“Sometimes I see one go by and sort of wish I had it back.”
For Jim Danielson, seeing one of the vintage cars that he has restored and sold pass by can generate a bit of nostalgia.
Over the years, Danielson has owned some 22 or more British sports cars. Some he restored. Some he sold. Some he sold unrestored. A goodly number he kept.
Not counting the contemporary vehicles he currently owns, he counts 11 hobby cars residing on his property. They include 1958 and 1962 British Sprites, two 1972 Triumph Stags, a 1968 MGB, a 1969 MGC, a 1969 MGC-GT, a 1973 MGB-GT, a 1973 MG Midget, a 1980 MGB-LE and a lone American model – a 1912 Model T Ford Touring.
Danielson notes that the 1969 MGC and 1969 MGC-GT are both pretty rare acquisitions with only 5,000 of each model manufactured.
He says that very rarely does he complete a restoration project in less than two years, and sometimes it can be a three- to four-year job, adding that servicing the engine and the paint job are things he leaves to the professionals.
Absorbed his father’s passion
The dapper, mustachioed Danielson acquired the vehicle bug early in life. His father was a “car guy,” as he puts it … a car collector, and Danielson absorbed his father’s passion.
He bought his first car as a Shenandoah, Iowa, teen in the 1950s – a 1924 Model T Ford. He purchased his first British vehicle, a 1962 Triumph, in 1964 while he was an instructor at the University of Wisconsin.
In the early 1970s, a 1962 Sprite became the second British vehicle he bought, and after some 35 years it is currently being restored.
He says the car was the focus of a divorce. The husband wanted to keep it. The wife didn’t want him to have it. The judge ordered it to be sold.
Danielson bought it, stored it away, and over the years the Sprite has stayed with him as he moved from place to place. He says that after so many years, he finally decided to elevate its restoration as his final project.
“I used to do a lot of restoration, but now I just don’t like scraping rust like I used to,” he quips – which explains why the majority of the current work on the Sprite has been contracted out.
“But,” he drolly comments, “I still have my tee-shirt with the message ‘My Favorite Color is Rust’ on it.”
A long-time employee in a variety of positions at NET (Nebraska’s public broadcasting service), Danielson retired from the organization in 2003. He taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications until 2013 and is currently a Professor Emeritus in the college. He also was an adjunct professor in speech for 15 years at Southeast Community College.
Admitting to being somewhere in the upper 70s/lower 80s age range, Danielson is a member of several car clubs, including four national, one regional and two local ones (Flatwater Club and Her Majesty’s Royal Patrol). He started racing his vintage vehicles in the 1980s, capturing several trophies, including from Ak-Sar-Ben in 1986, 1987 and 1988.
While he occasionally still races, he says that his times are not as fast as they used to be. As one of the more “experienced” (older) drivers, he beguilingly says, “I just try not to finish last.”
But Danielson’s major impetus is that he simply likes to drive.
He says he likes to tour and vacation in his vintage cars, logging almost 15,500 miles just touring in 2016.
This past summer, Danielson’s 1969 MGC took first place in the MGC Roadster category at San Diego’s MGs at the Bay car show competition.
The San Diego trip was part of an excursion traveling from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in two of his classic vehicles.
A special gift to his son
He started the jaunt with the 1969 MGC (which took the award in San Diego), leaving Lincoln and heading west to the Pacific. After the MGs at the Bay show, he drove it back to Lincoln, where he picked up his 1980 MGB-LE and cruised eastward to Eastport, Maine – the farthest point east in the continental United States. After reaching Eastport, he traveled to Ithaca, New York, where he surprised his son Alan by giving him the car.
The MGB-LE had quite a story behind it. At an Omaha junkyard looking for auto parts, Danielson saw the car, which the junkyard owner was planning to crush. The car didn’t run, but the body was sound. Danielson couldn’t pass it up and bought it.
The car sat in storage for two or three years and at some point, Danielson sold it. The person who bought it from Danielson also was a car hobbyist and wanted to use it at auction for a charity. At the auction, the president of a car club bought it … sold it to another car club member, who later died before doing much to the car. Danielson ended up re-buying the car and restoring it with the idea of giving it to his son.
At dinner in Ithaca with his son, Danielson surprised him by giving him the keys to the MG. “He got all teary in his eyes,” he says. “It was worth everything to do that for him.”
Out of all of his vintage cars, Danielson says that his 1973 MGB-GT is his favorite.
“I can drive it all year-round, although not when there is salt on the roadway,” he says. “And I never worry about having problems with it.
“MGs are very dependable cars,” he adds. “You can drive them 3,000 miles or more, and they won’t break down like some other vintage sports cars.”
Danielson says that he is divesting himself a bit of some of his collection. This past November, he sold an old Mercedes. But that doesn’t diminish his affection for these classic beauties.
Preserving a bit of history
“Think of it this way … [by restoring these cars] it is saving a bit of history. It is a contribution to society by preserving something that people haven’t seen or have forgotten about,” he says.
When he takes one of his restored classics for a spin in town or on a road trip, “People like to look at them, stare and wave,” he says. “A thousand times people will come up to me and say that they used to have one like that. I ask them, ‘why not now?’”