A Girl, A Car and a Dream

Photo for A Girl, A Car and a Dream

Dad's Point of View by Keith Kallapos - An 'A' in Forty-Seven Days...Some Assembly Required!

My daughter, Kelsey, finished her freshman year at Virginia Tech and arrived back home in the middle of May. This summer would be the last chance to complete her MGA project car before we downsized and moved to our retirement home near Bedford, VA. Oh sure, there would be some extra room in the garage to store a partially assembled MG amongst our collection of 'A's and 'B's. But sometimes loose pieces mysteriously disappear, ambitions wane, and best laid plans end up on the back burner until they are reduced to nothing but regrettable memories.

So after Kelsey recuperated from final exams and caught up with her friends, I announced, "We have less than two months to get your 'A' painted, assembled, and running before the GT, young lady. It'll be a mountain of work to complete in a short amount of time and it will not get done unless you do it. Remember, I will help you every step of the way, but I will not build the car for you. Come up with a plan, or put the project on hold. It doesn't matter to me."

Okay, it did matter to me. Kelsey and I had been working on her project car for the last three years; we collected numerous parts and pieces donated by club members through the Y.E.S. program - stripping, cleaning, painting, and refurbishing them. Then she learned to weld, fabricate, hammer out dents, sand body filler, prime, and paint. Now it was time to assemble the car and enjoy driving her very own MGA - just as I had done during my teenage years...crisp top down mornings, balmy summer nights, and some spirited driving down the back roads when no one else was watching...ahhh!

"You know, it took over five months to get my 'A' back together, and I worked on it during every spare moment. You'll need to have her running by the first week in July so we can do road tests and work out the bugs. Some extra hands would be a good idea," I continued.

"I know Dad," Kelsey responded, "I've already thought of that. There's two of us with MG experience, so it should go twice as fast. And Mom said she would help with the interior, tonneau, and ragtop. I'll text my friends from college and send an e-mail to the Mid-Atlantic Chapter."

Wow, she really wants to go to the GT in Dayton...great!

"We can build the chassis in the garage and work on the body tub in the basement. When the weather's good, I'll finish painting the fenders."

Gentlemen, start your engines! The race is on! So, with help from six of Kelsey's girlfriends, several volunteers from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter, and her Mom, the next few weeks became a marathon of activity. Some days went smoothly, but many were spent going two steps forward and one step backward, as unforeseen problems arose by reuniting the parts and pieces from at least eighteen different cars. Tech Sessions, A-Antics, and the MGA guru were visited on a regular basis, with the Workshop Manual used as a tiebreaker.

"Not perfect, just pretty darn nice" was our motto for the project and we reminded ourselves that that this was a driver, not a show car, whenever hairs needed splitting. Along the way, Kelsey honed her mechanical skills, became adept at problem solving, and earned a true appreciation of persevering toward a long-term goal. (There's very little instant gratification when you're restoring an antique automobile.)

Long days of work and short nights of sleep soon ran together and no one knew (or cared) what day it was. The chassis took shape: front and rear suspension, engine and radiator in place, wiring, brakes, and fuel lines. Freshly painted wire wheels with new rubber. June was halfway gone. When the body tub was fitted, she resembled an open wheeled hot rod. July was looming. Doors, fenders, windscreen, and boot. Now she looked like an 'A'. Seats, dashboard, ragtop, and chrome. Now she gleamed like an 'A'. Carb tuning, electrical gremlins and oil leaks. Now she was truly an 'A'. Were those fireworks on the fourth taunting us or cheering us? Forty-seven days after the first bolt was tightened a living, breathing, sapphire blue MGA roadster named "Frankie" (short for Frankenstein) sat in the driveway, ready to go on her first road trip in years. Kelsey was ready, too.

Mom's Point of View by Kathy Kallapos - Kelsey’s Project Car.

My daughter, Kelsey, has a disease. I’m not sure what to call it… Little British Car Disease, MG-itis, call it whatever you like. It is the maniacal love and appreciation of MGs, and she caught it from my husband Keith. He’s a carrier.

Keith’s first car and love is a 1958 MGA, The Mistress, a BRG 1500 Roadster. Kelsey was twelve when she contracted the disease helping Keith during the three-year frame off restoration of The Mistress. Maybe it is caused by inhaling that musty antique car smell of oil, gas, dirt, and sweat or perhaps the fumes from stripping and cleaning parts. Maybe it was from turning wrenches, learning about the tools and parts used to restore an MGA. Regardless, Kelsey is infected. She decided in 2008, at the age of fifteen, that her first car would be an MGA. When Kelsey decides she wants to do something, she jumps in with both feet and charges forward. Kelsey makes things happen. I love that about her.

How could a 15 year old with limited means acquire and restore a MGA? Kelsey devised a plan of action. She saw that at the end of Keith’s restoration project there were a plenty of extra parts and pieces left over in our basement and garage. How many MG owners have extra parts and pieces lying around that they might be willing to part with? She knew that our NAMGAR chapter often discussed how to get young folks interested in cars that are older than dirt and have cranks to start them. And really, what is a choke? Only one way to find out. Kelsey ran an ad in the local chapter newsletter looking for a project car.

The response was overwhelming. In January 2009, Larry Newman donated a rolling chassis, which became the foundation of Kelsey’s project car. Other members of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter answered the call with enough parts and pieces to make Kelsey’s head spin. The Eastern New York Club pitched in to round out the parts list. Kelsey began collecting, cleaning, and re-furbishing the 1,001 pieces that would become her MGA.

Kelsey’s dad, her mentor and lead mechanic, is a very focused individual. When Keith starts a project, he doesn’t stop until it is finished, to the exclusion of almost everything else. His expectation was that Kelsey would have the same dedication to her project car. The reality was that Kelsey is a teenage girl with friends, was a high school student, she ran track, took multiple AP classes, was an active leader in 4-H, worked after school and had a 4.0+ grade point average. There was not much spare time.

Kelsey learned patience, persistence, and prioritization as well as the skills necessary to restore an MG. Summers were filled with paint stripping, welding, fabricating, rebuilding, fitting, and adjusting body parts. The first completion deadline, summer of

2010 came and went, as did the summer of 2011 with high school graduation and beach week. Kelsey left for college in the Fall of 2011 leaving only a few school breaks to work on the project car.

Fast forward to May 2012, Kelsey’s summer break, and MGA boot camp. Work began full time, painting and assembling parts and pieces from 15-18 different MGA’s to create one. From the time they awoke until they fell exhausted into bed they worked on the car. There was periodic help from fellow Chapter members Charlie Adams, Liz Ten Eyck, Bill Marshall, and John Padget. Kelsey’s girlfriends also helped with the assembly. Was it possible that Frankie would be ready to drive to Dayton for GT-37?

On the evening of Saturday, July 6th, Frankie motored out of our garage for her first 20-minute road test. Success! Sunday we left for the GT. Keith in The Mistress, Kelsey and friend, Taylor, in Frankie with me following in the air-conditioned Suburban hauling a car trailer and parts, just in case. Route 50 West welcomed our caravan. Frankie ran well on the two-lane road, up and down hills, up mountains, around hairpin turns and back down. The ever-diligent Keith made several system check stops to inspect Frankie. There was the cool down, inspection, adjustment, human hydration, and start up again. Six hours and 150 miles into the trip, Kelsey made the decision to trailer the car that she had made from scratch the rest of the way.

We arrived at the GT with Frankie on the trailer. A huge burden had been lifted from our entire family. Let the fun begin! Frankie came off the trailer and was ready to run. Kelsey and Frankie were the belles of the ball. It was quite the story. A 19 year old girl with a pretty darn good-looking car that she had restored.

I was a proud parent watching my baby run with the big dogs and holding her own. You may know the rest of the story. The Kallapos family made quite the mark on GT-37. First place for Kelsey in the 1500 Class at the car show, plus second place in the Funkhana for Mom and Dad, along with third place in the Rallye. It was a fun and much needed stress reducing vacation with some pretty exciting outcomes. I am really pleased and proud of Kelsey and Keith’s success with Frankie. They are both remarkable people with extraordinary talents.

The Real Story by Kelsey Kallapos

Where to begin? I guess should start with my father’s restoration of his 1958 MGA. Wait, wait, wait, you have to know that this “thing,” sitting in the back corner of our basement since before I was born, terrified me! You know, with the MGA being as good as abandoned, my little kid imagination thought that underneath this ‘car’ was a pit of deadly snakes waiting for me to turn off the lights while alone in our unfinished basement. But I’ll let bygones be bygones, as we fast forward to my dream, to have an MGA as my very first car after helping my father with bits of his. It all started with a crazy idea I had of putting an ad out in the MG community about anyone needing a home for spare/unwanted parts that they would be willing to donate to a fifteen year old girl who had the dream of having an MGA as her first car. Then I sent out fliers to the local Mid-Atlantic Club and sent my parents to one of the regional GTs with a stack of them. The true journey began when Larry Newman, a Mid-Atlantic chapter member, had my father and me over one day to help remove the body off a new project car of his. As we finished removing it, he mentioned that he didn’t need, or have room for the chassis, as he only bought the 'A' for the body. As I was dozing off, admiring his heated garage in the middle of December, it took me a minute to realize that he was allowing me to begin my dream! After acquiring the rolling chassis, Larry Newman became the first member of Y.E.S., the Young Enthusiast Sponsor program, whose motto is: “Shifting the Gear of British Motoring to the Next Generation.”

Since Larry had gotten the ball moving, the next step was to continue gathering and cleaning the 1001 parts to an MGA. A fender here, a door there, multiple spare wire wheels, anything we could get our hands on and salvage. After about two years, we had almost every major part, thus the birth of Frankie, as no more than a few parts came from the same car. I began to piece her together after ‘the cleansing,’ by attaching her to the rotisserie, compliments of Kirby Nelson. The rotisserie allowed me to weld her at any angle, as I was able to rotate her 360 degrees. Next came bodywork, which included both using the dolly and hammer to manipulate the metal back to original (or as close as we could get it to be), followed by the tedious yet fast paced job of body filler. Then begins my loving hatred of sanding. I swear that between body filler and sanding primer I have sanded more than I will ever need, or have to again in my life. All I can say it that I am very lucky that I had my dad help me keep my sanity throughout those dusty days.

With that being said, after bodywork, I began to master the art of painting. First with the epoxy primer, covered with sanding primer, then a round of sanding, followed by even more sanding primer and, of course, more sanding. Then came the painting! We began spraying that beautiful Sapphire Blue. After every day of painting, we had to save a day or two to wet sand and buff the newly painted parts, to ensure their smoothest appearance. Color painting was a big step towards completing the car.

After that task was finished, I truly believed that we would get her done in time for GT-37 in Dayton. However, I knew I couldn’t get my hopes up, as there was still a marathon to finish; the assembly.

Finally, it was time to put it all together. Something my friends could come over and help with. They never truly knew what I meant when I said, “Sorry, I can’t. I’ve got to work on the car.” Showing them just a part of what I did, allowing them to learn about MGs, and even getting their hands dirty made them all realize how determined I was to finish this three and a half year project. As a side note, it was truly wonderful showing my friends what I had been spending a lot of my teenage life on, and even perhaps put a spark in their minds about these beautiful antiques. Assembly was a long road; beginning a task, then hitting a bump, again and again. Whether it was a piece not fitting correctly and having to do some custom work, or not even having the part at all!

I will say that those last weeks were the most stressful ones. We had multiple lists to cross off, and I learned the order to do things to save precious time. Everything depended on something else getting done first. It was like piecing together a three-dimensional puzzle in a timed event. I took off work for three weeks prior to the event, and pulled countless late nights with my dad in the garage. There were times where I didn’t think we could finish, even some long nights when I didn’t want to finish her. But I remembered how much time my father and I had put into the project already, and knew that I had to finish to keep my 15 year old dream alive. We even skipped the caravan trip with the club to stay back and finally get Frankie running.

Kelsey SeminarThen at the last minute, the night before we had to leave, to make the two-day trip out to Dayton, Frankie took her first breath. We drove her to our normal testing ground - a nearby neighborhood that has long, open roads and not a lot of traffic. She ran like a champ for her first outing, though the driver had to get used to her clutch and such. We ran the usual diagnostic tests, how she braked, the idle, if she drove true, etc. The next morning, we set off down Route 50 for her first road trip, with my friend, Taylor, as my navigator. We put 150 miles on Frankie, up and down the mountains of West Virginia, and then I decided to trailer her as to not jinx anything. On Monday afternoon, we finally made it to Dayton for GT-37, and the debut show of Frankie. Throughout the week, I couldn’t stop smiling whenever I retold the story about how Frankie came to be, and as many of you know, the rest is history.

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Last updated on October 4, 2012.