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

21 Nov 20 Wiper Motor and other bits and bobs

In early December I have a classic car auto electrician coming to look at the loom on the MGB and to help with its installation. He’ll carry out an assessment first, and then recommend what he is able to do. In readiness for this, I rolled the MG out onto the drive on this sunny November afternoon. Before I got on with the neccessary work, I couldn’t resist firing up the MG. She started on the second go, so the battery had held out, which is encouraging in terms of the alternator actually working. I had a bit of a fiddle with the idle speed and mixture and managed to get it idling relatively smoothly with the choke fully in engine warmed up. I am not kidding myself that the carbs are set up, but at least its running better than when initially started a few weeks ago. I am a bit addicted to the noise and couldn’t resist a couple of revs. My neighbour’s grown up son came to see what the noise was and he liked what he heard!

The preparation on the loom today consisted of me undoing the jerry-rigged set up I had created to get the car started. The loom was basically resting in the foot well which is clearly not right. I disconnected the ignition switch (having taken numerous photos) and various other connections including several temporary earths. I then took a good look at the loom and carefully unravelled it to lay behind the dashboard in roughly the right configuration. I then looked at where the loom enters the interior and identified the correct location of the first earth connection. Having learned that stainless steel does not have as good connectivity as mild steel, I didn’t use a fresh shiny bolt but dug out an old one from the bolt box. That led me to contemplate the wiper motor which is just under the dash on the off side (UK). The wiper motor was dangling awkwardly from the drive cable so needed to be fitted properly in its mount. First I tightened up the drive cable connection to the motor as this was only half on. I then offered the motor up to its mount, noting that the angles didn’t really work, but it was possible to persuade it in. The motor is mounted by a steel hoop, but to keep it in snug there are two rubber elements – a pad which goes against the bulkhead and a lining to the hoop. Getting these to align and stay in place as I tightened up the two bolts was tricky to say the least, but I managed it after a couple of attempts. So with the wiper motor in place I was able to fit the earth connection I had spotted earlier. Due to the exact positioning of this, effectively under the scuttle, and the bar runs below the dash, this wasn’t that easy – I had to sit on the floor with my back to the car and feed my hand through the various obstacles and then get the right angle. Hopefully, that can stay there now for the duration!

I also greased the speedo cable in anticipation of connecting this up in the near future. All the while I was listening to a radio adaption of Ian Flemming’s James Bond in Moonraker. A great afternoon.

15 Nov 20 Replacing the alternator

A surprisingly sunny November morning appeared from what I had thought was a write-off rainy weekend, so it was out with the MG to swop out the old alternator with a new one from MGB Hive. When I first got the MG, the alternator was covered in white aluminium corrosion crystals. I scraped off the worst and when I fired the car up (this was 3 years ago) for the first time, there was a flurry of white as the loose crud spun out. Suffice to say I thought the alternator had seen better days and so having recently restarted the engine I decided to replace it. Also prompting me to this job was that whenever I have run the car recently, it has flattened the battery. This was either because the old alternator was not working properly, or because something wasn’t wired properly. As I was going to replace the alternator anyway, I tried this first.

The alternator is held in place with two bolts at the top, which mount onto lugs on the engine block and with a single bolt at the bottom which secures a curved slotted plate. The slotted plate allows the alternator to pivot so that the fan belt can be fitted over the pulleys and then tensioned correctly. The slotted plate then fixes to a lower lug fixed to the engine block. The lower lug is fixed with a specifically shaped bolt which I had replaced much earlier in the rebuilt when it had sheared off spitefully on removal. Before I took the old alternator off, I started the engine and measured the voltage at the battery – 12.3v.

Fitting the new alternator was pretty simple although it’s a heavy old bit of kit. I did a visual comparison before I removed the old one just in case it was to join my list of wrongly ordered parts, but it measured up alright so I committed to the job. I laid a decent blanket over the wing for protection and knelt on a tool box with a blanket on it for comfort. I used a combination of tools to remove the bolts which were 0/5″ and 9/16. This included my trusty Halfords Professional mini socket set, the Elora large socket set gifted to me by my friend John, the socket spanner set gifted to me by my brother Tris and a plain open jawed spanner. Each tool works well in its own way and I was grateful for the choice.

With the new alternator fitted and the fan belt at roughly the right tension, I fired up the car again. It fired second time and settled into a lumpy idle (carbs still not set up right – where are you Dad? ha ha). I tested the voltage at the battery and got…the same 12.3v. I was hoping for between 13-14v but I could be wrong. So maybe the issue is not solved. I should have had someone hold the revs higher and measured it again, but Helen was working in her study, so I didn’t disturb her. So we will see if the battery is flat when I try again. Hopefully next weekend we will get another weather window for further investigation. Before sitting down to do this update, I sent a web enquiry to a mobile auto electrician just to gauge their interest in giving the electrics a once over and validating what I’ve done. I think it might be worth getting a professional involved in this one…

12 Aug 20 Releasing the carbs

Having established at the weekend, with Matt’s help, that the carburettors were blocked, and having consulted the ‘MG helpline’, A.K.A. my Dad, I found time this evening, with the help of my friend John, to investigate the problem. The UK was in the middle of a heat wave, one in which the temperature and humidity peaked between 5pm and 6pm arond 30 degrees, which was when we started to look at the MG. So the only right thing to do, while we wheeled the MG out, was to crack open a couple of cold beers and take a leasurely look at the problem. With John on board, this was going to be a logical approach to problem solving. Having already proven fuel would flow up to the carbs, we now knew the challenge was with the carb itself.

Step 1: Use a footpump to attempt to blow air into the carb. Result: No air passing through. Conclusion: Float/Needle valve stuck

Step 2: Remove carbs. Removing the carbs in theory is easy, its just four nuts. In practice, its fiddly, because the nuts won’t come off without waggling them to the end of the studs and then getting the angle just right. Having two people on hand is a definate advantage here, unless you are an octopus. Next challenge was to keep the carbs together with the linkages intact. To do this, we had the idea to use the plate that holds the air filters as a sort of jig. That took a bit of work to get right, but without (much) swearing, the carbs rattled free of their studs and were on the work bench.

Step 3: Remove float chamber lids. These come off easily enough, although the ‘O’ ring on the front carb hopped out of its slot and showed little enthusiasm to pop back in. Using the footpump and with the float valve open we used the foot pump again to add pressure and with a nice ‘pop!’ the needle valve on the rear carb freed itself. Surely the front carb would do the same, but it wasn’t shifting, so John tickled it with a pair of fine tweezers and before long both carbs were wheezing along in harmony at each press of the pump. How satisfying.

Step 4: Reassemble and refit the carbs. Hmm. That float chamber ‘O’ ring did not want to play ball and needs to be replaced, however, we think we teased it back in place and made a seal on both float chamber lids. We then man handled and wiggled the carbs back onto their studs, tightened them up and connected the breather pipe, fuel line, throttle and choke linkages.

Step 5: Test start the engine. ‘Hang on a minute,’ said John ‘didn’t you say that the fuel pump and coil are always on when you connect the battery?’ A discussion ensued in which John advised me against firing the engine when we are not confident of how the wiring was configured. So we disconnected the ignition switch and using a multimeter, identified what the various terminals were and then attempted to connect the correct wires. As we were nearing a conclusion on this, the rain came in heavy so we abandoned the task for the day having made some actual progress, but with some work to go to achieve sustained running.

30 Jul 20 Putting my back into it

I was motivated to get outside after work today and do something useful on the MG. I have for a long time bemoaned how I routed the rear loom which turned out to foul the internal trim panels due to a temporary cognitive failure on my part. So I decided to reverse this and find a better route. Reversing the install turned out to be much simpler than I thought.

I then had to work out a better route and curiously it is remarkably unclear what this should be. After a bit of trial and error I have found a route which allows the loom to reach all the right places and also looks like a reasonable location to be clipped in place out of the way and logically. At least I hope so.

It was good to make some progress after having had a lot of (admittedly not entirely unpleasant) distractions. The only down side was a twinge in my back as the MG is getting heavier the more parts I bolt on, and my back is getting no stronger. I may revert to towing it up the drive until she’s a runner.

29 Feb 20 Working the problem

Confession time. I was banging on last week about having to lengthen the distributor wire, and why couldn’t it just be the right length and so on. Well I took a closer look today and actually I don’t need to lengthen any cables, I just need to connect it all up properly. That was a relief. I only had a very short time on the MG today, but I did spend some of it in finishing off connecting the front and rear loom. The rear loom connects to the main loom on a branch under the o/s near the master cylinders. I had previously connected some of the wires, but was having difficulty in getting others connected. Dad had suggested that I purchase a pair of bullet connector pliers and I used these for the first time in anger and they worked pretty well actually, although I had to salvage a couple of connectors from the old loom where the new one was missing some. So just one yellow wire left unconnected….any clues? no me neither.

So there you have it. The list of things to do before engine start is now quite short. Fit the vacuum pipes and oil gauge pipe, fit the battery, rig up a fuel bottle and that’s about it, apart from checking everything. As always, I have a busy couple of weeks coming up including a weekend helping at the in-laws farm, but soon enough I will be spinning the engine over. Exciting stuff.

In other news, I bought a cooling pipe for my Suzuki Cappuccino (pictured below). The existing pipe is very corroded and I didn’t feel safe doing any distance in it in case it let go. Anyway, a phone call to Suzuki Islington of Trowbridge resulted in a £50 card transaction and a few days later the pipe was in for collection. The Suzuki dealer was also a MG franchise and it was interesting to see all the new SUV MGs in stock, not that I am looking for a new car. On the way back I bought new antifreeze from Halfords and I checked out refilling the system on the internet. Looks relatively straighforward. I’ll fit the new pipe to the Suzuki when the weather improves.

22 Feb 20 Re-fuse-ing to give up

Spent a couple of hours on the MG this afternoon. It was cold and windy so I confined myself to the garage. First job was to finish off fitting the new rubber oil cooler pipes. I am replacing the nasty braided ones which are very stiff with OE spec rubber which is a bit more pliant. This is an awkward fit and it requires a bit of coordination because the oil gauge pipe has to be fitted AFTER the pipe cooler pipe because otherwise the spanner crushes the oil gauge pipe. Have a guess how I know this? After fitting the pipes I had to fit the hateful grommets to the radiator shroud which is another awkward job. Anyway it’s done now.

It’s all a bit congested here

Next I decided to progress the wiring loom connections. Last week I had to unpick the loom due to poor routing so this week I put some of that back. I connected the alternator which is easy then had to take the coil off to get that connected properly. So far so good. I then checked the fuse box which I wasn’t convinced had been connected properly. Rather than rely on pictures on the internet I actually used the wiring diagram and managed to use up all the available wires so it must be right! (It is right really).

So onto the next thing and I identified a problem. The distributor, which is a new unit from Accuspark needs power which it gets from the coil. Unfortunately one of the cables is not long enough. It mentions this in the instructions which cheerfully say ‘you may have to lengthen the wire’. I might write back to them to say ‘you could just supply the right length wire.’ So I need to grab a pal who can joins a bit of wire for me

This is the probably definitely correctly connected fuse box

Final task today was to fit an earth wire to the inner wing. The original bolt had been painted over and the head rounded off when I tried to release it. Even my freeze spray couldn’t rescue the situation so I did the brutal thing and drilled it out. I managed to then get another bolt to fit and job done. Not a bad afternoon’s work.

8 Sep 19 Busy day

Cup of coffee and 1/2″ spanner, what else do you need?

Haven’t slept well for a couple of nights. My eldest is job-hunting in London after graduating this summer, and my youngest is off to University next week. At work, I’ve got some challenges and alongside that, we’ve been thinking about whether to move house. Meanwhile, I wasn’t progressing the MG. Hence, busy mind, and disturbed sleep. A day in the garage / on the drive was what I needed and that’s what I did. Awake early, I had the MG pushed out onto the driveway by 7:30am. A busy day followed in which I did the following:-

  1. Painted the gearbox cross-member – this is an overdue job needed before I put the engine and gearbox back in. I sprayed it with crackle finish because I thought it would be durable and because the can was within reach! Hung to dry on the washing line with the other washing.
  2. Fitted the fuel tank incuding the sender unit. This was a bit awkward, doing it on my own, so I used a box and the jack to help me hold it up to the bolts. I cleaned the filler neck and it looked quite presentable afterwards
  3. Fitted the gearbox to the engine. Again, a bit awkward on your own, but I propped the engine on some magazines and used the jack and a bit of man-handling to mate the gearbox. It was a bit fiddly, but overall not too difficult. Bolts need checking and torquing up before installing back in the car
  4. Installed the rear hatch gas struts – this involved me drilling into my freshly painted car for the first time. Helen helped me to measure where to drill the holes. The drilling and fit went okay, although I did have the hatch ball joints on the wrong way around first time and we nearly had a disaster, but I managed to recover it without any damage. The hatch doesn’t sit right when closed now, but I am not going to make any changes until the glass is installed. At the moment it doesn’t have the correct load on it, so worth waiting and then doing it once properly.
  5. Fitted the bonnet pull – not working yet as it needs some adjustment, but its in – needs tightening I think
  6. Replaced the accelerator cable – Can only fit one end as I am missing the engine at present. One less thing to do and all part of having a smart engine bay
  7. Took the rear lights off and installed the foam seal which I had forgotten about, but found in a box this morning. Helen helped with this as she was bringing me out a cup of coffee, so got roped into the job.
  8. Began fitting the rear wiring loom – first electricals on the rebuild. Thought I would start with something simple and so it was – relatively. I have the old loom, which is labelled, so used that to guide me. I actually connected up the new loom to the rear lights – we are making progress!
  9. Fitted the near side indicator unit. Just wanted to see how it will fit – the answer is, not bad, not great. There is a hole just visible unfortunately from when someone cobbledit to fit prior to my ownership. A detail to sort one day. In the meantime, one less thing to do.

This was a sociable day on the MG. People love to stop and see how it’s all progressing and they nearly always have an encouraging word. There was the usual ‘Hello’s’ from dog walkers who stream past our house on the way to the local fields. Helen and I chatted for a while to a couple who are near neighbours and the husband was admiring the MG and interested to hear about what I was doing. Nearly everyone mentions the TV show Car SOS or Mike Brewers’ Wheeler Dealers. I dont have the heart to tell them I find those shows difficult to watch because its all editted down into 30 minutes, they have a huge fully equipped workshop and the talented mechanics make it look so easy. Had a useful chat to Russell (another dog walker), who has stopped to speak before. He has restored many cars, including MGBs so is always a useful person with whom to discuss things. Today he gave me the number of a person who may be able to transport the MG for a reasonable price when I come to get the windscreen and rear screen fittted.

I’ve occasionally worried about whether when I get to finally restart the MG, I somehow forget to say, fill the gearbox with oil or some such idiosy. I spoke to my mate Rob, who races classic cars and is always taking gearboxes and so on out of his cars. He said that when he removes fluids, he puts a big sign in masking tape over the steering wheel to this effect. Hence…

What a day it will be when I remove this bit of tape…

As I worked on the car, I listened to Louis Theroux on Desert Island Disks, a bit of radio 4 and then to the Monza Grand Prix which was won by Charles LeClerc in his Ferrari. What a day for the young man and for Italy.