The Triumphs (and MGs and Austin-Healeys) of Moss Motors
How an Old Town Goleta Company Makes Collecting Classic British Sports Cars Possible
Old Town Goleta might seem like a funny place to preside over part of the United Kingdom, but that’s exactly what Moss Motors does from a nondescript building down on Rutherford Street a few blocks off of Hollister Avenue.
“We are the oldest and biggest distributor of parts for classic British sports cars in the world,” said co-owner Robert Goldman, whose company sells everything from nuts and bolts to superchargers and shells to hundreds of thousands of customers all over the world. “It’s a very stable market. …We are the dominant player in the marketplace.”
Founded by Al Moss in Los Angeles in 1948 — soon after the first MG TCs landed on American soil and were swooped up by vets who’d fallen in love with them during tours of England in World War II — the company moved to Goleta in 1961, and was purchased by Goldman’s father in 1977. Since then, growth has been steady, and now they distribute parts for MGs, Triumphs, Austin-Healeys, MINI Coopers, and Jaguars, not to mention a newer business that makes enhancements for Mazda Miatas, Ford Mustangs, and the new MINIS made by BMW. “You can quite literally buy everything shy of the rear axle and engine block out of our catalogs,” said Goldman, explaining that prices for their more than 25,000 available parts range from a few cents to more than $10,000.
The business employs about 250 people around the globe, including 110 at the 60,000-square-foot Goleta headquarters — which is part office, part R&D shop, and part machinist studio, but mostly warehouse space — although the company’s 115,000-square-foot facility in Virginia handles the bulk of the distribution. Parts come from a variety of places: Thousands are specially crafted by manufacturers in China, Taiwan, and England, including original makers who aren’t set up to distribute properly; others are developed by independent inventors; and Moss machinists also make some parts themselves, including the tiny screws that are threaded in an obscure Brit style. So what would happen to British car collecting if Moss didn’t offer this breadth of service? “It would be a problem,” confirmed Goldman.
Customers tend to come from word-of-mouth, a strategy aided by the publishing of about a dozen model-specific catalogs twice a year as well as the aficionado magazine Moss Motoring, which has rallied the fan base since 1983. “We want a catalog in the trunk of every car that’s sold,” explained Goldman, who also said that members of British car clubs tend to be his “most rabid customers.”
Though his dad, Howard, was the boss, Goldman started working the company warehouse in 1978, then did sales, and then wound up in marketing. In 1998, he partnered with company president, Glen Adams, to buy the business from his father, who retired to Idaho. (Al Moss, meanwhile, still drives his original 1948 MG TC in Sedona, Arizona, and recently published a memoir called The Other Moss: My Life with Cars and Horses.) Today, Moss Motors occupies the very same building that Goldman’s grandfather built in the 1950s to house a previous family business, Dripcut, which made many of the world’s salt and pepper shakers until being sold to a Minnesota company many years ago.
So what’s the fascination with classic British sports cars anyway? “There’s a level of mechanical simplicity and driving enjoyment that just hit a natural sweet spot with enthusiasts and collectors,” explained Goldman, who personally owns a half-dozen models, his favorite being his 1962 Triumph TR4. Which must mean that Moss Motors is a pretty cool place to work for such fans, right? “For a British car nut,” said Goldman, “this is a great place to be. “
For more on the company, see mossmotors.com. To see classic British sports cars in action, there’s a vintage MG rally in the Santa Ynez Valley June 18-22. For details, see gofwest.com.