Philip Kiss MGA
PRD 249 Brief history
My MG is an MGA Coupe Mk 1 which was first registered in September 1958, the first owner living in Woodley, Berkshire. There have been 5 other owners apart from myself, the car residing in Hungerford, Farnborough, Luton, Chigwell, Harrow, Crawley and finally Brenzett where I found it.
It was not my intention to buy an MG, but I felt that I was almost coerced into buying it, this being in 1975. At the time, my late father ran a garage in Hamstreet where the MG came for its MOT tests. My father noticed that at one of those tests, the car’s mileage had increased only by the distance to get it to the garage. So he suggested to the lady owner, that because she was not really using it, that perhaps she might care to sell it to his son who was interested in it. I have to say that I have no recollection of any such conversation with my father, however I was intrigued so I did meet the lady and go for a test drive. So that was it, I was hooked and bought the MG on the spot. It was quite a change because the car that I had been driving up to that point was a Daf 55; a very interesting car but so different to the MG.
The MG was then used regularly with no particular drama, but it became clear that the engine was tired. So it was removed and replaced with a 1622cc unit that I had from a previously owned Austin Cambridge. This engine was fitted with a single carburettor and I found the car to be much livelier even though that engine on paper had less power than the one that I had removed. So that encourages me for the future. The car was used for about 4 years during which time it did a tour all over the UK, and also as far as Monte Carlo.
However, it did develop some expensive (for that time anyway) problems that I felt unable to deal with quickly, so she was taken off the road. I did promise myself that she would return to the road and at that time I did make a tentative start on restoring her. However, life and my first wife got in the way and it seemed that that restoration was always going to remain in the distant future. So the car was put into storage in Ashford where she stayed until February 2012!
Now I have a decent garage, lots of enthusiasm to finally doing something about getting her back on the road, and most important a new wife who seems reasonably amenable to becoming an MG widow! I have promised to take her in the MG
to Sorrento when the restoration is complete which I am sure
The situation now is that when it came out of storage, it was a rolling body shell with the doors and wings off, bonnet and boot off, glass out, engine and gearbox out. The first priority is to deal with the chassis first, and I have now just about completed the removal of the body. I would have liked to have lifted the body off and set it aside, but I do not have the space to do that. So what I have done is to lift it off vertically using the structure of the garage roof (it is pitched). I have reinforced some of the rafters and these in turn have some extra support from a couple of acrows. I built a lifting bracket that connects to the points where the radiator would normally be fitted, and at the rear I have fitted a beam to the bulkhead between the cabin and the boot. From these points I have lengths of studding the top ends of which pass through plates at rafter level. So all I have to do is climb up into the roof and wind the nuts and up the body comes. For my own safety, I have put a safety frame under the suspended body just in case any of the studding should fail.
I shall be raising the body probably by another foot which will give me comfortable access to the chassis. The first task will be to extensively photograph the chassis, warts and all, and then work from back to front, dismantling, wire brushing, welding, painting etc., and tackling the mechanical work as I go. However, early days, with progress reports to follow.
This is being written, during March 2016, almost 4 years after the first part, so quite a lot of progress has been made.
The body was lifted further, as far as possible before it collided with the roof of the garage. This puts the sills about face height which is not ideal as I am working underneath the body, but once
I had stood up a couple of times and hit the body, I learnt quite quickly not to do it again!
The plan then was to deal with the chassis, and come back to the body later. Firstly, I set out just brushing of years of dust, spiders and loose rust and seeing what I had and the extent of the work required. Very quickly, the target date for completion disappeared further into the future. It was obvious that the chassis needed repairs, so I set about stripping it down all the way.
The first part to come off was the front suspension, all of which was set aside and stored in a range of cheap washing up bowls. Removing the springs was interesting as the book says put a trolley jack under the spring pan and lift carefully until the trunnion bolt can be removed. This does not work with the engine out of the car! So I put together a pulling frame of studding and unistrut utilising the two holes in the spring pan and the one that secures the bump stop; this was successful without hurting either myself or the car.
Then the two triangular closing pieces on the sides of the footwell. These are aluminium, so there wasn’t much of them left.
Then the fuel tank and it’s support straps, and the fuel pump.
Then the axle which I took off with the springs, and set it aside for later attention.
So the chassis was sitting there on axle stands and not looking particularly appealing. It was at this stage that my brother appeared to review progress. He is also a great car fan, and his words were “It’s a lot worse than I thought it would be!” Not encouraging! I prefer my approach which was “It’s a lot better than it could have been!”
Time for a long and critical look at the chassis. The front of it had virtually no rust other than a light film in places, because of course the engine used to lose oil constantly. Behind the bulkhead, it was a different matter. There were big holes in the side rails the full length of the floors. The floors are wooden and have a habit of wicking damp to those rails, and this is common in MGAs. The floor board support brackets were also badly damaged for the same reason. A set of those brackets comprises 14 pieces, and I used 13 of them. The circular cross member behind the cabin had virtually gone at both sides where it connects to the side rails close to the spring hangers. The support brackets for the petrol pump and the exhaust had both gone. The plates that hold the ends of the rear cabin wood panel had both gone. Both battery boxes were mostly gone. There were holes under both axle bump stops. The cross member that runs under the boot floor had mostly gone. There were holes at the rear where the body and the rear bumper brackets fix to it. Also lots of small holes all over the place. But despite all of that, the chassis was straight and very solid everywhere else.
It was important not to lose that structural integrity, so I tacked one hole at a time. The first area was the side rails where I cut out the thinned material and plated over it with new steel of the original thickness. These were initially pop riveted in place ready for welding. The new floor board support brackets were fixed to those in the same way. The next area was the circular cross member; again the thinned material was removed and new steel tube was pushed through the chassis rails towards the centre via holes on the outside, as far as possible past the damaged areas. These were reinforced by extra plating because of the proximity to the spring hangers. New battery boxes were fitted. New plates for the petrol pump and exhaust pipe were fabricated from new plate and fitted. New curved channels were fabricated to go under the axle bump stops, these wrapping around the original, so the bump stops are now a fraction lower than originally. Fortunately the captive nuts for those were sound. The cross member that runs under the boot is not available from the major outlets so I commissioned a replacement from a local steel fabricators. Finally new body mounting plates were fabricated and fitted at the rear.
So I now had a chassis that looked like a patchwork quilt!
However, these patches have all been welded together, this taking two weekends. It now looked so much better, even before the two coats of Hammerite and lashings of Waxoyl inside all areas. The chassis is finished.
Now I was ready to start put it all back together again. My thought was always to do the front suspension etc, followed by the rear, then engine/gearbox and body back on; sounds straightforward if you say it quickly!
So I set about the front suspension. My A is an early one with drum brakes all round, and although it was entirely satisfactory in the 50s, I felt that I could do with better braking performance; firstly because it is so long since I have driven an A and since then I have driven many cars with discs at the front, so a return to drums may well not inspire braking confidence. Secondly it was my plan to squeeze more power out of the engine, and of course MG themselves fitted discs to all subsequent As. I spent some time considering how best to do it, the options being to find a late A set of hubs or discs, or to use parts from another car. At the time, the first route seemed difficult as new parts were impossible to find at sensible prices. However I came across a way to use MGB parts, all detailed on the website. So I bought new MGB stub axles which fit direct to the spring pan, as that part is identical on As and Bs. At the top, the suggestion is to use A shock absorbers but fit to them the arms from B shock absorbers. It is impossible to remove those arms unless one has a press of some kind. So I chose to use standard B shock absorbers, but it is necessary to open up very slightly two of the mounting holes on each. So these were fitted with new studs. The next challenge was to compress the springs and put it together; the book says to put a trolley jack under the spring pan, and that will compress the springs, allowing you to insert the top trunnion bolt. That of course does not work when the engine is out of the car. So I made up a pulling frame out of unistrut that bolted to the bump stop fixing at the top, and two lengths of studding that conveniently passed through two holes in the spring pan. That gave me complete control allowing top and bottom trunnion bolts to be fitted; the pulling frame was removed, and new bump stops were fitted.
I bought second hand disc back plates and hubs (MGB), all of which were cleaned and painted, and these were put together with new wheel bearings, discs, calipers and pads (all MGB)
However, because I have used B parts, the track rod ends are now too far apart. Replacement track rod ends have a much deeper threaded section than the original ones, so it was necessary to extend the thread on the track rods themselves towards the centre of the car, and then to cut a short piece off the end, otherwise there wouldn’t be enough thread for the locking nut.
At the front, I am also endeavouring to fit an anti-roll bar. Some MGAs did have these, but those are also difficult to find. So I am fitting an MGB one, which entails some modifications.
According to the MGA Guru, these can be fitted either above or below the chassis extension. I have opted to go for the latter as that would allow me to change if later if needed without having to lift the body off the chassis. Fitting the brackets to the chassis extension was straightforward and this was done with some local reinforcing. At the other end, the book says to shorten the link roads to allow the bolt to go through a hole on the front arm of the spring pan; in my case, this seems not to work as I don’t seem to have enough space and avoid clashes with the steering arms. So I have fabricated brackets to fit on the front arm so that the link arm connects slightly lower down. The link arms had the bottom rubber mounted bolt cut off, then it was threaded the full length and a rose joint fitted to give me adjustment both up and down, and forward and back. There is one further snag in that the anti-roll bar appears to clash with the tyres on full lock. I intend to have a local engineering work shop bend the ends of the bar to give me decent clearance; that is still waiting to be done.
Now for the rear. The whole axle and springs had been removed and set aside. Firstly the springs were removed from the axle, and the springs were set aside. The brake drums, shoes and wheel cylinders were removed, followed by the half shafts. The next part to come off were the hubs; one of these has a right handed thread and the other a left handed thread. Once I understood this, the left handed threaded one came off quite easily albeit with the help of a very large socket and arm! Finally the differential was removed and set aside. The axle was then down to the bare tube, and I found that there was significant thinning and a few holes in the area under the axle U bolts. Also the plates that fit to the spring were heavily corroded and very thin. At first inspection, it looked terminal and I felt a new axle might be in order. However, when I took a close second look (when the initial shock had passed), things didn’t appear quite so dire. This was confirmed by conversations that I had with Casey Engineering of Tilmanstone who felt that the axle could be repaired; it is with them at the time of writing.
Both rear springs were stripped down completely. The individual leaves were all rigorously wire brushed and found to be in good condition. The mating faces were treated with Waxoyl, and then reassembled with new centre bolts. The external surfaces were then painted. When finished, they were slightly taller than before the strip down but the height was what the book said they should be. These have now been loose fitted back to the chassis using new shackles, new bolts and polyurethane bushes.
I am hoping to change the ratio of the differential from the original 4.3 to 3.9 to give me quieter cruising, and I am looking for costs for doing that. The axle will be refitted and I shall install telescopic shock absorbers to replace the lever arm type.
When I was waiting for the welding to be done, I set about stripping the engine. This has now been done, but no actual work has been done to it. As I said earlier, it is an Austin engine, but the differences between it and the MG variant are flat top pistons, warmer camshaft and better gas flow on the cylinder head, all of which can be easily managed. The block will certainly need reboring, and the crank may need regrinding. The next stage is to take both to a local engine rebuilder to have both measured up, and I hope to do that shortly.