August 1, 2010 in City

‘Miss Daisy’ was built to be driven


In vintage car jargon, “ground-up restoration” refers to that labor-intensive process of transforming a rust bucket or a time-worn vehicle into like-new or even showroom condition.

The 1958 MG Magnette Jim Phelps resurrected, however, is the first “tape-up restoration” I’ve ever encountered.

Phelps, 74, showed me a photo of the Magnette’s interior taken before its four-year restoration.

The front seats were held together by layers upon layers of silver duct tape.

Phelps laughed. “You didn’t need a seat belt,” he said. “You’d just stick to the tape.”

That should give you an idea of how thoroughly trashed the MG was when Phelps forked over $1,000 for it and a parts car.

If you go to Millwood’s city park today and gaze upon the black-and-gray sedan that Phelps has dubbed “Miss Daisy,” I guarantee you won’t be able to picture this regal automobile as anything but the pristine showpiece it now is.

Miss Daisy is one of the entries in the annual BritBull British car show, which is open to the browsing public until 3 p.m.

Phelps, a retired truck driver, drove the MG to Spokane from his home near Carson City, Nev. (Phelps’ kid sister, Judith, and her husband, John, have a home here.)

“I built this car to drive, not to be a garage queen,” explained Phelps of his fancy English ride.

You may recall that I entered my sage-colored ’87 Jaguar in this show last year.

This time I intend to be at the park at noon to gawk at the showpieces and give away a few Otto buttons. You can also have one of my new anti-political buttons (“Politicians – same jerks we hated in high school”) for any donation to the Second Harvest Inland Northwest food bank.

If you want to visit my Jag it will be in the parking lot. The show doesn’t need me. Ron Wilson, BritBull spokesman, said he expects 100 entries including his own British car, a ’78 canary yellow Austin Mini he calls “Tweety.”

What is it with these dudes and their car names?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Jaguar. Every time I slide behind the wheel I feel as elegant as the Queen Mum.

But I’ve never considered naming the thing.

If I did I’m pretty sure “Impulse Purchase” would be the name my lovely wife, Sherry, would insist on.

Just the other day she asked me, “And why again do you need an old Vista Cruiser and an old Jaguar?”

Marrying a good sport is a must for anyone with a clunker addiction.

Phelps is a prime example. In their 50 years of marriage, Phelps said his wife, Muriel, learned to love old MGs almost much as he does.

Muriel died from cancer last year. Her passing makes Miss Daisy even more special since it was Muriel who persuaded Jim to buy the car. Muriel learned about the MG from a couple the Phelpses met at a California vintage car race.

Jim and Muriel had owned a Magnette not long after they were married in 1959. They drove that car 10 years before trading it in, and Muriel often talked about getting another.

It’s easy to see why.

Most people think of MG autos as those racy, cool roadsters. But the Magnette, which was unveiled in 1953, is a luxurious four-seater with stylish appointments, like leather seats, plenty of chrome and a wood dash and trim.

It’s rarer than a kept political promise, too.

There are probably fewer than 300 Magnettes in the United States, Phelps said.

Miss Daisy is a proud example. Since the restoration was finished in 2003, Phelps said his car has been displayed in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, and it won a first for its class in a national MG association show. In 2005, he added, Miss Daisy won both people’s choice and best of show in Coeur d’Alene’s popular Car d’Lane festival.

But Miss Daisy means much more to Phelps than trophies.

“It’s a history of our marriage and the raising of our three girls,” he said.

Not to mention that this beauty is still a great driving machine.

“I have no fear of getting in this car and going anywhere in the United States in it,” he said. “Yeah, it doesn’t have air conditioning. But it will still get you where you want to go.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at

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