“They advertised heavily in auto publications and in the Stars and Stripes newspaper that we soldiers all read in Vietnam,” said Stan Myles of Laytonsville, Md. Stan, 72, responded to my recent call for old car stories.
Stan had wanted a British sports car ever since he’d watched a classmate in his native Texas “scooping up all the girls” with a Triumph TR-3.
“I had a 1962 Studebaker Lark, and I wasn’t scooping up anybody,” Stan said.
Stan was drafted and sent to Vietnam, where a thought came to him: “After all of this, why shouldn’t I have something that I’ve always wanted?”
Stan survived Vietnam, and in May 1970, he picked up his brand-new mail-order MG Midget convertible at the dock in Galveston, Tex. He drove it to Louisiana State University for graduate school.
The first few weeks were what any MG owner hopes for, as Stan tooled around in the British racing green rag top. But about a month later, when Stan was driving to Houston, there was a loud bang, and steam started to pour from under the hood.
“I stopped, looked under the hood and found that the generator pulley had disintegrated, taking the fan belt with it,” Stan said. “The car had logged just 5,000 miles.”
Stan was able to nurse the Midget to a garage in the nearest town, Eunice, La.
“At that time there was an MG dealer in New Orleans, and the mechanic in Eunice was able to arrange for the dealer to send the needed parts on a bus overnight,” Stan said. “Faced with an unexpected stay in a small town, I asked the mechanic what folks did in Eunice on a Saturday night. In response he took me to a Cajun party — called a fais dodo — where I had a great time and ended up being glad that the MG had broken down.”
Unfortunately, the MG was only too happy to keep breaking down. Not long after Stan moved to Washington in 1971 to join the U.S. Foreign Service, the battery failed. Over the next two years, the MG required four brake jobs. Stan finally sold it.
“There will never ever exist again the mix of thrill and frustration that was the quintessential British roadster,” he said.
Two years before Stan picked up his mail-order MG in Galveston, Bob Hurt picked up his mail-order Jaguar in Baltimore.
Bob had stopped to visit family in Atlanta before deploying to Vietnam as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Special Forces. While in Georgia, he’d gone to a car show and fallen in love with the most beautiful car he’d ever seen: a Jaguar XK-E fixed-head coupe.
“It was locked, so I couldn’t even sit in it,” he said.
Bob never forgot that car, and when he was in Vietnam, he sent Nemet a $50 deposit and ordered one. He completed the balance on the $4,500 car when he returned to the States and picked it up at the dock in Baltimore in 1968. There was supposed to be a little package inside the car containing the mirrors, radio and other small items removed for transit. Bob’s had been stolen.
“I had to do a fast insurance claim and go to a dealer in Baltimore to get the things installed,” he said.
Bob drove the XK-E to Atlanta, where he worked as a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution, and in the District, where he was the paper’s bureau chief (and sole member). “Two seats, no air-conditioning or power anything, but it was my beloved every day driver,” he said.
Bob sold the car in 1974 to get a more practical vehicle. He missed it and often spoke of it to Frank Norton, the partner in the lobbying firm they co-founded in 1997.
“Without me knowing it, he tracked the car down, bought it back from the guy I sold it to and presented it to me as a surprise,” said Bob, 75.
Bob has spent years restoring the 50-year-old car to better-than-new condition.
“It resides today in my garage in D.C.,” he said. “The license tag, needless to say, is ‘VN XKE.’ ”