What's cooler than cruising around Milwaukee this summer in a Porsche Boxster or BMW Z4? How about turning heads in a brand new 1972 MGB Roadster? Yes, you can buy a real, new, classic British sports car that costs about one-third of a modern-day retro convertible -- and may just be better built.
Dick Luening of Greenfield's MG Limited has quietly been building, repairing and restoring the once-popular sports cars since 1968. Advertising only by word of mouth, Luening and his two sons, Glen and Todd, will build you a vintage sports car for about $13,000. And it's probably the only car you'll ever buy that will actually appreciate in value.
First, a little history if you're too young to remember this classic car: MGBs were built in England from 1963 to 1980, though the first MG was introduced in 1925. Hundreds of thousands made it across the Atlantic to America, and a surprising number are still on the road today.
Dick Luening of Greenfield's MG Limited has quietly been building, repairing and restoring the once-popular sports cars since 1968. All the parts are interchangeable, which makes it very easy to find used parts. It's easy to work on, and they were popular for the same reason people buy Harley-Davidsons -- because of the way they ride and go down the road."
When MG shut its doors in 1980 (it's since been resurrected by Rover), loyal owners literally bought up the factory's old machines. Dozens of companies sprung up overnight to continue manufacturing parts. If you have the know-how, like Luening, you can build an entire car from the ground up using all new equipment.
Most don't, however. Enter Luening, who is a trained machinist and one of those mechanics who didn't let the demise of MG stop him from servicing the brand. Instead, it opened up a new opportunity: rebuilding MGBs from scratch and selling them at a surprisingly reasonable price.
In Luening's case, he usually starts with an old MG he picks up from the scrap heap, often in Alabama, where salvage titles are more lax than in Wisconsin. All he needs is a car with a relatively intact body. First, he cuts away any rusted panels and replaces the steel -- no body filler is used except to smooth joints between welds.
Next, he has the car sanded and primed, and it returns to his shop as what he calls a "rolling chasis," with no engine or interior.
When a customer picks out a car, the work begins. Luening and his sons will build an MG to a customer's specs, with any color or modifications they request. Some choose to restore the car to its original beauty, says Luening. Others go all out with wood grain dashboards, customized wheels, leather seats, supercharged high-performance engines or fiberglass bumpers.
"We do highly cosmetic personalized versions, or I can build you a 100-point show car for display," says Luening. "It really depends what the customer wants."
Any way he builds it, the customer gets, in essence, a brand new vintage car that can be registered with collector plates (since its VIN classifies the car as a car well over 20 years old, you won't need to deal with those pesky emissions tests more than once). That means insurance is also much less expensive than on a new sports car.
But despite their budget price tags, Luening's MGs turn heads like much more expensive cars. And they're more fun to drive, too.
"New sports cars lose touch with the road, I hear that time and time again" says Luening. "A lady just bought this white MGB and traded in her Nissan 350Z."
Without onboard computers, an old MGB is the kind of car on which a father and son can learn how to change their own oil together, too.
"You can fix them yourself, that's the big thing," says Luening. "It's basic, simple mechanics."
So why buy an MGB, a car that is probably slower than a modern-day Miata? Because it's not all about the speed (though Luening can see to it that your car will go plenty fast). This roadster just oozes panache, and more importantly, history.
"The MG is a modern, antique sports car," says Luening. "It's got the best of both worlds: classic lines and classic ride, yet it has British technology, which means you'll have stories you can pass on to your grandson."
Luening's entire family is passionate about the brand they service, a car that first caught his attention when his brother handed him his MGA Twin Cam in 1965 when he left for the service.
"It was sink or swim. I had to keep his Twin Cam running, so that's how I became proficient."
He bought his first MGB in 1966, a week before he got married. The Luenings still race, and win, that roadster in vintage and modern four cylinder auto races around the state.
To be sure, Dick and his sons support just one marque. In fact, except in special cases, he won't even touch another British sports car.
"We're doing a Triumph Spitfire, but it's for a friend of a friend who has an MGB. I hate to see people go to other repair shops where they don't know what they are doing."
Of course, Luening doesn't spend all his time rebuilding cars (though during the slow winter months, it's a nice diversion from everyday repair). He estimates he retains some 900 current customers around the Midwest, who wouldn't trust their baby to anyone else.
"We have steady customers as far away as Tampa. I've been referred to as 'Dr. Dick.' It's very gratifying to know that I can help people out."
All of which keeps MG Limited busy year-round.
Says Luening, "We'll build from six to nine cars a year, depending on how busy we are doing restorations on customers' cars that come through the door with their (own) MGs."
Each MG has its unique personality, says Luening, and a surprising number of cars are still on the road 24 years after production ceased.
So, if $13,000 for a new vintage car is too rich for your blood, don't rule out a less perfect machine, as Luening sees plenty of weathered cars come and go. Though he's not a car dealer, he does accept consignments, and it's not unusual to find an MGB (usually with a little rust) selling for as little as $2,000. Many of his customers start small and upgrade to a restored car for their second MG.
"Some people buy our cars because they had an MG and want to come back to them. The other 50 percent are people who come to the door, because their friends have one, and they've wanted one," says Luening.
Even though Luening eats, sleeps and breathes MGs, he says he's not sick of working on them, mostly because he's never encountered a problem that he couldn't fix.
"It's still a challenge," says Luening. "I enjoy going to sleep at night thinking about different scenarios about how to build stuff. It runs through my head as I'm drifting off. When I wake up in the morning, I generally have a solution."
For more information, call MG Limited at (414) 529-3200, or better yet, stop by Luening's shop at 8701 W. Forest Home Ave. in Greenfield. MG Limited's Web site is mgbracing.com.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.