History of NAMGAR
The Formation of NAMGAR
The North American MGA Register (NAMGAR) was formally organized in July, 1975 by a group of Washington, D.C. area MG enthusiasts who felt there were other MG owners in the United States and Canada that shared their passion for the MGA. The objective of the Register was to further the preservation and enjoyment of the MGA, which was manufactured between 1955 and 1962, and its variants, and to promote the camaraderie of individuals owning these wonderful automobiles. It was felt having a national organization would beneﬁt MGA owners by providing a central point of contact for news, events, technical information, and car and parts exchange. It also would allow manufacturers and distributors of MGA-related services a centralized means of reaching MGA owners.
In the early 1970s, Len and Ruth Renkenberger, Mac and Billie Spears, and John and Linda Wright were car enthusiasts that enjoyed British sports cars in general, but with a particular affection for the MG marque. John had been buying and repairing MGAs since the late 1960s and in the early 1970s also began to explore the T series, joining the Chesapeake Chapter of the New England T Register with his TD. Mac and Len were active NEMGTR members with Len and Ruth being elected co-chairpersons of the Chesapeake Chapter about this time. Sharing a close proximity to one another living in the Capital Beltway region of Washington, D.C. and with Len, Mac, and John working within a three-block radius in downtown D.C., it was natural a close bond would form with these families.
Around this time, Len found an “unusual” MGA in someone’s back yard. He knew it was something special and John theorized it was a Twin Cam with the engine replaced. Len did his research and found he was the new owner of a rare Mark II Deluxe, a car which few knew any details of at the time. Len had been pestering John to investigate a California Twin Cam for sale at a local Bap-Geon auto parts store. The car was solid and rust-free due to its California heritage but carried a very high price tag. After careful consideration, John relented and paid the premium price of $1,200 for his Twin Cam. In addition to his TD, Mac owned and restored Model A Fords. Mac acquired an MGA 1600 and restored it using skills developed with his Model A projects. Len continued to drive his TC and restored a TD for Ruth to drive. John eventually traded his restored TD for a project TC, it being stated that no MG collection was complete without a TC! Their growing car collections were now ﬁnely blended with MG T and A series automobiles.
As active members of the New England MG T Register, the Spears and Renkenbergers attended many of the “Gathering of the Faithful” events, mainly held in the New England area, driving their TDs to these events. The Renkenbergers also attended a number of Canadian Chapter GoF events and noticed many of their Canadian friends arriving in MGAs. Len and Ruth learned MGAs were accepted by the Ontario Chapter of NEMGTR as continuation models of the MG heritage. At a time in their lives when working to provide the daily bread and raising their families was still an important requirement, they soon realized that weekend romps to the north were quicker and more comfortable while driving an A.
As the mid 1970s approached, the oldest of the MGAs were just turning 20 while the youngest were approaching 13 years old. Not yet the desired classic British sports car they would become, many languished on used car lots and in back yards – victims of the muscle car craze or perhaps grounded by the Prince of Darkness. Still, they had begun to develop a loyal following as MG sports car fans realized the beneﬁts of the increased power, cruising speed, comfort, and affordability over the MG T series.
As members of the New England MG T Register, the Renkenbergers, Spears and Wrights understood the advantages of having a national register devoted to one series. At ﬁrst, the option of joining with the established NEMGTR was explored but it was soon decided the MGA had a heritage that would best stand on its own. Therefore, in July 1975, at the kitchen table of John and Linda Wright, the North American MG Register was born. Mac Spears accepted the role as chairman, John Wright the roles of vice-chairman and technical advisor, Ruth Renkenberger as secretary/ treasurer, and Len Renkenberger as newsletter editor.
Thus established, the task of registering cars, gaining members, and producing a newsletter began.
The Beginning of NAMGAR
During the spring of 1975 the Wrights, Renkenbergers and Spears began placing ﬂyers on the windscreens of MGAs they came across in parking lots, car shows and other British car activities to promote their informal MGA Register.
In reply to an inquiry by Mike Caltrider in late May, Len Renkenberger sent Mike a letter commenting that the response to date had been so-so with about 50% of those approached having shown interest in such an organization. Len continued that they hoped to have a social, tire-kicking type of get-together in late June, adding “those of us who are trying to bring it to reality are also on the Board of Directors of the Chesapeake Chapter of the MG T Register”.
Len expressed that with a new Chesapeake Chapter Board slated to take ofﬁce in June, there would be more time “to bear down on the MGA Register”. Len then outlined their early vision by commenting “We don’t want to be too organized. We hope to have no formal meetings; just get-togethers, tours, low key rallies, etc and of course a good newsletter”.
Little did our founders know from such humble expectations would come a groundswell of interest and excitement that would continue to grow and thrive 30 plus years later.
With their vision of an MGA Register oﬃcially formed and named the North American MGA Register, signifying this was not to be a regional club, the ﬁrst meeting was scheduled for Sunday, July 13, 1975 at the home of John and Linda Wright in Temple Hills, Maryland.
Torrential rains did little to dampen the spirits of those attending, and the tone of NAMGAR was immediately set with cold beer, camaraderie and plenty of MGA-talk. Chairman Mac Spears outlined the goals of NAMGAR as the preservation, restoration, maintenance and driving of the MGA, goals which are still the foundation of NAMGAR today. Ever the optimist, Mac guaranteed sunshine at the next event, a drive to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in late August.
Our founders’ ﬁrst task was to notify the MG community that there was now a Register dedicated to the MGA.
Formal advertisement was limited to a small ad provided by the New England MG T Register (NEMGTR) in its publication, The Sacred Octagon. Membership applications continued to be placed on the windscreen of every MGA they came across in the Washington, DC area and while attending events in the Mid-Atlantic region. The news was also distributed by word-of-mouth through their network of friends throughout the NEMGTR network.
With a number of MGAs between them, registration #1 was tossed about like a hot potato, with no one willing to be the ﬁrst to register their car. “Senior Management” eventually out-voted the younger John and determined NAMGAR #1 would be bestowed on the 1959 Twin Cam Len had earlier encouraged John to buy.
Their other cars quickly fell in line. Len’s letter to Mike Caltrider proved persuasive as Mike’s 1958 1500 roadster was the tenth MGA to be formally registered by NAMGAR.
Old fashioned leg work was not ruled out either. Alexandria, Virginia resident Reid Willis was opening his garage door as an MG TD sped past, then stopped, backed up and pulled into the driveway. Mac signed Reid up on the spot for NAMGAR’s nineteenth member.
Warren Arthur of Berryville, Virginia, a small country town forty miles outside of DC, was mowing his lawn when he looked down the street and saw a number of MGAs pull up at the local gas station. Warren reports “I jumped oﬀ my mower and ran down and who did I meet but Len and Ruth Renkenberger. They got me involved right away, and I went to GT-1 in Harpers Ferry.”
True to Len’s comments, the building of a thriving registry required a good newsletter, and the printing and mailing of the newsletter, MGA, the forerunner of our current MGA! magazine, required funds. Membership dues were ﬁrst set at $3.00 per year to oﬀset the cost of printing and mailing the newsletter. Each issue carried a Chairman’s Forum by Mac along with an activities report, a detailed technical section by John, Ruth’s membership updates and Len scouring the MG world for topics of interest.
With printing and publishing technology as advanced in 1975 as the MGA, the newsletter soon contained Ruth’s plea for “someone to help type stencils for the newsletter printers”. Jim White responded by oﬀering his secretary’s time to type the stencils.
Ernie and Susan Betts provided the muscle to hand-crank the duplicator and run oﬀ 250 copies of each page, and Len and Ruth assembled the newsletter, hand-addressed each copy and placed postage for mailing. Later, as a bulk-mailing permit was obtained, each newsletter required further sorting by zip code per Post Oﬃce requirements.
Despite the steep cost of membership, NAMGAR had ninety MGAs registered, along with two Variants and ﬁve Associate Members by October 1975. These included members from twenty two states, Ontario and Quebec. By December, this number had grown to one hundred seventy ﬁve MGAs with Ruth reporting that count would most likely change drastically by the time that newsletter was received by the members.
Keeping the numbers from growing even quicker was a postal strike in Canada which delayed the exchange of information until the strike was resolved. To keep costs under control, it was requested that all correspondence with NAMGAR include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for reply.
NAMGAR continued to organize local tech sessions, hold rallies and social events, traveling to places of interest in the Mid-Atlantic area. It was announced in the February/March 1976 newsletter that NAMGAR would host its ﬁrst GT event, to be held in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in June 1976.
The newsletter by this time featured a Parts and Service section for MGA suppliers and a Marketplace section for members to advertise their For as the Sale and Wanted items. Editor Len’s requests for contributors snared Canadian Rob Mackenzie who began to provide a regular feature of MG musings called “2 Cents”.
Membership continued to grow rapidly, with Ruth giving a special nod to R.B. Hart of Michigan and Nat Cassingham of Kansas for their personal recruiting eﬀorts. Ruth also acknowledged that increasing membership responsibilities caused her to occasionally get behind in her correspondence, for which she tossed the blame on the newsletter editor “who married her and provided two children and ten cars to care for”!
The First NAMGAR GT (Get-Together)
Planning for the ﬁrst GT soon began in earnest. NAMGAR reserved a block of rooms at the Cliﬀ Side Motor Inn. Billie Spears served as Reservation Chairman and urged that registration forms and deposits be sent early to ensure a room and to hold a seat at the banquet. Mac noted the modest price of the registration had been ﬁxed to cover the costs of purchasing refreshments, supplies and awards.
The schedule of events included a Vice Chairman’s Reception on Friday evening with John and Linda’s hotel room turned into an improvised hospitality suite. The bathtub was utilized as a beer cooler, Linda and Ruth prepared Sloppy Joes in a frying pan on the night stand, and members jammed the room and overﬂowed into the parking lot. Somehow, true to Mac’s word, the refreshments did not run out.
Saturday provided a full day with a morning car show, an ongoing ﬂea market, tours of Harpers Ferry, a rally and the evening banquet. The car show was a modest event held in the parking lot of the motel with approximately twenty cars being shown. Class winners included Mike Caltrider, who would take home the very ﬁrst NAMGAR GT trophy awarded for his 1500 class win.
Awards also went to Leroy Peters in the 1600 class, Rob Mackenzie for his Deluxe, Reid and Lou Willis with their Twin Cam, Jeﬀ Fishel for his Coupe, John Wright’s ZA Magnette in the Variant class, and the long distance award went to Canadian John McMullan who traveled 715 miles in his 1600 roadster. Mike Crews found his MGA pressed into service as the carrier of beer kegs. One NAMGAR member not at the GT was Michael Byers, who knew the date rang a bell when pondering his registration form, then quickly realized June 5th was to be his wedding day.
The banquet was held in the local ﬁre hall, with the ﬁre engines pushed outside to make room for the tables. Steve and Diane Mazurek report in their GT Memories series that the meal consisted of standard ﬁrehouse fare, with a crowd of about seventy ﬁve enjoying the event. No ﬁrm mention of what the beverage of choice was for the evening, but it is documented that the Michigan Chapter was announced at this event when an exuberant Bruce Nichols boldly declared they were the ﬁrst NAMGAR chapter and would host an event in Michigan that fall.
With only four members from Michigan in attendance, it would be a few years later at GT-4 before Michigan would deservedly earn the nickname of “Rowdies”. Setting the tone for future GT events, Sunday morning was an opportunity for Alka-Seltzer and farewells. Those living north and west began their journey home, and the Mid-Atlantic contingent attended the Sports Car Collectors Society Meet held in Maryland later that day.
With the successful hosting of a national meet, the future of NAMGAR was assured. Though perhaps modest in its goals, this ﬁrst GT attracted eighty eight members from ten states and Ontario, Canada. NAMGAR approached its ﬁrst anniversary with a solid membership of over 350 MGAs and Variants registered.
Having a focused newsletter to distribute information and ideas led to increased interest across the country. Members used the NAMGAR Directory to discover fellow MGA owners living nearby and began to organize car shows, rallies and social events in their local areas. These small groups would become the forerunners of aﬃliated NAMGAR chapters. Other eﬀorts to form a national MGA register had been attempted in the past, and they had not been able to sustain their momentum.
What made NAMGAR successful where others had failed? Certainly the charisma of Mac Spears made an impact. The value of John Wright’s technical contributions provided members with an immediate return on their membership dues. Ruth and Len Renkenberger’s eﬀorts to produce an entertaining newsletter and involve others by soliciting members to share their MG experiences created an identity for the organization.
Behind the scenes, Billie Spears and Linda Wright provided support in perhaps less visible, but equally important roles. All these eﬀorts still would not have been successful without the assistance of the many Washington, DC area members who hosted and participated in outings and helped with the many tasks necessary to hold events and publish the newsletter. Experience with the NEMGTR and leadership roles in its Chesapeake Chapter provided an understanding of what a national Register should provide and the importance of the Register being open and inclusive to all those that shared an interest.
In the end however, it was a love for the MGA, the people that owned them and the simple desire to enjoy them with others that would make this ﬁ rst year of NAMGAR a success.
After closing his letter to Mike Caltrider of one year earlier, Len Renkenberger scribbled an afterthought at the bottom of the page. “The MGA’s time has come”. Indeed it had.
Growth through the 1980s
During the early 80s, the duties of running NAMGAR and producing the bi-monthly Newsletter began to weigh heavily on the few founding members. In 1983, Steve Mazurek assumed the Chairman’s position. He set about drafting the by-laws, and he introduced a computer system to handle memberships. The by-laws limited the terms of board members, ensuring a process for bringing in new faces and fresh ideas to the organization. Joyce Hart became Chairman in 1988, and brought her enthusiasm and skills to the board leadership team.
By the close of the 1980s, NAMGAR registrations were just shy of an even 4,000 as the organization approached its 15th anniversary.
The newsletter also continued to grow in content and quality. MGA!, as the magazine is named, has enjoyed a series of dedicated Editors who have introduced new features and content. Editions up until 1991 were black and white format, and featured many of the items that we still see today. Columns from board members, updates from the Registrar, information to promote upcoming activities such as GT events, features on owner restorations, and supplier and marketplace ads all were included in the early newsletters, which were normally 20 pages plus cover pages.
Starting in the 1980s, Mike Ash signed up to take over the Technical Editor role. Mike covered a wide range of topics including multi-part series on brakes, transmissions, and engines, as well as articles on electrical, tires, steering and suspension, and many topics from his correspondence with members. His articles were characterized by a clear writing style that one could readily follow, and excellent pictures and diagrams depicting the parts that were the subject of the article. Mike’s entertaining and helpful articles continued until the end of 2016. NAMGAR has offered collections of these articles in book form as part of regalia, and they have proved to be very popular. As of late 2016, Bruce Woodson has assumed this role.
1991 saw the arrival of color issues—at least for the front and back covers. Suddenly the artistic backgrounds of the photo settings were matched by vivid MGAs in all colors. In addition, Ken Nelson’s column, “At Leisure”, has continued from the 1980s through current issues. Ken has won literary awards for this column where he has cheerfully and faithfully shared his projects among his MGs and Rover and Riley saloon cars, driving his MGA to club activities and events with the Michigan Rowdies chapter, and embarking on MG long-distance journeys. In this same period, MGA! content grew to 24 pages plus cover pages.
Over the years, MGA! has won several awards and is mailed to members six times per year. The current editor, Michael Tooke, has taken the magazine to 48 pages. In addition to the magazine, NAMGAR members receive an electronic newsletter which provides reminders of upcoming events and last minute information on upcoming events. eNews! is distributed six times a year in the months between the distribution of MGA!.
NAMGAR currently has 64 Chapter Clubs (as of December 2016) across the US, Canada, and Norway, and has over 1,950 active members with more than 8,350 cars registered
Volunteer Staff Keeping Pace to Meet the Needs of the Membership
Since 1988 and as per the By-Laws, the Chairmanship and other Board positions attracted new members who had an interest in the running of NAMGAR. In addition to the five elected Board members – Chairman, Vice Chairman, Editor, Treasurer, Registrar, there were only three Staff Associate positions: Associate Editor (to oversee advertising), Technical Editor, and Regalia coordinator.
However, it soon became clear that additional roles would be useful as the Register expanded. Additional positions in the creation of MGA! were established including Contributing Editors and Copy Editors, while Al Keller continued in the job of managing requests for back issues of the newsletter. Specific coordinators for Canadian regalia and renewals were established and coordinators included Ralph Potter and Judy Bonnay for a number of years.
Another position created to assist the growing number of Chapters was the new position of Chapter Coordinator. Longtime enthusiast and NAMGAR supporter Ron Eaton was the first selected for this role and he jumped in straight away to provide assistance to newly formed Chapters and also to provide guidance to any chapter seeking to host a GT event for NAMGARs annual gathering. Later, Sandy and Mike Hickman, then Lee and Liz Niner continued with this important position. As of late 2016, Ed Sass and Colleen Quinn serve this role.
Bob Vitrikas stepped up to become the Register’s first Historian, and he shared many articles outlining interesting and little-known areas of MGA development, production, and competition history. Bob eventually turned over the Historian responsibilities to Bob Schoeplein (who also raced his yellow and black ‘Honey Bee’ vintage racer all over the Northeast). As of late 2016, Michael Eaton has picked up the reins.
By the latter half of the 1990s, Jeff Zorn became the Internet Coordinator for the Register, which he did over a 14 year span. In recent years, Peter and Anne Tilbury have taken over this role and rejuvenated the club’s web presence. Register members can share their personal MGA stories, see current news, plan upcoming events, help each other answer questions ranging from car identification topics to technical issues, and see a great photo collection of Register members MGAs, Magnettes, and variants. New members can submit their membership application online. Current members can renew their subscription and update their NAMGAR profile online. In addition, the website Store has numerous items for sale online. The Register also has a presence on social media. Join the Register's Facebook page.
As we moved into the post-2000 years, a new board position of Communications Manager was established. Also, MGA! staff was expanded to include Columnist (Ken Nelson), and Advertising Managers Roger and Janet Bailey. Lastly, a NAMGAR Historian position was created to maintain and share the NAMGAR organization history.
By 1998, 5600 cars had been registered by NAMGAR. By 2009, this number had risen to 7100, and as of late 2016, the number exceeds 8350. Throughout all this growth, NAMGAR has maintained a welcoming and helpful culture that has promoted MGA ownership and enjoyment for enthusiasts in North America and beyond, as many international enthusiasts have joined as well.
NAMGARs Get Togethers
Another key contributor to NAMGAR’s enduring popularity has been the annual Get Together (GT) events. These events have brought friends together each summer in locations that have spanned across all of the USA and Canada. NAMGAR has refined the format and activities offered at GT events, with the Chapter Coordinator and Board working with host chapter members. Technical talks, a popular vote car show
The first few NAMGAR GT events were held where the fledgling Register had it’s strongest membership base: locales near the East and West Coasts, as well as Michigan. GT-1 was held in Harper’s Ferry, WV, near the strong contingent of Virginia NAMGAR members. As the Register grew, additional host locations joined the list. Whistler, British Columbia, Kansas City, Huntsville AL, Hot Springs AK, Indianapolis, IN joined among the GT sites. Typical attendance has exceeded 300 members and often turnouts of MGAs, Magnettes and other variants greater than 150 cars. Through 2016, a total of 41 GT events have been held. Members Steve and Diane Mazurek have attended every single GT! Click here for a list of previous GT locations.
GT’s are held every year in different MGA friendly locations. GT-42 hosted jointly by the MG Owners Club of Northern California and the Paradise British Car Club, will be held in Solvang, California, from June 19-23, 2017.
But NAMGAR didn’t stop there. The necessity of moving the national GT meets across the USA and Canada at times has made full cross-country trips impractical for some members. The result has been the creation of Regional GT events. Smaller in scope than a full GT, these events have grown in popularity since approximately 2000. Regional events in Key West, the Poconos, Watkins Glen (to correspond with the vintage race weekend) and California winery country have all created fun memories for NAMGAR members.
One final aspect of member gatherings has been NAMGARs participation with the North American Council of MG Registers for a combined meet every 5 years. Partnering with the Triple-M, MG T-Register, North American MGB and MGC Registers, NAMGAR has participated in these events starting with MG1996 in Indy, then MG2001 in Minneapolis, MG2006 in Gaitlinburg, TN, MG2011 in Reno, NV, and MG2016 in Louisville, KY. These events have brought together MG enthusiasts of all models and have typically included 825-1300 cars and more than 2000 enthusiasts in attendance.
Vintage Racing MGAs
Early on, vintage racing of MGAs was somewhat limited. Vintage race organization class rules were not particularly well suited to MGAs. For instance, 1500 models had to run 1500cc engines and drum brakes which made them generally less competitive. However, rules evolved to enable all MGAs to run 1622 engines and disc brakes.
This has corresponded to a steady growth of interest and participation of MGAs in vintage racing across North America. The MG Vintage Racers (MGVR) group has linked racers and promoted an annual ‘focus’ event at different vintage race venues across the USA and Canada to create events with camaraderie and fun, close racing for all competitive levels of MG racers.
NAMGAR has also highlighted MG race cars including such events as the 1999 GT in Grand Bend, Ontario coordinated by a team led by Tim Coyne, NAMGAR Chairman. Tim brought together one of the first gatherings of the factory Sebring MGA Twin Cam and Deluxe cars. The cars were again gathered at the prestigious Amelia Island concourse event attended by many NAMGAR members.
Today, the exploits of NAMGAR vintage racers are regularly shared in MGA! as the racers keep the flag flying across North America.
For further information on becoming a NAMGAR member visit the Membership section.
- 2015 - Carol Shamonsky
- 2011 - 2015 Bruce Woodson
- 2007 - 2011 George Merryweather
- 2003 – 2007 Tim Coyne
- 1999 – 2003 Dave Smith
- 1993 – 1999 Len Bonnay
- 1988 – 1993 Joyce Nichols
- 1983 – 1988 Steve Mazurek
- 1979 – 1983 Ruth Renkenberger
- 1975 – 1978 Mac Spears
Last updated on December 30, 2016.