Cover Story: 1939 MG TB Roadster MG Master

4 Jul

The title has been taken from an article in ‘New Zealand Classic Car’ magazine, which appeared in the April 2007 edition. I am very grateful to its Editor, Allan Walton for giving me permission to use material and photos from the article.

How did this come about? Well, earlier this year, Brian Rainbow, with whom I share a Stand every year at MG Spares Day in Stoneleigh, had just come back from the New Zealand Pre-56 Rally and was telling me all about it when we were setting up the Stand. “You should have seen this immaculate MG TB there!” he said. Brian went on to describe the car in detail, which whetted my appetite and always being on the look out for articles, I asked him if he would put me in touch with the owner.

Brian contacted the TB’s owner, Frank Langridge, who was most accommodating and readily agreed to help. Frank explained that he would first need to clear lines with New Zealand Classic Car and when he had done this he sent me a CD with the magazine article reproduced, along with the photos used for the article and a whole host of photos of his restoration. Talk about manna from heaven!

Distinguished Provenance

TB0415, fitted with engine no. XPAG 658 came off the Abingdon production line on 28th June, 1939.

Its history is known virtually from day one. Reputedly it was the last private car to be imported to New Zealand before hostilities prevented further imports. Two weeks after the commencement of WW II this TB was still on the water, on its way to New Zealand.

On hearing the news that war had broken out, the captain of the ship bringing the car decided he risked less by carrying on to New Zealand than he did by turning around and returning to England. What became of the boat after that is not known.

Dominion Motors, the MG importer at the time, displayed the car at the Wellington NZ Centenary Exhibition in 1940, and then sold it to its first private owners, the Buchanan sisters.

In 1946 the car changed hands and Bert Wheeler took over the ownership. Bert and the TB regularly appeared at race meetings at Wigram as well as Tahuna Beach and in the Otago/Southland hill climb championships, as well as other venues, winning many trophies. He also added a supercharger to the car and continued to race it after he had started a family – fulfilling the car’s family role by the simple expedient of converting the MG into a four seater!

At this time, the car was tended and tuned by no less than Sybil Lupp, who convinced Bert she could make the car go faster without the supercharger fitted. Sybil and her husband were instrumental in starting the MG Car Club NZ in 1951 – and Bert was one of the first members. Bert continued racing the car until about 1961.

Ed’s Note: Sybil Lupp first started racing in a TA and later raced a supercharged TC. She then raced Jaguars but always had a soft spot for MGs. A legend in NZ Motorsport and a garage proprietor and skilled mechanic, she set the South Island speed record at 102.27 mph in May, 1950 in a flying-start quarter-mile event. Read about her at http://www.motorsport.org.nz/sybil-lupp-remembered-at-manfeild

Quite a find

Frank Langridge became the TB’s 10th owner, discovering the car’s chassis hanging on a wall in the basement of an Auckland house in 1976. A search under the rest of the house uncovered an engine half buried in earth, along with the rest of the powertrain. Amazingly, all the serial numbers matched the chassis. This was quite a find. Bert Wheeler’s four-seat body was more or less intact, but in very poor condition, and the upholstery was missing.

That was, however, far from the worst news. Given time to inspect the chassis and find a little about its history, Frank learned that it had been rolled at least three times, and had suffered a major T-bone collision. This meant that none of the panels were the correct shape, as the chassis was considerably shortened on one side, and the repair work was not the best either.

The Rebuild

If Frank wasn’t the country’s authority on MG TB originality before he started the project, he certainly is now. He obtained a set of Factory body drawings and build sheets and corresponded around the world with as many acknowledged authorities as he could find, as well as extensively researching other Factory publications and data.

Frank pulled the chassis apart and rebuilt it using new hot rivets. When I say that Frank rebuilt this car himself, I don’t mean he bought bits and put them on – he found early on that many of the pattern parts that are available today are of less-than-best quality. As a result, he manufactured many parts from scratch, using the Factory drawings, and that included remaking the springs from spring steel and having them tempered.

Frank learned many of his skills from a course on car restoration and panel beating at Manukau Polytech. The fact that he was there for eight years doesn’t mean that he was a slow learner, but does mean that he learned a lot.

Frank insisted that the intricate detail should be correct, so he enlisted the help of his friend, Keith Dodge, from the Alvis Club. Trained as an engineer in the RNZAF, Keith made up some beautiful little punch and die sets to arrive at the correct shapes for trim detail. Keith roughed out brass stock on a milling machine to make the windscreen side arms, with Frank hand filing the brass to achieve an authentic final form. Even the windscreen wipers were rebuilt using sheet brass, with the precision-machined components done by Keith.

Specialist Work

The late, great Max Mumby – a master in the art of forming panels – handled some of the more difficult compound curves of the MG’s new panels and, in the process, gave Frank the benefit of his vast experience. However, to a large extent the MG’s panels are all Frank-built. The fuel tank and guards were repairable, as were the headlights. In fact, Frank got so good at repairing headlights he started a small business beating old headlights back into shape.

All the other panels were made from stock steel. Frank made the bonnet skins beautifully flat and straight, then found when he put the hinges in the panels were no longer perfectly flat – so he remade them all over again!

Bob Pearson at Otahuhu Chrome Platers must like Frank. Bob does a great job of chroming but he didn’t have to polish the parts that Frank took to him – Frank preferring to handle the polishing himself.

Most of the car’s brackets were remade in Frank’s workshop, as he had become a proficient welder – he also made the hood frames himself and most of the trim panels, finding that parts available from overseas just did not fit. The hood trimming, though, was beyond Frank, but he found someone who could meet his standards – Basil Shailer (of Len Shailer Ltd) in Palmerston North. Frank shipped the body down to Palmerston North and received it back within three weeks – absolutely perfect, every press stud requiring equal pressure to snap it in place, and not a crease or lump to be found, whether the hood was up or down. That’s craftsmanship.

Front and rear views of progress with the rebuild
Above: Gleaming propshaft!
Below: Neat pipework to take oil to the rear spring trunnion.
Above: Hydraulics in place and connected up.
Below: Lots still to do but looking good!

Green with envy

The MG’s engine was Frank-built as well – it should be right; he did it twice.

Having assembled the engine once early in the restoration, Frank decided it had been stationary too long so he took it apart and, with his keen eye for detail, he put it back together again. It now runs as smoothly as a sewing machine.

The final paint colour chosen for the engine caused some head scratching. Frank had asked a Morris Engines worker what colour it would have been, and the Coventry man said, “Whatever was in the spray gun at the time!” Frank has become this country’s authority on MG T-Series originality and found this perplexing, as he had been told it should be black, red or green. Since green was the colour of his TB’s grille and the trim, he finally decided that green it was for the engine.

Paint it black

With everything else perfect, Frank was insistent that the coachwork paintwork had to be just as good. With the guidance of Rodney Holland of Waiuku, Frank spent many months over a period of two years; sometimes spending as much as eight hours a day preparing the body using Würth fillers and materials.

PPG Jet Black was the colour chosen, and it is mirror perfect, even under the bonnet and wheel arches.

Finally, Frank attended to the car’s electrics, wiring it up with an original-pattern fabric-shrouded loom made up by Vic Longden of Octagon Manufacturing in Perth, Western Australia.

It came as no surprise when Frank’s TB won the prestigious Masters’ Class at the 2007 NZCC/Ellerslie Intermarque Concours. However, what might have surprised those who attended the event was the fact that this was no “cheque book restoration”; Frank had done most of the work himself.

All the more surprising when you look at the quality of the work is that Frank is not a trained professional engineer, mechanic or carpenter – he actually trained as a graphic artist and that was in the days before that meant knowing which buttons to press on a computer keyboard. It means that he really was an artist, which explains where his eye for a good line comes from.

Since the car’s appearance at the Concours event Frank has fitted a Marshall Nordec roots supercharger and I have included a ‘shot’ of the installation, along with other photos which I’m sure you will find interesting.

Thank you Frank for facilitating this article and thank you Allan Walton, Editor of New Zealand Classic Car, for permission to use material and photos from the magazine. Thanks also to Brian Rainbow for making it all possible in the first place.

JOHN JAMES

Above and Below: The two moulded insert trays for the toolbox.
Above: The supercharger installation
Above: nicely restored panel with instruments by John Marks. Below: view of interior and dashboard.

Frank Langridge with TB0415 in the background.

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One Response to “Cover Story: 1939 MG TB Roadster MG Master”

  1. Wayne Davis 28. Jan, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    Great article. Really appreciated the detailed restoration photos. I would love to get in touch with you. I have owned a 39 TB roadster for about 40 years and am considering doing a correct restoration. Any help will be much appreciated.

    Thanks, Wayne

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