|The MGA With An Attitude
Day Of Reckoning - Finally the Completion (1986)
Man, I gotta tell you, stuff happens. Another year of heavy overtime put some money in the bank. The growing family gets a little antsy about cramped quarters, kids being about 8 and 3 by then, and we look for a bigger house. By late February '79 we're painting inside the new place (only 5 miles away in Naperville), move in mid March, and then spend a few months filling the new found empty space with new furniture and dressings. There was however one thing definitely straight about the priorities. The new place had a not-so-large two car garage, but there were plans to fix that problem right up front. The building codes were checked and space allocated before we even bought the place. By mid summer there was an excavator it the yard, and by early winter there was a nice extension on the foundation next to the garage. The new addition could have been finished (or at least enclosed) before the first snow, except the cement contractor was a real foot dragger.
But fear not. Late winter had me prefabricating frame walls indoors and ordering roof trusses, and the first day of spring saw the sudden appearance of a closed structure on the new foundation, a service truck there to install the overhead door, and gimme a week to slap on the roofing shingles. The new space was built specifically to be a workshop for the MGA, so it soon included insulated walls and plenty of electrical boxes for switches and outlets and lights. There was a gas wall furnace and 60 amp 220VAC power with connectors for an air compressor and electric welder. Add pegboard on the walls, lots of steel shelving, a laminated oak workbench, moveable hanging flourescent lights, gas welder, electric welder, roll about tool chest, and a cabinet full of power tools. Most of spare time in June was used to install brick on the outside, required wood trim and paint, and the MGA was moved into its new quarters by early July 1980. But give me a break? No. Rise up another engineering job with more overtime, and kill another year or so.
As fate would have it, the next job ends in mid summer '81, and the family has not had a decent vacation in years (like never, actually). So there is the sudden appearance of a new larger family hauler with a luggage carrier on top, and we all trundle along out west to spend a few weeks along the Continental Divide, the North Rim, then on to the west coast before returning home. All very nice, but I then made the mistake of answering the phone, and I was right back on another job with more overtime hours. We did manage to take a few weeks now and then for more vacations, east coast trip in '82, and Florida trip in '84, but otherwise you can just keep turning calendar pages for a while longer.
After a particularly long stretch of heavy overtime work (years even?), in early '86 there was a chance for another break, and this time I was more careful to hide the fact that I wasn't "working", as we had a lot of living to catch up with. Starting in early July we "killed" a week in the Ozarks touring and water skiing while waiting for a charter flight. Then off to Hawaii for 2-1/2 weeks. Then drop the kids at grandma's and head off with number one squeeze for some camping in Land Between The Lakes in Kentucky, followed by a little time in Tennessee and some white water rafting, and return in about 10 days. So you think five weeks off might be enough? NO way! That was when I took another long look at the MGA still sitting there in primer paint, having only seen progress of maybe 20 hours per year for the past several years. And I figured this is never going to get done unless I just make up my mind to do it. So I went to work on the MGA to get the restoration finished. About time, yes? The only body work not done was the problem doors where deformed aluminum outer skins just refused to lie smooth under any circumstances. So order up another pair of straight doors from a bone yard and start over. Time invested was up to 600 hours, but total cash in the project up to that point was only $2200, including the $800 initial purchase. Not bad huh? Well, don't count the beans yet.
In about a month all of the fussy fitting and finishing work was done and it was time to pick a paint color. It seemed odd that this thought had not come up at all in nearly nine years, but somehow it never seemed to matter what color the car might be. The first three MGs were silver and blue and red, just because that's what color they were at time of purchase, and it never seemed to matter then either. I was about to flip a coin over "original color or not" when the wife finally said, "I don't think I like that pea green". Oh? Well what do you like? And with a big mischievous smile she said, "Well that red one was a lot of fun". Okay, put the quarter back my pocket and order up some red paint. What's the difference? It's only a preservative anyway. Also write the first of three large orders for finish assembly parts to Moss and send in a big check. First things needed were the body rubber and frame packing kits, the carpeting and a new wiring harness.
I also decided to paint the whole body in one color like the factory did, so then I had to figure out how to paint over the black epoxy plastic-like stuff. After a little test and fiddle routine, I found that it would work to clean it with vinegar and water, then spray a thin coat of lacquer primer over the Poly-Poxy, and spray the finish coat over that. Not knowing any better I decided to use lacquer paint, partly because it was a lot like the original factory paint, partly because it could be re-coated in short cycle time, and partly because it might ultimately be rubbed out to a nice show car finish. My, how attitudes and views can change with time. I wonder how I ever transitioned to the idea that his might be a show car. I think it may have been just because the opportunity was there, and I might kick myself later if I didn't go for it, so I did. Three weeks later the paint was finished, more thin coats of paint than I could count on my fingers, a tracer coat and wet sanding several times during in the process, and a pretty good buffing out to finish up. Indeed it was beginning to look a lot like lipstick on glass. Then of course I had to reassemble the body on the chassis without messing up the new paint. Bring out the white gloves. Also send another large order to Moss for leather seat kit, interior panels, cockpit trim rails, side curtains, the window stowage bag, lighting fixtures, and some engine parts. Engine? Oh yeah, finally time to disassemble that and send it off to the machine shop.
Being an engineer I know how to do critical path planning, so the engine machining was scheduled for completion when the body assembly would be finished. With initial body assembly done a week or two later I was starting on the trim with parts on hand, so time to send a final order to Moss for top and tonneau cover, side curtains, some dash trim bits, chrome bumpers, engine installation parts and exhaust system. Everything went nicely as planned. Surprise! The same day I was putting the finishing touches on the rag top installation the engine shop called to say the machining was done. Perfect timing. I picked up the engine block and head and proceeded to reassemble the engine in less than 24 hours. Give it a nice coat of dark red paint (or two or three) and leave it to cure for a day or so, then come back the next day to install the trim and peripherals on the engine. Everything else in the car was already finished, the electrical stuff all checked out and working. Being all hyped up over the status of things, it was no big deal to spend the night installing the engine, install all fluids from bumper to bumper, and hang the new exhaust system.
Around dawn, another nice surprise, it fired right up on the first try. So give it a good 20 minute run in at 2000-2500 RPM, then shut it down to re-torque the head, spend a few minutes fine tuning for a nice idle, then out the door for a test drive. Everything worked perfectly, and I was immediately back in the saddle with an old friend, like as if the clock had just turned back 17 years and that broken clutch was fixed. Once around the block to verify brakes and throttle response, then head down another side street. Let's see how it does on the main drag, and then how about a short run on the expressway? Okay, let's go around the block the long way on the expressways, and the next thing I know it had over 30 miles on the odometer, and it's time to turn the idle speed down some as the new engine is loosening up. I don't know why I should have been surprised about the perfect test run. The whole car was virtually brand new, just coming off the assembly line. Except for one thing.
There was an appointment to replace the four bald tires I had put back on the car to roll around during restoration. I pulled it into the tire shop service bay and went up front to fill out the paperwork, having already ordered the new tires in advance. Going back out to the shop I found the car on a hoist and a few tire jocks staring at the pristinely clean underside of the car with the new stainless steel exhaust system. "Nice car". Thanks, I like it. "Only forty miles on the odometer. How old is it?" It's a '58. Then they looked at the bald tires, and then back at me with a puzzled look. "You race this thing?" No. It has 150,000 miles on it, and I just cleaned it up a bit. Put the new tires on it so I can get rolling.
The tire receipt is dated 11/21/86. The final tally was 1200 hours and $9600 cash. It wasn't too bad though. In the nine years it took to finish the restoration the market value for a nicely restored MGA rose from $3800 to $10,500, so who's to complain (except for inflation).