I don’t like that colour but the leather against this pale blue stands out and I love that detail. The front end, kitted out with those four spotlights, show the intent of this little icon.
Original cars were built in the Abingdon factory and the BMC Competitions Department set their sights on the Sebring 12 hour endurance race. By reducing the weight with lighter panels, a 2.9L straight six power unit and hand built aggressive arches to accommodate the oversized tyres, they achieved their best result in the race in 1968 where drivers Hodges and Hopkirk came first in the comps class and tenth overall.
Right, that’s my small nod to the history, so what is this car like? Firstly, I’ll state that MG’s don’t really do it for me. I quite liked the earlier MGA but the MGB and Midget never made a want list of mine and have never really turned my head either on road or track.
This though, with the flared arches, the chunky tyres, the rack of lights, roll cage, trip timer, bucket seats AND those straps? Hmm, I like. This is a very pretty and purposeful thing to look at. I’m also not normally a fan of light blue mainly because when I was a wee lad it was the colour of the police cars around my way and they were mainly Austin Allegros’ too. A double whammy of shite. But I like it here.
Inside it is all out racing; seats, straps, timers, fire extinguisher, yep, this is a properly tidy little car. Due to fading light and an approaching storm, I had a quick blast around a nearby industrial estate. What a hoon. This has a low down torque range that pulls as soon as you breathe near the loud pedal, a left leg workout clutch but the short throw of the gears makes it a very rewarding little blast. It’s all over too quickly – again like many teenage encounters – but I emerge with a smile that is met with one too.
‘So, enjoy that did we?’ ‘It was alright’ I replied with a beacon of glint in my eye. A few quick thank you’s just as the wind and rain began to increase while the car was wheeled back inside and that was it. As the car was pushed away I gave it my own little goodbye with a light brushing of those wonderful bonnet straps before the doors closed and off I went.
Turns out that your formative years really are exactly that. Which means that if someone builds a car that wears stockings and suspenders I will positively explode.
*My teenage world that was roughly an area of twenty-three square miles.