NAMGAR Member Focus Series:  Joan’s MGA Coupe

Photo for NAMGAR Member Focus Series:  Joan’s MGA Coupe

by Gerald Kulm, NAMGAR Member (#8064)

(Editor's Note:  This is the first in a series of NAMGAR member stories in response to a "Call for content" e-mail from Kurt Brueske, NAMGAR Internet Coordinator, 13 August 2019.  I would like to thank NAMGAR members for their many enthusiastic responses!)

During our 50 year marriage, Joan would often reminisce about her 1958 MGA Coupe. She owned the car in 1961 - 63 while working for the CIA. This was a few years before we met in 1966 as Master’s degree students at Cornell University. 

Joan had lived in an apartment near Scott Circle in Washington, DC. Each morning, she would call down to the doorman, requesting that her MG be brought up from the garage. Joan would drive across Key Bridge onto the George Washington Parkway to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. In those days, the Parkway was not jammed with rush hour traffic, so the drive along the Potomac river and the dense woods was a great experience, especially in a car like the MG!  Joan’s Dad was a pretty good backyard mechanic and kept the SU carbs tuned and the car running well.

Joan’s specialty was tracking Soviet oil and fuel trade and shipments. She was fluent in Russian language, having a Master’s degree in Economics from the Russian Institute at Columbia University. Her analysis involved reading trade journals and listening to Soviet messages. All of this led Joan to be among the group who detected Soviet shipments of fuel to Cuba, setting off the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962. 

Joan’s first 1958 MGA Coupe, ca. 1963 (Source:  Gerald Kulm)

In 1964, Joan moved to New York, working as a Programming Assistant for Radio Liberty, another CIA operation. The station made broadcasts to the Soviet Union, countering the propaganda that Soviet citizens heard about the United States from their government. Joan developed ideas for stories about US life to broadcast in Russian language. Joan couldn’t afford expensive parking and really didn’t need a car in New York City. She sold her beloved MG.

Joan’s past positions as an intelligence analyst for the CIA in Washington, DC and her work in New York City were pretty glamorous to me, a farm kid from Idaho. As the saying goes, it was love at first sight and we were married in June, 1967.

Fast forward almost 50 years to July, 2015. I had retired and we moved to California. One day, Joan was again remembering her MG Coupe and the “good old days” when she had an exciting life working at the CIA. I went online and found a 1958 MGA Coupe for sale in San Diego. It was even red, just like hers had been. A friend had an enclosed trailer, which we drove to San Diego, cashier’s check in hand. The seller had owned the car for 40 years and had registration slips and service records going back many years. The test drive was a formality; Joan was going to have her red MGA Coupe at last! 

Joan’s “new” 1958 MGA Coupe, before adding white sidewall tires and window trim, July 2015 (Source: Gerald Kulm)

The car was as original as it came from the factory. The seller had done an engine rebuild and paint job a few years before. It was a California car with no rust. After replacing the upholstery and putting on white sidewall tires, the car looked nearly identical to Joan’s MG that I had seen in photos from 50 years earlier. 

In 2016, we decided to move to Idaho where I had grown up. We loaded the MG into the moving van, looking forward to drives in the mountains and forests. Joan never got the chance to realize that dream. She passed away from bouts with cancer in February, 2018.

I decided to join the Idaho British Car Club and drive Joan’s MGA Coupe in her memory. We have enjoyed some beautiful drives in Idaho and made some good friends. The more I drive it, the better it seems to run. Joan’s MG has even won a few trophies at local car shows. I like to think that whenever I drive her MG, Joan is sitting in the seat next to me.

Joan’s 1958 MGA Coupe at the Southwest Idaho All British Field Meet in Meridian, Idaho, September 2018 (Source:  Alex Simpson (used by permission))

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Last updated on August 18, 2019.