|The MGA With An Attitude
Resurection is Not Instantaneous - Attitude MK4
It did bother me some that the $800 purchase price was about 15% to 20% of the price of a new Mustang (in 1977), but considering what I was about to put into fixing it up, a couple hundred one way or the other in purchase price didn't matter much. On close inspection the car had obviously been pranged and straightened (not real well) and bondoed over and repainted at least twice. It was originally Tyrolite Green (light green), sort of pea green and not terribly appealing I guess, as most any MGA would rather be found dead than caught wearing such a color, even then. The first repaint was apparently Old English White, followed by Medium Metallic Blue. No matter anyway, as there would be too many coats of paint, and it all needed to be removed.
When I started kicking it a little, pieces of bondo would fall off here and there, but all in all it wasn't particularly rusty, especially considering how old it was. (Oh, to have those days back again). I already knew the engine had a knock and smoked, so that was going to need a rebuild. Interior was serviceable but tatty, so all new fabrics were going to be in order. But at least it didn't appear to be too badly rusted, being only 19 years old (or maybe 20 considering the production number).
First order of business was to remove the body trim, which shouldn't be much of a chore for such a simple car. The bumpers came off easy as assemblies, the front valance panel was already missing (bummer) and a few broken screws remaining. I tore out a few weld nuts removing the grille, broke some small screws removing the parking lights and a few more removing the headlights, but the tail lights and plinths came off okay. The cowl vents came right out no problem, interior kick panels and door pockets were out in short order, and the windscreen came of with just four bolts and four small screws. Door hinges and striker plates came off with the help of an impact driver, only broke a few screws there, and the nut plates were all removeable anyway. The rag top frame was more of a problem when the cage nuts inside the door post broke loose and turned without releasing the screws, but a few strokes of a hacksaw blade behind the bracket took care of that.
Six small screws for the bonnet and six more for the deck lid, two bolts for each rear bumper bracket, a few bolts to remove the steering column. Four little screws and 5 bolts to remove the dash, cut all the wires of course, but at least I had the presence of mind to remove the temperature sensor from the cylinder head so not to ruin the temperature gauge. About 10 minutes to find all the bolts to remove the master cylinder and pedal assemblies. Remove wiper arms, a few nuts to release the wiper motor bracket, a few wires, and pull the cable guts out of the drive tube, then a couple of thin chrome nuts to remove the wiper spindles and tubing. Hey, this was going alright, and it was looking pretty bare already. Lots of people would have quit there and just repainted the ouside, but no, not me, I had to be particular. Two hoses and six bolts to remove the radiator. A couple of big hose clamps, one steel tube one wire two small bolts and the fuel tank was off.
Then I removed the shut plates at the strike posts, pulled out all the splash panels, and proceeded to remove the fenders. Lots of bolts there, but mostly hex head type, so they either came out or broke off in fine fashion, and it didn't take too long. Then I groveled around for a while finding about two dozen bolts that held the body to the frame, the last two underheath just aft of the doors, and the body was loose. About that time the missus was hollering about dinner, so I asked her for a hand, and in two minutes the body was sitting on saw horses. I was surprised at how light the body was, maybe 100 pounds at the front and 60 pounds at the rear, but there sat the rolling chassis with frame and drive train still in place. Then a small voice piped up. "Come on, dinner's getitng cold. You been out here for six hours." No kidding. Just six hours from the time it rolled into my garage the body was off. Sure wish it was that easy to put the bloody thing back together.
The next day saw ripping out the seats, all of the plywood floorboards and the tunnel parts, then pulling out the drivetrain and stripping the chassis to the bare frame. Thereafter followed the moderately laborious and somewhat painful task (spanning a few days) of repairing all of the broken bolts, stripped threads, ripped out weld nuts, and those damned cage nuts inside the door post (don't ask). The battery carriers got replacement bottom frames made from 1/8 inch angle iron welded to the original side brackets, a few pin holes were welded over on the inside of the frame side rail tubes near floor level, and that's all the repair that was needed on the frame. Time to clean it up with a wire wheel in the power drill so it could be painted, then start on cleaning and painting the chassis parts in similar manner. My friend talked me into using Pettit Poly-Poxy, which is a two part epoxy enamel used on boats below the water line, starting with a caustic etching primer. That turned out to be bloody good stuff over the years, although it did cost over $20 per quart. It also took six hours per coat to brush on three coats using a one inch paint brush to get into all the nooks and crannies and seams on the welded body shell, but also well worth the effort. By the time the chassis and all of the underbody got a couple of brush on coats it would ultimately be over $300 worth of the black stuff. But I was bound and deterimined that this thing should not rust out for decades to come, while I was intending to drive it.
During the process of disassembly I had been making a list of new parts I would need to put it back together. I took this six page list (nearly 150 line items including lots of small stuff) to the nearest MG dealer. A gal behind the parts counter had to go to the attic to retrieve the MGA parts manual and blow a heavy layer of dust off the thing. After a few minutes of thumbing through the crisping pages and not finding any of the parts on the shelves she asked why I would want all these parts anyway, and wasn't I maybe a little nuts to be putting all this money into such a cheap junky car? This model had been out of pruduction for 15 years, and I shouldn't expect the dealer to have parts for it any more. I wasn't particularly surprised. After building the kit car from a host of odd parts I came to realize that seven years was about the practical limit for dealers to keep parts for obsolete models. But I insisted I was going to do this anyway, so she said give it a few days and she would call me when the parts were ready. Shucks, just about eight years earlier I could get anything I needed for the MGA at the MG dealer, and usually off the shelf from inventory.
A few days later the phone rang, and I was all excited to go get the parts, taking the (fat) checkbook along. At the MG dealer the gal proceeded to hand me a shoe box full of small parts and an invoice for about $60. There were a couple of battery cables, radiator hoses and a fan belt, and I believe the rest would have fit in my pockets. HUH??? Where's the rest of the stuff? That's it. That's all they could get from the distributiuon warehouse. Somewhat shaken I returned home to have a chat with my neighbor friend about my plight. Luckily he happened to have heard of an outfit called "Moss Motors" in California who might have some of these parts. One simple phone call and a parts catalog was in the mail, and all was right with the world again. Wonders never cease. Within a few more weeks the rolling chassis was all back together with suspension and drivetrain, all except the engine which was left under the workbench, intended to be done last (save the cash for a while). So far tally up close to 200 hours of "the love of labor".
For the body work, the somewhat perforated outer rocker panels were removed by drilling out spot welds. The inner sill parts were in reasonably good condition except for a little hole on the inside surface which was patched with a 3x8 inch welded steel sheet on each side. The right front corner of the body needed nearly a three inch stretch forward and some wrinkles to be hammered out of the inner fender. The left front fender was a mess, broken up and distorted around the headlight mount, a few inches wide piece missing from the top of the wheel arch, and a large crack up the side nearly to the top. I would have liked to buy a new fender, even at the $400+ price listed in the Moss catalog, but alas no steel part was available, only fiberglass replacements. So I put about 40 hours into repairing that original fender. If I had any sheet metal experience at all it could have taken less than half the time, but this is how the learning curve works. I wanted to restore it to solid steel as near original as possible without using any bondo, and so I did, with lots of patience and some restarts and repeated rework (and that's not redundant). In the end it was a nice part, but I hope I never have to do it again (buy a good used fender next time). Other fenders and the doors needed some bondo scraped off and dents hammered out, but nothing else so serious as the first one. So in a few more weeks time the body was ready for a short road trip (on carry of course). I was about to take it to RediStrip to have the paint chemically removed, and any rust electrically etched away.
You wouldn't believe the carry vehicle when it was fully loaded. The MGA body was loaded onto the Datsun Lil Hustler truck. A long latteral 2x4 board was attached in two places, under the boot floor and under the front horizontal air pan. The body went on the little truck backward with the tail over the truck cab, one of the boards sitting on the drip rail above the rear window, the nose hanging out past the top of the tail gate, and the attached boards were roped down to tie down hooks on the truck box. The fenders and bonnet and deck lid and wheels and other larger sheet metal parts were loaded into the truck bed under the car body. A two gallon steel pail full of nuts and bolts went along, and dozens of smaller sheet metal parts were strung onto a few wire loops for easy batch handling (and so they wouldn't get lost in the bath). The Lil Hustler was sprung for a heavy load, so this was no problem at all, and the treasure was shortly moved about 20 miles and delivered to the strip shop.
Just a few days later the whole works was returned home in similar manner. All the paint was gone, all the rust was gone, and my checkbook was $400 lighter. All the parts had been lightly covered with a water soluable coating to keep the bare steel from rusting for a while in dry storage. This led to a nice winter project in the heated garage hammering out the last few dents, filling little pit marks (prior surface rust spots) with plastic aluminum spot filler, doing up the entire underbody in the same Poly-poxy paint used on the frame and chassis, and getting the outer shell into a nice coat of scratch and dent filler primer paint. The surfacing job was a lot of work, but NO BONDO was needed. In the end there would also be a hand size area at the top corner of the grille opening needing to be leaded to regain the proper original coutour. That was fun, and actually quite easy to learn the technique. A few holes were drilled into the ends of the body sills and the door posts, some rest preventative coating of some sort (a kit from J.C.Whitney) was sprayed inside these enclosed sections as best I could, and the holes were closed with plastic plugs.
The new outer rocker panels were painted inside prior to installation, then attached with pop rivets at top and bottom to preserve the paint. Trial fitting of the doors and fenders promptly disclosed a problem with the new rocker panels. The outer top corners of the rocker panels were about 3/8 inch higher than the original parts. To accomodate this I made a small crescent cut near the top of the rear fender dog leg, lifted the dogleg top edge up to match the height of the new rocker panel, and welded in a patch to restore the dogleg. Also reform the bottom end of the shut face panel slightly to suit. This left the door hinges and strikers needing to be adjusted to the highest possible position for the door to clear the sill, after which the top front corner of the door wanted to hit the side of the body cowling. The front fenders had to be adjusted near the top limit as well to match the door height (almost). In the end this jury rigging of the panel fitting would leave the doors forever slightly misfit, chipping paint here and there, and occasionally popping open with harsh road bumps. Live and learn. Next time around (and there will eventually be a next time) I will definitey do something different to fix the rocker panels rather than fighting the problem. [And 25 years later the replacement rocker panels are still made with the same bad contour].
By mid winter the restoration appeared to be at least half finished (timewise), having the chassis complete and the body in primer paint. Run the time tally up to over 500 hours, but things were really going well with less than $2000 in the whole project including the purchace price. I was seriously thinking about maybe driving the car the following summer. But about then someone must have poured STP into the sands of the hourglass, as progress slowed to a virtual crawl due to a variety of distractions. Start with gobs of overtime on the day job (remember contract engineering), often running into (or beyond) both ends of daylight and six or seven days per week. The money was good, wasn't it? But what happened to the project priorities could be considered a sin against nature. Maybe I should have just paid someone else to finish the job, but that wouldn't be sporting, would it? Start turning calendar pages.