At the wheel: Charlotte Vowden
Owned since: Summer 2017 (inherited from her grandfather)
Hands-on or hands-off? Hands-on (ish)
Current condition: Adventure ready
After being entrusted with the care of her late grandfather’s MGA Roadster named Frisky, Charlotte has rebuilt her life and career as a freelance writer and journalist without him, but with his classic car. Charlotte’s dad, a mechanic, helps her keep the car on the road.
29 June, 2021: Frisky
Have you ever been behind the wheel of a car that thrilled and frightened you in equal measure? This happened to me four years ago, when I lost my friend, my grandfather, Raymond Greenway, or Dodo, as I knew him. You can call him that too.
Entrusted with the care of his ‘Chariot Red’ 1960 MGA Roadster named Frisky, a retirement present to himself, I made the reluctant, but determined transition from passenger to pilot.
Reluctant, because sitting in the seat where he should be felt uncomfortable. As a fairly conservative gentleman, it was a place where he could let his guard down, and have a little fun. I enjoyed seeing the wave in his hair go wild in the wind, and felt guilty because he’d never get to feel the invigorating breeze again – the pleasure was now exclusively mine.
Determined, because I wanted to see if I had what it takes. I’d never driven Frisky, nor paid much attention to how Dodo did it. I’d been content as his selfie-taking sidekick – but it was time to take my first solo flight.
The dashboard, although basic, was bewildering. I located the right knob to bring Frisky to life, but releasing the handbrake was an altogether more challenging task.
At first, I tried to be gentle, but then, I became impatiently forceful. I tried with one hand, I tried with two. All my smugness about getting the engine started dissipated, I was shamefully at the mercy of Frisky – even the neighbour I drafted in to help with the MGA’s handbrake couldn’t do it, which was mildly reassuring.
For a moment, I worried that it was some sort of sign. A sign that I was on the wrong side of the handbrake – my rightful place was on the left, not the right. I wasn’t cut out for this classic car life.
This was Frisky giving me my first lesson, of which there have been many. I needed to be patient with her, and kind to her. I needed to respect her; she may be a simple car, mechanically, but she’s nuanced in a way that modern vehicles aren’t.
Eventually, with an ever so subtle lift, the handbrake button popped. I felt proud; it was all systems go!
With the roof down, and sunglasses on, I explored the local A roads, ascertaining her sweet spots for gear changing as I went. Feeling fabulously whimsical, I glided onto a dual carriageway, which is where things went a little wrong.
Frisky’s windscreen wipers, I discovered, were pathetic. I, and she, were being thrashed by rain, which turned to hail, and I didn’t know how to turn her lights on (or if they even worked) and yes, the roof was down.
Luckily, I wasn’t far from a service station, so I retreated to the furthest corner of its car park to assess the situation. I was mortified, but I wasn’t alone in this self-pity for long.
Two fellow classic car owners had spotted me, clearly in distress, and came to offer assistance. Together, we three freed Frisky’s soft-top from behind the soaking wet seats and with some energetic team work managed to persuade the stiff, rust-tinged frame to expand up and out into place.
Then came the next oops, I hadn’t brought the windows. Too embarrassed to confess my oversight I declined their kind offer of a warming cup of tea and headed for home.
Predictably, this final leg was not without incident. A failed gear change caused me to stutter to an almost standstill as I tried to exit a roundabout.
I begged Frisky for help, I called out to Dodo for help, but none came. I had to do this myself. I felt vulnerable and frightened, but, I didn’t give up. I got her going again, and I vowed to install hazard lights.
You’d think this might have put me off, but I’ve come a long way since then, and there are many tales to tell. Which I’l be doing here for you lovely Hagerty readers, with monthly updates about my #adventureswithfrisky – as well as going back to the start of the story of this particular car’s colourful history.
At the root of most of the fear I’ve felt during my time with Frisky is self-doubt and a lesson yet to be learnt, but this is always followed by a feeling of survival and growth. The bad times become good anecdotes, and the good times are the ones I hope for. She has changed me irreversibly.
17 August, 2021: The MGA’s birth certificate
Call me overemotional, but finding FSK 302’s chassis number in the original MGA production ledger very nearly brought me to tears. It was a reminder that she was one of many, but like all classics, her story has made her one of a kind.
Stamped slightly wonkily in black ink on yellowed paper, her identifying digits were accompanied by a number of dates and coded details – divided into columns and contained within a single row. Her journey along the production line began on the 28th June 1960, and took seven days to complete. Twenty eight summers before I was even born.
Being privy to the pages of this factory ledger was a privilege granted to me by The British Motor Museum’s Archivist, Charlotte Gallant. Under normal circumstances, researchers, owners and enthusiasts are only given access to digitalised scans upon request, so my experience felt particularly intimate. I was able to hold Frisky’s literal certificate of birth.
To verify her provenance, I’d previously obtained a British Motor Industry Heritage certificate, and to issue this, Charlotte’s colleague, Richard Bacchus, certificate officer for the BMIH, had already made himself familiar with FSK’s entry so I enlisted his help to decipher exactly what all the remarks and markings in the ledger meant.
What did “date advised” mean, and why was there a hand-drawn red circle in the “Serial or CSO No” column? The latter, to me, seemed a little out of place.
“The column titled ‘Serial or CSO No’ is being used for a different purpose here,” explained Richard.
My suspicions had been correct.
“I’m yet to establish what a CSO number is, no one has an answer to that, but in this case they are using the column to record factory fitted extras, with a coded notation. So, going on your car’s record, a small red circle = wire wheels (no small red circle = disc wheels), ‘H’ = heater, ‘ww’ = windscreen washer and ‘wwt’ = whitewall tyres.”
Date advised, it transpired, was the point at which the factory signed off the build and informed MG that Frisky was ready to roll.
Once dispatched, FSK sailed straight across the Atlantic to America. What I do know is she spent three decades in California, but to whom she belonged I don’t. Did she have a name back then? Your guess is as good as mine, but after being given the opportunity to discover specific details of her beginning I’m even more eager to get answers to that bigger question, as well as learn about the people who made her. Without them, there wouldn’t be an us.
01 November, 2021: Last Christmas, I gave you my scarf
It was a few miles past one o’clock in the morning when the owl made its descent out of the darkness. So still, yet still in motion, its white wings were ablaze in Frisky’s main beam. As it shepherded us forward, albeit fleetingly, I considered the significance of its visit.
Often regarded as a symbol of wisdom and endurance, I interpreted the owl’s presence as a warning; be careful, but keep going. This was November 2020, and taking leave of a crisp but bearable clime in the south east, I was travelling north towards the Highlands. Not in search of the cold, but an inevitable victim of it, because sporty post-war convertibles weren’t built for protecting passengers against such perils as frostbite.
With my long-suffering boyfriend, James, along for the 582 mile ride, we had to cover a mere 362 that night – and with each one he retreated further into the nest of coats and blankets he’d built around himself for insulation. From within it (at my request) he DJ’d a playlist of Christmas songs through his mobile phone. I thought they’d bring a little comfort and perhaps a little joy, but they did little to thaw the mood.
Occasionally, he emerged to scrape the delicate sheen of ice that was forming on the inside of the windscreen – with hindsight, it would have been a good idea to check the heater was working before we’d left. The journey, quite frankly, was brutal, and no matter how many litres of hot and horrible service station beverages we guzzled, nothing brought the colour back to our cheeks, as these status updates from my travelogue reveal:
04.00: FaceTime mum. Colder. Christmas tunes and hot coffee.
04.14: Still chilly. 230 miles to go. Scottish Borders.
JAMES HERE … JUST TO CLARIFY, IT’S FREEEEEEZING!!
By dawn, we’d reached Scotch Corner, where sunshine and a snooze defrosted our spirits to tepid. Needless to say, when we made a brief, but obligatory tourist stop at Gretna Green a little later, a shotgun wedding did not take place.
Last November, we were in lockdown, which saved James from making any executive decisions about the style in which we should make our annual trip to the Highlands. This year, he’s convinced me that we should go in his new, and rather sensible Mazda 6 family saloon. We won’t be able to drop the top and let our earlobes tingle in the chill, but it does have cup holders and, silly things like, you know, heating.