An MG Family

Images: Ishaan Raghunandan

Weekend mornings are the only possible times for airing one’s classic cars in Bangalore and I had a long postponed mission to accomplish: to catch up with a dear friend and revive some old memories.

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A full dashboard, with a period, cane-covered steering wheel

Slicing through the cantonment area of Bangalore is still pleasant in the morning calm, more so if one is in a convertible. Though most of the old Bungalows are gone, Richmond Town still has an undefinable and charming aura. Down Berlie Street stands an unpretentious house, with a verdant garden and sparkling red-oxide floors; my Mecca, decades back.

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The speedo in front of the passenger, which has clocked countless miles

At the door of the house stood John Curtiss, as dapper as ever. He escorted us to MYR 2261, his green MG TC. Over breakfast he recounted his family’s love affair with MG TCs.

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John Curtiss, a chip off the old MG block

John’s father, Laurence Clive Curtis worked in the Hutti Gold Mines in Raichur District of Karnataka, from 1946 to 1980. A young and energetic engineer, there was not much else for him to do at that small and remote mining village beyond his unrelenting work schedule. What better hobby to pursue than fettling old cars?

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The parking lights grip the curved wings ever so well

“Our family’s first MG TC was bought in 1968 at Madras, for 3,000 rupees. My father must have spoken about his love for old cars to some of the Hutti Mines’ contractors in Madras, who must have tipped him off about the MG TC there. On hearing of the car, my father sent me to pick it up; I was just out of school then,” said John. “The car was painted red and had an ‘MSY’ number—a Madras registration. As it was in bad condition and was not a runner, we towed it from Madras to Bangalore using .a Plymouth Savoy 1957 registered ‘MYR 777’ which belonged to Hutti Gold Mines.”

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The red dot medallion—the devil is in the detail

This car, John said, was taken to Hutti by his father, restored over two years, and re-registered in the Raichur RTO with an ‘MYR’ number. It was driven to Bangalore in 1970 and John used it from then to 1974 during his college days, after which he exchanged it in 1975 for a 1961 model Ambassador Car.

In 1969, Laurence saw another TC parked at the premises of a car dealer, Mr. Hussain, not far from the Hutti Gold Mines office in Central Bangalore. A Bombay car in an attractive green colour, BML 8056 was in good running condition and had a good body line. Laurence bought that car and restored it at Hutti by himself, before re-registering it as MYR 2261.

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The monogrammed door handles; so delightfully worn!

Around 1985, a friend alerted John to the existence of yet another TC, parked behind the Woodlands Hotel in Bangalore. Registered MYS 769, a Shimoga registration, some history of this car was known. Initially owned by one Mr. Hebbar in Bangalore, the car had also featured in a Tamil film shot in Bangalore. This car was finally traced to a garage from where it was purchased as a project by John for his father, now retired and settled in Bangalore. While most of the car survived, it needed a great deal of mechanical and body work. Over the next 13 years till 1998, Laurence worked patiently on this car, restoring it to running condition. Initially painted red, the car was finally finished in Powder Blue, an authentic MG TC shade. The car remained with the family until 2018, when it was sold to another collector.

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A purposeful engine bay. The mechanicals are ready to spring to life.

In the late eighties, as a novice collector who had just acquired my basket case MG TC, I was enamored of MYR 2261 at a vintage car rally. I loved the green shade and preferred it to the usual red. “Could I come and take your advice?” I asked the tall and ruggedly handsome Laurence. “By all means, please do,” he replied generously. That was how I became a regular visitor at Berlie Street, taking take tips from Laurence and cultivating a friendship with his son, John. Laurence was a marvel; somewhat hard of hearing, he was able to tune his car by feeling the vibration of the air through the twin carburetors, instead of listening to them hiss.

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That cream and brown badge, undamaged

As my son Ishaan went about photographing MYR 2261, I reflected upon its life in the caring hands of the Curtiss father-and-son team. MYR 2261 is beautifully patinated. While some of the cosmetics may not please the originality-obsessed collector, the car exudes charm and character from its steering wheel enclosed in woven cane, to its air horns inside the engine bay. What a life the car must have led, I thought to myself. “Back then, we never considered these cars as classics or as valuable collector’s items,” said John. “We drove them daily, and we drove them hard, often along bad roads from here to Raichur, a distance of over 500 kilometers.”

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The shaded headlamps, from a time when the car was used daily

I could not but help commemorating our visit with a face-to-face pose of both the green cars, under an attractive weeping willow. After decades, I finally got a chance to see them both at close proximity to each other. My car does not wear a strictly original colour; it is painted British Racing Green, as opposed to MYR 2261’s more accurate lighter green shade. The shades of green provided a subtle contrast, even as the rakish lines of the cars drew them together in symmetry.

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Now to point that nose down a twisty road…

John does not drive MYR 2261 as often as in the past. Yet, she is cleaned and ready at all times. A little bit of time spent, an unclogging of the fuel lines, a replenishment of fluids, and Bangalore should one again echo to the happy burble of a TC, piloted by a Curtiss.

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Finally, two green elves face to face!

T R Raghunandan

Classic car and railway enthusiast, tireless driver, model scratch-builder, broken old machinery hoarder, teacher, raconteur, author and accountability and decentralised governance consultant.


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