GUSTO AND THE WALER

THE STORY OF MY TWO MG TCs AND AN INTERLOPING MG YA
by Michael Sherrell

MG TC/9491 aka UMG450 – now known as GUSTO.          

It is always a bit daunting to begin writing about 9491 because it is such a long and complex story. It started in 1957, when I began my education in historic racing and sports cars. The names of Nuvolari, Varzi, Fangio and Caracciola, famous drivers of these thrilling devices became ever more familiar. The images of Type 35, 57 Bugattis, Alfa Romeo 158s etc. became embedded in my mind.

I looked around to fill the void and that’s when I came across the MG TC. No racing car, although it could be raced, not a Type 35, but it seemed to have a lot of similarities. And so, the search began. For the next year or so, weekends were devoured searching the used car yards, Jack Ayers Performance Cars in Guildford Rd and James Harewood’s various sports car sites were frequently visited. Meanwhile my best mates Bob McQueen and Brian Pateman had bought TCs.

Panic set in, and so after what seemed years of juggling finances and searching used car yards, I found TC/9491, registration UEU161. I had just turned 19. I know I was desperate because I had bought the cheapest, nastiest TC in town. Bob and Brian already had their TCs, both very nice cars, one in Clipper Blue and one in White. And there I was until now, driving a Morris Minor Convertible … Ahem.

I found my car in Beaufort St Inglewood at Custom Car Sales, said to be the dodgiest outfit in town. The price was £350 when the cheapest TC around was £450. That tells you something. I had £50 to my name and a Morris Minor, which I had by that time repainted very badly, making it insufficient for a deposit. No problem for the ‘Dodgy Bros’. They merely added £100 to the TC price and added the same to my Mickey Minor, thus giving me sufficient deposit and Custom Credit rich. 

They say that love is blind, and that old saying applies just as well to proper cars. 9491 came with a tartan Laminex Dash with matching tartan plastic seat covers. The original Douglas Bluemels wheel had no centre plate, just the steering inner column poking through. The wood stringers had disappeared to dust, rusty bolts hanging in space between the running board mounts and the tub frame – picture that!

By 1959 it had already done 100,000 miles, repainted two or three times, reupholstered at least twice, raced in 2 Caversham 6 Hour Races. All this in just the first 10 years of its life. Meanwhile, it had obviously never seen a garage, but it was quick!

And so began The Trouble, and with it a steep learning curve in mechanical engineering. “I don’t think I can live through another diff” saidmy long- suffering mother. Wheels kept falling off ‘till I discovered the previous ‘custodian’ had put the front hubs on the wrong side then cross threaded the ‘right’ knock-on’s on. Problems, problems, but through it all I was learning a lot about my MG TC, and it was getting a lot better in the process.

Yer buyin trouble Son” Bob’s dad pronounced prophetically, when I proudly showed up with my TC. How right he was, but what he didn’t know was, he was looking at a lifetime obsession that would take the car and its owner on a journey of over half a million miles; survive an early Race rollover; be restored three times; have twice as many engine and diff. rebuilds; escape lethal breakages of stub axles and even a steering drop arm, all of which rendering car and driver bereft of any steering, and sometimes brakes, and still survive.

Less than two years into this doubtful collaboration of man and machine and through the TC-ownership/friendship of the above-mentioned mates, the TC Owners Club was born, flourishing still over 60 years later, and about which much has been written, a lot of it by me.

Along the way 9491 has had three colour changes: Dark Red; Kelp Beige, Black, and its Interior: Tartan; Red (leather discovered under the tartan); Arroyo; Green. Around 1965/66 the UMG registrations appeared and UEU161 was run over, defaced and re-presented for replacement. The result was UMG450 – white lettering on black – later to become black lettering on reflective white. As an aside: the TC has always been fully road licensed, which in today’s money amounts to something like $43,000, just in Registration.

Gusto – UMG450 – TC/9491 – is pictured in a Motokhana, so it’s still being well used, as well as a daily driver.

In December 1989 I was rescued after 33 years as a vassal, from what is now Telstra, by a ‘Golden Handshake’. My alumni of 1957 had been technically trained over five years in a painstaking manner involving first principles. We were taught to do it thoroughly and well. But now we had become a nuisance, costing time and money. We were called ‘gold platers’. We had to go. In life, timing is everything. I had written my Magnum Opus: ‘TCs Forever!’ over the learning years of breaking and fixing and restoring, but with no way to publish it; and now I had been handed a pile of cash to do just that, and I did, thanks to my lovely, supporting wife Loretta (now dec.), who said “If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life”. The book was launched at the State Library, thanks to the influence of that old scallywag Noel Semmens, in January 1991, and went ballistic shortly after. In the many years following, I learnt some more about using and fixing these fascinating art forms, and so thought I had more to contribute to my first work. In May 2017, I launched ‘TCs Forever-More!’ – about using more, and extending more, the joys of our classic Original TC.

Then on 27th November 2019, this collaboration of me and the ‘Gee’ had reached a milestone of 60 years. 60 years of pleasure and pain; of joy and heartbreak, of sun and rain, of exhilaration and cursing. When I step into ‘Gusto’ I’m 19 again until the end of the drive. Getting out is harder now, but I can do it with a good haul on the windscreen pillar. Twenty two restorations have come and gone. It’s getting harder to get up and down off the floor, but the passion still burns bright. I am, and always have been its devoted servant, and will be until that long road winds into the sky.

MG TC/9349 – My Café Racer – aka UMG049
First named ‘Grunt’ –  but  now, ‘The Waler’.  (Look it up).

A bare chassis was sent to me from Abingdon Motors in QLD, way back in the mists of time. It turned out to be a TA (which I should have kept but passed it on to Al Herring. So, after a short delay a TC chassis arrived from the same place, sent as agricultural machinery for $300).

Over the course of many TC restorations, I had accumulated a number of TC bits, but some vital ones were missing. I bought a gearbox from South Aus., a spare XPAG (XPAW) engine I had brought back from Albany in the ‘70s. Body bits were varied – I had inner guards made at the Perth Airport and the bulkhead came from the Melville Tip! – a windscreen and fuel tank from Victoria, etc. The body was built with the assistance of son Dan, from a Tassie Oak wood kit again from S.A. Apart from the bulkhead from the Tip, I had most of the panels but they sure needed work.

Eventually it all went together and built up on the now rolling chassis. In a flight of fancy, I mocked up a FIAT Twin Cam engine and its 5-speed gearbox and fitted it to the chassis. It was going to work, but as a reasonably prominent TC tragic, peer pressure was real. So, it was back to the tried and true: supercharging. With the bodywork completed it was painted in Silver with Dublino Green scuttle top, bonnets and wings.

As my long used road TC/9491 (600,000+ miles), had so many years of active use on road and track, it was time for this new Club Racer, ‘The Waler’, once ‘Grunt’, to take over the circuit work and let ‘Gusto’, TC/9491 newly named, return to its Original Nature, albeit with some sneaky undetectable mods.

In the meantime, Grunt’s completed, painted body, was stood up on its back in the corner of my tight workshop while other TC restorations continued. Years later, body and chassis came together, and run to begin with on carbies, to sort things out. Next, an Eldred Norman supercharger, made under licence by Wray in S.A. was with some ingenuity, difficulty and assistance, fitted. So began my education with the mystical, myth-ridden journey – down the Rabbit Hole – of supercharging. Meanwhile, some minor mods. were applied to the chassis: ‘boxing’ to the front over the axle arches; anti-roll bar also to the front, as well as forward roll front axle restraints as per Pre-War MG practice. The front was also lowered with what amounted to 20mm blocks. Well-drilled cast iron brake drums were fitted to standard brake assemblies, except for some skulduggery applied to the hydraulics. The rear was left to look after itself, apart from the fitting of an MGB diff. with 4.3 MGA ratio, the original soon being destroyed by Eldred’s blower up front. 16” cross lace wire wheels and fat tyres completed the build, while the body lost its bonnet sides and windscreen, gaining 2 Aero’s, but carried full seats, carpet and trim – not light, but comfortable and versatile when driving to and from the circuits.

The Eldred Norman vane blower proved very effective at the one and only Ellenbrook Sprint (2001). Around the streets yet to be housed, the TC with a time of 56.4sec humbled some very potent Moderns e.g., two BMW M3Rs; a one year old 5.7L Commodore HSV GTS; a 1998 Lotus Elise; three Westfields etc. It was in fact quicker than another 57 serious cars.

TC versus Tiger

The days of this wonderful vane blower (with who knows what boost) were numbered however, when in the middle of a Club motorkhana at peak revs, it swallowed a vane with disastrous consequences, fortunately only to the blower itself – and to the driver’s clothing – a ¾ twist in the drive shaft and some alteration to the interior. This was all miraculously repaired by John Bowles and the entire set-up sent off to Canada with somewhat reduced boost, but still very strong. Suffering withdrawal, a replacement was soon sourced in the form of an SC14 Toyota Rootes type blower, which, while the boost was reasonably modest, trouble lay ahead.

I must have jagged it the first time but now I had some serious detonation problems, twice blowing the ring lands off my cast iron pistons (with no other internal damage, but engine out, engine in, engine out, etc.). The cure came in the form of some beautiful forged alloy pistons from Special Piston Services, a new blower friendly Dizzy from Performance Ignition Services – ‘Scorcher’, a Chinese copy of a Bosch with a reduced advance tailored for an XPAG engine, and some serious attention to tuning involving a 2” HD8 SU, and a range of UV Series needles. (0.120” jet). Otherwise, it had a modest 8:1 CR and a std. camshaft, std. exhaust manifold and boost round 9lbs. I had learned the hard, but permanent way.

Drawing on our beloved Factory’s Record Breaking experience, some surprising mods. were introduced into the engine’s cooling: the block’s (round hole) water passages and the corresponding head passages were blocked off by drilling and tapping the holes to receive threaded cast iron plugs, thus sealing off the two, except for the large entry at the rear of the head face. The top rear core plug in the block was removed and received a 1” pipe, which then entered the rear of the head through its existing plate. It had the effect of drawing normally sluggish block water up to the back of the head to join the normal pump-to-head flow. The result was remarkable: the TC then needed a radiator blind in cold weather, and on the track could take a beating even in hot weather, without going over 800 C.

This simple car made from bits, has given me so much pleasure over the last 25 years, is usually driven to and from the Circuits and apart from a few dramas, has been the soul of reliability. Long Live ‘The Waler’!

MG YA/3184 – my Q ship – aka UMG490, always known as ‘TINTIN’

This over ambitious project began many years ago when I acquired a derelict YA saloon sans engine and gearbox (previously robbed by a ‘MG TF-er’). It should have gone straight to the tip and in some ways, I wish it had! But no, I had this vision of a very rapid Y Type. We used to call such a car a ‘Q Ship’.

I had some examples to go by: a Y Saloon came over for an MG National Meeting many moons ago. It had an MGA style 1600 motor and gearbox and while casually engineered, it got along quite well thank you. Meanwhile another MG Y, a Tourer this time was being built up locally with an MGB motor and gearbox.

This was enough for me to ignore the obvious difficulties ahead and get on with it. However, as with the TC Café Racer before it, it had to come together in between TC restorations going on in full swing, resulting in a gestation of 8 years and 1 month. First, the body was removed from the chassis and sent to a caustic bath. When I retrieved it, it looked like a shiny colander! So many holes! ‘Tin worm’ had savaged it and looking at it again, I should have walked away. But no, my stubborn nature took over and the process continued. So much of the body was non-existent I could see it was going to be a task beyond my skill set, so it went on a garden trailer for a trip down to Clive Ross and the Hammerworks, nearly slipping off just before arrival.

Over a period of months Clive worked his magic, replacing the bum end of the car entirely, making up and fitting new complete sills, then freeing up the sunroof, which had been welded shut and filled with asbestos rope. A lot of pushing and pulling with a Porta-Power followed to make the 4 doors fit the tub, and the windscreen to fit the hole. Eventually the heavy work was complete, so I took the tub home to prime it before it began to oxidise and see it deteriorate to where I started. Meanwhile Clive made new running boards and panelled the 4 wings.

At home work began on the running gear. An MGB overdrive gearbox and banjo diff arrived on an open pallet from the UK, and an engine was acquired from a local MGB donor, which was itself having its own Rover V8 transplant. When I pulled the engine apart, I found the internal oil pump attached by one loose bolt, so the lucky owner had just avoided a monumental detonation. The ‘new’ bits were pulled apart for inspection, clean-up, replacement of gaskets, oil pump bolts etc. The bearings were std and looked fine, so they went back in; an MGB ‘O’ head was acquired (bigger valves) and after a steep learning curve, the overdrive part of the gearbox was made to work.

Meanwhile at the rear of the chassis, the YA Panhard rod was retained, and with a bit of fudging and stretching, the B diff banjo was made to fit the YA rear springs. Yea! Previous fudgers had come up with a ‘Penguin’ bracket to replace the Y’s toy rear shocks, with of all things, Mini Front ‘Tellies’ to complete the rear arrangement. At the front, due to the British Motor Industry’s reluctance to change things for their own sake, the Y front end was identical to the B, (or we should say, the B’s front end is identical to the Y), except for the top wishbone and shocker. Fitting the B version was merely a matter of slightly enlarging the mounting holes on the shocker base.

Later, after the engine was fitted, I needed to replace the Y front coils with MGB ones, as the front sat up too high. The engine/gearbox fitting was again assisted by those who had gone before, requiring many vertical and horizontal measurements, and a bit of judicious angling in various planes. The centre engine mount retained as before and the engine steady moved to a more accessible rear position. The result left two major problems: one, the front SU went close to the near-side bonnet, and the other, more serious, the steering column intersected the distributor. There have been several strategies to overcome this problem: my version was to use a TC DKY4 dizzy with 8mm removed from its mounting face and re-jig the advance curve to suit. A ‘flat cap’ lid, allowed the leads to exit sideways. The gearbox cross member had to be lowered by a full diameter, the std. B gearbox mounting itself retained. A new shortened tailshaft more or less completed the drive train, while now having virtual MGB front and rear ends, the result was MGB brakes, disc front and drum rear, and wire wheels. Larger diameter (15”) MGA wires were used in place of the MGB 14’s for a higher gearing.

The Y had now become what was virtually an MGB GT with a YA body, complete with original seats and trim in minute detail, thanks to the brilliant work of Geoff Thompson. Weighing only 40kg more than a BGT, it really is a Q Ship, and gave the many curious a fright on the Freeway. The one thing I hadn’t counted on was the wind noise. At 80mph plus I could hardly hear my CD player hidden in the glove box, behind an immaculate burr walnut, book matched dash.

Michael Sherrell

2 thoughts on “GUSTO AND THE WALER

  1. Lothar Zissel says:

    Hi Mike!
    To read your article was a real joy for me. The reader can feel the passion and obsession for the TC and Y Types.
    You are always a inspiration for me!

    M.G. Forever!
    Lothar

  2. J. Daniel Howard says:

    i have a 47 Y with MGB front and rear, 15 inch MGC wheels, but with a hot XPAG engine and TD transmission, albeit with a TD remote shifter. I actually commuted in it for more than a decade before I retired. Now undergoing its third restoration. Mine will not do 80 but agree that wind noise is a bit of a bother. Dan

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