A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF AN MG TA…

THE START OF 2019: “I hate old cars!”

Picture the scene…there are just two weeks left to go until the MG Octagon Car Club ‘Founders Weekend’. The pet sitter has been booked, hotel deposits paid and I’m working in the garage as I have been for the previous three weekends and also every night after work until at least 10pm. My wife has been making bacon cobs, cups of coffee and meals to keep me going and clearing up after me so I can stay in the garage. It’s reached the point where it is no fun anymore and comments of “I’m not having any more holidays in old cars” whilst delivering cups of hot steaming coffee have been heard resounding around both the garage and the house!

BACKGROUND TO THE GARAGE SCENE….

For the last few years of ownership I have noticed that the TA has been exchanging oil and water. In an effort to come up with a solution I bought an engine from a seller in France.  This caused my wife Mel much amusement as she listened to the phone calls being made and the use of my best “allo, allo” accent whilst speaking all the time in English (to my mind I was speaking French!) Despite my lack of French speaking ability, the deal was somehow done.

My original plan was to make a rig to run the French engine out of the car and, when proven and fully sorted, the plan was to then install it in the car. In the event, when my car was put away for winter, I decided not to waste time manufacturing a rig to bench test the engine, but to cut corners, save time, and simply install it in my car with a belief that all would be fine; if it wasn’t I could easily change it back! Around this time, I also removed the radiator shell for chroming and was advised it would be at least March before I could collect it.

Note: when I bought the car there was a “pimple” and a small patch of chrome missing on the top right-hand side of the shell……strange, but explained later in the story!

As I couldn’t get the car running until the radiator shell arrived back, I thought I could occupy myself with other things…

February soon arrived and with it the stark realisation that there was not actually much time left until the start of the new car season. I installed the replacement engine and gearbox with little trouble and was then waiting for the re- chromed radiator shell to arrive. The shell was returned at the beginning of March and time was now fast running out. I got the car started but it was running rather rough. I managed to drive it around the corner to my long-suffering friend and “go to man” Mike for help. Mike set the timing and tuned the carburettor and before long he had it “running sweet”. I went for the first test drive back around the village and as soon as I met the first hill……….clutch slip!

I had no option but to get to the clutch, either using plan A – engine and gearbox back out, or plan B – remove the floor and bring the gearbox out the back. I selected plan B and with a little wiggling the gearbox and bell housing came out and I was able to see the clutch. Nothing looked obviously wrong but I did notice it was a modern Kevlar clutch, rather than the cork one as originally fitted.

The TA clutch plate with the Kevlar lining is shown on the left with the plate with the cork lining (as originally supplied) shown on the right. Acknowledgement to Bill Davis in the US for these pictures, which are on his useful and informative websites on the TA. If you ‘google’ Bill Davis TA you will find the sites. The Kevlar pic was sent to Bill by Tony Slattery in Australia.

I read up in “Blower” – oil fed cork clutch ….”oil, “oil, ……..there was no oil!!!! So how could the oil get to the clutch? It seemed it should come from the end crankshaft journal and down a drilling in the crank but, there was definitely no oil coming down the crank. I then worried about whether oil was getting to the journal. On a spare crank I retraced the oil feed but it wasn’t clear to me how the oil got from the journal down the crank drilling.

Still not keen to remove the engine I decided to drop the sump and remove the main bearing cap. I located the oil hole in the crank and was able to blow air down it which came out the end of the crank, it clearly wasn’t blocked but that didn’t explain why there was no oil?

Help was needed, I admitted defeat and rang Brian Rainbow; there is nothing Brian doesn’t know about MG TAs. What happened next was quite  comical and you have to close your eyes and once again picture the scene….I was in my garage on the phone to Brian with various bits of engine in my hands while at the other end of the phone Brian was in his garage with various bits of engine in his hands, trying to understand how oil could get through to the crank. After a lengthy discussion with Brian I followed his suggestion to make a ” groove” across the main bearing cap to aid the flow of oil to the hole in the crank. I rebuilt the engine again and ran it up in the car …….success! Oil was now coming down the crank to the clutch……I couldn’t thank Brian enough…at last I felt I was getting somewhere, although how it should actually work, I’m still not fully clear on …. any answers gratefully received.

BACK IN THE GARAGE ……

I rebuilt the clutch and gearbox and re- assembled the car once again. I gave it a test drive and managed to ascend test inclines without any problems (or as well as can be expected in a TA!).

We were now ready to go to Oxford for the ‘Founders Weekend’ with 2 days to spare when only 48 hrs earlier it looked like we were going in the modern car.

As I was washing the car and getting it pristine for the weekend ahead, I noticed to my horror that my nice newly chromed radiator shell had a pimple and the chrome was lifted just as it was before I sent it for re-chroming …. Aghhhhh….

I believe that when I re- aligned the engine and gearbox, I jacked up the engine and during all my “wiggling” to align things the radiator top tank pushed up into the chrome shell! I won’t repeat what I muttered (I had a Basil Fawlty moment) but be forewarned!

NB:  I now remove the top hose before jacking the engine!

FOUNDERS WEEKEND – OXFORD:

Despite all the trials leading up to the ‘Founders Weekend’, including navigating the Oxford ring road, we had a great time with the Octagon Club and it was fantastic to catch up with everyone. The “icing on the cake”, having actually made it to the weekend, was to get presented with the Founders Cup….what an honour and completely unexpected!

We had a good drive home until I thought that I could hear a noise; I managed to keep it from Mel for a while but once she had heard it too, something had to be done…and only 2 weeks left until our next event at Beamish…..here we go again I thought. I consulted Mike and, with his stethoscope at the ready, we prodded and poked around; something clearly didn’t sound correct but what? The engine was running well enough but, – and I hated to state this – it sounded like it was coming from the clutch area. As I had recently been working on the clutch, I feared I had done something wrong.

Out came the floor and the gearbox again. The clutch appeared “ok” but without the gearbox on, it still made a noise….it was at this point that I began to have nightmares. Maybe the groove I’d made in the bearing cap had caused the white metal to break up and the bearing was now no good? Maybe the fact I had achieved good oil flow to the clutch with the groove I’d made in the bearing cap was taking all the oil that fed the number 3 big end bearing?

I took the sump off again to check the big end journal, all looked in order. The main bearing looked fine too, I rebuilt it all and ran the engine in the car again – the noise was still there! As I listened, I convinced myself that the noise was coming from the back of the engine. As I looked closely, something caught my eye…the back of the engine had a small bright patch; the starter ring had moved forward on the flywheel and was rubbing on the back of the engine……found it!!!! Who would have thought of that? I removed the flywheel from the engine that had originally been in the car and fitted that; soon the car was once again back together.

My good mate Mike came around again to help and, as he leaned across the car to check everything as I was turning the engine over with the starting handle without any plugs in, he complained that he had got wet!? It seemed that something had come out of number 3 cylinder. We checked again and sure enough there was water coming out of No 3 cylinder……agh !!!! What else could go wrong?

Undeterred, I changed the head gasket and, after setting everything up, we were up and running again……with only a couple of days to go to the Beamish event.

BEAMISH SAFETY AND RELIABILITY RUN:

Mel has previously written an article on our annual Beamish trip (pic is from the 2019 event) so I won’t dwell on it but, suffice to say if you ever want a challenge for you and your car, Beamish is it!

Things were looking up again, 600 miles under our belt without too much trouble. The car jumped out of 2nd gear a couple of times whilst tackling steep ascents but I have trained Mel to hold it in position for now … the gearbox will need to come out again at some time.

A TA AND A SPITFIRE:

The next event on our calendar was a photo shoot with a Spitfire plane. In the light of all our recent history I was starting to feel anxious that the car would be “ok” as I didn’t want to let anyone down.

Derby Museum wanted to create artworks to celebrate local history and involvement in the war effort and had commissioned a professional photographer ‘Red Saunders’ to work on reproducing important historic scenes in what is called “The Hidden Project” ……. 3 historic and globally significant moments for the City were planned to be re-created by ‘Red ‘in a series of 3 photographic tableaux for the new Museum of Making.  ‘Red’ wanted a period car to stand alongside the Spitfire to create the war time scene along with actors and Rolls Royce employees dressed up in period dress.

Our Deputy Managing Director at work is a keen classic car enthusiast and was initially contacted by the Museum and asked to provide his car, an MG TD; however, he recognised that this was too modern for the period and selflessly got in contact with us to see if we might be interested in taking the TA….of course we were….what an opportunity! We had an amazing day as invited guests of Rolls Royce at their private hangers situated at East Midlands Airport where they keep the Spitfire (a MK 19 reconnaissance plane) and also their business jet. After meeting everyone we were asked to park the car in front of the Spitfire in the hanger. Red started to take pictures and the scene continued to develop adding actors and props – a small folding table where they were playing cards etc until a full pre-scramble type scene was created. It all looked great with our little car very much in the middle of it all.

While all this was going on, I had the freedom to walk around the hangers. A sectioned Merlin engine kept my attention for several hours and a sectioned jet engine too. While we were there, a small aerobatic plane that the pilots fly, as it most closely replicates the Spitfire, went out into the runway just yards away.

At dinner break I was able to get close to the Spitfire and was given a personal explanation of the controls while stood on the wing. Unfortunately, getting to sit inside the cockpit was a bridge too far but what an excellent day.

The car was very much co-star with the Spitfire taking the lead role and she behaved perfectly. We can’t wait to see the finished painting in 2020.

GOING TO THE CHAPEL AND WE’RE GOING TO GET MARRIED…….

The next event was as a wedding car…. some time ago a work colleague of Mel’s had mentioned he was getting married and Mel mentioned our TA should he not get sorted with anything else. I would never have thought of a TA as a wedding car but in August that is what it became……we tied some ribbon around the little car and it did look really smart. This time I was even more apprehensive than at any other time, having the responsibility to get someone to their wedding and the thought of spoiling their big day was a bigger pressure than I could have imagined.

On the day itself Mel followed me in her modern car and just to be sure, the Groom’s brother followed behind Mel too! The weather wasn’t great but we tried to be brave, keeping the roof down until one particular heavy shower and the roof had to go up. That wasn’t the biggest problem though….I pressed on and when I got to a particularly tight corner and we experienced a “little rear end slide” the groom looked a little startled (I think it is something he will recall for some time!) and from that point on I only managed the dizzy heights of 20 mph before he looked very uneasy and suggested that we were going quite fast enough! I protested we were only doing 20mph and he replied “that’s it, 20 it is then” so we continued on our way very slowly even for a TA! The groom arrived dry and safe at his wedding venue, but he did reach rather quickly for the bottle of beer that the event staff offered him on arrival!

FACTORY ORIGINAL MG T SERIES….BOOK

Last year we responded to an advert in The Octagon Bulletin regarding members’ cars suitable for a revised book that was being re- written by Anders Clausager……..we were accepted and a professional car photographer came to take loads of pictures of our little car during one day in 2018……. we didn’t hear anything for a while, but hoped our little car may get a mention inside the new book.

One night during August this year Mel was looking on the Internet and found the new book publication details along with release date…I couldn’t believe it when I realised it was our car gracing the front cover……what an amazing surprise and what an honour!

PRE-WAR PRESCOTT

Next in the calendar was Pre-War Prescott …I know this event is well supported by the Octagon Car Club so I won’t go into detail, but just to mention that this is an excellent event that you should really consider if you haven’t yet been… the entry form for 2020 is on the Pre-War Prescott website http://prewarprescott.com/

On the Sunday there is also a scenic tour around the Cotswolds ending with a cream tea at Stanway House …….after a full weekend we returned home after another 450 trouble free miles.

Kev in TA0375 pictured just off the road in the Gloucestershire countryside during Pre-War Prescott weekend in 2019.

TOUR OF MID WALES

The final event for the TA in 2019 was John James’ Totally T-Type 2 event in Mid-Wales. With Brian’s support this was another brilliant event and an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new; as always, we had a great time. The weather was amazing for a Bank Holiday weekend in Wales. The routes and scenery were tremendous and provided ample challenge for car, driver and navigator. Look up The Devils Staircase

https://www.dangerousroads.org/europe/wales/3989-abergwesyn-road.html

…….which reminds me of another job I need to do on the TA……improve the brakes!

To say the little TA was trouble free would be a slight exaggeration as on the second day my less than perfect gear changing seemed to be getting noticeably worse…….I soldiered on, blaming myself but on the way home from the event things continued to get worse. A quick stop and a check under the bonnet revealed the clutch rod adjusting nut had backed off, a quick tighten up and magically I had a working clutch again which improved my gear changing abilities dramatically.

REFLECTIONS:

What a brilliant year …“I love old cars”!

My reflection on classic car ownership is this…….through all the trials and tribulations we have a great time with old cars, long may it continue. But, in reality it’s all about the people……special thanks to Mike Glendenning and his long-suffering wife Penny without whom I wouldn’t even get out of the garage. Brian Rainbow and John James for organising such great events and Brian for all his technical help and advice and his willingness to share his knowledge. And of course, all the friends that Mel and I have made these last few years and who we look forward to catching up with every year…without the TA we wouldn’t know such lovely people and our paths would never have crossed.

So, winter has arrived and it’s back into the garage for me preparing already for next year … 50th Beamish event, Pre-War Prescott, TYMC Eskdale safety run are already booked……look forward to seeing everyone in 2020!

Kev (and Mel)

Editor’s note: The referenceto “Blower” will be understood by most readers, but may not be by some. The “Blower” book covers MGs from the M-type to the TF1500. It is a compilation of extracts from Instruction Manuals, Workshop Manuals and (some) Service Information Sheets. I’ve had mine for over 50 years and it is well ‘thumbed’ and falling apart!

…….and now a note from Mel about Beamish

The 50th Beamish Reliability Run will take place on the 3rd Sunday of June 2020…it is always held on this date which coincides with Father’s Day and also the nearest day to the summer solstice to offer maximum daylight for the competitors……

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Kev in his much younger days used to spectate at this event along with his dad and the crowds around Muker (the vehicles passing through this Swaledale village twice). Then, watching All Creatures Great and Small a dream started to form about owning a car like Tristan Farnham (Peter Davidson played the part) a little MG……. Little did Kev know that in June 2014 we would be actually taking part in our first ever Beamish Reliability Run and how naive we were….our 1936 MGTA arrived on the 8th June 2013 and in June 2014 we were taking part in our first Beamish Run along with our friends Mike and Penny and we have taken part ever since. I will never forget our first encounter of the Stang as it appeared around a corner, the bank covered in spectators and Kevs face as he frantically tried to select a suitable gear for the ascent and the hairpin bend in front of us……..worst was to come with Silver Hill!!!

So, what is the Beamish Run? It’s described as the North’s premier old motoring event for vehicles manufactured up to 1956. It is probably the oldest and toughest regular event for old cars, motorcycles and light commercials certainly in Britain……this is no Sunday ride out, it will challenge you and your navigator throughout its 155-mile route.

The hills and dales of the route were once the test grounds for the then infant motor vehicle both, before and after the Great War period. The route now runs 155 miles to incorporate most of the old former trial routes.

Interested?……then time to get the road atlas out and start G………oogling……The route starts at the Beamish Museum then winds its way through the charming and unspoilt County Durham countryside and forested areas to Barnard Castle, said to be the gateway to the Dales. There is a fabulous checkpoint under the French chateaux style portico of the award winning 19th century Bowes museum. You then enter the Yorkshire Dales over the Stang forest hills and into Arkengarthdale through the famous Herriot water splash (remember the opening credits of All Creatures Great and Small?)  turning for Low Row and Gunnerside then the Buttertubs Pass via Muker onto Bainbridge for a one-hour lunch stop.

Onwards to the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub at 1732 feet above sea level then entering Cumbria towards Brough, on to the Durham Dales and into Weardale. The route ends at the Beamish museum where you drive through the actual museum itself down the cobbled roads and tram lines, through the village and onto the finish line.

Prior to finishing you will have been questioned at 9 checkpoints where you must stop to be quizzed by check point marshalls – using the Highway Code of today, and yesteryear plus motor history and maintenance. You will have completed 6 severe hill tests (look up Silver Hill near Keld, The Stang Hill just past the Bowes museum, Askrigg Town Bank, to name just a few). Your driving will also have been observed and scored via both open and secret observed sections.

This year 165 vehicles took part. When the weather is fine spectators can be viewed all along the route particularly on the many village greens and around the severe hill tests.The crowds are usually out in force at the Romaldkirk checkpoint where the village hall opens for amazing cakes and teas.

Entrants receive a detailed route book including safety advice, and an entry number.

Around July a letter will land through your letterbox advising of your score, along with an enamel badge and year bar (gold, silver, bronze or red for did not finish) there are also many class trophies to be won and an overall trial winner who receives the magnificent Beamish Enthusiasts Trophy awarded by the Jolley family.

If you think you would enjoy taking part, go and drive the route in your modern car to enjoy the scenery of the area and also to get a taste of the challenges you will be facing in your vintage car.

To enter a vehicle please contact:

George Jolley Hon. Secretary
12, Celtic Crescent
Cleadon Village
Tyne and Wear
SR6 7RZ

0191 5360929 Further information can be found on the NECPWA Motoring Club.

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