‘It’s Not Fast, But It’s Fun’

Papillion Man Takes 1951 MG Midget Through Three Generations

By Jeff Barnes

It started as sort of a Christmas present for his wife back in 1972.

Leon Timmerman had already been collecting cars for a few years when his wife Joan decided she’d like an MG convertible. “She said ‘Those are so cute – I’d like to have one of those’,” recalled Timmerman at his Papillion home. So he found one – a 1951 MG TD Midget that he bought from an Omaha man.

“He had the (original) engine and the transmission lying on the floor next to it,” said Timmerman. The British import was in pretty good shape and had a Jeep motor in it; the 1500cc, four-cylinder engine, from a ’56 MG on the floor was what had been in it.

Timmerman, now a retired electrician, returned the engine and transmission to the car, reupholstered it, repainted it and put new tires on the vehicle … and thus a family favorite was born.

It started with Joan driving their daughters to school in it. “Then Jayne and Joy drove it to school when they were old enough – they were hot shots with it,” he said. Papillion High School once had a “neat car” contest in the mid ‘70s when the girls were going to school there; as expected, there were Camaros, Mustangs, Chevelles and other muscle cars. “But they showed up with the MG and they won it,” he said.

There’s a lot of love for the little burgundy beauty, but also the occasional pains. One day he and Joy were out driving, he said, “and she let out a yelp – an oil line had broken and was spraying hot oil on her foot.

The MG is now a third-generation Timmerman roadster. Granddaughter Jillian (22) drives it when she’s home for the summer from the University of Missouri. “Every summer I have to get the proper insurance for it when she comes home,” he said. “The antique car insurance won’t cover her until they’re 25.”

Since Jayne and Joy today have their own families with driving children, Timmerman bought another convertible MG, this time a ’50, in 1988 with that in mind. “We wanted an MG for each family,” he said.

Both MGs have found space in his basement garage with three other cars: twin 1919 Studebakers purchased separately from bachelor brothers in Wilbur, Neb., and a true “land yacht” – a 1960 Pontiac Catalina convertible. All of those cars are total restorations by Timmerman, who in his main-floor garage is still working on a 1935 Studebaker Dictator. “They quit calling them that after Hitler,” he said.

Timmerman, 74, also bought, restored and sold a number of cars before the current group, including a 1920 Studebaker touring car, a 1915 Model T roadster, a 1907 Orient buckboard, a 1930 MG boat tail and a 1948 Pontiac Streamliner.

His 53-year hobby began, he says, at the instigation of his wife. “Joanie liked old cars – we dated in a ’48 Pontiac, almost identical to one we had here later.”

But what got him to the second car, the third, the fourth, the fifth, etc.? “Stupidity,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I just liked them – it was something to do.”

The Timmermans have something in their garage for each grandchild. Evan, 20, who goes to the University of Nebraska-Omaha where he is a linebacker for the Mavericks, helped in the restoration in one of the 1919 Studebakers. Haley, 22, likes the 1950 MG while Molly, 19, has taken a shine to the 1960 Pontiac.

The ’51 MG, however, is the love of the family in spite of its flaws. “It’s very high maintenance,” Timmerman said. “The brake cylinders are aluminum, which is a problem, and there’s always a problem with corrosion, plus it’s had couple of broken axles. It doesn’t have a lot of power – its top speed is 55 miles per hour – but it really sings when you get it out on the road. It’s not fast, but it’s fun.”

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