Friday, April 7, 2017

Kate's MG, Part 1

My good friend Kate has owned a 1974 MGB for many years. It was her fun driver in grad school in Washington, DC, and for some time thereafter. But, in a typical "ran when parked" story, it gradually became unused, and for the past 5+ years has sat in the corner of the barn like this:

I say, "barn," but this is not a "barn find" because it was never lost. The barn, as you can see, has a concrete floor and electricity, and it is also Kate's garage. She has parked her daily driver next to the MG for all that time. And for almost all that time, I've promised to liberate it and see if it can be resurrected. Well, today was the day:

I arrived a bit before the flatbed came, and was surprised to see that all the tires held at least some air. I pumped them up with a portable compressor, and it was no trouble to get it on out of the barn and onto the flatbed.

The truck's driver was named Brandon, which I took to be a good omen. Mary Ellen grew up in Brandon, MS, and I attended 12 years of public school there. We were married in the First Baptist Church of Brandon, too. Sure enough, Brandon was able to negotiate the tight turns to get to the Grant St. Garage, and got the car close enough that we were able to push it in. He actually got it right to the door before stopping.

Kate had already disclosed that there was some rust on the MG, and she wasn't kidding. While still in their garage, I touched the spot in front of the left rear wheel, and it fell right off. Later, I got a good picture of that piece - I saved it so that I could use it for paint matching if necessary.

While the car was on the flatbed in the sunlight, I took the opportunity to document the visible rust. Here's a collage - click to see a closeup.

That spot I touched was definitely the worst damage - it goes through multiple layers:

When I saw this, I warned Kate that this car was probably not worth a restoration. If it was a Porsche 911, the substantial work could possibly be recovered on resale, but MGB's are just too common for that. While not necessarily a parts car, this was not a candidate for making like new. My commitment was to try to get it running without huge expense. 

As I said, we've "been gonna" do this for some years. The tipping point to get started was a purchase on my part. I spent $170 plus shipping to get the crossbars for my EZCarLift to fit the MG. It turns out they also fit the BMW 2002, and I won't even pretend there's not an ulterior motive. Once I got the MG in the garage, I assembled the lift and got it in the air:

I looked underneath with some trepidation, but was pleasantly surprised. The British car trait of leaking oil had protected most of the underside with a coating of oil! The only other perforation I found was a little under the driver's seat:

The rest of the floor pan was very solid, and there was plenty of evidence of good care. Time to take stock. Here's what I found on further inspection:

1. Unlike many stored cars, there was no sign at all of rodent damage. That's huge. I actually took a twin-canister vapor mask with me to the barn, because it's so common for stored cars to have mouse nests, and they so often have hantavirus infestations. The barn cats had done their job!

2. I pulled the spark plugs, and they were clean and had no signs of oil contamination or other bad signs. I squirted some oil into the cylinders and turned the engine by hand with a wrench, and it turned easily.

3. The car had clearly been loved. The front tires were Vredesteins, which are designed specifically for classic cars. The rears were good-condition "brand X". The exhaust had surface rust, but was not perforated, and the rear muffler was a sporty ANSA twin-outlet:

4. The clutch slave cylinder was dry of fluid. While underneath, I noted staining that means it was leaking. A rebuild is in order.

5. The was a split gaiter on the steering rack. Again, must be fixed to avoid damage to the expensive rack:

6. I removed the gas cap and cautiously sniffed the gas. It smelled like gas, which is great news. If it smells like turpentine, it has gone bad and requires the tank to be drained and flushed.

I knew the battery was totally flat. In my 1963 MG that I had when I was 17, the batteries (yes, there were two six-volt batteries in series) were behind the seats. Sure enough, the single 12-volt battery in 1974 was there, behind the passenger seat. I had to put the top down to get it out:

It looked like the battery had been almost new when the car was parked - it wasn't even dirty! But I took it to Autozone for testing, and it was done. They tried for three hours to charge it without luck. I bought a new one, because we couldn't continue without. Once I installed that, it was time to spin the engine without the plugs installed. That allows it to turn without compression loading, which makes it less likely to do damage. I would turn and rest, turn and rest, and soon I was rewarded with 50 pounds of oil pressure.

On the downside, I could hear the fuel pump running, but the clear fuel filter never filled with gas. Diagnosing that, plus checking the ignition for spark, is the next step. I am very hopeful that the car will run without major intervention.

If I can get the car running and driving, it can be sold as a running project to someone willing to either restore it, or get a fun summer or two out of it and then use it as a parts car. In the British car magazines that I read, this would be a no-brainer to restore. Those Brits will hand-make the patch panels from inexpensive sheet steel, and weld them in. I don't have those skills, but somebody might! 

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