The MG TA featured on the front cover belongs to Philip Butcher. Philip purchased the car in September 2004 after a chance conversation between his father and John Sole, owner of Bassingbourne garage, when his father was getting his Rudge Whitworth motorcycle MoT tested. The garage owner mentioned that his MG TA had similar Rudge type wheels and that he did not think he would ever find the time to restore it. Philip expressed an interest in the car and John Sole eventually agreed to sell it to him; the TA had been in John’s ownership since 1972 when he took it in lieu of a bad debt. Here’s Philip’s story…
The car had been badly repaired by the previous owner who then passed it on to John. The body had been ‘bodged’ with pieces of timber, sourced from various bits of furniture and seed boxes, together with copious amounts of body filler; the rear wheel arches had been made of plywood and the complete tub had been primed and looked reasonable.
The engine had a new coat of bright red paint on the block and silver ancillaries. Did this mean that it had been mechanically restored? Not a hope! The one saving grace was that the engine was still the original one and it had not suffered any frost damage that is all too often found on the MPJG block. Back to reality……….the cylinders had been bored to maximum, sleeved and then bored out to max again! The crankshaft mains and big ends had been ground down to 100 ‘thou of an inch (2.5 mm) undersize.
The car (FRA794) is believed to be one of a batch supplied to the Derbyshire police (FRA 793 was a known Derbyshire police car) and must have done a considerable amount of work to have worn the engine to that extent.
Investigation of the bodywork revealed the true horrors that were disguised by the filler. A decision was made to get a body tub timber kit and inner wheel arches from Hutsons and build up a skeleton frame and re skin it ourselves; we also made new body side angles and side screen box/tonneau area timbers.
The skeleton body went together reasonably well with the few salvageable timbers from under the scuttle top/ The scuttle top was corroded at the usual windscreen mounting points and was repaired and re fitted to the frame.
We then made panels to cover the side/rocker panel and the tricky double curvature rear 1/4 panel.
Much wood and metal work was required to repair the doors to make them fit nicely (the original doors had lower repair panels brazed over the original corrosion with the timbers still in place not a very nice repair as the timbers had caught fire and burnt quite badly !)
Some traditional lead loading around the critical door closing areas and the tub was ready for priming, approx one year to complete and significantly cheaper than a new tub.
It was challenging, but rewarding to get such a major part of the car finished.
The engine/gearbox was next for attention. The undersize crank was a cause for concern and deemed not safe to use as we had heard horror stories about a tendency for them to break when new, let alone with so much undersize!
Fortunately, the ever helpful Brian Rainbow had a short Morris 10 motor, which had a very good standard crankshaft and only needed a light grind to true up.
The engine was taken to T and L Engineering, Elstow for white metaling, re-boring, new liners, pistons, head and block re-facing, dynamic crank balancing and re-assembly. We then had the short motor back for assembly of the other parts.
The M.G camshaft although worn still had 1/8″ more lift and a more peaky profile than the Morris 10 one, so we used that camshaft. New guides, valves, springs and rocker shaft were fitted to the head; new cylinder block studs were fitted, also a new timing chain and sprockets.
Some improvement in the oil filtration was provided by using a Mini filter housing and a modern cartridge type filter. All other ancillaries were repaired as needed.
The gearbox was sound and only needed new bearings and seals. The clutch had new bearings and a re corked plate.
THE DIFFERENTIAL / BACK AXLE
This was modified and set up by Roger Furneaux. We fitted new hubs, bearings, drive shafts and Roger’s sealed hub nut conversions. All appeared OK, so it was painted and put to one side.
Later in use, we had the dreaded oil leaks from both hubs. which eventually we found out to be running down between the axle tubes where the brake flange is riveted to the tubes, causing the brake plate to rotate slightly and loosen the rivets and allowing the oil to run out and on to the outside of the brake backplates.
This was rectified by removing the diff, dismantling the axle and removing the same out through the wheel arch. The flange was cleaned up, as were the rivets and fully welded round the flange and rivet heads. This seems to have cured the problem since it was done last year.
THE STEERING BOX
Appeared to be OK, so we brazed a housing on the drop arm shaft to take a modern lip seal.
The wings, splash panel, petrol tank and running boards all appeared to be the originals and had suffered numerous brushes with other vehicles and stationary objects! The worst being the front wing which looked to have hit a post, which smashed the head light (hence the later steel lamp fitted); it dented the chassis cross member and appeared to have fallen onto the top windscreen frame, dented and broke it across the wiper spindle hole!
All spare rear light/mirror holes were welded up. All flanges and wired edges replaced where needed, then all tin ware was blasted and primed.
All the body panels were returned to Bassingbourne Garage for preparation for two pack painting in two tone green (the original black stove enamel was still in places on the wings, and took a lot of effort to remove). It took much puzzling over paint charts to eventually come up with the colours used, the appropriate porcelain green (MG1300 saloon) and cameron green (Rover).
The chassis and engine were now re-united. The original central oil pipes were re-fitted, as were the fuel and copper brake pipes, and a new wiring harness was used.
A new stainless steel exhaust was fitted after much cutting, bending and re-welding. We assembled the exhaust with just the flat gasket, tacked the flange in position on the car, and then removed the exhaust and fully welded the flange to the pipe, and have not had any of the leaks that we had read about on some other cars.
We had the original speedo, but were missing the rev counter, both of which use the chronometric movements (which is the same movement as early motor cycles) – fortunately, we had a spare motor cycle movement. We supplied these to the instrument repairer, who fitted the rev counter movement into a suitable bakelite case, and fitted new dials etc. (The sale of my 1968 MGB Roadster restoration project, paid for the clocks!!) The other instruments, lights and switches we repaired ourselves.
We made a new dashboard out of MDF board and found a very helpful supplier of burr walnut veneer locally (who supplies Jaguar/Aston Martin). We then had a go at veneering the dash, which seems to have worked out quite well for a first attempt.
Next to be fitted was the M.G. grab handle, which I acquired about 20 years prior, not ever thinking that I would have a car to fit it to. The body was then mounted onto the rolling chassis.
The original remaining interior consisted of the leather covered seat squab, dyed black, but under the folds, originally blue. This was carefully removed as a pattern. Inside the seat cavity was a mouse nest; they had gained access through the rear vent holes, and used the horse hair and paper to make a cosy home!!
A new board was cut to the pattern, broken springs replaced as needed, seat cushion timbers cut and captive fittings fitted. The pattern and timbers were taken to my upholsterer for trimming in green leather. He also supplied and made sufficient piping to run inside and outside the car, and enough vinyl to allow me to cover the wheel arches, and all interior panels.
Panels were made in 1/8″ ply wood to suit the car, as I knew that standard panels would not fit our re-made body!!
All sewing was done on my mother’s domestic machine, possibly slightly heavier use than it was designed for, but it did it all the same. (I hope that she does not read this!!).
The hood came from Moss, and was good quality and fit. The side screens were made by the upholsterer to suit the car.
ON THE ROAD AT LAST!
The whole car was up and running and back at Bassingbourne for M.O.T. Test April 2009. We drove the car in ever greater radiuses from home, with a back-up vehicle in attendance, until the reliability was proven. It had to be towed back twice before we realised that the old ignition coil was breaking down. A new replacement from Brown and Gammons, and it has been very reliable since. The car has now done 2000 miles, mostly local runs, but we took it to Silverstone in 2009, and it is now very dependable.
The finished result as people have commented is “a very pretty car” culminating in an award at Woburn Classic Car Show.
The brakes took some time and filing of the linings to get them to work as they should, but they are now very efficient. It now partly lives up to the Safety Fast! motto in that it handles and stops safely, but the fast I am still waiting to find?? Still, I have been told that the pace of traffic was different 70 years ago, and it is a pleasant ride at 50 miles per hour on quiet roads (when you can find them!)
There are still a few outstanding jobs remaining to be done, but I intend to do these this winter.
I sealed the fuel tank with a ‘Petseal’ solution which we have used on all our motor cycle petrol tanks, but I have noticed that the ethanol in the new petrol has made it flake off, so this will have to be rectified.
The whole re-build took us 41/2 years, and approximately l3,000 hours of blood, sweat and tears, but also a lot of pleasure and satisfaction as well.
Cost of the project I do not know as I think it wisest not to add up the invoices !!!! – but I have a car that has been nut and bolt restored to the best of our ability.
I have many people to thank, most are mentioned in the article, but mainly my father, who gave up 4 1/2 years of his retirement to help and advise me with the project, and now can finally have the use of his garage back, Mind you, he was the one who checked the car out for me, and pronounced it sound, but I did not see it until we picked it up!!
I just hope that he does not send me an invoice for the labour costs!
P.S. The irony of the story is that the wheels which instigated the original conversation were not and are still not the correct ones for the car year**, but were from an earlier Midget!
** Early TAs (up to chassis number TA1769) sported side laced wheels (as on the Triple-M cars). Later TAs (from chassis number TA1770) were fitted with centre laced wheels (as on the TB and TC).
Ed’s Note: Readers might be interested in the history behind the photo on this page and on the front cover. Here are some brief details:
All Saints Church, Lathbury (pictured at the top of the article) is said to probably date back to Saxon times although much of present church was built in the 12th and 13th century.
Great Gransden (front cover) boasts the oldest post mill in England. It was constructed around 1612 and has two storeys, with a flour dressing machine, inscribed 1774, on the second floor. The mill last worked around 1890, and was given to the County Council in 1950. In 1957 the post mill was classified as an ancient monument; following this a restoration project was completed in 1984. The mill still possesses the internal workings and retains its sails. It is available to view internally by arrangement. (acknowledgement to Wikipedia)