Note: These stories contain graphic content of injuries suffered in pursuing the joys of owning an English ragtop.
The 1957 MGA after it was painted.
Part 1—The Rebuild
I don’t remember who I bought the MGA from, but I do remember that I determined immediately that the engine needed to be rebuilt. How I came to that conclusion and why I thought I had the necessary skills to pull that off I have no idea. I had some help, but I don’t remember who, but that who somehow was part of the process that knew about the car and told me about it. In any event, apart it came, and back together it went.
The newly rebuilt engine ran OK, but did it ever smoke, leak, and burn oil. Big time. Friends told me not to worry about it. The rings just needed to seat. But after 1,000 miles with no improvement, I finally came to the conclusion that something wasn’t right. After doing some reading (finally!), I dropped the pan and removed the head and helped myself to one of the pistons for inspection. My new found suspicions proved correct. Instead of a correct ring gap of about .009″, the ring gap was more like 3/8″. The ’57 was supposed to have a 1500 cc engine, but mine was a hot rod with a 1600 cc engine from a later model. If the bore was different, then that would explain how I had the wrong rings. Now you might ask yourself why I didn’t notice the problem when I installed the rings 1,000 miles earlier. It is simply because I learn things best when I learn the hard way. When all else fails, read the instructions.
Part 2—The Transmission
Something went wrong with the transmission. An older friend who was in the same car club and who knew about these things offered to rebuild it for me. He worked in an auto parts store and was a little rough around the edges. He always answered the phone, “Now what do you want?”
I got the transmission out (I took it out through the interior after removing the plywood floorboards) and took it to my friend, and asked him if there was anything I could do for him in return. He mentioned that he was working removing a tree stump in his back yard, and I offered to go over and dig and chop roots. So I drove over to his house while he was at work and started chopping roots with his axe. I’m not sure what happened, but as I was swinging the axe down into the hole, my aim must have been off enough to strike a section of the stump that wasn’t that far from me. The axe bounced off the stump and then bounced again off my forehead. Good thing it wasn’t a double bladed axe or I wouldn’t be writing this. In any event, it did knock me for a loop and left a bloody knot on my head.
So I drove home. Mom had a cow and sent me to the doctor. Now there are a couple of details that need to be noted at this point. First of all, my hair was pretty long and full. All of this happened in 1971. Secondly, I had a nearly new 1970 Camaro RS.
The doctor stitched me up and wrapped gauze or something around my head to keep the bandage on. Problem was, he wrapped so tight that I felt like I’d had a facelift. I got to my car and pulled hair out from underneath the tourniquet to relieve some of the pressure. That was better, but I was still a bit dazed. I put the car in reverse and promptly backed into a low post and put a dent in the lower left quarter under the crease.
Not the best of days.
My ’70 Camaro.
Part 3—The Parts Counter
I got the transmission back into the car, but something wasn’t right with the clutch. So I had to pull it back out and discovered that one of the 15¢ clips that held the clutch release bearing was broken or bent or something. So I drove to the MG dealer to buy the parts. While I was waiting I told the parts guy that I had recently rebuilt the engine (this is after I fixed the rings), and that the thing leaked oil. “Does it leak, like drip, or does it seep? Is it oily?” he asked. I told him it seeps. “That’s as good as it gets with an MG,” was his response. That made me feel a bit better. Sort of.
“That’s as good as it gets.”
The thing had lever action shocks. I couldn’t do anything about it in the front, but I figured out a way to put regular telescoping shocks in the back. Only trouble was, I had to drill holes up into some support while I laid on my back. Now I had a thought. If I proceed to drill this hole, I’m going to get metal shavings in my eye. So I went and got my Voit swim mask (the one with the big round glass) and put that on as protection. It worked great. So I drilled the hole, scooted out from beneath the car, shook off the mask and removed it, then climbed back under the car to inspect my success. Just at that moment one lingering tiny piece of metal decided to let go and land in my eye. That took a trip to the Emergency Room to have that removed.
The Voit swim mask was like this one.
After I left for General Motors in early 1973, I also left my MGA at home in Riverside, California. I told my dad he could do what he wanted with the car, hoping he’d enjoy it. My dad no doubt saw the car for what it was, and sold it.