Frank and Debbie Do Abingdon

Frank and Debbie Do Abingdon

The conversation started with me saying, “You know, Paris isn’t that far from London.”  Frank and I were making plans to join our daughter Allison, son-in-law Kris and 10 year old grandson Dylan in France to follow the last 3 days of the Tour d’ France bicycle race which ends with a grand finale on the Champs Elysees.  We were beginning our trip in Bordeaux and planned to end with a day trip to Champagne, but Abingdon grabbed our attention more than champagne.

Bordeaux – Orleans –Paris and the Tour d’ France –    and  those boxes off-quite the enjoyable carnival atmosphere for the Tour in the small French towns-not so much with the large pushy crowds in Paris on the Champs Elysees, but after years of watching the 21 day bike race on TV, the experience was well worth the effort.

After 3 memorable days of sightseeing in Paris we were ready for the first leg of our English odyssey –  the Paris Metro to the train station.  Allison guided us through the Metro maze for the first days but Frank and I managed to negotiate the Metro to Monmarte by ourselves and we figured with just 1 line change it was an easy shot to the Gare Du Nord station so we didn’t give in to the luxury of a taxi.  Anyway it gave me a chance to laugh one more time at my favorite Paris machine, not the ever-present Nespresso coffee machine, but the point cap dispenser located in every Paris metro station.

Air conditioning is not as prevalent in Paris as in the States and by the time I dragged my bag into the train station I was dripping with sweat.  First glitch was when the ticket machine wouldn’t dispense our prepaid tickets.  No problem, go to the ticket counter-oops wrong counter with the correct location all the way across the hot station.  Along with our printed train tickets we were handed an UK entry form to fill out.  Form completed, sweat dripping we approached British customs and were surprised by the thoroughness of the customs agent.  She kept saying over and over “Why are you going to Oxford?” and our description of our intended pilgrimage to Abington along with our gesturing to all the MG logos we were wearing had little effect.  It wasn’t until I produced our hotel confirmation and return flight information that she stamped our passports and let us through.  It must have been my dripping sweat the obvious sign of nervousness, that lead her to believe that Frank and I were two middle-aged terrorists intent on disrupting the London Olympics with our MG-related shenanigans.

The rocking Eurostar train lulled us to sleep almost immediately only to wake up in the blackness of the chunnel.  Sunlight – wow- English countryside looks just like French countryside and then onto St. Pancras station.  It was the day before the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics and the station was mobbed.  One quick stop for an Olympic souvenir, we were in London after all, and we were off walking with our suitcases again to find the nearby tube station Kings Crossing.  Following the station signs was harder than anticipated and by this time I was tired of dragging my lopsided suitcase and traded Frank for his newer but smaller suitcase. The London Tube was quite different from the Paris Metro- dirtier, hotter and the lights inside the car kept going off and on. Kings Cross to Paddington and again following the signs to the English Railway system.  It’s a good thing that I didn’t prepurchase our train tickets because we would have missed the train, but getting a senior ticket rate made up for the lapse.  The English Railway system reminded me of our former daily commute to Chicago from the suburbs on the Chicago/Northwestern railroad.  A short hour later we were in Oxford.  Walking out of the Oxford train station we started wondering where our hotel was located when we looked up and read the sign “Royal Oxford Hotel” plastered on a building a half  block down-great planning.

That night at a pub in town Frank and I decided that Oxford was the Austin of England.  Both are college towns with loads of young people, lots of pubs, shopping and even a KFC and Gap; the only difference was the architecture and the age of the town.  Somehow I don’t think that Austin was around in the 8th century.  The next morning after a “full English breakfast” (oh, how we missed our French croissants, brie and ham) it was off to Abby Road for the rental car.  By the time we walked into Avis I was nauseous with terror. Since Frank was the designated driver, he picked the rental car, or shall I say our mode of destruction.  With options ranging from a Peugot, Vauxhall, or Volkswagen he chose a Ford (horror!).

Let me start by saying that Frank was an awesome driver, but me not a good passenger.  We put 43 miles on the rental car that day- Abingdon was 7 miles down the road.  Driving in the left lane, shifting with his left hand, roundabouts – nothing fazed Frank in the least.  All I could manage was to hold the door handle with a death grip while my other hand held the phone for directions.  Guess who got us lost?!

We got semi-directions (down A24, 2nd exit to Abingdon) from the Avis people and on the exit from a roundabout marked with the MG Club logo we left the main road.  We stopped at the first building we saw all decorated with British flags-must be the MG clubhouse-only to find out we were at the English war veterans building-duh, English flags in England is not an unusual sight.  A little farther down the road we reached Kimber House. We pulled our Ford into the parking lot filled with new model MGs and we were home.

We were warmly welcomed by Julian White the General Manager of the MG Car Club who had just started giving a tour to a couple from Holland who shipped their MGF to England.  My first thought was “see, we’re not the only crazies.”  After introductions and comments about the British driving on the wrong side of the road, we toured the clubhouse with them. Kimber House was packed with memorabilia from the early years of MG production through its closing and present day club events and races.  Kimber House itself sits at the edge of the former factory location and its front iron fence is the original MG plant fence.  The four of us spent a fascinating hour going through the findings at Kimber House.  Cases upon cases of trophies, photographs, articles, all sorts of memorabilia from around the world all in the name of the MG marque.  And that didn’t include the separate archive room with its soon to be compiled technical drawings, model specifications and treasurers too rare to be put on public display. The past was displayed but we also talked about the future.  Both Julian and Andy (magazine editor) have been to China.  Julian said that they had to correct some MG folklore the Chinese misused and they felt the MG Club has better relations with the Chinese than the Chinese do with Longbridge.

Tradition has it that visitors bring a memento from their MG club to leave at Kimber House.  Frank and I were unprepared, but there, right in the front of the middle shelf was the enameled TMGR logo pin.  We pointed it out to Julian and felt redeemed by our TMGR Club members.

After photographs with Julian and our Dutch MG friends, we asked about Cecil Kimber’s home that’s been turned into a “not so good” pub and decided to walk (notice the mode of transportation) into Abingdon centre for lunch and a look at the county museum.  Abingdon County Hall Museum just recently opened after a long renovation.  It smelled of newly sawed wood that comprised the staircase.  Three stories up was a portion devoted to MGs in Abington.  In the center of the display space was the last MGB Roaster off the line at the Abingdon plant.  Interesting to note was the fact that they had to hoist the car on its side through the building’s window in order for it to sit in its final resting place.  Besides the (now) typical memorabilia were 2 videos-one a silent film of a couple in the ‘30’s getting a letter indicating  their new MG was being produced showed them on tour of the factory.  It was a fascinating look back into pre-war production factory shops.  The second video was a compilation of MG TV ads from the 60s and 70s, all with longer haired guys and cute girls.  I expected to see Austin Powers pop out of the screen.  Up another flight of stairs to view the miniature MG car collection and our tour was complete. One last good-by at the Kimber house and we were back on the road to Oxford.

Later that night after an Italian dinner (British food is not our favorite), again sitting in a pub, we watched the pre-show to the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Our discussion centered on the day’s awesome experience.  Owning an MG means that you’re part of history and that history is brought to life through a visit to Kimber House.  Of course, through the internet you can visit the Kimber House and research the history of the MG, but until you set foot inside the Kimber House, until you walk the streets of Abingdon, until you experience the true warmth and camaraderie of the British MG Car Club members and its world-wide devotees can you then appreciate the unique piece of history that’s in your possession.

Next morning we took the bus to Heathrow and Frank chose a front row seat with a full view of the huge windshield which I’m convinced he selected to give me yet another heart attack precipitated by watching the bus drive on the wrong side of the road.  While waiting for our flight departure, I went shopping and found the most appropriate souvenir.  Frank and I both got t-shirts emblazoned with a phrase that summed up our Oxford/Abingdon trip– Churchill’s phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” Yes we did exactly that!

Frank and Debbie Kopek

2 Comments

  1. Hi
    Stumbled across this whilst surfing & found it a really interesting read. Good to hear MG fans still pigrimage here to Abingdon – I was one of the last apprentices to have been hired at the plant a couple of years before its closure.
    Had great times there but sadly too short.
    Tim

  2. Mg car fans, never met one I didnt like. Always have a smile on their faces and a positive outlook.

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