Quick Stats: Ant Anstead host of Wheeler Dealers and Master Mechanic
Daily Driver: 1965 Ford Mustang (Ant’s rating: 10 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: Coastal roads through Cornwall
Car he learned to drive in: Austin Metro
First car bought: 1977 MG Midget
Weeks after MotorTrend TV’s Wheeler Dealers host Ant Anstead sold his beloved MG Midget he called Bridget, he regretted it. More than 20 years later, he still regrets it. In fact, he’s tried in the last few years to find his MG, and he’s not giving up hope that he can someday reunite with his first car.
“She was a 1977 MG Midget in Vermilion orange with loads of rust and a torn black hood with the rear window held in by duct tape. If it rained, which it did a lot in England, I got soaked,” Anstead says. “I put a shout-out on social media to try and find Bridget my Midget.”
— Ant Anstead (@AntAnstead) March 30, 2017
”[She may still exist], but I don’t know where she is. She is likely locked up somewhere in a garage, but I can’t go further than that.”
For Anstead, the MG represents his transition into adulthood and everything that goes with being a first car. “Everyone remembers their first car, even if you’re not a car person,” he says. “What that car represented to me, a car guy, especially as a 17-year-old kid, it meant absolute freedom. It meant I could go anywhere, it meant I could do anything, it meant I could pick my friends up. I loved that car. She was my Bridget.”
At the time, his friends were driving Metros, Escorts, and Fiestas, so it was a unique car among his high school classmates. “I was the only one who had a classic car. And it had strange wheels, and the interior was classic, and it made a classic noise,” he says. “But for me, it was everything. Even though it rattled and leaked water and a speedo didn’t work and the roof constantly fell off, and bits fell off it. I would do anything to get that car back. It was Bridget, she had soul, and she was mine. The importance of a person’s first car cannot be underestimated.”
He admits it was funny to see him inside the Midget. “A Midget, as the name suggests, is a tiny two-seater, and I’m 6-foot-3, so it was always ridiculous, me climbing in and out of this tiny little British sports car,” he says. “But I loved it. She fitted me perfectly.”
Anstead bought the MG for about £1,500 with money he saved from working part-time jobs, which included being a waiter on weekend, and washing pots in kitchens when his dad did catering events.
After that, he started buying and fixing cars, which is what led him to part with the Midget. “I was always a car guy, so I always went everywhere in a classic. I’ve only owned classics as a kid,” he says. “I used to buy, fix, and sell a car, pretty much one a month, with the annoyance of my dad, from the little single-car garage in the back of my parents’ house. I got to a point where I was so obsessed with cars, I probably had five or six out there.”
Eventually running out of space, he rented two garages from neighbors. “If I could find that car again, and I have tried now for five years, it would make my day,” he says. “I just kept upgrading. I owned so many cars as a kid, Bridget, now looking back, I wish I hadn’t, because obviously your first car is important, but at the time I was just excited by the next car and the next car and the next car.”
Anstead let go of Bridget to buy another car he saw in an ad. “I went there in Bridget to look at this car that was for sale, and I ended up part exchanging Bridget. I can’t believe I’m still calling her Bridget, that’s so stupid,” he says with a laugh. “I can’t remember what the car was, I think it was a Series II Land Rover?”
1965 Ford Mustang
Anstead calls his Mustang Sally, after the original owner he bought it from last year. “As a Brit car fan coming to America, if you were to put a list of the top five cars that you want to drive, obviously, Ford Mustang has to be in there as the epitome of the American V-8 muscle car. It’s where it started out for a lot of people, it’s the equivalent of our Ford Escort,” he says. “I never deliberately set out to try and find a Mustang. I obviously always loved the car. Everybody who’s a car guy obviously loves Mustangs.”
Anstead was at a car show one morning in Newport Beach, California, where a guy told him that a neighbor who was moving in a week had a Mustang she wanted to get rid of.
“I got in my car there and then, drove up to see this lady. She was a lovely lady in her 90s called Sally, and she bought the car brand-new from Newport Beach Ford in 1965 with her late husband, and it had been parked up in the garage since early 2001. So the car was totally original. Not touched,” he says. “It was absolutely, for me, a car guy, it was everything I would look for. I had to buy it there and then. Sally was quite funny because she negotiated in the price a ride in the car when I finished restoring her.”
He let Sally look at comparables so she could choose and set the price. “I didn’t negotiate. I probably overpaid,” Anstead says, laughing.
“I’ve been driving the car quite a bit. We do a ‘Best of’ episode after every eight cars, and in the ‘Best of’ episode, I did a front disc brake conversion on the Mustang,” he says. “Mike in his wisdom knew that I was trying to get my Mustang over the line, so he went to my house without my knowledge and stole Sally! He arrived at work with a smug smile on his face and said, ‘Look, we get to work on your car today,’ so I fitted some upgraded brake discs on the car.”
Anstead gives the Mustang a perfect 10 for what it stands for. “For me, the Mustang represents a nation, and if you’re a car guy in America, there really are only a handful of cars that capture the imagination of a nation, and the Ford Mustang is one them representing America. So, as a British guy living in America, it’s a fantastic tribute car,” he says. “For me, to get in that car and drive to work in the morning, along PCH, whilst living in America as a Brit car fan, well, it ticks every single box. So I’m going to use it, I’m going to take it to and from work, I’m going to go to car shows. I’m very proud of that car.”
Since he wasn’t looking for a Mustang, the car has even more meaning. “For that reason, it’s a really precious car for me, and cars can’t always be scored on performance or 0-to-60 or fuel consumption; that’s just rubbish. If you score a car like that, you’re not a car guy. So for me, it’s about everything that car represents—the fact that it’s a one-owner, it’s an American, it belonged to a lady called Sally, ‘Mustang Sally’’s quite a famous song,” he says. “My wife learned to drive in the exact same car. It just captures everything. So for that reason, from a passion perspective, it has to be a 10.”
What’s amazing about the car for Anstead is, from a restoration perspective and as a car collector, he always tries to find a car that’s original. “And this car is a one-owner original car, it’s the same color, it has the same carpet. It literally has the same wheels on it still; it’s a time-warp car. What I ended up doing was mechanically restoring the car completely, so if you open up the bonnet, the engine bay looks like it would win a competition. But on the outside, I’ve left it completely as it was; there’s scratches and marks and rough areas. Mechanically, it’s got everything it needs, so it drives fast, it sounds amazing, it brakes brilliantly, but it looks like a bit of a shed from the outside,” he says, laughing. “Which is what I love.”
Anstead kept the body the same and added racing stickers and some race numbers on it to make it feel like a 1960s “old banger,” as he describes.
Car he learned to drive in
Anstead grew up in the U.K., where he learned to drive in an Austin Metro, which he calls a “tiny little one-liter city car.” The Metro belonged to the driving instructor. “Awful car, but in terms of learning to drive, it has everything I needed to learn,” he recalls. “In England you have to be 17 years old to get a driving license, so when I was literally 17 and an hour, I was driving, because I was a car guy, I always wanted to drive.”
Anstead guesses it was an older car, a 1990s car, which he learned in Hertfordshire, about an hour north of London. His older brother happened to have the same car, which he borrowed one memorable day.
“I was borrowing his car once. My parents had this white picket fence outside their house and I was in a real rush; I had a football match. In haste I pulled up in the Metro and switched the key off for a quick exit. The steering locked and the car skidded and I took out my parents’ front fence,” Anstead recalls. “
Although Anstead went to a driving instructor, he got a handful of lessons with his dad. “There was so much pressure for me to get my driving license, and I’d been building cars ever since I was 13 or 14, so it was always a big moment,” he says. “So throughout my 15s and 16s I prepared myself—driving cars off roads and at the cricket club and always nagging my parents for driving tips … I booked my license to go and do my test and I passed the first time, which was brilliant because that then gave me the freedom to go and drive.”
Right after he got his license, Anstead bought the Midget. “I had Bridget for three years, but from the age of 17 (the legal age of driving in the U.K.) to 21, I possibly owned 50 cars, because I was always buying the project. I’d go and buy a Mini for £50, fix it, and sell it for £150. I’d then buy a Metro or an MG,” he says. “I went through five Triumphs. I had the bug.”
During his six years on the police force, Anstead had time to work on cars. “Being a policeman is brilliant if you’re a car guy because you work shifts, so I had a lot of time,” he says. “But at the same time as being a policeman, for all those years, I was constantly working on cars, maybe even as many as eight at a time.”
Favorite road trip
Turns out, Anstead’s proclivity for naming cars is a family thing. “I have a Porsche here that I called Agnes. Every car I’ve ever owned, I’ve named,” he says. Growing up, his grandparents had a blue Commer camper van, a Dormobile they named Pogle.
“I grew up in a very humble family. My summers were taken up going down to the south of England, to Cornwall, which is a very beach, open, green fields-type area,” he says. “At least two or three times a year, from the age of being a baby up until an adult, we would always go down to Cornwall in the south of England and we would drive in Pogle to beaches and the moors, all these adventures all over the British countryside.”
These six-hour road trips to Cornwall have become precious memories Anstead now carries with him. “It was everything that my childhood represented. I come from a big family, we camped a lot, I slept under the stars a lot, I learned to ride a bike and fish and swim and even how to drive because of that camper van,” he says.
His grandparents were hippies. “My Nana wore big flowery dresses with bright red hair, and Gramps looked like Father Christmas; he had a massive white beard. They lived the real hippie lifestyle in the south of England, but they owned this van called Pogle, so we used to go everywhere, and it became a symbol of my entire childhood,” he says. “I used to always remember driving down to Cornwall, singing and playing card games because we wanted to get into Pogle. That’s probably the most precious part of my childhood from a car perspective, was that camper van and what it represented to my family.”
Being from a large family, these road trips meant a lot to everyone. “We were fairly poor, so we never afforded holidays. We couldn’t go overseas, so my parents made us have holidays every year, and to drive to my mum’s parents in Cornwall was the obvious choice because they lived in this beautiful part of the world with beaches and walks,” he says. “So my childhood is really, really lovely. It’s filled with going to the beach, going surfing, really hands on; my grandparents were incredibly hands-on hippies, so we did things like pottery, and we made stuff, and we built rafts, and I made go-karts. So I had a rich childhood because my parents went out of their way at least two or three times a year to take us to Cornwall, and that’s why Pogle the Commer Dormobile was so important to us. It was like a mobile spaceship for us as a kid. It drove everywhere.”
Anstead conjures the image of four brothers, a sister, his parents, aunt, and grandparents all packed in the van. “It was just brilliant,” he says. “I just had this really funny flashback, because it was quite an old camper van. We came to a steep hill and it ran out of fuel. So Gramps had to reverse up the hill, so the fuel ran toward the engine, so we could only go up this steep hill by reversing up. It was great fun for us as kids looking back at that.”
He also tried to find this van a few years ago. “Very, very rare now. I did try and buy it back a few years ago, but unfortunately it’s been lost now,” he says.
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Anstead not only has a job a car lover would envy, but he’s had the opportunity to do it in two countries. “Think about getting the ultimate job as a car fan. I get to turn up for work every morning, get handed a car I’ve never seen before, and fix it and then see that car through the whole journey until it goes to a new owner, meet the new owner, and see it go on and live beyond the show,” he says. “It’s like the ultimate job for me. In fact, it’s not really a job, is it? No, it’s not.”
Ant Anstead Master Mechanic Oct. 10 on the MotorTrend app
Anstead has been busy during the show’s hiatus with his solo show, Ant Anstead Master Mechanic, which premiered this week on the MotorTrend app. “As long as it’s got a car in it, I’m happy,” he says.
In this show, Anstead paid homage to the 1930s Alfa Romeo 158 Grand Prix race car by building his own.
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