Car S.O.S - by Martin Leggatt
Premiering on National Geographic with a special guest appearance in the opening episode from actor James Nesbitt (Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Cold Feet), this new season of Car S.O.S is not to be missed.
Featuring some of the most difficult car makeovers Fuzz and Tim have ever encountered and heartbreaking real-life stories that devastate the entire crew, including the sad death of a contributor at the time of filming their episode, the sixth instalment of this much-loved series is a heart-warming, inspirational roller coaster ride of emotions.
Presenters Tim and Fuzz travel to Ballygowan in Northern Ireland to take on what turns out to be the worst car they have ever encountered. The 1959 MGA Roadster, left rusting for more than 40 years, belongs to former engineer Billy. His family life was turned upside down when his son John and daughter-in-law Lynette were tragically killed in South Africa on their honeymoon in 2014. The story made headline news around the world and it was Billy who had to hold the family together. Tim and Fuzz enlist the help of family friend James Nesbitt to return the MGA to this most deserving of owners. James took some time out to answer some questions about how he came to be involved in the project.
How did you come on board for this episode of Car S.O.S?
Billy’s brother, Ian, works in my facilities company in Northern Ireland. He contacted me and asked if I would get involved. I wasn’t initially sure what the format would be, but the moment I arrived on Saturday, I could sense this was something special. The car has undergone an extraordinary transformation from scrap to this absolutely stunning MGA.
It’s an amazing story, isn’t it?
Absolutely. This is the anniversary of the darkest time in Billy’s life. So, there is an enormous amount of sensitivity today. As much as this is something that will give him a great lift, it’s also very poignant that he was going to restore this car with his son John. It’s a very, very human story.
How did Billy’s family set up this restoration?
Billy’s daughter Kathryn started the ball rolling on this project because she saw that the family could have fallen apart after John’s death. She knew that Billy has been the glue that has held his family together and that he truly deserves this moment.
The commitment of the S.O.S team is something to behold, isn’t it?
Definitely. This is the first properly new built MGA in 60 years. Last night it wouldn’t start, so they kept working on it into the wee small hours. The team are utterly committed and moved by this story. This is a very inclusive and accessible and human story about real people. I think audiences will be very affected by it.
Was the MGA difficult to drive?
Yes. I was nervous. But I thought, “If I’m going to crash a car, this is the time to do it. There are plenty of people from Car S.O.S here who could fix it!” Also, I passed my test in a Lada, and if you can drive a Lada, you can drive anything!
Presumably you have driven a great variety of cars in your job?
Yes. I’ve driven a huge number of cars in my acting career. I’ve raced round any number of corners. I’ve even driven a speedboat. On Lucky Man, I had to drive a speedboat at 4 a.m. towards the Thames Barrier. I was completely out of control. If you look at my face in those scenes, you can see I look utterly terrified. That was genuine!
You have donated your fee for Car S.O.S to charity, haven’t you?
Yes. When they told me that would be a fee, it made perfect sense to donate it to WAVE Trauma Centre [the grass-roots, cross-community, voluntary organisation which supports people bereaved, injured or traumatised as a result of violence in Northern Ireland, of which James is Patron]. I’m privileged to be involved with WAVE. Its work is ongoing. In the same way that the healing in Billy’s family is ongoing, so the healing in Northern Ireland is ongoing. New cases keep coming up, and WAVE are constantly counselling new people. Every year more and more people feel able to talk about the trauma.
Finally, how do you think viewers will respond to the reveal at the end of this episode Car S.O.S?
Seeing Billy’s reaction today when the restored car was revealed, you couldn’t help but be moved – and I’m sure audiences will feel the same. We live in cynical times, but that felt like a very pure and true moment. There are so many TV programmes these days where the reality feels forced. But just occasionally, we see moments like this where we sense the impact it has on someone and feel that out of darkness rays of hope can come.
MG MGA 1955–62
A stylish, fast, fifties Roadster
About the car…
The MGA’s styling was both aerodynamic and beautiful. For many, it’s the prettiest MG ever made and technically, it had also moved on considerably from the T-type Midgets. Power was by the twin-carburettor B-series engine; it had independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering; and even the first 1.5-litre ‘A’ could top 100mph. It was initially offered with the 1489cc four-cylinder B-Series OHV engine in 68bhp form, but this was uprated to 1.6-litres in May 1959 for the Mk2 facelift. Harry Weslake designed the new twin cam cylinder head for the B-series engine – and the net gain was improved breathing and more top-end power. With a maximum speed of more than 110mph, they were a great deal of fun – and because they looked almost the same as the standard car, the twin cams had a certain Q-car appeal. Nowadays a good MGA will fetch £40,000 plus and it’s a definite investment as the car’s value is going up and up.
MG MGA 1959 Belfast, NI
This once-stylish roadster car has been sitting in a barn for almost 40 years. It is now one of the worst cars that Car SOS has ever seen. However, it’s probably going to make one of the best transformations and definitely best storylines. Owner Billy has had a dream of driving his beloved MGA since he was in his 20s. He’s had many attempts at starting the restoration, but each time the car has beaten him. It’s been one step forward and two steps back, leaving the MGA in a terrible mess. Then when a family tragedy struck, the car was abandoned for good, a reminder of what could have been.
There is not a surface or panel on this car that is not in need of replacing, the bodywork is in a shocking state, there is no interior, the engine hasn’t been turned over for almost half a century. In short, this car is a bag of nails. Were the story not so strong and the family not so likeable, this car would normally be a no as it’s well beyond economic repair. It’ll need to be a complete re-shell and reconditioned engine
Life always got in the way of ex-soldier, ex-engineer and car fanatic Billy Rodgers’s dream of driving his MGA. Father of three and part of a large and very close family, his own life went on hold when he had to take over his father’s failing business after an accident. He then joined the army to help make ends meet, but finally as his eldest son, John came of age the two of them decided to make the MGA a joint project, although that plan was postponed as John needed to restore his Land Rover first… and then got engaged. At the wedding, John promised his dad in his speech that when he got back from his honeymoon in South Africa the MGA would at last take priority. Tragically, John never returned from his honeymoon as both he and his wife drowned under mysterious circumstances. It was a story the hit the news headlines in 2014. In the words of Billy’s daughter, Kathryn: “Billy took the brunt of the news and had to inform the family, liaise with the police, the foreign office and funeral directors. He was calm, collected and strong while everyone broke down around him. No father should ever have to bury his son, or his daughter-in-law. It is a burden we all carry with us every day. Sadly we don’t have the ability to make his dream come true, but you do. You aren’t our last hope, you are our only hope, so please help us make this happen. From the Rodgers family.”