The Love Affair
Originally she was called “The Black Lady” but over time she became known more simply as “the SA” or, when greater formality was needed, “The Airy Coupe”. She is a one-off MG; a 1937 SA model with unique Australian coachwork.
Her first owner was a young Australian dentist named Dr William Airy. As his career developed, William decided that he needed a doctor’s coupe-style of car, but it had to be an MG.
The Doc, as he was known by his motoring friends, was a keen motor racing fan and MG enthusiast, well-known at the race tracks around Melbourne on weekends cheering on the Q, K, P, N and L-types. As far as The Doc was concerned, an MG was definitely the car to own.
The large and elegant MG Two-Litre (SA) was selling well in 1937, and was a state-of-the-art sports saloon, ideal for what The Doc wanted. Unfortunately, no fixed-head coupe was offered by MG, so William Airy arranged for the Melbourne MG agents, Lanes Motors, to import an SA chassis from the factory in England and commission Melbourne coachbuilders Martin and King to do the rest.
As was common for the day, the car (SA1787) came from England complete with everything except the body: the chassis and running gear, plus the bonnet, running boards, mudguards and all lighting and electrical equipment.
So the finished car is all standard MG SA from the front bumper back to the windscreen, but Martin and King from there on. Dr Airy’s car was black, beautiful and turned heads wherever it went. It still does! In 1937 it was stunning. It still is.
How could a young MG man not fall in love! Certainly not The Doc, who owned and loved the stylish coupe for the next quarter of a century, until he died in 1961. And certainly not me. I bought the Airy Coupe in 1975 and I’m still in love with her 40 years later.
In 1975, as a moderately young man (I was 29 at the time), I was still driving my first MG; a 1954 TF1500 that I had bought as a university student, eight years earlier, to replace my aging Morris Minor.
But I was on the downhill run to family responsibility with the need for a proper sedan car with four doors and room for children, and I was leaning towards Jaguar and Riley saloons; both eminently stylish in a British sort of way, yet with that practicality we family men need.
I was on the verge of buying one, or maybe both, when I was saved by the coincidence of attending an MG Car Club concours event in Melbourne on the same day that the Airy Coupe made one of its then rare public appearances. Better still, the then owner Kevin Ireland had decided to sell it, and had placed a discrete note on the windscreen.
Between The Doc and Kevin there were two other owners who enjoyed this beauty, but neither for any great length of time. After William Airy’s death in 1961, the MG was purchased from his estate by a colleague, Ian Perrin.
In 1964, Perrin first lent, but then sold, the car to a young university student, Michael Velik. In January 1969 Michael sold it to Kevin Ireland.
The rest, as they say, is history. The Black Lady became mine in 1975. She was old and tired, had 88,000 hard Australian miles under her elegant belt, and was desperate for some fresh paint and some mechanical tender loving care. Her tough Aussie leather upholstery was crying out for some hide food.
Yet she was undeniably proud, her tall radiator and gleaming ten-inch headlamps stood head and shoulders above every other MG on display and, to my eye, out-shone any Jaguar or Riley by a clear mile.
In the last 40 years we have come to know each other intimately and like all good relationships our love has matured based on respect for what we can offer each other.
She has been freshened up with new paint (now old), an engine rebuild (still going strong), several gearbox refurbishments (she has an appetite for third gears), and sympathetic attention to many other cosmetic and mechanical details. Never a full restoration though; I love her originality and her gorgeous patina of age.
For my part, she has taken me faithfully through another 80,000 miles travelling, including one memorable holiday of 8,000 miles touring through England and Europe with partner and child on board. She and I have visited most capital cities in Australia, she has been part of my three children’s entire lives and taken two of them so far to their weddings, and she has provided untold daily adventure and excitement. She is a big part of who I am.
Like with the Doc, I’m sure we will be together till the end…
But you may be wondering how and where does this car fit into the MG story.
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The BMC Experience Issue 21. Apr-Jun 2017 Magazine
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