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The restoration of my MGA 1600
1. The start of it all
One rainy evening in November 1977, close to midnight, I drove my MGA on the highway from Rotterdam to Vlaardingen. All of a sudden the engine started to sputter and finally quit altogether. I parked at the side of the road and made a quick check. I disconnected the fuel line from the carburettors and switched on the contact. The fuel pump ticked, but no petrol came out of the fuel line. That was strange, because according to my trip meter I should have enough fuel for another hundred kilometres. My fuel gauge had been ineffective for a long time, but I found that no problem. For years the fuel consumption of my MGA had been a constant one litre to every ten kilometres for years, so I could easily calculate when I had refuel by looking at the trip counter. Of course I carried no spare fuel but an AA-patrolman brought relief by offering me a jerry can with five litres of fuel, provided that I bought the fuel plus a year’s membership of the AA. It was the most expensive fuel I had ever bought, but at least it brought me home.
The next day I took the MGA to the garage where I worked at that time, and put the car on a hydraulic lift to see if I could find a fuel leak. Indeed, along the upper part of the fuel tank I saw a slowly but steady flow of fuel drops. The flow stopped when there were no more than fifteen litres in the tank. Taking that into account I could drive on again, but had to make sure that I frequently stopped at a filling station. Still I regularly ran out of fuel, but now I brought my own jerry can with fuel. A disadvantage of regularly emptying the fuel tank was that a lot of dirt from the bottom of the tank found its way to the fuel pump, which caused it to pack up at an unfortunate moment. Luckily I carried a spare pump, just in case.
Disconnecting the old fuel pump presented little problems, but I got a fright when I discovered that the cross member of the chassis, to which the pump was mounted, had a gaping big hole and had almost completely rotten away. I did connect the spare pump, but from that moment on I no longer sat at ease in my A. Of course that rotten cross member had to be repaired; the leaking fuel tank had to be taken out and then I could also repair that broken fuel gauge. When I made that decision, I started looking at my MGA very critically and discovered a lot of other things that could also do with some attention. The supports of the batteries were seriously corroding; there was a hole in the wooden floor under the driver’s seat; the differential made a ghastly noise; the paint of the car was getting dull and the compression of the engine wasn’t what it should be. In short, enough reasons to take the car of the road for a long time and start some serious restoration.
2. The preparation
From the moment I started to think about restoring the MGA, I began to collect all kinds of original parts that I thought I would need for the project: door hinges, wheel bearings, rubbers for the front suspension, rubbers for the rear suspension and lots of nuts, bolts and screws. At first I thought I wouldn’t need that many new parts, because my A had been partly restored only a few years previously. Among other things four new polyester fenders, new metal F-sections and new chromed parts had been fitted, so those were costs that I wouldn’t have. That was to become a bitter disappointment.
At that time I worked at a British Leyland dealer, which made the restoration easier for me, because in the evenings I could use the workshop and all the tools I needed.
Before I started I made a plan of action that looked as follows: I wanted to begin with dismantling all body parts such as the hood, windshield, bumpers, front plate, bonnet, boot lid, fenders, doors, sills and F-sections. Then I could remove what remained of the front and the rear. After that it would be easy to lift the engine and gearbox, take out the floor boards and remove the front- and rear suspension from the chassis.
The then bare chassis had to be cleaned, possible rotten spots and holes repaired and the chassis well sprayed with under sealant, after which all components could be assembled in reverse order. Everything bad would of course have to be replaced. For this restoration I thought I would need approximately four months at a work speed of two evenings and one Saturday morning per week.
Project 75024 -so named after the chassis number of my A- was about to begin.
3. The start
On a Saturday morning in December 1977 I started very simply by taking off the hood: I unfastened the small hook in the middle of the windscreen, loosened the two big screws left and right, after which I could fold back the hood. The hood frame is fastened to the body with several bolts and although I had loosened these bolts some years before, they had rusted solid to the body. No matter what kind of grips I used, they refused to give way. The only way was to use a blow-torch. All in all it was an hour’s work just to remove the hood. A very promising beginning.
Then I turned to the windshield. This was fixed to the inside of the body with four bolts. These bolts had already become unstuck by themselves, which made their removal very easy. Also the chromed handlebars could easily be removed.
The wheelbox assembly of the windscreen wipers had to be removed from the inside. The covers of these wheelboxes were fixed with two screws each and the only way to remove these screws was to lie upside down trying to unfasten them with a bent screwdriver. Once the covers were out of the way I could remove the rack cable of the windscreen wipers. After that I only needed to unscrew the nuts on the cowl to be able to remove the wheelboxes.
The seats had never been fastened to the floor boards, so these presented no problem (as an aside, this was before an MOT was required). The rest of the trim also didn’t present any problems, except for the pieces of carpet that were firmly bonded to the inner sills. Removing the front- and rear bumper was also easy. I found that the grille was fixed to the body with only three bolts instead of usual six. And when I had also removed the head lamps, the indicators and all the emblems, I was left with just a pitiful looking heap of rust.
4. The body
The next step was the removal of the front plate. Normally it is fixed to the body with six short bolts, but a previous owner of my A had fixed it with four enormously long screws which had firmly rusted to the body. Each screw took me about half an hour to remove, because I didn’t want to damage the front plate, which was made of polyester. After I had removed the front plate, I turned to the doors. Each door was fixed to the F-sections with eight cross headed screws. It proved very hard to remove these screws because like most other bolts and screws they were very rusty and had several layers of paint on them. There was no way I would be able to loosen them with an ordinary cross headed screwdriver. The inside of the cross heads would be damaged such that I would have to drill them out. Instead I used a heavy impact screwdriver. Several blows with a hammer on the head of this impact screwdriver were enough to undo all eight screws. When I had finally removed the doors, I could also remove both pillar shut panels by unfastening four small cross headed screws.
Now I could start with dismantling the fenders. Each fender was bolted to the body with a large number of bolts. To get at these bolts I first needed to remove the inner splash plates, one in each front fender and two in each rear fender. Before starting I had cleaned all these bolts as good as possible with a steel brush and a good brand of penetrating oil. After repeating this procedure for several days the bolts were quite easy to undo. The door sills were also easy to remove. Next was the removal of the connections between the chassis and the F-section. In my case they were fastened with rivets to both the chassis and the F-sections. After finding and then drilling out the rivets, the removal of the strips presented no further problems.
The next step was to remove the rear part of the body as a unit. To do this I had to unfasten the inner wings from the F-sections. Normally this has to be done very carefully if you want to re-use the F-sections, but in my case the F-sections had to be replaced and therefore it was possible to cut them loose with an air-powered chisel.
With the inner wings out of the way, I had to undo the following bolts: two bolts in the middle of the boot; four at the rear of the boot and two bolts at each side of the transverse chassis member. This is the chassis member to which the battery boxes are fixed. These bolts had already rusted away. Then I could remove the bumper brackets that were each bolted to the chassis with two long bolts and nuts. When all this was done, I could lift the rear part of the body with the help of a colleague.
To get to the rest of the chassis I also needed to remove the front of the body. It wasn’t really necessary to remove the dashboard, but it made the rest of the job a lot easier. So I started to remove all the switches, gauges, choke and starter from the dashboard. I had to be careful with the removal of the combined oil pressure and water-temperature gauge, because the flexible pipe of the water temperature gauge is filled with ether and if this pipe touches something it can easily spring a leak.
Then I turned to the two bolts of the heater control panel, the two small bolts of the dashboard steady brackets and then the dashboard itself, which is fixed to the body with three cross headed screws. The dashboard could then be slid away carefully along the steering column. Then an enormous tangle of wiring became visible, and at that moment I had no idea how I would be able to put everything back to its proper place.
Next I removed the steering column, the brake master cylinder; the pedals; the carburettors with the inlet manifold; the radiator; the terminals of the wiring loom which were under the brake switch; the cables from the starter motor to the starter switch assembly; the oil pressure pipe and the heater cable from the heater valve.
The front of body was fixed to the chassis with four bolts at the front, plus five bolts on each side, where the inner fender is fixed to the chassis; five bolts on the upper part of the firewall and two bolts on the inside near the third chassis cross member. These last bolts had already completely rusted away, which made their removal a piece of cake. Only the four bolts at the front of the chassis absolutely refused to give way and even the use of a blow torch did not help. Eventually I had to chisel each one out of the chassis, which took me the better part of three hours. Once these bolts were removed, I could, again with the help of a colleague, lift the front of the body carefully over the engine.
5. The chassis
Never before had I dismantled an engine in less time. Just removing the exhaust; the exhaust manifold; the propeller shaft; the dynamo; the slave cylinder; the centre bolt of the gearbox; the coil to get at the engine mounts and within forty-five minutes the engine and gearbox were out of the chassis. Next I removed the petrol tank, of which the tank straps had also completely rusted away, but before I could remove the tank I first had to strip the bolts of many layers of grease, dirt, paint and sealant. Removing the fuel pipe and the main wiring loom gave no problems; the hand brake cable was easily removed and also the brake pipes were no problem, especially because I had beforehand copiously sprayed them with penetrating oil.
Next step was to dismantle the wooden floorboards. They are fixed to the chassis with 68 small bolts and these I had also copiously sprayed in advance with penetrating oil. The result was that of the 68 bolts only twelve came loose by using the impact screwdriver. All the other 56 bolts I had to drill out one after the other, after which the floor boards -seven in all- could be hammered out. My nightmare then became truth. The insides of the chassis rails had completely rotten away. Well, what else could I do but quietly resume dismantling the rest of the components, which were still fixed to the chassis.
Removing the rear axle presented a few problems because two of the U-bolts broke and the left rear spring appeared to be stuck at the front, so I had to cut it with the blow-torch. That caused the silent block at the front of the spring to burn away, but I was sure that I would find a solution for that.
Before dismantling the steering housing I could remove the front part of the chassis and after some searching I found eight bolts hidden under loads of grease and dirt. And because of that dirt and grease they were easy to remove, they had been given no chance to rust. To remove the steering sockets I first had to remove the split pins, then undo the castle nut and then had to hammer on the side of the sockets which caused them to jump free from the steering lever. The steering housing was fixed with four bolts and was easy to remove. Before dismantling the front suspension I had clamped the front springs with a spring tensioner, because they carry an enormous load. I found that one front spring had broken and all bushes had completely worn out.
6. Rebuilding the chassis
What remained was an entirely bare chassis, full of holes. Apart from the rear cross member and the two side rails, also both cross members of the bulkhead were rotten through. Several professional welders insured me that nothing could be done about it and that I had to throw it all away. But how or where would I find a new chassis? Fortunately an acquaintance came to my rescue. He had a spare chassis lying around which was in a rather good condition and he wanted to sell it to me. I didn’t hesitate for long and bought it. I had the chassis grid blasted after which only a few spots had to be welded. Two weeks later I drove home with a decent looking chassis on my trailer.
The two weeks in between I spent giving all parts, which had to be fixed to the chassis, a good clean-up and a new layer of paint. I took all components, such as wishbones, swivel pins, hubs and rear springs apart, stripped them of grease, dirt and rust and spray painted them black. That was no small job, because twenty year old dirt can be considerably resistant. But afterwards everything looked like new again.
The steering housing with the sockets still appeared to be in good shape, so I didn’t have to take that apart. However, the steering column had to be dismantled because the inner felt bushes had worn out completely. During reassembly I impregnated the felt with oil, because otherwise you would hear a horrible squeaking sound when turning the steering wheel.
Not long before starting this restoration I had carried out a complete brake revision, with new brake cylinders all around, new turned-out drums (although I have a 1600, a previous owner had replaced the front disc brakes with brake drum from a ZA-Magnette). I had also overhauled the master brake cylinder, so here I had nothing to renew. Also the wheel-bearings still appeared to be in good nick; they only needed new grease before I could reassemble them.
The rear axle had always been a bit noisy, but when I dismantled it, I saw that almost all teeth of the crown and pinion had broken. I had read in an American magazine that the differential of an MGB -old model- would fit an MGA. The ratios would be a bit different and I also had to use the half shafts of an MGB, but that would be no problem. After some digging I found a very good differential including the right half shafts. And indeed did it fit the housing of my rear axle.
When I had the chassis back in the garage, I took a day off to reassemble all parts to the chassis and to make it a rolling chassis again. In other words assembling the front and rear suspension, so I could move the chassis around. The assembly of the rear springs gave no problems. I had new suspension bushes for the back and the burned silent block could be replaced by fitting two bushes similar to those as mounted at the rear of the spring. This construction was of course less strong than a silent block, but I thought that these bushes would hold out for some time.
The assembly of the rear axle presented little or no problems. I had thought that the U-bolts from a Morris Marina would fit, however, during assembly it appeared that they were a few millimetres too short to fit well. Fortunately a nearby construction company was good enough to fabricate new ones. A perfect fit.
The assembly of the steering housing and the front wishbones gave no problems. Of course I had renewed all spacers and bushes. I fitted two new front springs from an MGB; only to find that they were about three centimetres higher than those of MGA. That made the chassis stand somewhat high on its wheels, but I thought that when the engine and coachwork would be fitted, the whole assembly would sit a bit lower.
7. Rebuilding the body
Both the front and the rear part of the body resembled a Swiss cheese. Everything was full with holes; the lower parts had rusted away and many body panels had been fixed to each other with rivets and small bits of metal. For me it was impossible to weld the new F-sections on them.
Fortunately help arrived from the same acquaintance who had sold me the new chassis. He agreed to reassemble the body. So I mounted the front and rear part of the body on the chassis, after removing the wiring for the dashboard and the heater. The heater looked very rusty but to my amazement all screws were easy to remove. I put the whole assembly on a trailer and brought it to my acquaintance. It took him the better part of two weeks to align the body parts, weld in new back plates for the F-sections and fitting the F-sections themselves. When he was ready, even the doors fitted perfectly which they had never done before.
When I had both body and chassis back in the garage, I started sanding the insides of the engine- and luggage compartments; the inside of the bulkhead, the doors, the sills and the underside of both bonnet and trunk lid. After painting it all with primer, I again removed the front and rear wings and also gave the outside of the inner wings a thorough treatment. After all primer had dried I could reassemble the doors and the fenders. Luckily everything still fitted well.
I was afraid that when I removed the body from the chassis, the F-sections would bend, so I made two wooden supports and mounted them between the front- and rear parts of the body. After undoing a couple of bolts the body could be lifted from the chassis by four men. But I had nothing to fear, because the F-sections were firmly welded and didn’t bend. The four corners of the F-sections had to rest on a wooden beam or else the fenders would be damaged. Then it was possible for me to sand a small part of the inner wings, which I hadn’t been able to reach and paint it with the primer. Now it was also possible to mount the front valence.
I didn’t want to do the sanding and further preparation of the body myself, because I knew myself well enough to know that I had too little patience with filler to get the body absolutely straight. At the last minute I thought of the dashboard. It had also to be painted, but for that I had to tidy it up a bit. A previous owner had put in a strange looking indicator light and since I had found an original light, I needed to rework the too large hole in the dashboard. I soldered an aluminium spring washer behind the dashboard and finished it with some filler. After I had sanded the whole dashboard -first with 180 and later with 600 waterproof sanding paper- I was just in time to deliver it at the paint shop. The people in the paint shop looked rather surprised when I came in with a bare MGA body.
With the body at the paint shop, I had plenty of time to finish the chassis. However, I had to start with a thorough clean-up, because everything had become covered with sanding dust. When the chassis was clean again, I could assemble the brake piping, brake hoses and the fuel lines. A local carpenter had made new floor boards from water-resistant plywood. The old floor boards had been used as a model. The carpenter had made the new boards just a wee bit too big, so it took me several hours to fit the floor boards to the chassis. Making the holes for the mounting bolts was a simple, but time-consuming job. When I had all floor boards neatly in their place, I removed the whole floor again and gave all parts a couple of layers of varnish.
Between the metal plating over the propeller shaft and the chassis should be a special type of felt, which must be an impermeable -and sound deadening- connection between the chassis and the plates. After some searching this appeared to be approximately the same stuff that a house decorator uses as underlayer for a fixed carpet. Inexpensive, perfectly suited and available in very large quantities. After I had fixed the “felt” and the plates, I could again reassemble the floor boards in the chassis with the original cross headed screws, which were still available (at that time). However, they cost as much as sixty pennies apiece and I needed 68 of them. It’s always the small things like these that make a restoration expensive.
8. The engine
After that it was time to start on the engine, which had -after a thorough rebuilt in 1972- already done around 120,000 kilometres and for this reason probably would need another rebuilt. Before I started the restoration I had measured the compression. The second and third cylinder had proved to be a bit lower than the other two cylinders. When I took off the cylinder head I saw that the exhaust valves were a bit burned and that there was a lot charcoal in the combustion chambers. This was easy to remove. The inlet valves looked like new, but the exhaust valves had to be renewed. Also the valve seals had become rock-hard and had to be renewed. There was no clearance in the valve guides, but the seats were worn. Of course the valves had to be fitted to the seats, but with modern grinding paste it was not such a time-consuming job as it used to be in the past.
On the other side of the engine I found a pleasant surprise. After taking off the crankcase and the bearing caps -which was three minutes work with an air tool- I saw that the main bearings were like new, not a scratch to be found on them. That was probably because I’m a careful driver. I also changed the oil every 3000 kilometres, using a good brand of oil. In the early seventies I used Kendall GT I, a vegetable oil, very good, but not easy to get. Today I use Castrol 20W50.
Therefore I could easily put back the main bearings. However, I did replace the cork gaskets of the front- and rear big end bearings, after which I could reassemble the crankcase. Also the reassembly of the cylinder head presented no problems. I didn’t have to rebuild the gearbox. It worked well because two years earlier I had overhauled it because of a worn-out laygear. At that time I had made a bad mistake by not paying attention for only a second. As it happened I had fitted the clutch lever the wrong way around and by the time I found that out the engine and gearbox were already in the chassis. I wanted to fix the lever to the slave cylinder, but there was no way it would fit. After some harsh language there was no other option than to take the engine and gearbox out of the chassis again. Even the radiator and propeller shaft had to come out again. A small mistake, but it took me hours to correct it. So this time I would be more careful.
It only took me fifteen minutes to mount the engine and gearbox in the chassis. Also the assembly of the hand brake mechanism, the hand brake cable, the accelerator pedal, the propeller shaft and exhaust presented no further problems. At this stage I could not fix the carburettors to the engine because then the body wouldn’t fit over the chassis.
In a previous chapter I wrote that I had fitted the front springs of an MGB. These springs were about three centimetres higher than those of an A, but I had high hopes that the car would get its normal height with the engine back in. However, after fitting the engine it appeared that the springs didn’t go down, in fact they curved. Fortunately a friend still had original MGA springs and when I fitted those, the chassis was again its normal height.
One of the reasons for this restoration had been the leaking petrol tank. Right at the beginning of the restoration in December 1977 I had brought it to a specialized company, who wanted to repair the tank for me. Although I regularly went there to check on progress, after nine months they still hadn’t started. Eventually they discovered that the tank could not be repaired because it had become so brittle that the petrol would leak out from about everywhere. Fortunately the MG-Workshop had a second-hand tank lying around, which together with two new tank straps cost less than the initially estimated repair costs. After I had stripped this second-hand tank from all its layers of dirt and rust, I sprayed it with under sealant and remounted it in the chassis.
The mounting points between the body and chassis need cork gaskets. Although everyone said that this cork should be replaced with rubber gaskets, because they attract water and then will rust, I nevertheless used the cork gaskets. In my opinion cork is better suited to cope with the shocks that the mounting points get to endure during driving.
9. It’s starting to look like an MG again
When I came home after a three week holiday, I found that the paint shop had finished the body. They had filled in all ugly spots and there had been a lot of those. They had straightened the body panels; then sanded it; then sprayed it with polyester filler and then a red colour with two-component paint. Originally my A had been Chariot Red, but I chose a somewhat deeper red, Signal Red from Triumph. I had asked the paint shop if they could also spray a layer of varnish, but according to them that would not be necessary. Two-component paint already has a deep colour by itself and varnish is only used over metallic paint which is much more liable to the influence of sunlight.
The body looked absolutely fabulous after painting. But because I was still busy working on the chassis, I was only able to pick it up three weeks later. With my chassis on a trailer I drove to the paint shop. With the help of four men we lowered the body, which during those three weeks had been covered under a fat layer of dust, back onto the chassis. It went a bit awkward because both the starter switch and the petrol tank were in the way. The starter switch just freed the body, but I had to lower the petrol tank about ten centimetres, because the fuel filler pipe of the tank didn’t fit through the hole in the body.
With that done I drove back to my garage with the complete car on a trailer. There I started to clean the body carefully with soft rags to remove the layer of dust. At first sight my A looked awfully nice, but on closer inspection I noticed that the old synthetic layer of paint had not been properly sanded away at some places. And under influence of the much more aggressive two-component paint it sort of “crumbled” and caused a wrinkled effect on the top layer. So I took the car back to the paint shop. Now I was glad that I hadn’t done anything myself on the body, so it was their fault. They didn’t like that of course, but agreed to sand and repaint the car. It would be best to remove all layers of paint and start all over, but that would be a hell of a job. Instead the painter, hoping that the layer of paint had settled after four or five weeks, said he would sand the body with 1200 sanding paper and then respray the body with several new layers so that the wrinkled effect would disappear.
A month later the car was ready again and then it proved that this treatment had been right. The new layer of paint was nice and tidy and also had a much deeper shine than the previous layer (and twenty-five years later the paint still looks like newly done!). Because I hadn’t taken the body of the chassis, I now faced the problem that the chassis, the inside of the bodywork and the engine, in spite of covering it with masking paper, had again been covered with a layer of dust. But a couple hours work with a cotton rag made it all look like new again.
To rebuild everything again it seemed best to work from the rear to the front. I started by tightening all the nuts and bolts with which the body was fixed to the chassis. Then I inserted the wing piping between the fenders and body and bolted them together. It started to look like an MGA again!
The petrol tank, which I had had to lower some ten centimetres before mounting the body, wasn’t as easy to assemble as I had thought. When I offered up the fuel filler pipe though the hole in the body, it appeared that the boltholes in the tank didn’t match up with the holes in the tank straps. Only after a few swings with a hammer, I could finally fit the fuel tank. After that I could mount the fuel filler pipe through the body to the tank. Then I could fit the petrol cap. It was the first bit of chrome on the car, and how nice it looked!
The wiring of the rear lights to the brake switch was rapidly in its place and also the assembly of the rear lights themselves presented few problems. I decided to wait with the assembly of the trunk lid and the bonnet to minimize the chance of damaging them. However, I could already put in the cover for the spare wheel.
Before mounting the windscreen, the wiper motor and the wheelboxes are still easily to fix to the body, also because the dashboard and the wiring are not yet in place. The grommet for the wiper motor rack had completely worn out and had to be replaced with a new one. The master brake cylinder as well as the brake cylinders had already been overhauled some months before the start of the restoration. It was a bit of a puzzle to fix all the plates with which the master cylinder was mounted to the body, but by using the Parts List -the book of components- it was a job that could be done. In my opinion a Parts List is a much better help during a restoration than a Workshop Manual. All components are generally drawn in their correct places, so that you can see exactly in what way something must be assembled. In such cases a drawing frequently says it better than hundred words! For this reason it is also advisable if you are restoring a car of which no longer such data exist, to make a sketch of each component. But back to my MGA. After I had assembled the master cylinder and the brake- and clutch pedal, I still had to fix the brake pipes and the hose for the slave cylinder. However, this proved to be impossible with the master cylinder already in place, so I had to undo it again. After that it was easy to fix the brake pipes. It was then only a small job to remount the master cylinder in its right place.
Fixing the steering column presented fewer problems. However, it took some time before I had the column assembled in the correct manner to the joint assembly. To get at all the bolts with which the steering column is fixed to the body, I had to lie in some sort of upside down position under the dashboard. While I was in that difficult position, I could just as well assemble the dimmer switch. When that was ready I had pain in my back, but I could now move the car in the garage more easily.
Next job was to fit the new wiring loom under the bonnet. Because all colour codes of the wiring were still visible, the assembly of the fuse box, the flasher box and control box presented no problems. Also connecting the wires to the starter switch, the dynamo and the coil was no problem.
At that moment I became curious whether the engine would run. In order to start it I first had to assemble the carburettors and the ignition switch. My MGA used to have a lock in the steering wheel column, which was standard fitment in the cars destined for Germany and Switzerland, so I think my car was imported from one of those countries. However, I had accidentally dropped this steering lock, as a result of which it broke in thousand pieces. Therefore I had to use an ordinary ignition switch in the dashboard. The Austin Mini’s and Triumph’s Spitfire of pre-1973 used the same ignition switch. Only they had an extra connection for the starter switch, which I didn’t need for my A, because it has a separate starter switch. Upon turning the ignition key, the petrol pump started to tick rapidly, which sounded very promising. I filled the tank with a little petrol and pulled the starter. To my enjoyment the engine started immediately but I also immediately switched it of again, because I saw a puddle of oil forming on the ground. I had forgotten to connect the pipe of the oil pressure gauge. To be certain I then connected the oil pressure pipe and tried again. Right away the engine started again and kept on running! The oil pressure climbed on up to sixty pounds and I heard no nasty sounds. That was very reassuring. Because I had not yet connected the radiator, I switched off the engine, but now I knew for certain that it worked. The radiator was mounted in a couple of minutes. I hadn’t known that there should be a gasket between the radiator and the body but I had seen it in the Parts List. I made one myself, although I’m still not sure what could be the use of this gasket.
While I was working on my car, I received a lot of attention from many customers in the workshop, although not everyone did have a clear idea of what I was doing. A much heard question was if I was building a buggy. One of the most terrible questions I got was when I was busy with the assembly of the copper pipe for the water supply to the heater. A man seriously asked if it was for the engine to run on Liquified Petroleum. I have not given him an answer.
Because the heater assembly had lots of rusty spots, I decided to disassemble it, give it a good clean inside and out, and repaint it. The air intake of the heater -together with the metal flap- was fixed to the assembly with three small bolts. After unscrewing these bolts, this intake could easily be cleaned. The front of the heater assembly was fixed to the main body with four clips, which were easy to remove with the help of a screwdriver. Behind this cover the radiator core and the heater motor became visible. In my case the radiator was clogged and had to be well cleaned.
10. Where does all the work go?
Next step was to connect all switches that go in the dashboard. Although all colour codes were well described in the Workshop Manual, it was nevertheless a tough job to fit the correct wire to the correct terminal of the switches. It was mainly a lot of testing with a lamp to find out when there was current on one of the wires. At a given moment I came to the point that I had no more loose wires; all switches and instruments had been connected and everything even worked, so that I could now assemble the dashboard. Easy said, easy done. Nevertheless, when all switches and instruments were in the dashboard, still something appeared to have gone wrong. When switching on the turn signal, the rear lights also happily started to blink. Undoubtedly I had somewhere wrongly connected an earth wire, but where...? After much searching with a test lamp I found that I had put an earth wire where there should be a live wire. When I changed these wires, everything worked normally.
Meanwhile a couple of weeks had gone by, so it became time to start the engine again. Both oil pressure gauge and temperature gauge had been connected; all water hoses had been connected and the cooling system had been filled with coolant. I had also connected the starter cable and the choke cable. The engine started at first try and ran smoothly after a little warming up. The oil pressure was as always sixty pounds and the temperature also remained reasonable. That was one thing less to worry about.
I found it strange that I didn’t need to bleed the brakes. A couple of weeks ago I had filled the master cylinder with brake fluid and now it appeared that all air had disappeared from the pipes. Only the slave cylinder still contained some air. To be certain I bled the brakes, but it proved not really necessary.
It took me a whole morning to fix the door strikers. The doors had to fall in the second lock with a light push and to make sure that the doors neatly aligned, I had to assemble the strikers again and again to find the correct amount of adjusting plates. When that worked, I could further adjust the doors by sliding the hinges at the front backwards and forwards. As said, a time-consuming job, but the result was worth it, the doors closed perfectly.
The assembly of the boot lid and bonnet was rather simple. However, I had to be careful that they lay well in line with the body, so that the edges of the boot lid and bonnet didn’t come into contact with the rest of the body. I then applied a layer of car wax on the body to protect the paintwork against the many small scratches which I involuntarily made. I used a soft wax that left a good layer on the car. After I had applied the wax I could mount the windscreen assembly. At the beginning of the restoration I had taken it off the car as a whole unit so the assembly presented no problems.
In fact all the major jobs had been done by now. But although my A looked entirely like an MGA should, there were still thousand and one other small things to do. For instance the assembly of the grille, for which I had to tap new thread in all its nuts; the emblems, which I fixed to the body with small clips; the brand new heater control panel which had been on a shelf in my living room for more than a year, but fell to pieces when I wanted to reassemble it; aligning the front wheels, which was done by a skilled mechanic from our workshop; cleaning the steel wheels, which I had to treat with paint stripper five times, before all the old layers of paint came off; the front bumper that no longer fitted, but with many a shove and push seemed to be alright; a hundred and one pieces of carpentry that became an enormous puzzle to fit them at the correct place; the assembly of the splash plates in the wheel wells; the underbody sealant, after which the car was several kilos heavier and the assembly of the rubber stops in the edge of the bonnet. There was still a whole lot of work to do before I was able to drive the A.
I still had been running on the original Dunlop Roadspeed tyres, but they needed to be replaced, so I decided to buy radial tyres. My choice fell on Michelin XRN, a tyre with a summer- and winter thread. These tyres proved very satisfactory, both on dry and on wet roads. A test drive brought several defects, like a throttle cable that didn’t work smoothly, a rattle here and a rattle there, but the engine ran as sweet as ever, until...
11. That engine again
A week later I drove from home to work on the motorway, when suddenly a loud rattle cruelly disturbed my dreams. I immediately turned off the engine and let the car roll on until it stopped on the verge. When I saw blue smoke coming from one of the air filters, I became to suspect the worst possible scenario. And indeed, after taking off the valve cover, I saw that the rocker arm of the exhaust valve of the first cylinder was loose. The spark plug of this cylinder was entirely flattened, so I suspected a hole in the piston.
A passing AA-patrolman could do nothing but phone my garage. There I dismantled the cylinder head and my presumption proved to be correct. The exhaust valve of the first cylinder had broken, probably because of metal fatigueness, and had made a hole in the piston. Later I found the scrap metal in the oil pan. Fortunately the cylinder lining did not appear damaged, so I thought I could cope with fitting one new piston. The remaining pistons still appeared to be o.k.
However, the cylinder head had been seriously damaged; the valve guides had broken, the inlet valve was bent and the combustion chamber wasn’t presentable anymore. After taking off the oil pan and the bearing caps, I could tap out the piston with a hammer. On the head of the pistons I found some data about the pistons, such as the manner of assembly and oversize. My pistons appeared to be .60 oversize, although the factory only goes to .40 oversize. New pistons with .60 oversize were no longer available and after a long search I found the solution in fitting the standard pistons of the 1622cc B-series engine. These pistons could only be assembled with four other con rods because the form and the size of the pistons, piston pins and con rods of a 1600 (1589cc B-series) engine is different. Pistons could be supplied by “Motorparts” in Rotterdam and the MG-Workshop still had four good con rods. To be able to assemble these pistons, the cylinders had to be bored and this meant that I had to take out the engine from the car and take it to a specialist. Although it says different in the Workshop Manual, it’s easier when the gearbox remains in the car. I had become wise by experience. Disassembling the engine went as follows: first I disconnected the four bolts of the propeller shaft, then the bolt of the gearbox mounting rubber, the oil filter and the bottom bolt of the starter motor. I then drained the coolant from the radiator; disconnected the exhaust bolts and the lower bolts with which the engine is connected to the gearbox. Then I dismantled the radiator, the dynamo, the starter motor, the inlet- and exhaust manifolds and disconnected the upper bolts of the engine and gearbox. Hereafter the coil and the engine mounting could be dismantled. With all this done, the engine could be hoisted from the car. To lessen the costs somewhat I stripped the engine block myself, which means: stripped of the oil pump, distribution, clutch, flywheel, engine support plates and the studs of the engine block. The specialist then polished the crankshaft, bored out the cylinders and reassembled the pistons together with the con rods. Also new valves and valve guides were fitted to the cylinder head and the damaged combustion chamber was tidied up as good as possible. The assembly of the engine occurred in reversed order of the disassembly.
When I had the engine back in the garage, I started with the assembly of the engine mountings and the flywheel plates. That had the advantage that the engine no longer had to rest on the studs of the oil pump. Unnecessarily to mention that I used new gaskets everywhere. Both to the front and to the back of the engine block are cork sticks, which prevent oil spillage. These are easier to assemble if they are first put in warm water for some time. This makes them smoother. Then I could reassemble the plates to the front and back of the cylinder block. The mounting bolts I fixed with “locktite”, a fluid which ensures that the bolts no longer undo themselves. The next step was to assemble the flywheel, the clutch plate and the clutch cover. In order to do that properly you need a “dummy” or a spare first-motion shaft to centre the clutch plate before bolting up the clutch cover. That done, I continued with the oil pressure relieve valve, the spindle of the distributor drive and the oil pump, after which the oil pan could be reassembled.
The next part on the programme was the assembly of the distribution. To prevent later trouble I had bought new gears, timing chain and tensioner. The oil seal of the timing cover has to be dipped in oil before assembly. Mounting the timing cover and water pump presented no further problems. Then I could put back the cylinder head on the engine block. Of course I had first checked the push rods and cam followers for wear and renewed where necessary. I placed the rocker shaft assembly on the cylinder head and turned the studs and nuts in the correct order until they had the correct tension. Then I could adjust the valves. After that I assembled the covers of the oil gallery -of course with new gaskets- and the breather pipe. The engine could now be painted. I used an aerosol can that contained the original MG-red for the engine. After painting I successively assembled: the oil pipe that runs from the engine block to the filter head, the distributor, the heater valve, the fan, the thermostat housing, the valve cover and the engine mountings. I did not yet tighten the bolts; otherwise the engine wouldn’t fit on the mountings.
Now I had gotten so far as to remount the engine in the car. Also the assembly of the engine block went in reverse order of the disassembly. In my case it helped that I had smeared some grease on the end of the first-motion shaft, which made it easy for the gearbox to slide into the engine.
After I had fixed everything, the engine absolutely refused to start. When I had checked everything, from spark plug cables, coil cable to all other possible connections, there was but one conclusion possible: I had wrongly assembled the spindle of the distributor drive. The easiest solution seemed to me to turn the distributor a quarter to the right, but then I ran into several practical problems, such as spark plug cables that had to be extended; mounting bolts that could no longer be fixed and a dip stick that didn’t fit anymore. So I had to dismantle the distributor again and to move the spindle. To prevent the spindle from falling into the oil pan, I fabricated a special tool from two 5/16 x 2 UNF bolts, which I welded with both heads together and then fixed a nut on the end of one of the bolts. The other end could then be screwed into the head of the spindle, whereupon this shaft could be lifted and moved without risk. After re-assembly of the distributor the engine started immediately and ran smoothly. As no further defects came to light Project 75024 was finished at last. However, do you remember that the restoration started with a faulty petrol gauge? I am ashamed to confess it, but that gauge still doesn’t work!
May 1979 (rewritten in January 2004; English translation May 2007)
This account of my restoration project has been published before in “The Octagon”, the magazine of the MGATO (Dutch MGA Type Owners) and in “MG-Nieuws”, the magazine of the Federation of Dutch MG-Clubs. This article was also published in a Special issue of “MG-Nieuws” in September 2005 to celebrate 50 years MGA.