Cover Story

TD17904 as found in Zimbabwe

A TD Rebuild was not even on the radar!

I was due to retire at the end of 2008 and was looking for a project to ease myself into retirement. I had been an MG fan for many years, which probably started when I left school and my dad bought me a 1949 MG TC wreck which had to have extensive repairs. From there I graduated to a 1959 Austin Healey Sprite, then marriage, mortgage and kids, which meant I had other more pressing commitments that required my attention and contents of my wallet. By 1995 these commitments were past and I could return to things MG so I purchased a 1965 MGB roadster basket case. Since then I have rebuilt six MGB roadsters so my upcoming project was probably going to be another B roadster, or so I thought.

…until a friend returned from a visit to Zimbabwe with some photos of a TD

A friend had two Frogeye Sprites ex-Zimbabwe that he started rebuilding but had lost interest in; we were in negotiations when another friend returned from a visit to Zimbabwe with pictures of a MG TD that had been standing since 1975. The dilemma was now Frogeyes or TD; with these two on offer my thoughts of another B roadster faded into the distance. Prior to retiring I was responsible for our subsidiary business in Zimbabwe so on my next business trip I went to see the TD. It was parked under a lean to structure where it was left in early 1975 due to an apparent engine seizure, but it was complete and apart from rust was not damaged. The ‘as found’ picture however belies what lay underneath. The TD won the race and I made an offer to purchase it there and then.

Getting the car out of Zimbabwe was the next challenge as it carried a now expired South African licence, but was never registered in Zimbabwe. Speaking to local Customs officials I soon learnt that the Zimbabwe authorities were aware of the value of vintage and classic cars that were being taken out of the country and were consequently confiscating them at the border for the slightest reason, to be sold on auction. The solution was to entrust the removal to the local Zimbabwean who had brought the two Sprites out; money upfront and take my chances was the only business model that could work and it did, the TD was delivered in January 2009.

Assessing the work – taking on a challenge!

With time on my hands I could now do a realistic assessment of my purchase; it was much worse than I anticipated and my first thought was to strip and sell the parts as spares to recover my costs. Fortunately, that thought only lasted a week as my appetite for a challenge took over.

I learnt from the owner that he bought the TD in 1964 in Salisbury and that he had it rebuilt in 1974. He proudly told me that they used Rhodesian Teak (also known as rail sleeper wood) for the tub timbers and that the engine had been overhauled at the same time. He drove the TD for his daily commuting and as a land surveyor he used the car to travel to outlying regions where there were only tracks.

I registered the car with the T Register and found that it left Abingdon on 18 July 1952 and both engine number and chassis numbers were matched and original. The original colour was Ivory with green trim.

The objective was to restore it to its original colour and as close to original as my budget would allow, without taking out a mortgage on the house and this meant doing as much of the work as I could myself.

Any newcomer to a T-Type rebuild is advised to spend time doing internet research on the rebuilding of one of these cars, preferably before buying, as there are many guys out there with a lot more experience that they are willing to share; once committed, find someone who is doing a similar rebuild as original parts are often missing and parts and ideas can be exchanged or borrowed to use as patterns.

Sound advice from Horst Schach

Stripping the car was relatively easy but as each panel was removed more horrors were uncovered. The front quarter panels had rusted through where they abut the mudguards, the front splash pan was irreparably rusted and beyond saving, the RHS front mudguard had rusted away where it joins the splash pan. Apart from the splash pan that had to be renewed all the other panels were saved by welding in new hand shaped sheet metal sections. Horst Schach in his TD restoration book gives good advice when he says not to throw anything away until the job is completed.

The chassis was stripped, sandblasted and primed prior to painting; suspension and steering was overhauled and new tie rod ends fitted. The drive shaft universal joints were renewed and the shaft balanced, the differential was inspected and the pinion bearing and oil seal were renewed. The oval hole wheel rims suffered severe rust damage due to standing in water after the tyres deflated and only two were salvaged. My centre wheel hubs were cut out of the damaged rims and fitted into donor 15 inch rims with new rivets and a generous bead of welding for good measure.

Having stood for 36 years I assumed that all the springs would have lost some of their resistance due to being in compression for so long; this was certainly true of the front suspension, so they were re-tempered and set to their original length, other springs were replaced as assembly proceeded.

Probable explanation for the ‘engine seizure’

The engine was tackled next. The car had apparently been driven and parked but the next day the engine would not turn over and even after trying with a second battery the owner assumed that the engine had seized. I found this rather odd as seizures normally occur whilst driving. Whilst stripping I found that the starter motor bolts were loose and must have been so for some time as it had come out of the bell housing spigot; the starter pinion was out of mesh with the ring gear and the starter motor shaft was bent. This must have jammed up the works and could have been the “engine seizure” that caused the car to be left for 36 years. My elation was short lived however as the pistons were rusted solid in the cylinders. Someone had removed the sparkplugs at some stage and with the cylinders open to the atmosphere rust took over. The engine block was previously bored to +.060” and surprisingly the pistons hardly showed any signs of wear – we did however have to machine the old piston rings out of the grooves. After careful examination and measurement we decided that the pistons were still in good order for further use. The block was re-sleeved back to +.060” and the original pistons with new rings installed. The cylinder head was pressure tested for cracks but found to be OK; the valve seats were refaced but I decided to fit new valves. The crankshaft was crack tested and once again journals were found to be within specification and only new bearings were required. I can only assume that the car had not done many miles between the previous rebuild and the apparent seizure.

End float in the oil pump was excessive so gear ends, body and cover were machined to restore the clearance to specification, a new idler shaft and relief valve springs were fitted.

It pays to examine the big end bolts to see if they have been stretched, I found several that were, so I renewed the entire set. The need for applying special grease or thick oil on the camshaft lobes is well known and essential to prevent wear in the initial start up before the oil pump gets the oil circulating. Lastly, have lots of patience when fitting the rear crankshaft oil sealing cork; I had to do this job twice.

The gearbox looked OK except for the selector forks that were badly worn; these were built up and machined to the correct thickness to fit the grooves in the gears. Selector indent balls and springs were also replaced as were the front and rear oil seals.

The clutch and pressure plate looked in good condition so they were refitted only to be pulled out once the car was road tested due to severe clutch shudder. I had overlooked the damper spring plates between the clutch linings; they too had flattened due to standing. A new clutch plate together with resurfaced and reset pressure plate was fitted and the shudder was cured.

The radiator was never drained during the 36 years and the core had corroded away along with the lower water pipe and part of the thermostat housing, these were all renewed.

Exhilaration and a sense of achievement as the engine roars back to life after 36 years

A highlight at this stage was to refit the engine and gearbox into the chassis and the exhilaration of hearing the engine roar back to life after 36 years. This feeling of achievement gave me new motivation for the remaining challenges.

When doing the body work, the doors must be done first as they are used to ensure the correct positions of the two door posts.

When the previous owner did the rebuild he did not refit the original door locks and striker plates but used residential Yale front door latches, so the front latch pillars were never recessed for the striker plates. If anyone has worked with Rhodesian Teak they will know it is hard, very dense and difficult to cut and not friendly to any type of cutting tool.

Missing tub members were painstakingly fashioned by hand from oak using new sections borrowed from a friend and used as patterns. Assembly of the tub timber is best done once the angle iron frame has been set up and fixed to a pair of trestles as this allows work to be carried out at a comfortable height. All timbers were sealed with a polyurethane preservative.

Using grit blasting to remove old paint and rust is OK on the chassis and other heavy sections but be extremely cautious on thin body sections as the metal will tend to warp due to peening and/or heat build up. I used a number of different paint strippers together with a rotary brush on stubborn paint. Where light rust was encountered, phosphoric acid and a wire brush did the job. To do larger curved areas I covered the area with an old towel then saturated it with the phosphoric acid and finally covered that with plastic sheeting to prevent it from drying out.

Please wear proper personal protection when using these methods and chemicals.

Having stood for so long it was not surprising to find that the bottom of the fuel tank had rusted through and I could not see an easy way to repairing it. I was fortunate enough to find a used replacement with a sound bottom, however the filler neck had been removed so I had to cut out the filler neck from my tank and weld that into this tank.

Once the tub had been skinned it was ready to start the finishing process and at this stage a decision must be taken to either proceed on your own or give it to a specialist. I chose the former and started the process of achieving a smooth flat surface by filling minor dents and undulations. This process took several weeks, miles of abrasive paper, tons of dust and many coats of primer filler. The wife’s vacuum cleaner came in very handy at this stage.

The car had been re-sprayed silver in its previous rebuild but I found that the underside of the toolbox lid was still the original ivory colour and after cleaning and polishing it was used to match the new paint mix.

Mudguards, bonnet and other loose panels were all prepared before any thought was given to applying the top coat. Unlike many European countries there are no laws here preventing the ‘Do-it-yourself(er)’ from spray painting at home; the other advantage was the weather, as most days were windless and above 25° C. There were also days of 35° C but I found this to be too hot as the paint dried too fast. I chose not to use a base coat clear coat system as I did not have the benefit of a spray booth so I used a two pack polyurethane paint in ivory for the top coat and applied several coats. I did not attempt any buffing at this time and left that until the car was fully assembled; this gave plenty of time for the paint to cure.

All 55 items of brightwork had to be re-chromed and it is advisable to do a background search on the company you choose, I chose a company close to where I live who had done good work for other classic car restorers but unbeknown to me they were going through a period of staff problems. Everything had to be done twice and they nearly ruined the radiator surround so do your homework on who you choose.

The front bumper and over riders were rusted beyond repair; both bumpers and the over riders were renewed. The rear luggage rack was also badly rusted but I made a new one and whilst I was at it I also made a badge bar for the front.

The original generator had burnt out but came with the car, unfortunately without the tacho drive gear; this together with the starter had to be rewound, the starter armature shaft was also straightened. A new cotton braided wiring loom was purchased as it does add a bit of originality to the job. Other electrical items that went missing on the way from Zimbabwe were the SU fuel pump, the coil and the Lucas voltage regulator – fortunately used units were readily available from local club members. I decided to convert the front side and tail lights to double up as turn signals. I have yet to find out if they will pass the roadworthiness test as they are not the amber colour.

The ignition/light switch had no key and the Bakelite housing was severely burnt at the headlight terminal but I was fortunate in that a friend had a new switch that did not work, yes a new reject which he gave me. On opening it I found that the blob of solder connecting the incoming power to the rest of the switch terminals had been omitted during manufacture. A blob of solder was all that was needed.

Having stood for such a long time I took all the instruments to a specialist for checking and lubricating. However, during the first 100 yards on the road test both tacho and speedo instrument let out an inhumane screech as they were about to seize. I stopped and disconnected both. The instrument guy got a piece of my mind when I took them back; he agreed to repair them at his cost but told me to check the inner cable length when I refit them. The original steel wound outer and inner cables were in the car when I got it so why would they now be different? I checked the inner cable protrusion at the dashboard end and found that they were indeed too long and when tightening the knurled nut it was putting an axial force on the instrument drive. This was odd but maybe I used a slightly different/shorter route to the dashboard – who knows, but I took his advice and I cut both shorter and had no further trouble.

An unexpected delivery facility

Where it came to the interior this car’s original dashboard had been discarded in favour of a once varnished plywood dash with a centrally mounted radio; the instruments were clustered together in front of the driver. As I wanted to get back to the original I had to find a dash centre panel, not easy to find here where I am. Fortunately there was a guy in Holland who advertised one on eBay UK, we did a deal and he asked if I knew his friend here in South Africa as he was a member of the club. I made contact and to my surprise he was about to leave for Europe and was going to see his friend in Holland, problem solved.

Talking of eBay I was also fortunate enough to get a set of new chromed fuel tank side panels, yes new and still in their wrapping; they were advertised by Moss Europe as shop soiled. I have yet to find the damage that they said it had.

I looked at local upholstery materials as a possible solution for the trim but decided against it as colour and patterns were nowhere near the original plus the hidem trim was just not available. I purchased a full trim kit from Moss. Doing a T-Type for the first time means there are lots of lessons to be learnt; for instance, knowing that the side trim panels go past the floor boards and that the width of the floorboards must therefore be narrower than the actual floor width to allow the panels to pass.

When I purchased the TD the steering wheel consisted of the three spokes, the centre hub and a bare metal outer ring. The outer wheel plastic had long since disintegrated. I decided that a woodrim would be a most appropriate replacement, albeit not original. Once again the internet has several sites giving details of how this is done, so armed with my router and a sheet of 10mm MDF I proceeded to make a wood or is it now an MDF rim for my steering wheel? The final product came out great and coated with a clear urethane sealer – looks like the real thing.

The hood frame that came with the car was cut in half for some reason and the bows were badly rusted. As I had an old hood frame from an unknown car, I was able to use these bows on the TD bits to make up a complete frame. The sidescreen frames were intact but without the chrome trim strips. Having rebuilt six MGBs I had an accumulation of damaged B side moulding strips in stainless steel. The B strips are too wide and of a flatter section but by squeezing them in a vice I was able to create the correct width and half round profile. A small dolly, hammer and bit of heat from a propane torch was all that was needed to create the spoon ends. Being stainless steel they were buffed to look like chrome.

I ordered a new hood and sidscreen covers from a local agent but on arrival I had two vastly different shades of tan which I rejected, this is the problem when importing parts, so I am waiting for a set that match.

The final hurdle here in South Africa is getting the car re-registered as it no longer appears on the department’s computer. There is a system for these situations along with reams of papers, receipts of parts purchased and affidavits to prove it was legally purchased which were submitted in December but to date it is still not approved – yet another lesson in patience. So for now, TD17904 is in the garage waiting for its new licence – that is apart from the regular jaunt it does around the block on a Sunday afternoon.

Randall Everson
South Africa
April 2011

One thought on “Cover Story

  1. Brendon Dyer says:

    Inspirational article Randall. Congratulations on a job well done. Your car looks sensational.

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