The MGA With An Attitude
MGA Guru Is GOING MOBILE - (April 16 - April 30, 2017)
Sunday, April 16, 2017:
Leaving Apache Junction, Arizona, the Garmin took us down "E Jacob Waltz St". The sign said. "Primitive road ahead.
Entering state land. Caution use at your own risk. Roadway not owned maintained, controlled or patrolled by the city of Apache Junction. Road surface may be hazardous to vehicles". But it's the shortcut, so we go this way. First gear works, try not to scrape the exhaust too much.
Just a mile or so on we found paved roads again, leading to real highways. Then 20 miles west, 10 miles
north, another 20 miles west, and finally up I-17 north. 30 miles flat through the desert followed by 100 miles up the killer hills. Rising from 2000 feet to over 7000 feet altitude, the temperature drop was pleasing, and the scenery was spectacular.
About 190 miles from Apache Junction we stopped for a visit with Tim Vachon in Flagstaff, AZ. We had a little maintenance to do, and instruction was, "Pull it right into the garage", so we did. After introductions we had some time to chat while the car cooled down. The work didn't take long, just replace the seal between exhaust pipe and manifold, grease the chassis, and put some oil in the front shock absorbers.
Then we got to play with Tim's toys for a while. The first it an MGA 1500 with a Twin Cam engine. Well, it's a Mazda Miata 1800 Dual Cam with four valves per cylinder. Yes, it does say "MG" on the valve cover.
It has an MGB distributor and Weber DCOE side draft carburetors. The exhaust headers came from a turbocharged Miata, which made it easy to run the down pipe to the original MGA exhaust system. I was trying to convince him to leave the body in its current condition, at least until he can get the next project finished.
Also in the garage is another MGA with an MGB 1800 engine (and Saab wheels), mechanically sorted I think, but lots more to do for restoration. For now we set the toys aside to allow time for dinner and more chat. Had a nice over night here and breakfast in the morning before we had to hit the road again.
Monday, April 17, 2017:
Weekend past, so we can get back to shop hopping in Arizona. We turned it south and rolled it half way back down the hill(s), then 30 miles west. We were here to visit VTO Performance in Prescott Valley, AZ. Appearances can be deceiving. The sign "SSP" is supplies for hot tubs and spas. The VTO business (under same ownership) didn't have a sign, but is tucked in the warehouse to the left. Say hello to Barry Knickerbocker the proprietor.
Expecting to see wheels, we got an additional surprise here. They are also into Austin Healey Sprites and MG Midgets, which were prevalent enough to be stored on the shelves. The Midget in foreground I think belongs to the shop owner, and is nearing end of restoration. Across the aisle would be ceiling high racks of VTO wheels for all occasions. They used to import wheels from Australia, but that source has closed up shop. So now they export wheels to Australia. Talk about opportunistic. Ah, but we have to run.
30 miles back to I-17 and roll it down the hill some more. Next stop is a bit of wishful thinking. We had a shop name C.A.R.S. of Phoenix (Classic Auto Restoration Services) with two addresses and two phone numbers. This one on E Bell Rd was a bust, closed up, discontinued phone number. We hope it has moved to the other address and is still in business, but we won't be there until next day.
Then we were looking for Barry Briskman Auto Restorations in Scottsdale, AZ. Nice residential address, extra shop type garage buildings in the back (behind a gate). We rang the door bell, but no one home. Tried the phone and got a discontinued number. Did some searching on the net with no results. Presume this one is out of business (unless someone else has more information).
Last programmed stop for the day was From The Frame Up in Mesa, AZ. This was more than I expected. It begins with a shop that can do full restoration work, with the caveat that they are specialist in the MG TC model. The one with the new wood tail is for a customer. The red one nearing completion belongs to the proprietor.
This shop may also be the source for the most complete list of MG TC parts anywhere, virtually every part required to restore the whole car. Major parts suppliers buy TC parts here as well as individual car owners.
Inside we find a large display of parts that are reproduced by this shop.
They restore instruments, making new face plates when required. Rebuilding shock absorbers is common fare, and the inventory of parts ready to ship is mind boggling for a single model specialist.
Before leaving I was presented with a new wrench:
"1/4BS 3/16W - 2J4452 - BRITOOL - 5/16BS 1/4W",
combination British Standard and Whitworth. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that I work on T-types occasionally.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017:
Good start to a new day. Parked next to a nice mid 70's Chevy El Camino. The owner likes my MGA as well.
Seriously shop hopping again today. First up was a search for British Sports Car Service in Phoenix. No shop here, and the strip mall looks fairly new, so maybe the shop building is gone. The noted phone number is still in service, so we left
a voice message. We got half lucky. Received a call later from the shop owner saying he is retired, and the shop has been closed for several years. Okay, better than not knowing. At that point I didn't bother asking about the strip mall.
Then our second attempt to find C.A.R.S. (Classic Auto Restoration Services) in Phoenix at the second address on E University Drive. No shop at this location either, but at least the current occupants of the building knew about it and had some information. This shop has been gone for two years, owner retired, presumably for health reasons.
Just when we were thinking the search was not going well today, we rambled over to Delta Motorsports, Inc in Phoenix. The location is in the rear of a business park, and we drove past it without seeing it. We knew it was supposed to be Suite 9, but there were no such markings on the building. A phone call verified the location and turned is around to be facing the building from a few hundred feet away. Jackpot.
The place didn't look so big at first glance, but the building extends past the room divider, think double the space. Start with a TR6 complete, a BGT with freshly painted body shall waiting for all the trim, and a couple more cars under cover (go ahead and guess). There was a late model Spitfire in for some re-trimming. This was followed by a very nice TR6 (a few of those here), and one even nicer MGC (very original low mileage car).
Peaking under a cover revealed a TR8, and then another, at least three of those here. Also a Triumph Stag and a few Jenson Healey for good measure. Out back a couple more rubber bumper MGB waiting their turn.
Next stop was for G&B Enterprises in Phoenix. No prior description for this one. We found a chain link fence and a locked gate. The phone number was non-working, but we found another phone number on a container cabinet and called that one. Success. We found Gil, who is the "G" in G&B.
The "B" would be his brother Bob (deceased). There are lots of MGB and tons of parts here, now all for sale as Gil is wanting to close the business and liquidate everything. If interested, give him a call and make an offer. Remember this is Phoenix, think dry, possibly little or no rust. Otherwise the business is effectively closed.
Last programmed shop stop for the day was British Motor Classics in Phoenix. This business is now gone, but two current tenants remember it. Black Canyon Auto now occupies the space from the prior Brit car shop, and they have been there for 10 to 12 years. Shed a tear and scratch one more shop from the list.
Finally in the evening we had a dinner meeting with Arizona MG T Roadrunners Club. One other MG in attendance (that we know of) was a Z-Magnette. I think 16 attendees at the meeting, which was apparently a pretty good turn out for this group. After the meeting we headed a little east out of town in preparation for our next appointment in the morning.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017:
This morning we had a visit with Lizbeth Patterson & Rocky in Mesa, AZ. Well, Liz couldn't be there, so Rocky
was a stand-in. We were here for a look at Liz's MG TD to see if we could get it running and back on the road. The complaint was fuel leaking from the carburetors, difficult starting, bad running, it had been parked for about five months, and the parking brake didn't work. -- I found the rear fuel jet was stuck half way down, the front fuel jet was stuck very solid full up, the interconnecting link for the choke appeared to have a stripped thread, and indeed fuel was dribbling from the bottom of both carbs. -- Straightforward bit first, disconnect the choke linkage, unscrew the jet assemblies from underneath (not difficult with the TD), and sort of muscle the stuck jets apart for cleaning. The magic trailer coughed up new Teflon O-rings for the jet seals, and thick cork gasket sheet to cut new bottom seals (gotta get more of the commercial cork seals), and in short order the jets were back in place with all new seals, no stick, no drip, choke linkage back together, happy carbs.
Then we were after the non-functional parking brake. It appeared to provide a little drag on the LR wheel, but no affect on the RR wheel. Wheels off, adjust brake shoes, helped a little but not there yet. Linkages seem to be free (no sticking). But the right side cable on the hand brake was very loose compared to the left side. So run the right side adjuster nut up several turns to match the left side, and like magic the hand brake was working again. Score one for the good guys.
Time to head back into Phoenix where we met Danny Young who has an MGA with MGB 1800 engine that just didn't run right. I found the throttle cable outer jacket was much too short, and the SU HS4 carburetors had the throttle interconnect rocker shaft out of adjustment so it could not be pulled to full throttle. A new throttle cable installed and some standard adjustments cured these issues, and that one was running normally again. We did notice one of the dashpot covers had the top rib facing wrong direction, likely a front carb cover on the rear carb (two covers that same when they should be different), but the internal air pistons were correct type in correct orientation, so it runs okay.
Timing was tight, but we managed to cruise a few more miles for a meeting with Arizona MG Club at the Sun Up Brewing Kitchen in Phoenix. As far as I could see, the only other MG present was the ZB Magnette. We had met some
of these folks two years ago when we stopped at a club members home for picnic lunch when traveling with the contingent of MGs from Australia. This time we were back to take advantage of the club meeting to meet more of the membership. This produced at least one more appointment for a look at another MG in need for the following day. We had the long table on the patio, nice in the warm outdoor air, but somewhat noisy near the street. We had parked in the lot next door which we thought might be some auto service shop. That turned out to house some of the brewing equipment for the restaurant. Too bad we didn't get a tour.
Thursday, April 20, 2017:
Took a jaunt out to the northwest today to visit Gale and Art McCall in Surprise, AZ. Their MG TD was hard starting due to tight and inoperable choke. This turned out to be an extra long choke cable with a couple extra bends under the dash to use up the surplus length. First move was to disconnect it and pull it out through the firewall to make it as straight as possible under the dash.
I lined it up and marked it with tape for desired length of the outer jacket. Then pulled out the knob and center wire, followed by cutting the outer jacket with a Dremel tool and cut-off abrasive wheel. Reinstall the wire and knob, pushed full in, and cut the wire to desired length. This resulted in frayed wire ends, so carefully twist it back together and solder the thin cable to prevent it from splitting out again. When we found it still dragging, the cable was pulled out again for oiling, and reassembled. Once properly aligned it worked okay, but still with a little drag. Thinking a Nylon or Teflon lined cable jacket would be better (if it was available). The primary cause of drag was a fairly tight bend just before the output end mounting bracket. I have noticed this before with TD's. Seems like it would be better if the cable could pass straight through the lower fire wall rather than curving upward above the angled bulkhead.
By mid afternoon we we back in Phoenix to visit Lee Pernell who still has the MGA he bought new in 1958. This one
is pretty much original, but definitely showing the patina (and fabric rot) resulting from too much time in the sun. Previously failing seats had been replaced by early MGB seats. Mostly flat tires with sidewalls cracking from age, definitely in need of replacement, dead battery likely hopeless as it has been sitting idle for a few years. I suspect the instruments may all work, and maybe the original radio as well. Notice the temperature gauge reading 95dF on the hot day.
We have non-original air cleaners and intake air filter on the valve cover. Also a fuel filter before the carburetors and a top entry distributor cap from MGB. I like to smile on the original cell core radiator. With brake released it will roll, and the engine turns, so it should be easy enough to revive. I had an overwhelming urge to buy a new battery and a gallon of gas, but maybe not today. We decided to pull up chairs and drinks for a pleasant chat in the shade and the afternoon breeze while we mapped out plans for the car's revival. I hope the motivation sticks.
Friday, April 21, 2017:
Had a walk-in this morning. Couple of ladies from Ohio visiting Arizona. They were all cranked up about the MGA. Lady in the white dress has one she would like to sell (and lots more classic cars, mostly vintage American iron, long list of photos on her cell phone).
Then we were off for a visit with Ettore Balletto in Scottsdale, AZ. He has a beautifully restored MGA 1600-MK-II that was hard to start and wouldn't run right, backfiring and no power for acceleration. This was after he had paid some pro shop for the tune-up (Grrrrr). Hard starting traced to a choke cable adjusted too long so it had very little choke, easy to adjust to give full choke. Backfiring traced to front carburetor adjusted full lean with insufficient fuel, easy tune-up adjustment. Low power traced to overly extended throttle cable with lots of slack so it would only go to half throttle before the accelerator pedal hit the floor (bummer). Shortening the throttle cable to allow full opening of the carburetors was almost a miracle for performance. Vroom, vroom, followed by a big grin, and all is well with the world.
Sitting on WiFi catching up with clerical work, making notes on which shops we have visited in Arizona, and .... Holy Crap! We missed one. There was a shop in Prescott, Arizona named "The Shop". Last Monday we were in Prescott Valley just 8 miles away from it, but we somehow managed to miss this one. It was 2:20pm, and it takes at least two hours to drive up there from Scottsdale, so haul ass, and off we went. Nasty traffic getting out of Phoenix, but we were determined. Thirty miles north through the desert and nearly 70 miles up through the hills.
At 4:45-pm we pulled into the shop in Prescott, except it wasn't called "The Shop". It is now "Prescott Tune-Up Specialists", and "The Shop" was closed more than ten years earlier. Good news is, the current shop will indeed work on vintage British cars if the need may arise. In fact there was an MG ZB Magnette waiting for a brake bleeding and get it running. Good enough for me. Scratch one ex-shop and add a new one to the list.
So now we are 100 miles farther away from Tucson. Ah, such is life. Point it south again, and off we go? Uh, no. We made the call first this time, and the intended target friend was going to be busy, so no go. Sitting on WiFi again, figuring to be done in Arizona and plotting for future follies. Late night we headed a bit north and spent the night in Chino Vally, AZ (not far from Prescott).
Saturday, April 22, 2017:
Good morning, headed north to Ash Fork with a brief stop for fuel, then headed west on I-40 exiting at
Kingman, Arizona, 150 miles down before breakfast. Seems like a week end to kill with no appointments, so time to catch up a few things. Reviewing a different shops list we received from a friend in Arizona MG Club, adding some more shops to our own list. Sheesh, there are now several more shops in Arizona we have not visited yet, but I recon those will have to wait for another time when we may return again.
Sunday, April 23, 2017:
Out of NW Arizona, through SW Nevada, into California, and through Death Valley National Park, just seemed like a natural thing to do with the MG. The theater is in the town of Death Valley, which still has some business but is otherwise likely more than half deserted. We passed "Elevation Seal Level" twice, first going down, and then going back up. Crawling up out of the valley involved some 9% grades, occasionally requiring 2nd gear while towing the trailer.
We passed sea level twice, first going down, and then going back up. I think our climb rate is about 300 feet per minute, so in less than 20 minutes we were close to a mile up. Cool enough up there, but then down the other side into another valley and more desert. Good going, but this wasn't the end of the day.
I hope this was only a coincidence, but this is the time the car chose to burn an exhaust valve. This burns me as well, because I have been concerned ever since we installed the rebuilt head a year ago. The shop building the head installed stainless steel exhaust valves after I had requested Stellite coated exhaust valves. Now one year and 37,000 miles later we are about to see the consequences. #3 exhaust valve was petty bad, not helping power much, so I disconnected #3 plug wire to prevent burning the valve seat. Interesting exercise running through hills in the mountains with only three cylinders. We cruised on another 200 miles into Santa Barbara, CA.
Monday, April 24, 2017:
This morning we dropped into Moss Motors in Goleta, CA, to buy some parts (valves, head gasket, and a lot of little stuff for general inventory). Then we hit a couple of parts stores, and finally Sears in Santa Barbara to pick up a valve spring compressor. With most of what I need to fix this thing in hand the pressure is off, so we expect to sit on WiFi a day or two catching up before the fix. Several prospective WiFi spots along the west coast have no electrical outlet for our computer chargers, so we moved inland 20 miles finding suitable facilities in Ojai, CA. More to come, of course.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017:
Day off for catch-up and planning. Two days later, I don't remember what I did on Tuesday, other than posting a note on the BBS looking for a place to work on the car.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017:
Maintenance day, time to fix the ailing engine. A BIG Thank You to Rob Zucca in Camarillo, CA for offering use of his garage for work space. I did a compression test first, and was disappointed at slightly low pressure on #2, and very low pressure on #3 AND #4. I knew #3 was bad, but #4 took me by surprise. It didn't take long to drain the coolant, remove carburetors, and pull the cylinder head to disclose the problem. Not a burned valve as expected, but a blown head gasket. I could kick myself for not doing the compression test a few days earlier out in the desert, as we could have changed the head gasket then and there. I seem to have violated one of my own rules, do the diagnostic work first. I had done some of the diagnostic work, and jumped to the wrong conclusion.
Well, maybe the valves weren't burned, but when the head is off it is easy to test. Set the head upside down and flat, and pour water into the combustion chambers. If you have a leaky valve the water can dribble out of the ports. Dribble it did, a tiny bit from #2 intake valve and a bit more from #3 intake valve, while the other six valves were perfectly sealed. I was feeling better already, as that would be easy to fix.
At that point I was more concerned about flatness (lack of damage to the head and block). I ran a flat file over the surfaces for cleaning, then did a close inspection with a straight edge, thin feelers and bright lights. Good news, still flat with no detectable deviation on both surfaces.
Having bought the spring compressor and valve lapping tools, this was the good opportunity do fix the leaky intake valves. Off with the valve springs and check out the valve heads and seats. The pictures look a lot worse than the actual damage. The sealing surface on the valve seat is the very narrow angle at the top, not the wider angle underneath. A few minutes of hand lapping cleaned up the #2 intake valve quite easily. #3 intake was more work, but cleaned up well after 10 minutes of hand lapping (a lot quicker than a trip to a machine shop).
Number 2 was clean as a whistle in a few minutes. The second picture shows a short crescent on the seat of #3 that did not clean up immediately, but 10 minutes of persistent lapping finally got that one clean too. Another water test after reassembly proved good, no more leaks.
It feels good to be reassembling with confidence. Hey! Look who's running the torque wrench. Apparently there are times when navigator takes a personal interest in his transportation. I take this as good news.
With time available I took the opportunity to install new jet seals in the carburetors. Something new, this is the first time I ever have removed Teflon O-rings from the carburetors, but they have been in service for something like 19 years and and more than 200,000 miles, so I'm not complaining. New Teflon O-rings again, new cork seals underneath (and the same Gross Jets that have been in there since 1989).
Easy enough for reassemble with new valve cover gasket and rubber grommets. Had to replace one short hose on the heater water return pipe, installed fresh coolant, and it fired right up on the first crank. While it was warming up to have a hot re-torque of the head bolts, we had a few minutes of constructive fun. Notice the neat thumb screws I use to secure the bonnet on my MGA. The same parts work well for quick change of the boot lid. The parts are dirt cheap, and this is how it's done.
Start with a box of socket head cap screws, #10-32-UNFx5/8. Also a box of 5/8-inch diameter knurled plastic caps. I buy these parts from McMaster-Carr. Set the screw in the vice jaws, stick the plastic cap on top, and give it a few taps with a flat faced hammer. In less than 10 minutes we had a bag full of thumb screws. Sets of six thumb screws will be a gift to anyone who may ask me in person.
Thursday, April 27, 2017:
After a few days of concern about the car problems, we are taking today to relax and enjoy the better day, and catch up a bunch of photos and notes and some of the never ending trip planning.