7 Feb 2021 MG Restoration recap

February already, and for those who were saying that 2021 had to be a better year than 2020, its wasn’t looking that way for the first few weeks with a guge increase in the rate of infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Having said that, across the family we are gradually having our vaccinations and what a giant leap forward that is. I had my vaccination through a curious querk of my job. I work as a Programme Manager for a company owned by Guys & St Thomas’ Hospital (GSTT for short) in London. Once GSTT had vaccinated all the clinical staff, they rolled out the jab to non-clinical, and after that to affiliated companies. I hesitated initially to go forward, as I didn’t want to be seen to be jumping the queue (being only 50 years old), but conversations with colleagues persuaded me otherwise. Their view was twofold – firstly, that the Trust had surplus batches and were not permitted to send them back or give them to anyone else, secondly, that if offered, you should accept the vaccination as part of ‘doing your bit’ towards everyone being vaccinated. One less jab for our local GP surgery to do. Anyway, a brief round trip to St Thomas’ Hospital saw me heading home with a slightly sore arm, but feeling really grateful. London roads were deserted which was a bit odd, but of course completely logical.

On the MG front, I was being barracked by a couple of friends on a Teams call on Friday who were asking why I hadn’t finished the MG yet. I replied that it hadn’t really been the weather for it. One of my friends asked “Is it snowing in your garage then?” Thanks Rob. The truth is that busy-old life just keeps getting in the way, what with the 9-5 itself, walks in the countryside, ironing, picking up the shopping, keeping on top of Church stuff like PCC meetings via Zoom, cooking and so on. However, I have made some progress with the MG, as reported here.

Gearbox loom – a leftover from fitting the loom was the part which runs to the gearbox to operate the overdrive and reversing switches. I decided on a recent dry day to jack up the MG, crawl underneath and feed the loom through. I tied a piece of string to the end of the loom so I could pull it through all the right places. Weirdly, it was quite hard to work out which switch was which and yes, you guessed it, I got them the wrong way around first time. this is where the loom is always worth listening to (stay with me) as it usually wants to ‘sit’ in the right place. If you are having to drag it around against its will, chances are you have it in the wrong place. My spacial awareness isn’t great so you can imagine that with a gearbox having a front and a back and a car having a left and a right that when I was under the car I was getting confused about what was left, what was right and which way was up! Add to that my hat kept falling off and my gloves were on and off (where did I leave them this time?) and it all took a lot longer than it would had it been a pleasant spring day with a friend at hand to help. Anyway, its in, just needs testing now.

I also purchased a revotec electric fan, a conversion I’ve been planning and that required assembly inside the house before I can attempt to install it. I have Phil the electrician in mind to connect it all up, once I have the hardware installed. I am stalling on installing this just now since I need to commit to draining the coolant and I want a good day to do that outside and have to buy the new coolant ready.

I did have a second go at the n/s front brakes today. Having pushed the MG into a position in our single garage where I could get the n/s wheel off, not the usual way it is parked, I jacked it up and placed axle stands. With the wheel off, I gave the caliper nuts a good 20 second blast with freeze spray to try and budge them (I had previously failed). Unfortunately, today I was still no longer able to get them to budge. I can get a good grip with a 5/8″ socket and bar but there is just no movement back or forth with the nut and I can feel the bar flexing rather then the nut yielding. So that was a bit disappointing, but perhaps this needs an overnight dosing (I’ll give it another spray) and another attempt tomorrow (after work!). Alternatives would be to apply some heat, but I’m not sure whether that would be effective (hasn’t worked for me in the past) and there is always big Mark, although that would have to wait until after lockdown. So a bit frustrating as sorting the brakes is key to the next few stages of the rebuild, so its holding things up. I have left the car jacked up to make other attempts so at least the job is ready to be tackled.

A snug space for working on the brakes

26 Dec 2020 Moving under its own power

First of all, a very Happy Christmas to everyone – I hope you’ve all had, or are continuing to have a great time. Progress on the MG took a leap forwards (actually backwards, but we will get to that) recently following a visit from Phil James, who is a specialist classic car electrician. We had been messaging back and forth for a few weeks after my initial web enquiry and finally settled on a date that worked for us both in early December. Phil came for the day and after a brief chat he just got on with labelling, tidying up, connecting and sorting out the loom with all its connections. I got on with my day job, but checked in on him from time to time, keeping the tea topped up. He made rapid progress and by the end of the day, he had got a lot more connected than I could have hoped for or achieved in the same period! I would recommend him highly.

Phil’s website is here

This photo doesn’t really do justice to how much more complete the electrical loom is based on the work done by Phil

So that was a good day’s work and I’ll have Phil back soon to fit some more components which I have needed to buy. Part of the idea of getting him involved was to help me work out what was needed and we certainly achieved that and I’ve been busy since on the internet ordering the missing bits. Watch this space for further updates as various components get fitted.

So it was with refreshed enthusiasm that I crawled into the MG through the hatch the following day (which was a Saturday) and decided that I would attempt to drive out of the garage, rather than the usual back-breaking push. I should explain, that there wasn’t room to open the door due to how it was last pushed in. Feeding myself into the driving position (the seat had been lifted out to make room for Phil), I cranked the MG over and was pleased for it to burst into life on the second turn of the key. It would have fired up first time, but I am still getting used to ‘catching it’ as it turns-over. It was a bit intimidating to select reverse for the first time, with the engine running, but I gave it a go and was greeted by a grinding noise. Ah. I gave the clutch a couple of pumps and tried again. This time, the gear selected smoothly and I was able to feel for the bite point on the clutch, raise the revs a little and ease the MG out of the garage. This was the first time the MG had moved under its own power in my ownership, and from a time perspective in approximately 8 years. Woohoo, what a moment! Before I got carried away, and remembering that I have NO BRAKES, just a handbrake, I gingerly allowed the MG to come to rest on the lip of the garage entrance and shut it off.

As I reflected on this progress, both electrical and mechanical I was enthused to order new brakes (Calipers and disks) for the MG and I’ve put sorting the brakes onto my priority list for the new year, so it can be moved around with confidence, and of course, when appropriately complete, to be driven for real.

On a festive note, a couple of photos below of a nice pre-war Riley that I spied at a recent event new to me, which was Carols on Track, a drive-in Carol Concert organised by the local Churches after Castle Combe Racing Circuit generously made their paddock area available for the event. As a response to the pandemic restrictions, Churches all over have been thinking about ways to celebrate the Christmas season. Our own Church has been hosting restricted services, as well as online content, but we had no way to hold our traditional Carol Service. So we were delighted and intrigued to attend Castle Combe. The basic idea was to get parked up and then either stay in your car, or stand socially distanced outside, as the Carols and Lessons were played out over a professional PA system. I have to hand it to the organisers, who had arranged for hot drinks and hog roast stall to be available for the punters. The service was a combination of deeply emotional carols such as Silent Night to the all out riot of the 12 days of Christmas with horn blowing and lights flashing. Great fun, and it may become a permanent fixture, COVID or no COVID. Turnout was about 100 cars as a conservative estimate.

So, I’m feeling positive about 2021, with more work due on the MG, perhaps that elusive first drive, and us all getting on top of COVID. Best wishes to you all and God Bless

27 Oct 19 Engine installation

A big milestone achieved today with the engine and gearbox installed. It was just getting dark as we finished, and we didn’t manage to properly fit the geatbox mountings (a well known MGB challenge), but as my friend noted ‘It looks in’.

This is how it unfolded. The original plan was to install the engine yesterday, but unfortunately in this part of the UK we had a severe rain storm and it just wasnt feasible. Moving the job to today, meant I lost one of my two helpers, who had a work commitment up North. So it was just me and a friend from Church, John, who knows a thing or two about mechanics and is a practical and clever guy who I was confident would get the job done. Question was, would I be enough of an assistant?

First job was to see how to sling the engine. John got on with this while I torqued up the gearbox bolts. We then lifted the engine just to see how it would hang.

Having got the engine rigged up to the crane we had to rotate the engine and car through 180 degrees. The engine crane takes some manouvering. We used spare wooden floor boards as runways for the castors to make it as easy as possible, but even this was tricky, with having to move them around and the crane occasionally falling off the runway. To turn the MG, we had to push it up the drive and onto the road to do a three point turn. An old gentleman was walking his dog and looked curiously at us. He asked ‘What’s wrong with it?’. John replied ‘It hasnt got an engine’. He seemed satisfied with the answer and continued on his slow walk up the road.

As further preparation I jacked up the rear of the car and removed the grille to give us some more room to get the crane as close as possible for maximum reach. We also laid throws around the engine bay and wrapped the gearbox with a sheet and a feed bag as protection against any accidental knocks.

Received wisdom recommends jacking up the rear to help the angles

So having done all the preparation, it was time to see if we could do the job.

Here John articulates our well planned operation ‘lets give it a go!’

First attempt at lifting the engine ended in failure. We found that with a single sling we weren’t able to tilt the engine enough by force alone to get anywhere close to the angle we needed to fit into the car. So we rigged up the balance bar which I had been loaned by Corsham Tyre Services. The balance bar has two lifting points connected by a threaded bar which allows you to tilt the load. Cool piece of kit which as it turned out was critical to the job getting done.

With the whole unit tilted, we were on our way

Our next set of challenges were around maximising the reach of the crane which was at its absolute limit. We had to release the bonnet struts and lash the bonnet up as high as it would go (see picture above). With the crane at maximum reach, at maximum tilt and very close to the bonnet, it looked as if we would be short of where we would need to be. However, with a bit of shoving and pushing, some very careful manipulation of the crane height and angles, and some light prying, we got the engine close enough to the mounting brackets to get a bolt on each side. Seems easy when I write it now, but it was fairly stressful as the space is really quite tight, especially with the starter motor on, not one of my best ideas. So we had the engine in place, and our focus now turned to the gearbox and the dreaded cross-member.

The cross-member is an awkward piece of design by MG which is well-known for being very difficult to fit. And so it turned out to be. We managed to get one gearbox mounting fitted, but the other side refused to play ball despite our best efforts. Regretfully, we had to bolt up the cross-member with only one mounting properly installed because we were losing the light at this point. A sensible decision, as there was quite a lot of kit to put away, and although it was disappointing to be beaten, we at least had got the main job done and left things in a safe state for future completion.

So thanks John for leading the job today – in the evening, I was invited over to his place, where John’s wife had cooked a delicious spag bol (my wife Helen was away on a school trip to China).

Secondly, thanks to Corsham Tyre Services for lending the lifting kit without which we really would have struggled.

Thirdly, thanks to Austin for his generous loan of the engine crane.

27 Jul 19 Thinking ahead

A few things to report. Firstly, not much progress. I was a little distracted with preparing for and then undertaking a sponsored walk for the charity Open Doors, which serves persecuted Christians worldwide. Christians get beaten up and worse for their faith and that can’t be right. So a friend of mine, Chris and I walked 140 miles over 7 days, attracting donations of £3,600 and raising awareness of Open Doors.

Back to the MG, I had recently managed to obtain a part on the bonnet gas strut that I had mullered on installation, so that’s now working and here is a photo showing the bonnet proudly erect on its struts. All very nice, but during fitting, the hinges took a bit of stick with one gas strut agressively pushing up one side and so now the bonnet needs a press at the top edge when lowered so that is something to be sorted one day…(not a priority!)

The gas struts raise the bonnet to a much higher angle than the saggy original single strut

I didn’t have long on Saturday to work on the MG so I had to be selective about what I tackled. As usual, a quick garage tidy is always a good start and I managed to reorganise things to give a bit more room. Then I focussed on what parts I would need to have organised to tackle the engine and gearbox installation. Chief among these is the cross-member and its associated mountings. As I did not take the engine and gearbox out, this involved a bit of guess work in sorting through the bag of nuts and bolts I was given after it was taken out. It actually didn’t take too long to figure it all out, althought it is quite a complex arrangement and I think will be very fiddly to install. See photo below of the mocked up cross-member. Its still in primer as I haven’t finished refurbishing it yet.

The dreaded cross member – how easy will it be to fit this to the gearbox?

Latest theory from having taken some advice, it to install the gearbox first, then the engine, having trial mated them together first. This is because the combined unit is very long and its challenging to get all the angles to work to fit it in. So I am now focussed on getting this installation done (with a little help from my friends of course) as soon as I can. This won’t be that soon as my 25th Wedding Anniversary is coming up and a holiday to Crete, but after that I am going to focus on this and push on with the job. Wish me well, this next bit could be a challenge!

23 Feb 19 Little steps forward

Earlier this week, working away in Cambridge, I invited Rob (friend and colleague) over to my place for dinner. I was clear about my motives, saying to Rob that I had homework for him to do. After a satisfactory curry, we sat down with the MGOC, Moss and David Manners catalogues and my list of parts required for the initial build of the MG and worked our way down the list comparing prices and working out which parts to order from whom and also what were the peripheral parts required. Helpfully Rob has extensive mechanical experience having raced TR6s for years as well as his back-catalogue of interesting cars. At 10pm we called a halt and were about 3/4 down the list, but it was a really useful session. Thanks Rob. I now have a schedule against which I can place orders, although I need to be sure I’ve got space for it all as it arrives.

I nipped over to see Gavin and Dean at the paintshop when I got back from Cambridge, to deliver door rubbers and to collect the faulty front valance. I also took over some donuts which went down well. I had ordered a new valance from Smith & Deakin, a specialist fibreglass company who do Motorsport parts. Hopefully this will fit better than the other item which I hope to return to Moss in due course for a refund. On Friday, Gavin posted updates photos on FB and it was good to see the progress that had been made.

I am really pleased with the work being done, the inner wings look especially tidy compared to how they looked previously. The identified problems are gradually being worked through and we are moving ahead.

This afternoon (Saturday) I spent a couple of hours in the garage sorting parts, adding to the junk pile and just generally getting my head around what’s ahead. For example, I plonked the gearbox onto the cross-member with the old mounts just to see how it goes together. I also removed the thrust bearing as I am going to replace the standard carbon item with a roller bearing version. That has to be the easiest part I have ever removed, two circlips to rotate and it couldn’t wait to come off. Nice to have an easy job for a change. I also trial fitted two more gauges into the dash just for fun. They have all cleaned up okay, but the acid test will be whether they work when they are all reconnected and I have my doubts about some so am prepared to replace what doesn’t work.