History originally published in Sport Compact Car. February 1998
Stanley H. Arnolt Jr wasn’t a big man, but to casual acquaintances, he seemed taller than his actual five-foot-ten-inch frame, partly by his high-heeled riding boots and partly by his manner. He liked his nickname, “Wacky,” and seemed to try to live up to it in just about every way he could. Flamboyant and loud, Arnolt had the cash to live up to the lifestyle too. He parlayed business making chromium table legs for dinette sets into working for the Department of Defense, making everything from bomb racks to spotlights. World War II made Wacky wealthy.
So indeed, he could indulge himself with big American cars and Tennessee Walking Horses – the real reason for the boots. But when he discovered sports cars after a chance to ride in a MG TC in 1949, there was no stopping him.
Arnolt became Midwest distributor for MG and other British cars, bought a sports car accessories company, and became a common face at Midwestern sports car races. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted a car with his own name on it.
Legend has it that Wacky went to the Turin Auto Show in 1952 with exactly that in mind. He was dressed in a cowboy hat and boots, not the usual outfit for a Russian Jew born to wealthy Chicago parents. But then Wacky, University of Wisconsin dropout and black sheep of the family, had also changed his name from Aronoff to sound less Jewish, and he was not a “junior.”
The story is that Nuccio Bertone, head of the Italian coach-building firm that bore his name, put his last lire into a couple of MG TD platforms, making a stylish coupe from one chassis and a convertible from the other. Bertone had preserved only the upper right MG grill. The body was sleek and modern – everything the square-rigged MG TD wasn’t. Underneath, however, it was all MG. That was fine, actually, as the TD was the best-selling sports car in the world, and Bertone was showing the cars in hopes of landing other styling jobs, not selling the cars themselves.
But Bertone was pleased when Wacky strode up to him and announced, “I want to buy these cars.” After all, selling these two cars meant working cash for additional tinkering for a couple more months. Wacky, sensing that Bertone had misunderstood, interjected, “No, no. You don’t understand, I want to buy 100 of them.” Reportedly, Bertone fainted and had to be carried from the hall. Whether it’s true or not, we don’t know, but clearly Wacky’s order saved the Turin builder from sure bankruptcy.
Already a MG distributor, it was easy for Arnolt to arrange shipment of unbodied MG frames and engines to Bertone. Bertone would build the cars and send almost every one to the States to sell to eager Americans. Even at $3,595, Wacky had them standing in line. Deliveries began in early 1953.
Lauded in Road & Track, it must have been an easy sale. “If you have ever dreamed of MG with graceful Italian styling, with accommodations for four persons, and with the weather protection of a sedan…your fantasy has become a reality—right here in the U.S.A.”
Two models were built: the Arnolt Convertible and the Arnolt Saloon Coupe. Common usage would change the name to Arnolt-MG. To say that either would seat four was a stretch. True, four adults could get in, but if few wanted to stay long, at least those in the rear. Photographs tend to make the Arnolt-MG look bigger than it is, although using the standard MG TD grille as a reference shows how small the car really is.
Both the coupe and convertible had much better aerodynamics than the standard TD, the droptop and coupe was advertised as 20 pounds and 40 pounds heavier respectively than the MG. In truth it was more, and although Arnolt-MG’s occasionally can be found in road race results of the early 50s, it won’t be at the top of the winner’s list. No matter, the car sold well, and stopped only when MG halted production of the TD, thereby eliminating the source of frames.
When the supply ended, a total of 103 Arnolt-MGs had been built.
Wacky had Bertone build a handful of Arnolt-Aston Martins, but is Arnolt-Bristols would win countless sports car races in the ‘50s, as well as class wins at Sebring. That as much as anything was what Wacky wanted. If the cars never made money for him, well, so what. He was Wacky, wasn’t he?
Thank you for posting this… and the photos! I’ve never seen many of these photos before anywhere. I’ve got an ebay search saved so I can get my hands on a copy of Sport Compact Car February 1998.
-John (owner of Arnolt Coupe 221)