MG Midget 1500 – The Lesson Not Learnt

For as long as I dare, I am going to try and not do so many drawn out articles on the cars I own. The M3 will be the exception to the rule, mainly as I still own it. The previous motors however? Nope. I am going to aim for a 2 pager, as a means to keep the interest and see where it goes. Maybe that will make things more succinct and easier to read. Otherwise, let’s roll on.

This story will sound very familiar to many of you. Buy a cheap car, fix up a few things, and then sell it on, hopefully without too much of a loss. Forgive me if this sounds familiar, or even like a TV show. No, I am talking about Wheeler Dealers, but more about how the second car I bought was not all it seemed.

 

Hark your mind back to 2004. There was no recession, cars of all types were still cheap, even if we as people didn’t know it. So, as a young and fresh person out of doing his A-Levels, not with the best of grades, needing a bit of cheering up. Yes, some drink involved on the odd occasion, but it was nothing short of a car could fix.

 

And there it was. Out on eBay, where not everyone had it, popped up a 1977 MG Midget 1500 in what I thought was Rover Nightfire Red, with photos taken from a camera that would these days make a smartphone photo look like a Mona Lisa painting.

 

Since this was prior to the days of eBay stopping any communications with the sellers, I went to call him about it. From what he said, it wanted an ignition barrel, and that was about it, and the fact that the body wasn’t as great as the photos look. With a vague description, there I went and placed my bid of £340, only to win it. Great, I was halfway there! Little did I know, this is where my problems would begin.

 

Firstly, we needed a trailer to bring it back. That was an easy thing to sort out. Even if we did hire a deathtrap of a trailer for £40 from Ryton. We would then go and get the car.

When I saw the car, he was sort of right. The bodywork wasn’t as great as the description made it. But it wasn’t miles off. What was miles off however was just how bad the car was. The interior was a state and the steering wheel splines had completely given way. But, I bid and so I had to buy, or so eBay sellers tell you, making out you are a “messer”. So £300 later, off I left with the car. I would not know just how bad the car was.

For one, the interior was a state. But this was nothing that an interior stripdown and repainting the dash in Satin Black wouldn’t fix. It did make quite a transformation inside! But my problems were far from over with this heap.

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The fininshed car. Not alot had changed from outside, bar a new roof, a polish and touched-up paint here and there.

Firstly I put in the ignition barrel. Only to had my dad wailing his hands about to not start it ; the last owned shorted the starter motor out to the body with a spanner. Was this deliberate or an accident? Maybe this is why the steering barrel was ‘broken’. Once we removed that, we realised the internal part of the starter motor was well and truly broken. This car was never going to start. And so the money started rolling in, where we allowed in. A new starter motor joined the ranks. Only then did we realise that the engine had a head gasket gone. So we went about changing that, only to find the threads in the block were history. Yup, this really was a turd of a car. Any sane person would have admitted defeat and walked away. But I couldn’t! I didn’t want to lose £300 on a car at a time where I was a student! So of course, I bought a bargain of an engine from an old contact up in Bishop Auckland, who came in handy on the MGB. For £50 along with the fuel to go up North and back I was now the owner of a 10,000 mile Ivor Searle engine. What’s more, it came complete alternator and also a better set of carbs than mine had, along with a fresher clutch. Did it feel like a score? It certainly did!

Since cost was the name of the game with this engine, it proved hard to find someone who could fit the engine for me. I did debate doing it but a few things stopped me. The principle one was a lack of an engine crane. The others? Appearing be a purveyor of classic cars to most neighbours, I knew doing an engine swap on the driveway would go down as well as Paris Hilton going into a Gay bar. The problem? Most places wanted £250+. This seemed crazy for a car like an MG Midget. But it seems BL’s way of doing things like a non-removeable crossmember would not help! With this, I found a banger racer by the name of Jimmy O’Brien to change the engine for me in Coventry, for the princely sum of £160. Great! It should have been fine!

 

It almost was. The engine clearly had not run for some time, thus the piston rings had stuck. My God, that engine chucked out some smoke! But that was fine, As the rings were freeing up, and the engine settling in, I realised the syncros were gone of the ‘box; which I would later find out was a common issue on Single-Rail Triumph ‘boxes. There were other issues too.

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The second engine. Not all was well here either

The fuel pumps on both engines were chucking fuel into the engine. Not a problem, a knock-off SU electric pump along with an engine blanking plate installed where a fuel pump once was overcame this issue. What’s more, I even put a new roof on the car! A cheap vinyl one from the MG Owners’ Club.

With the car actually moving, I could now look into getting it an MOT! Wahey! The fact that the car had iffy indicators, a steering column that was very stiff to the point the wheels would not self centre by themselves did nothing to kerb my enthusiasm over getting a fresh MOT ticket in my hands. Naturally, it didn’t go down this way. It failed. The MOT History file says it failed as follows:

 

  • Nearside Registration plate lamp not working (1.1.5c)
  • Hazard warning switch faulty (1.4.B.1d)
  • Steering system excessively rough (2.2.D.1)
  • Nearside Drag link end ball joint has excessive play (2.2.B.1f)
  • Offside Drag link end ball joint has excessive play (2.2.B.1f)
  • Nearside Rear Leaf spring anchor bracket nut missing (2.4.B.6c)
  • Exhaust emissions carbon monoxide content excessive (7.3.B.1a)
  • Parking brake: efficiency below requirements (3.7.B.7)

 

So yes, as a first time ‘reviver’ I hadn’t done well! In a flurry of hurridness, I got a new steering rack and track-rod ends, along with a replacement steering column from a breaker’s yard. The carbs were backed off to the point that the engine didn’t really want to pull any more and the handbrake adjustment revealed just how bad it was to replace MG Midget brake adjusters as well as even more bodges.
Eventually I got the wretched thing a ticket, and knew that this car was bad! And so I put it up for sale for £1.4k, with me willing to take £1k just to get rid of the damn thing! Naturally, a couple of people saw it and walked away from it within seconds of seeing it! But then it was a £1k Midget, not a £3k one! The Practical Classics Buyer’s guide on prices certainly helped. Eventually a guy came to view and almost took pity on me after winning it on eBay! And so it went to the new owner.

 

He would end up doing more work on it from what I could tell of the chap’s MOT history. The lesson here? Don’t be tempted by cheap crap! Would I learn? Well, I’ll let you folks figure that out. One from seeing the MGB and M3 stories, but also with the next cars I’ll bring to the table.

 

In hindsight, even as poor as I was back then, I really should have put that poor turd out of its misery!

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A Trip Out to Germany

Well, let’s face it. Germany is a great place with plenty to offer. But mention Germany as a holiday destination and it doesn’t exactly evoke the soul, does it?

With quite a busy year this year I had a week of holiday to take. Of course, the thought of all-inclusives, package holidays or even a break somewhere in the UK all crossed my mind. It would have been easier too, with the weekend I left on being a friend’s wedding, leaving me with 6 days to take a holiday on. So, where did I decide? Germany! Crazy I know, but I had my reasons, for which I shall come to later ;).

My plan originally was to do the following:
-Bruges
-A couple of places in Germany
-Stelvio Pass.

I soon realised this was ambitious and calmed down.

Then came the car! If I was very sensible I’d have taken the Mondeo. It’s not as dull as you think and with the Volvo 5 pot, it’s a fruity car as well. But it lacked the X-Factor. That left then the two Germans, naturally. Let’s be honest, we always knew it would be one of the two!

The Mercedes was the easiest car to dismiss! Not the RR way I admit, but considering I was driving through rush hour that day, was generally pretty shattered for what felt like a few months, and a heavy drinker @ 16MPG, that also went out. it’s a lovely cruiser, but on the busy German roads, probably not right, and definitely bankrupt worthy with its fuel economy ; France last June cost £400 in that; bear in mind this was a trip with me going it alone!

Naturally, that left the M3. It always was going to be that way. It had the look, albeit with rust breeding from the front wings, it was now working very well and ready despite the ABS saga this year, and for what I had planned, it would actually be spot on in more ways than one.

With that in mind, I booked the Eurotunnel, the Bruges hotel and left the rest as I went along on the trip. Before I knew it, months passed on by and it was holiday time!

At least the drive down to the ferry was great, with a mixture of bad traffic with the M40 closing down from Warwick, me feeling a little tired after the wedding, and some crap 80s music; a blend of Pet Shop Boys and Erasure’s Innocents album to keep me company.

Before I knew it, it was 6:30pm and I was at the docks, ready to leave for the 8pm train. Before hitting Germany, I would hit Bruges. Damn, I was tired by then!

But where would I go? No, not that silly song. What would I do? That folks, shall be announced later on in this thread.

The Final Curtain : MGB Sebring is No More

So, where was I last time? Ah yes! Speaking about the MGB and the chassis changes I had done. What did these changes entail? Well, the chassis setup was as follows:

-2″ 550lb lowering springs up front, with 2″ decambered leaf springs on the rear
-OEM V8 lower arm bushes up front, with Poly bushes on the upper arms. Rear was all SuperFlex Bushes
-Spax telescopic damper conversion all-round
-8Jx15″ Minilite wheels shod with Kumho 711 tyres in 225/50R15

Some would argue that such a setup would be dreadful. With mid-range tyres, big wheels, and Poly bushes, albeit good quality items, I was made to think that I wasted my cash.

How wrong I was! It drove lovely! The SuperFlex bushes worked wonders on the rear! From a solid rear-end, the back of the car was suddenly pliant, comfortable,yet very well controlled. It was a revelation! Nowhere near as bad as the scare stories made out! It was absolutely brilliant!

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It was finally spot on! The interior was near enough new, the drivetrain was very good, and I had the suspension dialled in to make it drive better than when the ‘B left the factory! It should have been peachy, right?

Well, no, was the answer. It seems crazy to think I put alot of work in and I’d be happy with the result. But I was also aware there was alot of work still left to do! What was left I hear you ask? Quite alot was the answer! The problem with striving for perfection is that the cars soon become a never-ending story. A project that is never finished. As someone who used their cars alot and was then still fairly new to the restoration game, that took me some getting used to. What exactly was outstanding?

  • Seat subframes ; I may have got the seats cheap, but the subframes would soon tot up the cost
  • Engine Transplant: I really really wanted to do a Rover V8 swap into this. I researched it enough to know what I was letting myself in for. But honestly, the days of cheap Rover V8s were ebbing away, and with that, so did my idea of one. Yes, I could K-Series it or Supercharge the factory boat anchor, but all of them entailed costs
  • The paintjob. I know, I heard all of you saying that was obvious. The truth was that I had quotes for over £2,000 to get it painted and then, I had no facilities in which to paint the car with, and considering I sunk a load of cash into it, I could not bring myself to put that much more into getting the car looking spotless from a paint perspective.

So with that, the sales pitches came out. Even from people who did Sebring conversions, I had laughable offers. I’m talking £1.4k for the car. That’s when I had it up for £2.5k. Yes, that’s all an MGB was worth back in 2011. Those who drove it loved it, and tried to haggle me very hard for a deal. One guy saw the car 3 or 4 times, but he could not drum up the cash. While I out of desperation mentioned things like the car having road tax in the sale, as cars did back in 2010, he retorted back with obtaining a tax-exempt V5. He even said there was another car just like mine for less cash ; there wasn’t. It was a waste of my time, and a waste of his time. I soon was getting ready to accept that I might just have to keep it.

So what would happen? Would I keep it? I almost did, until a restorer came to look at the car. After a drive aroung the block and a good going over, he decided to offer me £2250 for the car. A fair price I felt. He couldn’t quite understand why I was getting rid, thinking that paintjob being done would result in a higher asking price. But I didn’t really care. He offered me what I wanted, and after a tickle with the welder to get it another MOT, off I drove the car for him down to Gloucester.

 

 

 

Yes, my welding could have been tidier, but at least it was solid and welded the correct way.

And with that, I mark the end of my time with the ‘B! I sold it back in 2011, after owning it for almost a decade! At the same time, a Triumph Stag would come up for sale. Yes, I thought a £2,000 Stag would be an easy project. But would it be?

While I was pondering over the Stag, this is what became of the ‘B’d Sebring.

 

It’s funny, for years, I didn’t miss this car. In recent times however, I have come to regret not pursuing this car. Will I ever learn my lesson? We shall see.