Drawn to Speed: The Automotive Art of John Lander (2015)
Because my direct experience with cars has always inspired and informed my art, I have devoted this chapter to sharing the stories of my own cars of interest. It begins with my first car at age sixteen and ends with the sale of my last MG in 1999. Over the years, cars came and went. The following are some of the adventures along the way.
The Yellow TC and Other Tales
In Atlanta, Georgia, in 1951, used MGs were as rare as hen’s teeth. In late summer, the impossible happened. On the lot at Import Motors there appeared a 1948 MG-TC for sale at an affordable price—affordable because of a promise my father made when I was thirteen. He told me if I worked part time jobs and saved my money, he would match what I saved. So, for $1,200 plus Georgia sales tax ($36), I had my first car. The TC was black with green leather and matching green grille slats. To a sixteen year old boy, this was a rather dowdy color combination, so I talked my dad into having the paint shop at his Dodge dealership go to work on the car. The color I chose was, to put it mildly, a shocking bright yellow. Ordinary citizens and the local law could spot me a mile away. My driving style at the time consisted of two speeds, standing still and flat out! By going around most corners sideways, I once wore out a set of tires in a thousand miles. This resulted in some stern parental advice and recommendations. Alas, my first car affair was short and sweet.
I was next smitten with a British Singer open four-passenger tourer. The main attraction of this car was the ability to carry more than one of my friends as passengers. The Singer certainly did not have the dashing looks of the TC, nor did it have much dash. When fully loaded with four people, it was quite underpowered. The Singer and I parted ways when a used MG-TD came onto the market.
The TD had about the same performance as the TC, with admittedly advanced suspension and steering improvements. This is the car I had when I became the youngest Atlanta member of the Sports Car Club of America, at age seventeen. With a letter of parental consent, I was allowed to compete in an upcoming hill climb at Burnt Mountain. The mountain, near Jasper, Georgia, in the north Georgia mountains, had a dirt road from base to summit. To the best of my recollection, some twenty or more cars competed, and I finished about midway in the field. My time with the TD ended when I foolishly loaned the car to a friend who promptly hit a fire hydrant while trying to corner at way too high a speed.
After the demise of the TD, along came a very special TC. This car had been owned by the late Lindsey Hopkins, owner of Import Motors. Built during the final year of TC production, the car had smaller, sealed beam headlights and full bumpers with small overriders. The TC was ordered from the factory with 16 inch Rudge Whitworth wire wheels. This made for wider tires on the ground and better acceleration. In this car, I competed in my second Sports Car Club competition, the “Tate Trials.” Stevie Tate was a Georgia state senator who had considerable land holdings near the community of Tate in the mountains of north Georgia. Tate’s property had two entrances, one at the highest elevations of his land and the other at the lowest. Between the two entrances, on one side, ran a straight stretch of county highway. On Tate’s property, there was a series of winding gravel roads. The challenge was making a roughly five-mile circuit. The answer was having the local sheriff close the county road for a couple of hours so Tate and his crazy friends could run one car at a time against the clock.
Being all of eighteen years old, and having no fear of death or dismemberment, I drove like a maniac and finished third overall. I was beaten by a Jaguar and a well-driven MG-TD MKII.
My first Jaguar followed and it was a lovely car indeed. It was an early (1950?) alloy bodied XK-120 and supposedly had been shown in the Miami, Florida, auto show. It was finished in a very nice two-tone paint job in red and black. This car was a huge step up in power and speed from the MGs I had grown used to driving. I liked everything the Jaguar had to offer, but it just wasn’t as much fun to drive as the MGs.
I traded the alloy bodied XK-120 for a pampered one-owner TC finished in British racing green with tan interior. The green TC’s time with me ended when I left for art school in California with everything packed into a 1951 Plymouth coupe from my Dad’s used car lot.
At this point, we get into some of my marital history. At age 20, while attending art school, I met an Australian girl who I was sure was the love of my life. With a year of school finished, we ran off to Yuma, Arizona, and got married. After a little disagreement with my new mother-in-law, we came to Atlanta and I went to work.
Along with two wonderful daughters, of course a car entered the picture. At an emporium known as Southeastern Sports Car, Inc., I found my next adventure. Into a nice stock white MG-TC someone had installed a sixty horse Ford V8. Unfortunately, this particular installation was not well thought out or executed. Instead of using a Ford transmission to go with the engine swap, the MG gearbox was retained. The Ford engine was equipped for a six-volt electrical system while the MG was twelve-volt. Someone sought to solve this by installing two six-volt batteries instead of the twelve-volt that came with the car. The hope seemed to be that the engine electrics would run off one of the six-volt batteries and the rest of the electronics off of the two batteries combined. This was doomed to failure and constant electrical problems ensued. The end of my time with this car pretty much coincided with the end of my first marriage!
Fast-forward to 1960 and the beginning of my second attempt at marriage. I was again looking about for a nice stock MG-TC, and again Southeastern Sports Cars supplied my need for a project. I purchased a well-worn TC that needed some tender care. After fixing one little problem after another, I embarked on a total restoration. The pictures show the car and me right after I finished painting the frame bright red. The car was finished in black with red undercarriage and red under the fenders. The restoration took about a full year. (Side note: Since no new MG mufflers were available in 1960, this is probably the only TC with a 1960 Plymouth resonator instead of a stock muffler.)
My second wife and I became very interested in running in time, speed and distance rallies. The car we usually competed in was her XK-120 M roadster; in a picture that follows you see me changing the speedometer drive gear on the side of the transmission. A pre-rally odometer check revealed a big difference between the car that laid out the rally and the Jaguars. Unfortunately, the gear I installed compounded the problem.
Around this time (1963), I began a longtime friendship with the late Charlie Turner, which led to my acquiring the 1932 Aston Martin Le Mans prototype. Charlie owned a nice 1933 Aston Le Mans and had purchased the disassembled ’32 Aston as a spare parts car.
Charlie and I were buying later model damaged Astons and rebuilding them for sale. At one time, we were probably among the few people in Atlanta rebuilding twin overhead cam British cars. After finishing a rebuild on a DB2 MK4 drophead, Charlie had the opportunity to buy LM 20, the famous factory team car from the mid-thirties! I struck a deal to give up my half of the profit on the DB2 for the 1932 parts car. I began a slow process of trying to restore the parts car.
In 1968, my second marriage ended in divorce after two more wonderful children. The much-loved TC was sold, but I managed to hold on to the 1932 Aston restoration project.
In 1970, I was married for the third, and final, time. I met my wife at an American Motors dealership that also sold Triumphs and Volvos. I was there in the service department to deal with the Triumph and Volvo owners. The American Motors service manager felt that he could not deal with people who drove foreign cars. My wife-to-be owned a 1968 navy blue TR4A, a nicely equipped car with wire wheels and electric overdrive. It also had a solid rear axle. Most new Triumphs had independent rear suspension, which sometimes required universal joint replacement.
In the fifth year of our marriage, my wife was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor that required surgery and followup treatment. At this time, I sold the unfinished Aston project. Many years and three owners later, it was crated up and sent to England where it was finally completely restored. The picture shows me with the restored car at the 2006 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
During my wife’s long illness, I kept an eye out for a possible bargain on an interesting car. Sometime in the late 1970s, I saw an interesting ad in the classifieds of the Atlanta paper: “Jaguar XK-120 coupe in storage several years sold as is $1,400.00.” I made a phone call and arranged to go see the car.
It was obvious the car had been sitting for some time, located in a downtown Atlanta warehouse. The paint was a dull silver, the once leather seats were covered in garish black-and-white naugahyde and, of course, the battery was completely dead. The windshield glass was also missing. I went back to see the car a second time, now armed with a hot battery and jumper cables. I checked the oil and found it to be full, but dirty. With some fiddling, I got the engine started. With great optimism, I made an offer and bought the car.
Now, an interesting problem had to be dealt with. The Jaguar had been driven into the warehouse via a street entrance and parked in the back of the space, well away from that entrance. As the Jag rested in place, some years later the warehouse was divided into two sections with a wall down the middle. The only connecting door was a standard 3 feet wide unit. The only way to remove the car was off a rear loading dock platform, several feet above ground level. Remaining optimistic, I rented the largest Ryder truck available, short of a tractor-trailer. I made a stop at a Home Depot and bought two, ten-foot long 2" × 10" boards and threw them all in the truck.
The bed of the truck was about a foot lower than the loading dock. This meant the truck had to be situated several feet away so the boards could rest on the dock and the truck floor. With my heart in my throat, I managed to drive the Jag into the back of the truck. After that, getting the car off the truck onto my driveway seemed pretty easy.
With a second operation for my wife coming up, I wound up selling the Jag, unfinished, a few months later.
In the late 1970s, the recession dried up the need for design work and I was between jobs. People were investing in antique and classic cars and prices were skyrocketing. I went in with some of my car friends and started offering long-term loans through a local bank.
This connection allowed me to arrange a nothing down, five-year loan to buy a car myself. The car I bought was a 1935 MG PB. The PB was the last of the four cylinder, single-overhead cam MGs. One of the interesting mechanical features was the drive for the overhead cam. The generator was used as the drive shaft. The generator was mounted vertically at the front of the engine. A lower gear at the front of the crankshaft turned the generator. At the top, a flexible thin metal plate joined the generator shaft to the camshaft drive gear. There were no cooling fans and no drive belts were necessary. The car was beautifully finished and the MG octagon was used extensively. The gearshift gate, the instrument chrome surrounds, and even the front fender parking lights were octagonal! I worked on and drove the PB for about ten years. I was able to sell the PB for just enough to buy back the TC I sold in 1968.
My TC was fresh from a rebuild by a MG restoration shop North Carolina. I was able to enjoy my second ownership until 1999. At this time, mounting family medical bills forced the sale of both the TC and the 1968 Triumph my wife had bought new. After my wife’s passing a year later, I relocated to Smyrna, Georgia, where I currently live. My only car, and my daily transportation, is a nice, presentable 1965 VW Beetle.
Now, if I could just win the lottery, who knows what exciting cars might be out there waiting for me!
This is my first car, purchased at age 16. I had seen pictures of the MG-TC in an article in Fortune magazine and that was the beginning of my fascination with interesting cars that still continues. I refer to it as the yellow TC; I had it painted a very bright yellow soon after its purchase in 1951.
In my first competition drive I ran this MG-TD at a hill climb on Burnt Mountain. This was a timed run on the dirt road up the mountain. Burnt Mountain is near Jasper, Georgia, in the north Georgia mountains.
I saved this 1952 Sports Car Club of America membership card all these years. I got it at age 17 when I first joined the SCCA. I really felt I had arrived. The SCCA and I were just starting an exciting journey.
This 1949 MG-TC had been ordered from the factory with special 16" Rudge Whitworth wire wheels, and was the only TC in Atlanta so equipped. In the picture I am behind the wheel (right hand drive), and in the passenger seat my high-school friend Spencer Godfrey.
This is an early alloy bodied XK-120 Jaguar Roadster that I had in 1954. The Jag had a beautiful two-tone red and black paint combination. The car supposedly had been on display at the Miami, Florida, annual auto show.
I bought this MG-TC in 1960, and in 1961 I began a body off, frame up restoration. This picture was taken shortly after I painted the frame and running gear red.
At the beginning of a time, speed, and distance rally you can check your odometer reading over a measured mile to see how close your instrument is to the car that laid out the rally. The Jag was way off. In the picture I am changing the speedometer drive gear on the side of the transmission.
I acquired this 1932 Aston Martin LeMans as my payment for work on an Aston DB MK II that Charlie Turner and I rebuilt and sold. Due to family medical expenses I sold it unfinished in 1976.
At the Amelia Island Concours in 2006, I had the opportunity to see the 1932 Aston I sold in 1976. After it had passed through two owners, the third owner had the unfinished car sent back to England for a complete restoration. It was wonderful to see the car properly finished.
The TR4A was bought new by my late wife Carole in 1968, and remained in the family until 1999. The car was equipped with wire wheels and an electric overdrive unit. The overdrive made it a very good road car and we took it on many pleasant road trips.
I responded to an ad in the Atlanta newspaper and discovered this XK-120 Jaguar Coupe in a downtown warehouse. I had to drive the car off a loading dock into a rental truck to get it home. I had plans to restore the car but wound up having to sell it as is.
I owned this 1935 MG-PB for about 10 years and really enjoyed driving and working on it. The car actually was built in October 1935, the month before I was born. I sold the PB in the late 1980s and bought back the TC I had sold in 1968.
List of Names and Terms