Dughall Leask of the MGCC Caledonian Centre kindly sent me this fascinating account of the survival of TB0274. It was first published in the Caledonian Centre Newsletter in January 2017 and I have lightly edited it.
The story begins in the days when I was working as an Albion apprentice in 1962, in the Scotstoun factory in Glasgow. A fellow apprentice in equal penury had found a MG sports car in a scrapyard at Anniesland on the banks of the canal. He and I had spent weekends searching out elderly motorcycles and he was a dab hand at finding wrecks. This latest find of an MG was no exception.
With my then girlfriend Eileen, and funds from her Dad, we bought the car (memory says it was for £30) from the scrap man and towed it away to a rented garage in Yoker. Looking back, it seems likely that the car was within a whisker of being scrapped and lost forever. The registration was JPA 847 and the chassis was TB0274 – the 24th car built. The car appeared complete, but without batteries – the scrap man must have had an eye for the lead!
We soon were examining what we had bought. The body was seriously rotted. The inner rear wheel arches were almost non-existent and the rearmost woodwork was at the point of collapse. Very distinctively it had Andre-Hartford friction dampers visible at the front, and mounted on the radiator cap, a rather racy Flying Lady mascot.
But youth is ever blind. With the help of another pal, we were soon dismantling the remains and plotting a rebuild.
Remember that in those days there were few if any formal MG restoration businesses in existence, unlike to-day, nor was there any easy access to spare parts, the like of which abound now to support the enthusiast.
The car was complete but with no battery, so we did not know the potential of mechanical problems. However, on the positive side, the hood and side-screens were very serviceable, and all the instruments were present. The windscreen bottom frame brackets were obviously broken and there were several broken spokes in the wheels. The rear spring trunnions were very worn, as indeed were the chassis tubes that held the bronze trunnions. In an earlier life, someone had dismantled the reserve fuel tap (they had a bad reputation of leaking) and thus had eliminated the possibility of a fuel reserve.
When the rotted trim was removed from the rear wheel arches it became obvious that there was very little left of the inner wheel arches and the hidden portion of the rear wings – they were in an advanced state of rust/rot. The sidescreen cupboard at the rear had terminal rot in the wood and the metal floor pressing. We would have to remake and refit. For some reason, we removed the front wings and found that the chassis had a crack on the driver’s side, on the top flange immediately above the front axle bump stop. Even to me this seemed a serious fault. With the help of an older work colleague the crack was vee’d out and electrically welded to effect a repair.
The rear wings and inner wings were rebuilt with fibreglass, reinforced with expanded metal and Eileen still remembers the smell of the resin in her house as her Dad applied the repair materials! The slab fuel tank was cleaned out and re-painted and stored for many months under Eileen’s bed.
Photo 1- shows dismantled rear of TB0274.
The three parts of the seats were in poor condition and then Eileen’s Mum bought red vinyl leather cloth and made a set of pleated covers for the seats, although a poor quality form of white plastic piping was used, due to the ignorance of the apprentice as to what to use for piping. These recovered seats were to be important fifty years later!
Gradually the car was re-assembled. A friend attended to some wiring defects and put a new veneer on the dashboard. The gearbox rear mounting bracket was broken and was removed to repair. The footwell floor panels were very rotted and new were made and fitted. We obtained another 19″ road wheel to replace the wheel with broken spokes. Quite a lot of the car was repainted in black by hand and the underside of all four wings were repainted in light blue – which gave the car a racy look, or so the apprentice thought – shades of WW2 fighter aircraft in mind perhaps!!
During the work the engine block was found to be cracked from the centre core plug in the driver’s side water gallery, immediately behind the exhaust manifold, but a chemical preparation sealed the light leak. Months later. after many hours of work, a new a battery was fitted and we had a running motor car. The apprentice drove the car from Glasgow to Aberdeen to William Leask’s garage for final checking (about 150 miles) where the windscreen frame was fitted with new bottom corner brackets and rubber seal, The sump was dropped to fit a set of big-end shells – and thereafter the car was handed over to Eileen as her first car.
Thereafter, the car was her daily drive and she participated in some MGCC Edinburgh Centre events. I guess that would have been registered to her in September 1964, according to the documents.
Photo 2 – Eileen at a MGCC driving test at the dried pond at Doune.
In the summer of 1968 Eileen and the apprentice were married, and models of the car – made of icing – decorated the wedding cake. The recently married couple were in need of something like a front-room carpet and so it was that the TB was sold to a girl Student at Aberdeen University. It must be remembered that this was still at a time when two-seater MGs were cheap and attractive to student poseurs. This young woman had an accident with the car and a new fibreglass wing was fitted and painted. And soon the car was lost to view. Where did it go?
Fast forward 50 years!
It is 2014 and the apprentice is by this time now the retired Journeyman. As is the wont of so many retirees, he reflects on past matters as any retired soul might do. What would have become of JPA 847 and if indeed it still existed?
Do we all not wonder what became of that first car?
The T Register had a single picture of a barn-find yellow TB with the registration JPA 877. Now that was close. Eventually, an American website featured several more pictures of the same car and by studying these closely, that red upholstery looked familiar with its white piping and the front end was showing Andre Hartford dampers.
The MGCC T Register secretary was able to tell me that this car had been recently sold to a new owner and was kind enough to put me in touch with Mike Bartell in Doylestown PA. And yes – the yellow car’s registration was confirmed as JPA 847 and the published number had been corrupted with a typo. Mike was overjoyed to find someone who was able to provide a history of the car from 50 years ago, with pictures and a movie made at the time. The car itself was now in Ohio starting a complete rebuild with Tom Metcalf who runs Safety Fast! Restoration. According to Tom, the car was in an advanced state of decay and starting from the chassis up, there was a great deal to do.
Mike Bartell had already researched as much as he could on the car and he had the name of the lady owner who bought it from Eileen and had a similar note of the previous owner’s name from whom the car had been destined to be scrapped. This name had never featured in our original restoration. It simply had not been of interest.
The journeyman took up the challenge to trace this earlier owner and after several blind alleys traced a retired gentleman in Bearsden – only a mile from where Eileen presently lives! To say he was startled to hear news of his own student day car was an understatement. He was able to provide a photo of himself as a young man with the car which he had used to travel from Dundee to St. Andrews to pursue his studies.
The restoration was planned to be completed in September 2015 and Mike Bartell carried on his correspondence with Scotland and with news of progress on the car. Then in early 2016, Mike was able to bring the completed car home to Doylestown and begin to show the car at events in the States, where unsurprisingly, it has gone on to win several prizes.
Just prior to its completion the gentleman in Bearsden passed away suddenly and it was a great disappointment to Mike and to everyone involved, that he did not live to see his old car completed.
From the picture of the green/green T-Type, ‘anoraks’ will note that Mike chose to fit a double spare wheel carrier to the rear and also a rather fine pair of headlamps. This may not sit comfortably with those for whom originality is the be-all and end-all, but it has produced a rather fine looking TB, for which Mike now has a good file of history.
Mike Bartell would love to bring the TB to the UK on a visit and I daresay the car might feel quite at home parked outside the University in St. Andrews.
The Flying Lady mascot is well looked after these days in a place of prominence, with Eileen in Bearsden.
JPA 847 still has its Hartfords.
“Quality never goes out of style” is the theme by which Tom Metcalf’s company lives by and it is admirably demonstrated by these ‘shots’ of TB0274. http://www.safetyfastrestoration.com