Front Cover: ‘Restoring your Youth’

Sexagenarian, Jim Gibson, from New South Wales tells us about finding a T-Type to restore, similar to one he owned in his late teens when he had a full head of hair, Chubby Checker was dancing the Twist and the Beatles visited Australia.

Words and photos by Jim Gibson (and a little light editing by John James).

It was May 2008 and the car was on eBay – and as the saying goes a ‘picture says 1000 words’. The four photos of the TD didn’t do it justice, and therefore the starting price was more than it looked to be worth, but I took a gamble after talking to the seller – and won it with my lonely bid – the car sight unseen in the flesh. Bu**er, what had I done!

My wife was as keen – if not keener than I – to see the little car and to make it our hobby restoring it and enjoying the pleasures of ‘flies in the teeth – wind in the hair’ freedom, this little classic piece of motoring history and the memories of our past would offer us. It’s a step back in time, from the boring and bland sameness of today’s cars.

We hired and hooked up a car trailer, heading for the Central West of NSW where the MG had been sitting for a dozen years or more. It was in an old tin shed and as the owner opened the door it was almost the moment of truth, and then it came.

He removed the dusty old bedspread that was keeping it warm – my wife and I, not game to look at each other, couldn’t believe our eyes – it wasn’t a basket case like the photos had led us to believe, she was beautiful! The body and woodwork were in great condition, the seats, the hood and the side curtains, as well as the tonneau cover were all good, but the carpets were knackered.

The battery was flat, which annoyed the seller, as he wanted to start it up for us to drive onto the trailer. I wasn’t too worried about the mechanicals, as I’d been a mechanic in my earlier working days and well used to fettling cars and trucks of this era. My wife couldn’t get the cash out of her handbag and into the seller’s hands quick enough. After a handshake and well wishes from him, we loaded up and headed home with our little treasure.

The renaissance

Well it didn’t take long before I was on first name terms with the guys at Sydney’s Heritage MG, who’d issued me with the T-Type restorer’s ‘bible’ – a Moss Motors catalogue; all the reproduction parts I would need to get the TD back on the road.

She was advertised as being a 1950 model, but when I checked the engine and chassis numbers with the T-Register production records, it turned out she was born on 6 November 1951.

Photo 1 showing the Factory Production Record plate made up by Jim.

My first TD from 40-years prior was a red 1953 model. I remember clearly fitting a new set of Pirelli Cinturatos to it one Saturday morning at Spencer’s Rubber Works in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, and enjoying the grip of those Italian bred radials for the first time as I negotiated the ‘old’ Sydney to Gosford road with its challengingly tight, opening and closing corners, with hood down and the cadence of the TD’s induction system in my ears as it gulped the cold night air, on that Saturday evening so long ago.

Indignantly our ‘new’ TD was now up in the air on jack-stands in the garage, bonnet off, grille and radiator out, interior stripped, wheels off and brakes removed to the bare backing-plates.

It hadn’t been registered since 1995 and apart from the dozen or more years in the Central West it had been an exhibit in a car museum at the Thunderbird Garden Inn Motel in country NSW at Tamworth prior to that, from where the previous owner had bought it. Oddly enough – it must be fate – but I remember staying at that same motel in the early nineties and strolling over to look at the cars in the museum before an evening meal. I remember the TD well, as you don’t see that many in a stark white hue.

After all those years without use, the wheel cylinders were seized solid and it was impossible to remove the pistons, the master cylinder was also in a state of permanent rest. The brake pipes were badly corroded and loosening them with a box spanner only wrung the neck of the pipes. The brake linings were good and of a soft bonded material needed to stop a non-servo assisted fifties sports car, so they remained and the standard diameter glazed drums got a light skim.

The cooling system was in a similar sorry state of corrosion, as were many other components that had lain dormant for so long. So water pump, hoses and branch pipes were renewed and the radiator cleaned.

My wife and partner-in-crime Jill, was busy with the Autosol, cleaning brass plates and shining the SUs and their alloy induction system. And there was more bright-work to clean; as the car had been on display a lot of the components had been chromed, giving her more of a challenge with the polishing cloth.

The really good news was I had once again found a use for my Whitworth spanners and socket collection. My son who is also a motor mechanic by trade, had said to me many times over the years, ‘Dad what are you keeping these Whitworth spanners for?’ Well Jeff this is why – I thought to myself.

It was like Christmas each time I visited Heritage MG with another list of reproduction parts to collect for the TD, even to the point of over exercising the Visa card.

MG aficionado and MG Magnette racer Bruce Smith from North Sydney’s Sportsparts, was also very helpful – his plethora of knowledge about MGs – priceless.

I replaced the low and high-tension ignition components. I also managed to find and fit a brand new original rubber case battery with external lead cell connectors, from the period – it filled the battery space with panache. I’d forgotten just how heavy these old style batteries were.

With the engine, gearbox and diff oils replaced with Penrite, holding my breath I turned the key; the electric fuel pump clicked over filling the float bowls, I pulled the starter button and after several revolutions the engine started – the SUs scavenging the air as it rushed down the throats, teasing the petrol from the jets as it quickened its pace through the venturis and past the butterflies into the combustion chambers, to be ignited by the new spark plugs as the pistons compressed the mixture – breathing life once more into the TD’s then 58-year-old engine. The Penrite pushed though the galleries and the oil pressure dial registered 50psi in a heartbeat – the ampere meter was on the positive side and the water temp gauge climbed as the engine warmed up, even the tacho worked! Of course like all British cars fitted with Jaeger gauges the clock failed to strike a blow – stopped short never to go again.

The tyres were Goodyear G8s from another century and suffered radial cracks. New 165-70×15 radials were fitted and the wheels that were a little out of round were balanced. The driveline similarly with a new a tube and unis installed.

The archetypal oil leaks at the timing cover and rear main appeared – a job for another day, when the engine would have to be removed.

There were some imperfections in the non-original paintwork – again a job for another day.

On the road again

Nine months had passed, it was February 2009 and it was time to screw on a set of personalised black and white registration plates and hit the road.

Everything worked, clutch (although without any adjustment left), gearshift and not a murmur from the diff, we’d done well from our flippant eBay purchase!

I was a little apprehensive as to how Jill would feel more than forty years down the track, about the ride characteristics and open cockpit motoring in our ‘new’ MG. I shouldn’t have worried, as looking across at her from behind the thin-rimmed Bakelite steering wheel I saw the sparkle in her eyes; the wind tousling her hair was an annoyance, but a trip to the hairdresser for a shorter MG style cut, would soon counteract that problem.
The TD was always my favourite T-Type, with its classic square-rigger look inherited from its forbear the TC, but with more room and independent front suspension and rack and pinion steering, as opposed to the more utilitarian ride and less direct steering box control of the TC. The TF in my opinion lost a lot of the T-type character.

We have no intention of ever selling our newfound love – a ménage a trois! This little sports car has enabled us to enjoy motoring as it is supposed to be and relive our carefree youth.

But wait, there’s more…. After a few months the oil leaks from the engine’s rear main oil seal and the high engine revs at highway cruise got the better of us. As we were soon to venture on a four hour highway trip to Wagga Wagga with our car club, it was decided to pull the engine and diff.

The engine got a 350 Chevy rear engine oil seal conversion crafted onto the block, new 60 thou oversize pistons – increasing the capacity to just over 1300cc. A mild camshaft grind for better duration, larger valves and unleaded conversion, together with the removal of 1/16th off the head, increasing the compression ratio to 8.6:1 and a port clean up.

The 5.125:1 rear axle ratio was changed to 4.55:1 increasing the road speed by 12-km/h at the same engine rpm. Better fuel economy and less engine wear and tear. Highway cruise at 110km/h was now at 4200 rpm.

Our little British sports car now epitomised the MG slogan – ‘Safety fast!’

Photo 2 showing engine and diff pulled (and Jim’s personalised number plate).

One thought on “Front Cover: ‘Restoring your Youth’

  1. Fred Weber says:

    I like your Factory Production Record Plate, nice touch. Can you describe how you made it up?
    Fred Weber
    Kinnelon, NJ, USA

Comments are closed.