The MGA With An Attitude
MGA Guru Is GOING MOBILE - (April 1 - April 15, 2017)
Saturday, April 1, 2017:
Well, it is April Fools day, but that's not the point. The point is, it's Saturday, so we are not shop hopping. We were contemplating attending one of the Saturday breakfast meetings of the Texas MG Register, but their web site doesn't say where they might meet, and we didn't want to be making phone calls late night, so we just didn't. We headed south late last night, crashed a bit after midnight, toddled along a bit farther this morning, and spent the day in Fairfield, TX. With a bit of time to spare, first thing was to R&R the speedometer from the dash to apply a few drops of oil to the input spindle. Hopefully that will stop the squealing and save the drive cable, and we can have a working speedometer and odometer again.
Then an odd thing happened on the way to the Forum. While reinstalling the instrument I was testing the high beam indicator lamp. Grounding the lamp housing on one of the dash brace attachment screws, the lamp worked as expected, until I switched the lights off, after which the high beam lamp stayed lit. Say WHAT? After some fiddling about with a test light it was discovered that the toggle switch for my bilge blower (carburetor cooling fan) had an internal fault that would short the power input wire to ground when switched off. But it never blew a fuse or fried a power feed wire. Huh? Apparently I did such a good job of painting things that the dash brace was electrically isolated from ground on the body or dash. Not wanting to tempt fate, I pulled the power feed fuse to kill power to the switch. No more carb cooler until we can get a replacement switch.
Sunday, April 2, 2017:
Aside from normal email and WiFi chores, the endearing task today was update of the tally sheet for our activities for the past 2-yr and 11-mo. For those interested in numbers, in the past few years we have visited 227 clubs, tinkered with 339 cars, checked in with 428 friends (not counting club meetings and car shows), hit 47 car shows, visited to report on 334 shops, and have traveled 109,000 miles in the process.
Monday, April 3, 2017:
Started the day close to Houston, Texas. Good day for shop hopping, and a short list here. First stop was Sport & Classic Car Company in Houston, TX. Nice place, been here for decades, very busy. These days they are doing mostly full restorations, booked up at least six months in advance. You might have to grovel some to get general mechanical service.
Next up was The MG Shop in Houston, TX. One man shop, also been here for decades. Had a '73 MGB for service today. It runs reasonably well, considering it has low compression on one cylinder. Choke was sticking on. That turned out to be one of the choke cams (HIF carburetors) hanging up on a hose clamp on the crossover fuel hose. Silly problem, easy fix.
Third stop was for Vintage Car Solutions in Houston, TX. We drove into their prior place of business, found a locked door, took the picture, tried calling and got a disconnected phone. During later review it dawned on me that I dialed the wrong number (one digit off), so I tried again and got the correct number. Turns out they moved just around the block less than two years earlier, and I was the guy stuck with the old address. But, got it fixed now, and happy to report they are still in business. They are big into Alfa Romeo, but work on lots of different classic cars, including vintage British cars. They do a lot of get it running and make it reliable kind of work, as well as full restorations when needed.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017:
Got a few shop stops to make today. First up was supposed to be a two-fer, Graham Davies at (and) Best of British in Austin, TX. This was a little befuddling. There are personal recommendations, and all references point to this address, but the building looks like a utility company fenced in with lots of mechanical equipment in front. And the phone number is "disconnected". The building and surroundings all look new, so maybe this is a displaced business. I spent some time searching the net to see if there was any more info, but alas not. Okay, scratch this one off the Shops list, unless someone has more information later.
Next up was Ron Shimek Auto Service in Austin, TX. Better luck here. We have been looking for this place for a few days, having first had the wrong address up near the Oklahoma border, but the chase was worth it. Today we have a nice shop and a big smile. Say hello to Ron. Been here for decades, office help up front couple of full time tech's in back, and busy. The Red TD is a survivor car, just get it running, and we'll see where it goes from there. The white TD was just in for some minor mechanical work when the truck driver delivering the red one backed into it and damaged the front wing. Curses.
The Lotus 7 needs a tune up, strange carburetor setup with one side draft carb and tubular headers with a big dent to allow the carb to fit. Bummer. But the car is driven all over the country, bully for the owner.
A fair amount more work waiting out back, when they find time to do it. Looks like a good shop to me.
Now here's one for the records. We have been trying for two years to contact Capital City MG Club with no success. We had written them off as defunct or non-existent, since there was no way to contact anyone. Lo and behold, we were visiting this shop Ron Shimek Auto Service in Austin, TX, and it turns out that Ron is the current newsletter for this club. Wonders never cease, and I now have a club newsletter for January 2017. Club meetings are 3rd Tuesday each month, except not April when they have a picnic, and not December when they have a Christmas party. That may explain why we couldn't attend the meeting in December 2015. Club meetings are at Tres Amigos Restaurant, 7535 E Hwy 290, Austin, TX. Y'all come if you get a chance.
Then we took a quick 30 mile jaunt north to visit Russel Hertzog in Georgetown, TX. Been here before, just wanted to say hello before we blew town. Unfortunately not home today, so scratch that idea. As it turned out, he was in St Louis, MO for a while. Late night we will be heading to San Antonio for tomorrow's appointments.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017:
Received an early morning tech question about rubber seals for side curtains. I just happened to have some in my possession that I hadn't gotten around to installing yet, so had a chance to take a picture to go with my response. Sort of hoping it was useful.
Then a bit of a side trip to visit Rory Hinnen in New Braunfels, TX. We missed this guy a couple of times in the past for various reasons, not making connections at the right time. Today he was sleeping because he works nights, so we didn't want to disturb him, but did have a short chat with his wife Robin. Rory has a nice MGA just finishing restoration, but with some problem getting it titled. Not an uncommon problem.
Then we were off to visit Foreign Affair in Schertz, TX. Nice business, good history, and looks like they will be here for a while longer. Plenty of British cars in the shop, and more waiting outside. They do lots of maintenance and repairs, even resurrections, but not full restorations, as they do not paint cars here.
Then we were after Alamo Sports Cars in San Antonio, TX, but struck out here. The place is now a tobacco shop,
which was preceded by a couple of different motorcycle shops, and a period of vacancy before that. So it appears the car shop has been gone for several years, scratch one more off the list.
Then we made a phone call to James Conrad in Helotes, TX. It wasn't very far away, but we have had near misses in the past, and today was similar. Left a voice message, and a later call back revealed that he was in St Louis, MO for the rest of the week. Maybe next time.
The next "tentative" visit would be single shop about 250 miles south, and then return. So we made the phone call first to verify that this one might actually exist before driving that far on a hunch. It does exist, so we made an appointment for the next morning, then headed south in no particular rush. Texas of course has lots of long stretches of open road, and generous speed limits, so we were often sailing right along at any desired pace. Nice to be traveling by daylight so we could enjoy the scenery. Stop in mid afternoon for a WiFi break, then continue on arriving McAllen, Texas late night.
Thursday, April 6, 2017:
Good morning from McAllen, way down the southern tip of Texas, less than ten miles from Mexico. We are here to visit Bird Imported Automotive, Inc. Say hello to Roy Bird. This business used to run (for decades) with three brothers, the other two now gone, so reverted to a one-man shop. Roy dearly loves vintage British cars, which used to be the meat of the business. If he could find enough of the business here he would like to go back to working almost exclusively on the vintage British stuff.
Tucked in the back I immediately spotted the 1951 MG YT, which belongs to Roy. Pretty nice condition, and running, currently getting miscellaneous maintenance to make it a reliable road car. We had some discussions about the robust auto industry in England, back in the day, and British innovation at the time. This car has the four-point hydraulic jacking system built in, so you can lift the front or rear or the whole car from the central jacking point under the bonnet.
There is a well equipped machine shop on premises to facilitate repair of vintage parts or manufacture of a new part if needed. There are more cars in process and more still waiting outside, plenty of work to keep the place busy for some time to come.
With some time to spare, we took the opportunity to get the new trailer tires installed. Been carrying these in the trailer for six weeks, but the issue has been more pressing recently with one of the old tires now running bald (but no cords showing). That one was running on low pressure for a while causing very odd wear pattern. When properly inflated the wear pattern evened out, but it took away a lot of the tread life. The other tire was down to the wear bars. I should pay more attention to tire pressure in these little tires. Got spoiled when one set ran 31,000 miles, but since then not quite making 30K. This set made it 28,500 miles, but somewhat overdue for the change. Jolly good fun. Nothing like five guys trying to work a tire mounting machine for these little wheels.
Notes say this is the 14th set of tires on the trailer in 31 years and a bit more than 220,000 miles. Early on we were doing well to get much over 10,000 miles on the tires, until I fixed a tow-in issue on the trailer axle. Much better since then. Another note says I haven't touched the trailer wheel bearings or hub seals in 20 years and 140,000 miles (on the trailer) since I installed the Bearing Buddies in 1997. One of my better investments.
Looks like we're done here, having visited 8 car clubs and 30 shops in Texas (not all on this pass). Still having trouble contacting Brazos British Motorcar Register in Bryan (near College Station, Texas). Their web site is about four years out of date with little or no viable contact information. I left a phone message for the last known editor but no call back. Our next destination is a shop in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a little over 800 miles to the northwest. Pretty sure we will not get there before tomorrow afternoon (Friday), so shop hopping will not resume until Monday. Now it's time to tell folks in western Texas, New Mexico and Arizona that we're headed in their way. Late night travel north, then sitting somewhere south of San Antonio.
Friday, April 7, 2017:
Cruised another hour north into San Antonio this morning. Found another one of these 125-foot windmill blades running down the interstate. Just one this time, looking used, so perhaps it was going back to the factory for repairs. Posted the Chicago club newsletter on line (big issue, very long day). Cruised another hour west late night.
Saturday, April 8, 2017:
Cruised another hour west before breakfast, then sitting in Junction, TX. No rush, so took most of the day to post another three years of calendar pages on the club web site, now sporting calendar pages for 2018, 2019, and 2020. Looking forward to doing data backup tomorrow (with trepidation). Getting rather late, but I was posting a few new tech pages on techniques and tools for oiling the steering rack. Think we're heading farther west tonight, but not too far (if we want to get some sleep).
Sunday, April 9, 2017:
I gotta tell ya, there is a lot of this in Texas. Travel today, still heading west, stopped for lunch in Fort Stockton. Hoping to get at least as far as El Paso,and preferably into New Mexico before day's end.
Climbing hills steadily in western Texas. I think we passed 4600 feet for a bit before dropping back.
We sailed right through El Paso and kept rolling, as we had an invitation to meet. Say hello to Charles Beard in Las Cruces, New Mexico (4000 feet altitude being the low point in this state). We had a nice private welcome party including some email messages and phone calls to friends to set up some appointments for the next day. We also found a few interesting toys sitting outside, but not the most important reason for the visit. More later.
Monday, April 10, 2017:
We had a morning visit with Mike O'Donnell in Las Cruces, NM. He has a large home based shop that does some contract work for vintage British cars, but also some more modern hot rods with V8 engines, and lots of internal personal projects including some rather rare models. We had a few more friends drop in for the visit. Mike is the guy on the right with the red shirt.
The tricked out MG TD was one of the visitors. This one has cycle fenders, MGB 1800 engine, side exhaust, 5-speed gearbox, and early MGB 3.9 rear axle with trailing link suspension and coil springs.
The crown jewel for this visit was a 1959 Peerless, something like 260 ever made, rather rare and collectible these days. It has a light weight fiberglass body. The first few photos below show the original tube frame chassis with DeDion rear suspension (also used on MG EX186 in 1958). Mike has been rebuilding the car with a revamped chassis, substantially different from original issue. The new chassis underneath looks a lot like Triumph TR6.
There was a Triumph TR3 being reworked. Notice the bellhousings painted black. These began life as complete gearbox housings then cut off at the first bulkhead, and a new adapter plate welded on and machined. This makes it mate up to a Ford T9 5-speed gearbox.
There was a late model MGB in for service original owner I think. Engines of all sorts sitting around, more than I could count.
A couple of Bug-eye Sprites in process. The silver one is sporting an MGB 1800 engine (go, go, go). Yes, that's a vintage Chevy truck in the middle.
In a trailer on the side was a Scimitar GTE. And there were a number of Triumph Stags sitting around, some with odd engines, one with a larger V8 that would go like scat.
We had a two hour limit as Mike had a mid day appointment, so we took an early lunch (or late breakfast at I-HOP), then headed back to Charles' place for a bit of work on his MG TD. This turned out to be a challenge with multiple problems. Tough starting, barely running, and fuel leaking from bottom of the carburetors. Since the TD has fairly easy access to the carburetors, we disassembled the main fuel jets with associated parts without removing the carbs from the engine. This revealed a few missing parts and some parts assembled in the wrong positions. I was more than once pulling some parts from the magic trailer. One time had to modify a copper washer from upper jet bearing seal to make a lower jet bearing seal. Also had to make a couple of thick cork washers for the bottom jet retaining seal. Finally got it reassembled with all correct parts while substituting Teflon O-rings in place of original cork jet seals, no stick, no drip, everything peachy. Put some parts on the wish list for next parts order to refresh inventory.
Then more problems on the ignition side of the engine. The distributor cap had corroded aluminum terminal posts and a badly molested center carbon contact with no continuity. We found and installed another use distributor cap with nice brass terminal posts and a good center contact. Lots of issues with carbon core HT wires that are difficult to terminate with screw-in connectors in the distributor cap. But with persistence and regular testing with an ohm meter we finally got all that to work. The final kicker was a new condenser that was bad. We installed a used condenser that seems to work okay (at least marginally well) to finally get it running on all four cylinders.
After that just a matter of standard tune-up, and it was off for a road test. Yee-haa! The proof is in the pudding, or in this case on the face of the driver. Get that victory picture before we lose the light.
Time for an ale, and some late evening chat. Checking the itinerary, we decided to haul out and head north sometime after dark. Sent some late night time on WiFi posting photos and notes from the prior day. Late night stopping point was half way from Las Cruces to Albuquerque.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017:
A day of commitment with a purpose, more shop hopping. Up early, but had some WiFi time in the morning, so arrived in Albuquerque mid day. First up was a visit to Mo-Ma Manufacturing where they do repair and restoration work on automotive instruments (things that normally mount in the dash panel). I had my MGA dash instruments restored here in 1986, a speedometer repair in 1998, and a speedometer re-calibration a few years later. I don't know if they are better than other shops, but I'm a satisfied customer and can recommend the service.
Where art work and photograph work and screening is done to produce the finished printing on the instrument face plates. The little drawer is one of my favorites, part of a large inventory of odometer drive gears that allows repair and recalibration of speedometers for a wide range of reduction ratios.
A huge inventory of instrument cores to be rebuilt, or sometimes to be stripped for good usable repair parts. Some of the work space for mechanical work on small instrument parts.
Lots of instruments and parts in process and preparing for return shipment for customers. This shop can likely repair or restore any instrument for any car that was ever produced. Feel free to ask about turn-around time.
Next stop was a visit to Porter Custom Cycles. The name comes from a career of building and repairing bicycles. Some years ago the business expanded to include repair of vintage British cars (which now likely exceeds volume of the cycle business). Still a one man shop, looks like it will be here for a long time to come. This was a new shop for our list. I didn't know it was here until Mike O'Donnell mentioned it 24 hours earlier.
On recommendation from Porter, we were off to visit Worldwide Automotive Repair (also known as Old Car Garage). This is another new shop for our list. I didn't know this one existed until 15 minutes earlier. The place is full of vintage cars in process, most of it today looking like larger American stuff. No British cars here today, although I am assured that they do work on vintage British cars fairly often. If you are in the area and need service, give Bob a call. Think "restoration".
Ah, there is a bit of British hardware here today. In the paint booth there is a bulkhead from a Land Rover. On the German side, a VW bus and a Mercedes 190SL. The final picture is the "waiting room" (so to speak). Cars here are on hold waiting for customer decisions (or maybe financing).
Our last quest for the day was a search for Sports Cars International. The first given address is now
occupied by a body and paint shop, and the Sports Car business has not been here for at least 10 years. A Google search turns up
a different address a mile way. Investigation there finds another body and paint shop where the current occupant knows the Sports Car business was here, but has been gone for about seven years. Okay, give it up, gone is gone, but three out of four for the day is not bad. Done for the day, hit the expressway and sail south back to Las Cruces for tomorrow's appointments.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017:
One shop stop today was a bust. New Century Car Repair in Las Cruces, NM no longer exists. The place has been a roofing company for a long time.
Back to Charles' place to investigate a non-starting problem with his 1965 MGB. First I noticed that it has an unusual cylinder head with "18" on top right rear (which is normal), and "X" on top left rear, which I have never seen before. I will have to search to see if I can find any information about the "X" head. Might need to ask Charles to remove the valve cover to read the casting number. The normal head for this 18GB engine would be the 18 "L" head. It didn't take too long with a test light to find the cause of no spark. There was a nylon insulating threaded stud in the contact points assembly that had broken, leaving the points spring arm contact wires shorted to the distributor housing.
From the first time I ever saw points with this nylon stud I swore I would never put one of those in an MG engine. It is pretty much guaranteed to get brittle, deteriorate and break within ten years of heat cycling, and maybe a lot sooner. Also noticing badly pitted contacts it was decided to install a new condenser along with new points (all of which came out of the magic trailer). Once back together a shot of starting fluid got it running upon which I traced a mysterious rattle to a loose generator pulley where I could turn the fan with my fingers while the pulley stood still. Good job for a wrench, later.
Before the engine warmed up it ran badly, obviously way too lean in fuel mixture. This was quickly traced to badly stuck fuel jet on the rear carb, as well as the flat link that would move the jet downward (for choke action) being attached to the wrong side of the plastic jet head. Getting the stuck jet free was a major chore with some concern for not breaking the plastic jet head or fuel feed hose. It did finally come free, followed by lots of carb cleaner and a bit of oil to free up all of the linkages. Then reassemble the rear choke link properly, fire it up and give the carbs a normal tune up.
Just when it was running nicely, and we were about to check ignition timing, it ran out of fuel. Duh? Adding fuel to the tank didn't help. Disconnecting the fuel hose at the carburetor revealed no fuel flow, as the fuel pump had given up the ghost. And we were out of time about then, so swapping in a new fuel pump and reassembling the air cleaners and tightening the generator pulley will wait for another day.
Then we were off to a dinner meeting with British Motor Car Club in Las Cruces. Nice group, about 40
for dinner, and several more arriving in time for the business meeting. This is an active group with lots of events happening. MGA guru had a few minutes to chat. Plenty of questions, but no one with a hand up, so we headed west after the meeting.
Thursday, April 13, 2017:
Had a stop in Deming, NM today, intending to visit Tom McClendon. Made a call to get the street
address, but he was close by in town, so he dropped in on us instead. Tom has a home shop about 15 miles out of town (in the desert) where he sometimes works on vintage British cars for friends (or maybe passers by in a pinch). Got his picture, but he was otherwise busy today, so no visit to the shop (yet).
Then we had two more walk-in guests before end of day, friendly chat that killed more time. Found another shop that works on LBC's, back in Las Cruces, but that one may have to wait for next pass through. Spent the rest of the day planning on invading Arizona. Heading west late night.
Friday, April 14, 2017:
Last night we found a roost at 4000 foot altitude on I-10 just into Arizona, ready to invade the state. Up early, more mountains here than you can shake a stick at (very nice).
We began with an early breakfast and some extended email activity. Then on into Tuscon, Arizona to get serious. First stop today was British Car Service in Tuscon where we got the royal escort tour of the premises. Meet Patric Teske the Service Manager, and get the immediate view through the front gate. Yes there are some things that are not British, but jolly good fun all the same.
Yes, these are "Arizona cars" with little or no rust. For a Chicago boy, IMAGINE THAT! The MGA is solid original car, just getting some brake and wheel bearing service, while the Rover appears to be a decent daily driver. In back of the shop a bugeye Sprite and a Sunbeam Aline. Up front a pair of Lotus. The blue one is a rare factory built race car with apparently a moderately reckless driver, as the shop is regularly putting it back together after crash damage.
Notice rows upon rows of shelving with service parts which have been accumulating for years. This shop is a Moss Motors distributor with tons of stuff in stock for immediate carry out. A bit of a walk around the yard, and yes that is a Rover London taxi. Lots of MGs, Jaguar, and just about anything British imaginable.
Well there is that Fiat 600 stretch "limousine". Then piles and racks of good used parts available, huge inventory.
How about a 1923 Morris Cowley? Oh, I would love to restore that one just for the opportunity to give it a like new test drive. Go ahead and drool. But I don't know if anyone will ultimately foot the bill to restore it.
On the way out we get to scratch and sniff at the beautiful Morris Minor 1000 and the late model rubber bumper MGB, both with Historic Vehicle plates. A couple blocks down the road I was still drooling in my car.
Next up was Ernie's British Cars, below (still in Tucson). There was the typical assortment of parts cars and restoreable cars outside.
Then back in the shop there was this beautiful Austin Healey 3000 tri-carb in for some maintenance, nice trim inside and outside, looking all original underneath, and again a nearly perfect rust free Arizona car underneath.
That's the proud owner at the wing. By the time I finished drooling it was off the jacks and ready to go home.
Our last easy stop for the day was at Highway Drive Repair Service, still in Tucson. No British cars here today, but they do mechanical work regularly on almost anything British when needed, and they have been doing so for decades.
Then we were off to a WiFi spot to catch up with more email and tech questions, and these photos and notes, so all is well that ends well.
While there we received email from Rich Flammang in Glendale, AZ who had just returned from a 600 mile 3 day trip on historic Route 66 in his MGA 1600 Coupe (with absolutely no problems) running great! But now he is tied up so we won't see him on this pass (again). Well, maybe some day.
No more shop hoping for a couple of days on the week end, but there are other plans developing to keep us busy. Heading north late tonight to be in the Phoenix area tomorrow.
Saturday, April 15, 2017:
Today we took a shot at visiting Triple-C Motor Accessories, LLC in Queen Creek, Arizona. We don't normally
try business shops on week ends, but this one was on our routing today and would be well out of our way by the upcoming Monday. And we lucked out. The known address turned out to be the home of the business owner who had moved here from Pennsylvania about a year earlier. Having given up his store front in Pennsylvania, he now does lots of business through Amazon.com and a little on eBay. He still has considerble stock of wares in multiple storage facilities in the area. We had a nice chat, then had to be moving on.
I rather like Arizona by daylight, plenty of mountains to go with the desert scenery. In time we rolled up to the home of Bear Holmes in Apache Junction, AZ.
There are pieces of an MGA under construction here and there, if you can read betwen the lines.
I couldn't resist the original cell core radiator. Ultimately there was a nice outdoor kitchen where Bear would be smoking barbeque ribs and baking beans to go with cole slaw, to be followed by Apple pie. Follow that with some hours of chat about MGs, and boy do we need some sleep. But then I was sitting well past midnight for email and bbs and processing these photos and notes.