A TA on The Isle of Man

When John James asked me to pen an article regarding the restoration of my MG TA (chassis number TA0732, registration number RD 9263), I was a little hesitant as I wasn’t sure where to start.  Having reflected, I think that the place to start is with me as that will put the story into some sort of context. 

I am a sixty-one-year-old recently retired solicitor.  While the law provided me with a living and the ability to indulge my hobbies, it was not a profession that gave me very much satisfaction.  What has always interested me, since a small boy, is old cars.  My first exposure to these was my uncle’s 1937 Riley Kestrel-Sprite. This was a car that, as a three-year-old, I thought wonderful; in fact, I still do.  The beautiful lines of the six-light body; the magical sound of the whining pre-selector gearbox and the enigmatic tick of the chronometric speedometer and rev. counter will never be forgotten.  Every Saturday I would pester my father to go to my uncle’s to “see the Riley”.  Both my father and uncle were very kind and quite happy to encourage my interest.  It is because of them that I have had a life-long love for things mechanical and making things.

The first car I restored, with much help from my father and friends, was a 1934 Riley Kestrel It was a complete basket case and without the assistance of my friend Ken Woodham, a gifted engineer and woodworker, it would still be a heap in the garage.

Subsequently, I restored a 1965 Riley Elf and a 1972 Triumph GT6 to show standard. 

Andrew’s first restoration, a 1934 Riley Kestrel.

After the GT6 was finished in 2013 I was without a project: I knew I needed something to keep me sane.  What I would have loved to restore is a Riley Imp, the two-seater version of the Kestrel.  Imps are, however, very rare, very expensive and I have never seen one advertised for restoration.  If I could not restore an Imp, what would be the next best thing? How about the MG equivalent to an Imp?  I googled “1936 MG for sale” and what came up first was an MG TA advertised by a dealer in New York.  From the pictures it seemed to fit the bill in that it was in awful conditiofvn, but largely complete.  What really intrigued me, though, was the fact that the car still had its 1969 tax disc and English number plates.  I telephoned the seller who informed me that he had bought the TA from “an old English guy” who knew he would never get around to restoring it.  After some haggling on price, the car was despatched and it arrived in England in January 2014.

Before I started to strip the TA, I contacted Mike Worthington-Williams at The Automobile to enquire whether he could suggest any organisations which I might contact to obtain historical information concerning the TA.  He very helpfully suggested that I contact an organisation called The Kithead Trust http://kitheadtrust.org.uk/ which holds many of the paper registration records of the various Local Authorities which were responsible for vehicle registration pre-DVLA.  The Kithead Trust doesn’t hold all the paper records, as some were destroyed before the Trust could acquire them, but they did have the records for my car. 

These revealed that the car was first registered in Reading on 19 January 1937; the supplying dealer was Julians and the first owner was a Mr H E M Kingdom who lived at 80 Worthing Road, Basingstoke.  The information from the Kithead Trust, together with the continuation logbook issued in the mid-fifties, not forgetting the 1969 tax disc, was the sum total of the history which I ever thought I would have for the car, but I was wrong. 

One Sunday evening I picked up the IPAD of ‘her indoors’ (i.e. Linda my other half) and idly inserted the registration number of the TA in google.  I was somewhat amazed to see that an image of my car competing in the Edinburgh Trial of 1938 appeared.  The next day I contacted the National Motor Museum and ordered a copy of the photo.  When I received it a few days later there was a handwritten caption on the back confirming that the picture had been taken on either the 3rd or the 4th of June 1938 at Addleston Shiels, Hawick and the driver was H E M Kingdom.

TA0732 competing in the 1938 Edinburgh Trial

I was delighted to discover that my TA had trials history, but there was another surprise in store.  Some months later, I was reading an erudite article in The Riley Register magazine by a gentleman whose Riley had been a participant in the 1938 Edinburgh Trial.  A picture of his car was reproduced in the article and it was quite uncanny: the photo had been taken in precisely the same spot as the one of TA0732, kindly sent to me by The National Motor Museum.  Even some of the bystanders in the Riley photo were in my photo. 

Enthused by this new-found history, I contacted Jeremy Bennett, who wrote the article for the Register magazine and explained to him that my M.G. had also been a participant in the same trial as his Riley.  Jeremy, it turned out, is a leading light in The Motorcycling Club, which organised and continues to organise various trials events, including The Land’s End Trial.  He very kindly went to the trouble of sending to me photocopies of the programme for the 1937 ‘Land’s End’, together with the Instructions for Competitors and the results: it all made for fascinating reading, especially to learn the H E M Kingdom won a Silver Medal for his efforts.

In due course the TA was stripped so its condition could be assessed.  The engine was matching numbers and didn’t look too bad, although I didn’t bother trying to start it.  The gearbox looked OK and all gears could be selected.  The back axle was alright, but the half shafts were both stripped.  Unfortunately, there was not one piece of woodwork that I could save; the woodworm had done their work well.  The only pieces of steelwork which I could re-use were the bonnet, which was pretty much perfect and the front wings. Although the latter were a bit frilly in places, my friend Ean managed to save them.  To my amazement, the chassis was in excellent condition and only needed to be cleaned, shotblasted and painted. 

The body tub of TA0732 as removed.

The cleaned, shotblasted and painted chassis, sitting on axle stands in the garage.

The first job that I tackled was the front axle.  It was so badly caked in mud, presumably as a result of its mud-plugging activities, that I originally thought that the axle forging was circular; it was only once I had cleaned it that I could see it was of H section.  The kingpins were badly worn as one would expect, but the nice folk at NTG supplied a new set which was fitted to the crack tested stub axles.  The front springs were re-usable after some light fettling and it was a lovely feeling to attach the springs to the new trunnions in their housings and to the front anchor pins. 

The front wheels were checked, re-spoked and enamelled by James Wheeldon in Salisbury.  He very kindly also agreed to swap the 16” rear wheels for 19” wheels, suitable for an early TA.  This made my day as I had no wish to retain the small rear wheels which don’t look quite right to my eye. 

I then turned my attention to the rear axle.  NTG supplied replacement half shafts and modern seals and Barry Walker supplied a complete set of new old stock Ransome and Marles bearings.  I very much enjoyed setting up the rear axle with the help of my friend Ken.  Once painted and attached to new springs and the correct Luvax dampers remanufactured by Vintage and Classic Shock Absorbers the car was on its feet, so to speak.

The brakes were overhauled and Past Parts in East Anglia bored the brake cylinders and inserted stainless steel sleeves: they were returned quickly and looking like new.  The handbrake assembly was useless.  There was so much play in it that the worn pawl could easily be overridden.  Because of the less than wonderful design of the handbrake unit I needed to cut the shaft and have my friend Brian who runs a local engineering company make new bearings for the handbrake lever and the handbrake shaft.  The handbrake lever was re-chromed by Derby Plating and it was then fitted with a new pawl and welded the two halves of the shaft welded back. 

The costs to this point in the project were high, but I would soon learn that they would become much higher once I turned my attention to the engine.

Hamlins in Bridgewater had previously done some work on my Riley engine and I was very happy to get them to do the necessary work on the TA engine.  The first thing I asked them to do was to look at the cylinder head.  As I had feared, it was cracked, but Hamlins told me that it held pressure and their advice was to use it.  As they said, it had probably been cracked soon after it was sold to the original owner and the succession of subsequent owners had continued to use and enjoy the car.  With some trepidation I took their advice and had the head checked for flatness and new guides and valves fitted.  I did buy from NTG a second cylinder head that I was assured is uncracked, just so that I do have a back-up if the cracked head fails in service. 

I sent the carburetters to Burlen Fuel Systems who did their usual lovely job of rebuilding them.  Although not cheap, I have used them for rebuilds on all my projects and their restored carburetters have always worked perfectly straight out of the box.

A new water pump and camshaft was supplied by NTG. 

Hamlins determined that the block was fine and reported that it had never even been rebored or skimmed.   Unfortunately, the crank was badly cracked and was scrap.  (It is now mounted on a piece of mahogany and is used as a door stop). Mike at NTG didn’t have a replacement crank, but gave me the number of a chap who he thought had a spare one that he might sell to me.  I rang him out of the blue, but he informed me that he had sold it to a friend some time ago, although he doubted that his friend would ever use it.  He very kindly gave me the number for his friend and again I rang a complete stranger and explained my situation.  He concluded that he would be unlikely to use the crank and as my need was probably greater than his, he agreed to part with it for a modest sum.  He also very kindly agreed to reimburse me half the cost of the crank if Hamlins determined that it was cracked. 

Fortunately, Hamlins pronounced that the crank was usable and it is in the engine as I write.  The reason why I recount this tale of the crankshaft in some detail is to highlight the kindness of strangers, without whom I would have been stuck.  Once returned from Hamlins, the engine was painted, mated to the gearbox and installed by the local motor engineer Orry Teare and me; Orry also corrected my schoolboy errors with the wiring.

The gearbox required new seals and bearings only; this was a bonus after my experience with the engine.  Raysons https://www.raysons.co.uk/   in Yeovil re-cored the radiator efficiently and at reasonable cost.

I couldn’t really put the bodywork off any longer.  The first pieces of the body that I tackled were the ramp and luggage compartment floor. 

The parts that I ordered from NTG went together well and, flushed with minor success, I ordered the rear body panels and the sidescreen compartment components.  Again, all seemed to proceed to plan.  However, when I tried to fit the side rails, rear door pillars to the parts already installed, they didn’t line up.  I was extremely concerned, but found that if I loosened all the screws and relieved the joints at the top of the rear door pillars and the elbows, the parts would fit quite snugly. 

I’m sure that an experienced body builder would have enjoyed the experience of building the body, but never having done it before, I found it quite stressful.  At the back of my mind was the worry that if I couldn’t get everything to fit and look right, I would have wasted a great deal of money and wouldn’t feel like having another attempt.  I admit to being very fortunate in having a first-class joiner who lives near me who on a couple of occasions popped around to help me and get me back on track: thank you Barry. 

The fitting of the steel panels I found easier than the woodwork and forming the shapes around the bottom rails and the front pillars was very satisfying.  The doors were purchased as complete units from NTG and fitted into the door apertures perfectly.  NTG supplied the scuttle top as the original was in a shocking state and although I tried to weld it, my friend Ean, who has always painted my cars, pronounced it scrap: he was right to do so.  With Ean’s help, the scuttle was fitted with a minimum of drama.

The same could not be said of the rear inner wheel arches.  Although I managed to fit one satisfactorily, the other I misaligned, but didn’t discover this until I had secured it by about thirty one-inch annular groove nails.  My attempts at getting these out proved fruitless, but Barry the joiner came to my rescue.  He seemed to look at the offending nails and they popped out; that’s the difference between an enthusiastic amateur and a professional.

The floors were purchased from NTG and needed a lot of fettling before they would fit, but when they did, I was very pleased with the results.

I had hoped to save much of the upholstery, but having discussed the matter with Brett, my local upholsterer, he didn’t think that there was very much he could do with it. 

We bit the bullet and decided to install new leather seats in the same colour, or as nearly thereto as we could manage, as when the car was new.  Brett thought that he could reuse the seat bases and seat back, but when he had stripped the seats it was clear that the over-enthusiastic wood worm had made inroads into the ply and they would have to be binned.  They were useful as patterns, however, and I very much enjoyed making copies from marine ply.

Brett made a wonderful job of the leatherwork and Linda did an excellent job of dying some calico to the correct shade of burgundy so that Brett would have material to cover the seat back.  I am delighted with Brett’s efforts.  In addition to making the upholstery he made and fitted the coverings for over the inner wheel arches and last but not least made the hood fit beautifully.  The door cards were made by a trimmer as a favour to NTG; they don’t usually make door cards of the colour I needed, but they did a lovely job.  I have not fitted these yet, so fingers crossed that the templates I made for them were correct.  The rest of the trimming was done by Linda and me and we loved doing it.  Trimming is good because you don’t get filthy dirty.

The dashboard was cut out of ply by my nephew, Harry.  He made three because I found it very difficult to get the dash to fit the contours of the scuttle snugly.  I am pleased with the results of my third attempt which Linda varnished with a small household roller.  The finish is just what I wanted: I didn’t want it to look perfect as I don’t think that’s the way it would have looked when it left the factory. 

Vintage Restorations brought the instruments back from the dead and they look wonderful.

As I write, the TA still needs to have its wings, doors, bonnet and hood fitted.  I hope to have the car on the road later this summer.

TA0732 takes in the fresh air out of the garage. This picture was taken before the bulkhead, dashboard and the engine and gearbox were fitted.

It will be apparent from this piece that on many occasions during the course of the TA restoration I have been touched by the generosity of enthusiasts in helping me with advice, parts or encouragement: to all of them I extend a heartfelt Thank You.  I owe particular thanks to my Dad, Linda, Ean, Ken, Orry and Brian and Brett.

Andrew Baker

Ed’s note: I first exchanged e-mails with Andrew back in 2016. If I remember correctly, he had a query about the method of fixing the seats to the floor. There was also a query about the sidescreen box lid and the battery inspection board, which Brian Rainbow was able to answer.

As I write this note (3rd week in August) the Octagon Car Club’s Isle of Man Tour has been postponed, (now 10th – 15th May 2021), so Brian won’t be able to have a good look at Andrew’s rebuilt TA. Andrew is hoping to move back to the mainland soon and when he does, I will have the pleasant task of recovering RD 9263 number plate for him.