Restoration of a 1949 MG TC

I thought members may be interested in the restoration journey of my MG TC.  I acquired it in December 2017 and planned to restore it in about 3 years.  However, COVID came along, and I was able to work on it without distractions like family gatherings, or motorcycle meetings and all manner of social activities. 

As a result, I finished the restoration officially on the 13th July 2020, with the vehicle passing a roadworthy and it was then registered.  I have restored and refurbished a number of classic motorcycles over the years, but this is my first car restoration.  It will probably be my last one too, not because I didn’t enjoy the challenge, but cars take up a lot of space in my shed. 

This MG is now part of our family and will never be sold.

The MG is a TC which left the M.G. factory in Abingdon, UK on the 17th May 1949.  It was one of the later ones to come out of the factory with a chassis number of TC8723 of 10,000 made between 1945 and 1949.  The car found its way to Australia and was sold and registered in NSW.  The black and white picture is of the car, taken when relatively new.

The car became degraded and was eventually pushed into a shed where it decomposed until the mid-80s.  It was bought by a gent in Newcastle from the original owner’s family and he had it for about 20 years as far as I know.

In that time, he had the rotted wood frame replaced and did some panel work, but importantly kept it all together.

He sold the car to a very good friend of mine, (very much a mentor), who was coincidently a former police officer like myself. 

He was a bike copper in Sydney in the 60s but had a very serious fall from his bike resulting in him having to resign from the NSWPF and return to his former trade as a tool maker. 

We had known each other for 30 years, rode together and against each other in competition, and restored bikes together over the years.  He unfortunately passed away suddenly in 2014.  He had done a lot of work to the engine and drive train and purchased a lot of new parts before he became too ill to continue work on the car prior to his passing.

I undertook to sell the bikes and the MG on behalf of his widow, and did so over the intervening years.  As the MG was still regarded as a basket case, and unrestored, we had very little interest in it, so Robyn and I offered to take over the car and restore it to the standard that our friend would have done.  As a result, we acquired the vehicle and parts in December 2017.

Restoration started slowly, with disassembly of the car, assessing what needed to be done and seeking the many parts that were missing.  The best part is that virtually everything needed for them is either still available or can be remanufactured (at a price of course).

This made a pleasant change from trying to restore motorcycles of very low volume manufacturers, long passed into history.   After stripping, the drudgery of cleaning, blasting, rubbing and grinding off rust etc happened at a slow pace.

I got to the stage of being ready to paint the chassis, suspension and underside parts by October 2018.  I bought a ‘wedding gazebo’ from eBay for $75 and used it as a spray booth in one bay of my shed.

It worked really well.  However, the combination of a hot shed, inside a plastic canopy, in full protective overalls and breathing apparatus made it a very uncomfortable and hot Saturday morning spray painting.

After that it was time to assemble the engine (gearbox was complete and diff was ready to put together).

Once that was done, I assembled the suspension and entire front end, steering and suspension; the car has a Nissan steering box conversion. 

My Bishop steering assembly didn’t feel too bad, but both pitman arms I had showed weakness and impending failure after a magnaflux and x-ray test.  As this car will be a definite driver, I opted for better and safer steering over originality.  This is one of the very few departures from a faithful restoration.

There were lots of parts to make and refurbish so the lathe and mill were working in overdrive for a few months.  Once up on wheels, the engine, gearbox and diff were offered up to the vehicle in mid-2019.  Then came installing the brakes, steering column and connecting up all the steering parts. 

The body was examined and any panel work was done as best I could (most of it had been done by the previous owner). The timber frame had been made and assembled to a high standard, and I acquired the floorboards by a happy coincidence. 

The rest of the timbers, and ply parts were made by constant referral to Mike Sherrell’s excellent book, lots of marine ply, a scroll saw and circular saw.   The body, and panels were then transported to the spray painter to have that lovely MG Red sprayed, whilst all the stuff that was chrome was taken to the chrome works over East Bundaberg.  I am happy to say that all restoration services I used were local and there was no need to send anything away.

As the car slowly came together, I continually identified things that were needed and, after searching through the parts I had, ordered parts from Australia, the UK and USA that I didn’t have.  I got a bit of fright with some of the postage costs, but what choice do you have?

In late October, I had the body returned to me in bright MG Red, and it was assembled onto the rolling chassis with the help of a few strong friends.  Once that was on, Rod from next door helped me with wiring and many other tasks – Rod is very multiskilled in things electrical and mechanical and freely gave up many hours of his time to help with the final assembly. 

The car then went into a local upholsterer who did a breathtakingly beautiful job on the seats, trim and carpets inside the cabin.  The car is trimmed almost totally in fine beige leather, probably much better than the original job.  I have left the making and fitting of the hood and side curtains until after the car was on the road.  I did refurbish the badly damaged hood frames an undertaking that took the most time of any singular part of the car. 

I got the chrome work back just before Christmas and started assembly of the pretty bits.  This allowed me to fit things like the fuel tank, connect up the fuel lines, and fit the lovely dashboard.  That took me up to the end of February and the start of COVID lockdown.  By the end of April I had all the panels fitted and my brother helped me start the car after he’d diagnosed a problem with the distributor that prevented it from kicking over. 

It was a huge relief when the car burst into life and it sounded very nice.  No strange noises or oil leaks!  About that time, I drove it up and down my long driveway and was confident everything would be OK.  The motor is virtually new with full crank rebuild, new liners and pistons, full head restoration and new cam.  The ignition has been converted to electronic ignition.

In May 2020, I fitted the front guards and bonnet (which takes ages as all the body panels are literally coach built so have to be fitted, taken off, modified, fitted again and so on until it all fits together correctly.  The fitting and adjustment of the bonnet alone took almost a day for Rod and I.

By the time I left for Townsville in mid-June, the car was more or less ready for roadworthy inspection prior to registration.  Upon our return, some time was spent going over all the car for a final check over before calling the inspection mob.

On the 13th July the M.G. passed the roadworthy and I was straight down to Queensland Transport and registered it.  Robyn and I then went on a short trip, and it is lovely to drive.  All the work has paid off, and we look forward to using it for club activities as much as possible.  We have now done about 200 miles and still no oil leaks or any major issues.  Then it was then taken back to the trimmer to have the hood and side curtains made and fitted. 

Since being on the road, I have now completed about 400 miles.  Tuning has been a bit of a nightmare, as first of all I could not get a good carb tune; this turned out to be a very small fracture in one of the floats that caused it to slowly fill with fuel.  Once that was discovered and new floats purchased, it was much better.  Then I had a strange misfire when the car was at operating temp which got progressively worse as the car got hotter.  It idled nicely, and responded well to light throttle openings, but had a massive flat spot when accelerating normally.  Once the car levelled out at a particular speed, it was OK.  Having exhausted carb fiddling, I reckoned it was perhaps advance/retard issue and checked that to no avail.

In desperation, I replaced the electronic ignition with the original points/condenser setup and immediately it was a very different car.  Performs faultlessly and the performance is remarkable as well.  Not mentioning the ignition type as I am still talking with them, but when it came, the cam pick up was very loose on the points cam.  I called and was told to take up the gap with electrical tape until it was tight.  This sounded dodgy but did it.  I believe that the tape softens when hot and allows the pick up to move in relation to the points cam thereby changing the timing particularly when intertia of accelerating the vehicle is in play.  That is my working theory at the moment.  Or it may be simply a faulty ignition system. Anyway, I am running on points and thoroughly enjoying the MG.

On the road at last!

Rowan Bond

Ed’s Note: Rowan initially contacted me for a pair of “Dave’s Doughnuts”, which have successfully arrived in Australia. It was through this contact that he mentioned the article, which I was pleased to receive and publish.

2 thoughts on “Restoration of a 1949 MG TC

  1. John Hall says:

    Great story, Rowan. Are you (and theTC) in Qld? – I have a similar TC journey to undertake, but I have to finish the ground-up job on my wife’s beloved Y Type first. In the meantime, could you say what sort of Nissan steering gear you used in your TC? Mine is an ex-hillclimber from Victoria and sports a strange half-rack-and-pinion setup which might have been fine Back in the Day but which I would like to improve on for daily driving. Would love to hear from you.
    Yours,
    John Hall. (Atherton, Qld).

  2. Rowan Bond says:

    Thanks John. I now have well over 1000 miles on the TC and it goes as good as it looks. I live in Bundaberg, quite a way from you, but Qld none the less. My steering box is orignally one out of a Datsun 1200, recirculating ball type. Steers extremely well and turns like a go kart.

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