Two iconic cars made during British Leyland’s legacy. Both were superb cars in their own right with many innovative and genuinely great attributes. However, due to many factors including industrial unrest, a foolish attitude towards expenditure from the powers of be in addition to too much internal rivalry would condemn these cars to becoming relics of a bygone era.
But my story of venturing deep into the classic car world did not start from here. Oh no. That fateful day was quite some time ago. Many years and cars ago my humble beginnings started much further back. Back when times seemed alot simpler, when I could barely think forwards at all. The world was my oyster and I was starting out as a bit of a hobbying spanner monkey.
If I had to pick a point in time that sparked this interest it was probably when my dad owned a number of hot hatches. These included 2 Ford Escort XR3is, A Metro Turbo as well as a hotted up Mini 1275GT, which was more of a 1380GT! There were other cars including MkII Fiestas and even a MkIII Orion of all things!
So where did my story start? That will soon arrive in the next post.
So, the first thread gave an indicator of what one of my many interests is. I guess the time has come to give this blog more of an introduction.
Where did my interest begin? Was from my vague recollection of remembering my father tinkering with a then unloved but tweaked Mini 1275GT? Was it from seeing these old cars wafting about and with the ubiquitous Flame Red paintwork really coming alive upon the car being used, regardless of weather conditions? One thing is for sure ; it would seem that I was destined to go through a period of time with some BL rust in my blood, quite literally! Below you will find out about how I got into this game, the joys, the pitfalls of owning a car. The good, the bad and the ugly of what can come your way. However, it was a superb learning curve, and it has given me an idea of how better to go from doing tasks in terms of from A to B instead of going via C, Y and Z! Hopefully some of you may find my tales enlightening! Otherwise I apologise for wasting your time.
I guess if a tangible point had to be specified as to when my interested was sparked it would have to be on my 16th birthday, yup a fateful day. This was in the form of my birthday present; a fairly cheap MGB GT in brown. If I had any sense back then you could say that I should have run for the hills, especially if I told you that the car only had one month’s MOT and tax! However, like any naive classic car owner I could only see the positives ; an 8,000 mile Ivor Searle engine with new ancillaries, a refurbished gearbox along with new rear leaf springs.
Naturally, the photos flatter the car. They say a photo speaks a thousand words ; that is always the issue with photos:
That is the problem. A photo does only speak 1,000 words! What this photo shows is that the wings were slightly rusty at the front (nothing much), the door was iffy on the left hand side in addition to the fact that the overdrive was slipping upon the gearbox disengaging.
I could of course cut the car loose and look for something else. But what fun would that be?
The plan then was simple, or so it seemed at the time. Repaint the car, redo some of the suspension, acquire some new panels in addition to getting to grips with other areas of the car? Was it that simple? It never is, as you shall come to see in future updates.
For those of you who read my last blog you would have realised that my fateful journey into the world of BLs started back in 2002. Little did I know, it would not be an easy path to go down. Here is a tale of how a simple plan went massively out of hand.
So, I had a brown MGB, with rubber bumpers and no real class about it. To top it all off the car felt like a boat on motorways with even a ferry going across the channel rocking less, in addition to an overdrive unit which would disengage most of the time the clutch was disengage, leaving one with no overdrive. Oh, and the exhaust was blowing.
After a polish however, the brown did not look quite so bad. It would not pass an MOT however if it looked shiny! Some would say at this point we should have given up and got a better car. But was is the fun in that? The car was £600 after all…
Overdrives were not cheap units back then either. However, with some luck we did manage to locate a working overdrive rebuilt by an ex-Laycock fitter for £195 ; not too bad I guess when most wanted over £300. Being in Bolton however did make things awkward. Simultaneously, an exhaust was ordered up in the form of a Falcon single box item, for £110. With these two items it went to the now gone D & S Classics garage based down in Stratford Upon Avon. After a week the car was way way better than before. It felt direct, it was safe to leave junctions and drove well! However, more problems became apparent even if the exhaust sounded great! The steering was vaguer than a vague thing. When the garage quoted us £140 to change the rack we figured why not.
The “why not” soon turned to cursing when we had a phone call to say that it took Dave (the prop of D & S Classics) over 3 hours to remove the rack due to the bolts being seized within the steering rack ; I recall him saying that it was one of the worst racks he had ever seen on the car. The price also went up to £300. From not spending alot on cars we decided to begrudgingly spend the cash and drive the car. So even though we were poorer the car did drive far better. With the Spax damper conversion on the back it really improved matters. If we really had any sense the car would have simply have had a little a paintwork here and there and simply enjoyed.
I left the last blog by leaving a few ideas in my head. A great idea was to upgrade parts of the car but to keep it looking original. While this was a project between my dad and I he had tinkered with cars previously. Forgive me if this tale sounds familiar!
Like any retro this MGB was not without its faults. The car may as well have been a boat for the video of the Hues Corperation “Rock the Boat” with the amount it swayed from side to side on the motorway. Is that the “charm” of a classic car that many talk about or just bad design? The other issue? The overdrive would not stop slipping once the clutch was disengaged. And what would a classic car be if there was no welding required on a sub £1000 purchase, even back in 2002?
Like all great intentions, thing seemed to go well. I went away and ordered the following:
-Spax Rear Damper kit
-Falcon Single Exhaust ‘Box system
-Replacement Overdrive from an Ex-Laycock fitter.
From being a foldout chair mechanic (that is part way between someone who has a vague clue of what they are doing, and someone who simply watches a car restoration show and thinks he can do it all) I went away and read some manuals on the procedure. It was clear that the exhaust would have to come out to change the overdrive. With that in mind I figured the overdrive may as well be changed as those jobs could be combined into one. So began the search for a suitable mechanic to do the job. After all, I didn’t even really have a trolley jack back then! I was silly enough to depend on car jacks. Yes, I know. Fortune favours the brave, I think
Like any wannabe mechanic I rang around for the cheapest price, considering many avenues. It’s fair to say that the prices varied. The garages quoted us around £300 back in 2002, even with specialists being around that ballpark. Out of the blue a specialist on my doorstep quoted me £200. What? Was this real? I’m biting his hand off! With that price it was not worth quibbling!
So off I went to go and took the car to him. After which I ended up fitting the damper kit!
Finally? I had a car that drove spot on and actually did what it was meant to do! Be driven! The fact that the car came with new springs also helped alot.
But as always there is always a sting in the tail. On further inspection the steering rack was found to have excessive play. Not a problem we thought. Just get another one fitted! To be fair it had a bit of play in it after fitting the rear dampers and seeing how things were! What we did not bank on was the bill. We were quoted £120. Not for long it wasn’t.
Almost every car owner comes across this. This ended up becoming £220. The issue? The bolts had become seized in the rack. Thus he ended up cutting the steering rack apart just to change it. It was either that or the crossmember according to him. He also said it was one of the worst steering racks he had ever taken off a car. It is fair to say that the conversation was not a pleasant one! But at least the car drove well once more eh?
With the car kitty looking battered and not much bodywork required it should have been rosy right? We shall see.
I left the last post with me having spent a small fortune on parts to sort the MGB out yet being present with a large bill for a steering rack swap.
But what benefits did I feel? For starts the car felt like it was no longer required the force to be steered in any direction. The Spax dampers made a surprising difference to the handling of the car and the exhaust really sounded lovely!
But there was an elephant in the room. That would be any MGB’s Achilles Heel. The bodywork. To summarise:
-The front wings looked fine but they were bubbling beneath the swage lines at the front
-The front valance was in one piece but it did have alot of surface rust present
-Rear valance was not very different and was very thin in places.
-The driver’s side floor had a thin hole in place where it met the gearbox tunnel.
We originally planned to take it down to a painter who was said to be good. Upon initially meeting him this certainly seemed to be the case. He was a very down to earth guy. Unfortunately, fate would intervene. He was due to go in for an operation which would have him out of action for months on end. Cue painter two.
Alot was said about this painter and I had even seen a few cars he had done which looked to be half decent. Thus the stripdown began.
With this done the car was dropped off to him. Little did I know I would not see the car again for a good few years, with it not really resembling what I had dropped off to him.
You know how the tale goes. You find the right person, they come recommended, and so you send it to them. Within a few months your car comes back. In some ways I wish I could tell you that! But we are all too wise to know that dealing with classic cars is like being in a fairy tale world.
I left the last blog on this car with me handing over the keys to a bloke in Coventry in 2002. Over the months my dad kept calling up the bloke . He would often say “yeah, the second coat of primer is on”. To cut a long story short this saga lasted a few years! Why? There were many things going on away from the car. In that time businesses were sold, people lost jobs, other classic cars were bought and sold, people got jobs again, other people went to university, we somehow got a sheddy MkII Astra as a courtesy car to drive around in while the MG was being repaired; yes really! Yes, it was a little convoluted at times.
The MGB GT being at the bodyshop for all that time sat like a beacon of hope even though we hadn’t seen the car for two years! In 2004 my nagging with my father had come to an end. He decided to call the garage who were the custodians of the MGB. We were simply told “Come on down to us”. It sounded ominous to say the least. After all, it’s not like I had been ridiculed for this car not being roadworthy and taking seemingly an eternity to fix.
When we went to the garage the owner appeared to have disappeared, with only the foreman left to run the place! I saw no MGB there either! And so off we went on a convoy to see the MGB. I was looking forward to seeing the car semi-complete. What I would see however would shock me to the core.
The car was not at all how I pictured it. Previously solid areas of the car that I knew were solid had been subject to a trigger happy shotblaster. Worse still it had patches in places that would really throw a spanner in the works. Inside patch welding on a floorpan anyone? Another patch slapped onto rust on a window aperture? The car looked like an abandoned shell without any running gear. Everything of the car was all in boxes. Not in any real order but it was just there. Would I even have all of the fixings there? I guess at least the good running gear was present right?
This unfortunately left us with a problem. Here we had an MGB that we had sunk roughly £2,000 into ; bear in mind a good rubber bumper MGB was around £3,000 back then. It looked like all we were left with was a running and rolling MGB shell ready for the scrap heap. What looked like an ideal father and son project was now looking like its future was bleak.
At that moment in time we didn’t know what to do. It couldn’t be driven in that state and it was clearly going to take alot to get it right again. It’s amazing how £600 cars start out isn’t it? Scrapping the entire car was something I suggested. My dad vehemently went against that idea; I was 18 at the time. I don’t think he truly estimated the scale of the work ahead of us. Maybe it would have been the wise idea ultimately despite the pain. But that is not the point of such projects.
We had some quality time in and on the car. And we hate to lose. It would also be a shame to have a project dissappear purely due to one person. Did I mention that I really hate losing?
Is there a moral to this story? Yes. Always check up on the progress on the car in the flesh. Yes the guy may appear trustworthy, and he may be saying all of the right things. But people lie, pinch things from cars and generally don’t care about you. I hope that no one else has the above happen to them.
With weeks to go for the car to be dropped off to us its fate would be decided.
Tests. They can get you stressed, anxious and even at times depressed. Looking back, it seemed like my MGB was just one massive test. After all it began looking like a simple project but after one setback or another beyond my control it seemed like it was a project that was deemed to fail going by my tribulations from the previous MGB blogs. This however looked set to change once I dropped the car off to the bodyshop of my first choice from all those years ago. Since then I had used him for a few cars for minor panelwork and strangely I even bought a 1970 VW Beetle off him which gave its own challenges. The “grass is always greener” strategy also entered my mind with me buying a horrorshow of an MG Midget with its share of problems. But I had to do something with the wreck of my MGB, and so I got in touch with Sagoo, the first painter I asked to work on the ‘B. It was fair to say that he was a known entity ; if there was a chance of getting the car done this was it!.
The brief like all things started off simple. Restore it back to original. After all, we had a tailgate, a set of rear quarters, a pair of wings and valances to boot. However, with having a blank canvas and seeing magazines written by people who modify cars would soon change this. From tinkering with cars to mildly pepping them up I was about to throw myself into the deep end, more than I would realise.
This would start from me picking up a copy of the RPM magazine, which has now morphed into Practical Performance Car Magazine (PPC).
I shall look into whether I can get my hands on a copy of it but in short, the magazine outlined how you could build an MGB Sebring V8 for £4,000! OK, £4,000 bought you a few nice cars back in 2004 but all of the same, an American derived V8 in a quintessentially British everyman car. Throw some big wings into the mix and some fat wheels and all should be well! Sounds easy eh? In short, it wasn’t. What I didn’t prepare myself for was the frankly shocking fitment of the wings from Smith & Deakin ; I wondered if Stevie Wonder had created the moulds for the wings! They were miles and miles off from fitting right. I struggled to put them on myself and Sagoo the painter dug his heels in here when it became apparent at just how much work faced us. Of course, I felt he was sandbagging a little.
Remember that internet forums were only just beginning to kick off at this stage and information only came from car clubs and even then only those who tried to fit the parts on. I was very much on my own as was strangely my painter.
What we decided to do was go along to the MG Car Club show at Silverstone to see other MGs. In short, we noticed that any MGB with fibreglass wings had compromises made in terms of how it fitted the car. Some cars had the wings catching the doors so as to fit, others were just as shoddy as ours, while others were pin straight.
Why were some pin straight? The others had grafted the arches on from the Sebring wing kits onto an existing wing. This of course presented me with the first of many hurdles with the Sebring conversion. I had to source a set of Chrome bumper wings. Truthfully, the secondhand rubber bumper wings had been questionably repaired and were not really suitable. When new wings were £225 each new this was a hard pill to swallow; suddently the £4,000 budget was looking threatened of snowballing up! But like all events you make some great friends. Somehow, I got a set of wings and an Ivor Searle 1500 engine for my MG Midget for £100! Yes, that figure is correct! Sometimes, going to shows can really open up an avenue of people more than you realise and it’s one reason why we should all support the right events.
With that said there was only one thing left to do ; let my painter get on with it and put my feet up. But as we all know, it’s never that simple.
For the first time ever with the MGB project it looked like I was finally making progress! I finally had a plan, a tangible one at that, my painter was keen and being local to him, communication could be kept much better between the pair of us! He had been given £400s worth of Smith & Deakin’s finest panels. But as you know from the previous post that was not the case!
Since we’d be salvaging the original wings as a base for the arches to be grafted on my painter and I agreed on that! However, he’d need some wheels quickly so as to know how to mount the arches but also deal with the inner items!
With that in mind, I tried searching and search for a cheap set of 8J wide wheels in around 14 or 15″ diameter. Given that the MGB has a PCD of 4 x 114.3mm such wheels are not common now even with banding taking off! You can imagine what my situation was like in 2005! It was poor! I really did not want to spend a fortune on wheels. But sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just go with it!
As a result I ended up buying a set of genuine 8J x 15″ Minilites with steel inserts and the magical ET0 offset (i.e no offset for the dish) for the sum of £540! Wow, that did hurt at the time! Or so I thought it did! But then I needed some tyres. Again, I’d search, search and search even more to find fruitless results secondhand due to me wanting an uncommon size. It was either going to be 215/60R15, 225/50R15 or 225/55R15s! In the end I went for the 225/55 in Kumho Ecsta 711 flavour ; This added on another £240 onto the bill which to be fair was quite reasonable!
With that done there was nothing left for me to do except pop into the painter’s a few times and see how things were going! Now that I had the parts these bits progressed very well suddenly!
Firstly, the wings were offered up. Next, the car was cut up for it to accept the wings. Would this please most MGB owners? Somehow I doubt it. But when the result was looking to be finally taking shape I could not really care what they thought! Finally this car looked like it may one day see the road again!
What he had done was fillet out the inner wheel arches towards the wings and then have that as a strengthener. However, having a fibreglass to metal join is never an easy task to undertake: just ask any Ford Racing Puma owner about that! That is why the car had a bit of filler on it so as to disguise the join!
One day it really did look like it was a car again! It was great news for me, the painter, and all involved! The car was now only weeks away from seeing paint thankfully!
The panel gaps were spot on, any visual sign that the wings and arches were two different materials looked like they would be gone once the car to paint and all was looking superb. However, it was not to be.
I remember being at university at the time when I got a phonecall from the painter’s solicitors. The news was something I never thought I would expect, and something I really didn’t take in for some time! After all, the painter soon became a friend of mine and was a great pillar of the community, to both the Sikhs in Leamington Spa as well as many of the VW folk! I say was as he had passed away! It has been said that 2 pack paint doesn’t do painters any good and this was a stark reminder that the paint fumes were not a force to reckoned with! Unlike radiation it may have had a smell and taste. The fumes however were invisible and deadly even with precautions taken!
Why stop the project again? But also, why take one of the good guys away in his 50s? That’s no way for such a bloke like him to go! With that in mind I got the car out of the shop ASAP for his family’s sake and yet again I had the car back on the driveway, but not as expected. I almost lost the vision for the car again, but worse still I had lost a friend! Just what would be the thing to do now? Would the project stall again or would it be kickstarted once more?
Sophocles once said, “there is nothing more demoralising than money”. He was almost right. It was the lack of it! This was certainly the case with the MGB! It was 2006 and I had received the unfortunate news that my painter had died. This was unfortunate for many people and it affected me personally as well as his friends and family! Why does it seem to be the good guys that are taken?
This left me with a bit of a predicament regarding the car. I had a car that was almost finished on the bodywork but still requiring alot of legwork to finish! I mean, how bad could it be?
The truth was quite bad! One painter with a very variable reputation offered to take the car on, but they wanted £1000. For my dad and I it was about our limit to commit to! We then had recommended faces come over. That was a predictable outcome; they all took one look at it and replied “it will cost you £2,000 and whatever else we find along the way”; they wanted an open chequebook for the car! For both me and my dad this fee seemed extortionate! There was no way that we could commit to that!
To put it bluntly, we had a car that seemed like a lepar to most painters and with the costs to match something perceived as untouchable! With this in mind the car went under a tarpaulin for probably the best part of 6 months and the project stagnated completely.
Of course, with something seeming as doomed for eternity procrastination kicks in, and boy did it kick it hard with the MG? This is a theme that has run in many a retro owner’s blood, with me being no exception!
What did I do in that time? Quite alot, just not anything really related to the MG. OK, not directly? Part of it involved me going to Spain with a few mates in a £260 Volvo, messing around on the said Volvo, and tinkering with my then new daily of a Focus 1.6, in particular its audio system!
If you need to console yourself with a procrastinator I am all ears! Don’t, however, expect any productivity to come at the end of it! It’s all good and well procrastinating with a black cloud over your project like a rash! Of course, the uninitiated people of restoring would often laugh and joke about the lack of progress my car was making. Were they helping me however? Most didn’t, probably because deep down they knew I faced a big task. That was to either give a half decent bodyshop an open chequebook to completing the Sebring conversion or for me to get off the sofa and actually crack on with the task. Time would tell however.
Seeing as I was still in my first year of University and hardly rolling in cash I decided to embark upon embracing all aspects of the car! For a first time restorer you really do pick things up thick and fast! I did however have help! Come Spring 2007 and progress was being made with the bodywork, much to the dismay of my neighbours! The weekends were progressing nicely however:
It’s funny really! Sometimes to make progress you do have to do it yourself!
By the time the summer of 2007 had arrived it was looking a more complete, albeit very brown! It wasn the finish or brown that I envisaged either! But when you are working to an impossible budget, compromises have to be made!
In this case, it was sticking to the car’s Russet Brown! I originally planning to go with more of a modern chocolate brown as used on the R56 Minis. However, yes, that little matter call a budget would me I’d stick to the brown! Over the course of the summer of 2007 my painter friend and I kept on chipping over the available weekends it seemed we were doing alot but acheiving very little! He was paid of course for a bit of the work he did!
In this time the engine still hadn’t been fired up since 2002, the battery was truly dead by now, where even Unipart’s lifetime warranty couldn’t save it; some of you will remember the Samson batteries warranty out there! I also cut my teeth into the welding aspect of this car! And sure enough with the crappy MIG gas canisters from Halfords, it wasn’t pretty! Ah. the joys of fixing a car on a shoestring! Somehow, my perseverance did eventually pay off!
It’s rough, but it’s there!
Check out the door fitment! Or lack of!
It finally has some booty again.
I finally had something that began to look like a car at least! Being in a cash strapped situation after graduating from university in 2008 and looking around for jobs during a recession I had a bit of a brainwave! Get a donor car! That way, that will have all of the parts that I need to complete things!
And this would be it!
Yup, I got my hands on a very sorry looking, but complete MOT failure of a 1973 MGB GT during Christmas 2008! Surely with all of its spare parts it would provide all of the pieces of the puzzle! After all, it was £400 for an automotive wreck! Well, yes it would, but simply not in a manner that anyone expected.
I know what you are thinking. There I am with one restoration project and deeply involved too! So how does a £400 restoration project solve it? Simple. It becomes a parts car. Except it wasn’t to be!
What the hell is that heap of junk?
No, that’s the good side of it!
Interior could have been worse
The parts car in the form of the white MGB wasn’t too bad at all. Sure, it had primed sills, wings that looked like they were held together by rust and fibreglass, and minor spots of rust elsewhere! Add to that a rotten castle section it was not looking good for the ‘B! But what about the good stuff? Truthfully there was more than I bargained for, including:
-Stainless Steel bumpers
-A genuine 53,000 miles with MOTs and receipts to warrant this; they went back to the 70s.
-Unwelded and sold floors
-A complete car for the best part!
In some ways the shell was better than mine. Of course, this is what sealed my fate; this car would be made roadworthy again! With the Sebring off the road I began cracking on with the Chrome bumpered ‘B. The first place to start was the appalling starting; this would be a simple case of a good service, new points, and some fresh fuel. Now the engine purred and went as it should. Next was to sort out the poor steering. Despite having failed and then passed its previous MOT a year prior to me buying it on worn track rod ends it was surprising when I saw them again! The reason for this? They had not been changed when the MOT had previously been done! There was zero grease left in the track rod ends themselves with the boots having been long gone! While the tyres would have pleased the originality freaks I personally was not happy driving around on 18 year old Dunlop SP4s! So off they went and on came a set of refurbished Rostyles with fresh Nankangs on; I recycled these from my Sebring build; after all, I wouldn’t need them on the big arched Sebring anymore! Selling the Chrome bumpered car’s Chrome Rostyles would also help the kitty so that was a win as far as I was concerned!
Obviously it wouldn’t be an MGB without any welding required! I enlisted this to my local garage, where I provided them a Heritage castle section to put into place once the rotten one had been cut out. With that done, any signs of surface rust were dealt with underneath with the entire lot being stonechipped once the rust had gone!
The parts required
The shot castle section!
The new one!
What result did the MOT bring after all of this work? A fail! OK, it’ was just for the rear seat catch not being present! With this robbed from my Sebring, seeing as it wouldn’t have rear seats again, the Pass was given!
With all of this work done it wasn’t a bad car to drive about, albeit an untidy car! With me selling my Peugeot 306 GTi-6 (that story as Ted Moseby said, can wait until later!), the MGB soon became a dependable daily driver! I even had it looking more reasonable with some careful use of Leyland White 13, and some G3 polishing compound! The has-not soon began to look like a could-be!
So, not only had I failed to not break a parts car, I also managed to rescue an MGB back to its former glory, I also tidied it a little, have a bit of fun with and have it be a daily driver before I sold it on! Why would I sell it on? Another car which had caught my eye came into the horizon! But that story can wait for another time quite some time on from now!
Of course I was still left with an MGB Sebring which had little progress made to it! With my procrastination session over with the Sebring as well as me suffering from the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome. Would me working on the Chromie provide me with some much required mojo towards doing the Sebring? We shall see with the next instalment.