Restoration of 1952 MG TD 2

Author: Bob McCluskey
First posted: 1 Sept 2000
Last amended: Dec 2015
Please email Bob McCluskey
Car No TD/11935
Engine No XPAG/TD2/12333
Body Type 22381
Body No 11301/78948

Prolegomenon This account of the rehabilitation of my 1952 MG TD2 was prompted, in the main, by at least two factors. Firstly, I'd always wanted an excuse to use the word prolegomenon; and secondly, as the restoration slowly progressed, I felt an increasing need to record what I was doing, because of a growing feeling that I might have to do bits of it again. There are plenty of references explaining the proper way to go about a restoration, and I don't think I can add anything to their accounts. But because I didn't always read the books, and even if I did it was often too late, I think I've found some useful shortcuts, and some improvements (which real restorers or conservators may not like), as well as some which clearly don't work. My internet service provider had reserved a few Mb of space for a website, so while I was at uni, enrolled in one or other of the courses I subsequently dropped out of, I took the HTML course. As an exercise we had to write a couple of pages about anything; I chose to write about this project. Its just grown from there: it never occurred to me that it might grow so much, or take up so much time. So this account began mostly so that when I had to do the jobs again I should know what didn't work last time. But I also hope it will help the next owner to understand what I had done and why. And it would be nice to think that it might also help other restorers, if only to make them aware of things to avoid.

This story starts in 1969, when I came to Sydney as a ten-pound Pom. At that time, the economy was booming. Male full-time unemployment was less than 1%; standard variable homeloan interest rate was about 6%. It was easy to get a job, but Sydney's public transport was already on the downward side of adequate and it was always going to be hard to survive without a car. I'd always had sports tourers, so something like that seemed to be indicated again, especially in Sydney's benevolent climate: perhaps another Lotus Seven, or a TC, or something like that. I found that Lotuses were virtually unheard of, and even TCs were practically unobtainable. So I settled on a TD - this TD - which I bought in the first week, for A$400. My new salary was about $4000, so at just over one month's salary it wasn't bad value.

I felt there should be a special relationship between cars and their owners: I believed that the cars should work for their owners, and not vice versa. This car was already middle-aged and unattractive: too old to be sexy, too young to be glamorous, I owed it nothing. I thought it deserved little attention, and that's exactly what it got. I gave it just enough to keep it running, but not enough to keep it running well, and it gradually decayed around me. The fabric of the hood gradually shrank until it missed the windscreen by several inches, so for several years afterwards the car was driven open regardless of the weather. Bits were stolen as it stood open outside my home - in particular one of the sidescreens was disappeared, although this caused me no anxiety until much later when I came to the resurrection. In the meantime it did work hard for me. It carried a cement mixer in the back, when I was redoing my bathroom floor, as well as the sand and gravel. It carried half a cubic yard of soil (also in the back space, which turned out to have been less than a good idea) when I was making an indoor garden. The back bumper was removed so I could fit a towbar to tow a small sailing dinghy. I gave the over-riders to a mate, who gave them back recently, nicely chromed; I don't know what happened to the bumper itself. All this time it lived in the street just around the corner from the pub, and on that account it suffered various scratches and dings as patrons made their cheerful way home at closing time (there were other dings, too, I recall, at least one of them involving a bus, which may account for the disappearance of the front bumper and over-riders...). From time to time I replaced bits as they were damaged or corroded beyond repair. I even replaced some of the timber when the doors stopped shutting; but since I wasn't about to reskin them, even if I'd known how, and (as I recall) I didn't even take them off, I couldn't make the joints properly. In any case I think I used pine, so it didn't last long enough to matter anyway.

Finally I left Oz some seven years later, thinking never to return. I left the car with a friend to sell, and heard no more of it. In the end I did come back, many years later. Bruce heard I was back and contacted me: "I've got your bloody car in my paddock, would you mind getting rid of it!". Apparently he thought I was just going for a holiday, and he was to look after it for a couple of weeks. And he still had it nine years later!

But now it had suffered nine more years of neglect, and it showed.

It had had a cover, but that had blown off several years ago. Leaves had piled up in every possible nook and cranny: behind and around the windscreen pillars and scuttle, between the front valence and radiator grill, in the doors (the trim having been removed in my abortive attempt to replace the timbers, and, characteristically, never replaced), around the headlight brackets, between the sweep of the front mud-guards and the bonnet, behind the spare wheel carrier: everywhere imaginable. These leaves had turned into high-class mulch which had combined with the salt air of the NSW mid-north coast to form a powerful oxidising agent, and the only bits to survive relatively intact were the bonnet, which luckily had been covered with oil and grease inside and which offered no niches for leaves outside, and most of the chassis, which was likewise covered in oil and grease thanks to the notorious XPAG rear oil seal.

Rats had nested in the upholstery and gnawed through the wiring loom (why would they do that? do they need more copper in their diet? Should rat poison be made to look more like cotton covered copper wire?).

The floorboards had largely disappeared into dust; a young wattle - symbol of Australia - was growing happily through the chassis members. Various borers had raised their young in the frame timbers.

The photos below give some impression of the slightly derelict state of the car: the wood hadn't been removed, it simply wasn't there, and without the constraints of pins and bolts, the front quarter panels had sprung outwards.

In short, it was a wreck.

We sawed off the wattle and used a forklift to put the car onto a trailer for the journey back to Sydney. There it lived in our garden under a tarpaulin and degenerated further for another couple of years while we contemplated, not a restoration, but a Lazarus-like resurrection. Finally we decided we should do something to save it. I got a quote from a professional, which quickly clarified the first issue for me: if there were to be a resurrection, the hands to be laid on would have to be my own. In this, I drew heavily on the work of others.

The next decision was also easy for me: not to begin this exercise until I had a comfortable garage. Good for the soul or not (and although a Pom I don't subscribe to the view that if it's uncomfortable it must be good for you), several early English experiences - for example lying on my back in the snow to change bearings - had left a residual distaste for al fresco car care. I justified the new garage to Margaret partly on the grounds that it would give somewhere to put the kid's bike, etc. This was a mistake. The boy would have been 5 or 6 when he fitted this bike: he was to be 29 and married by the time the car was registered and ready to leave the garage. You can get an impression of its home in the early days in these two photos: wide spaces, plenty of room around the car. It's not like that now. The garage is full, and you have to sidle carefully around to avoid dislodging the carefully stacked parts.

The next decision was harder: what would it be after resurrection? A street car for everyday use, leaving other car owners gasping in awe and envy? Or a concourse job (by no means the same thing)? How much to spend - cost no object? Where to draw the line - original components or replacements?

I've always been suspicious of concourse cars: they seem to spend too much time under covers, coming out only for occasional club meets. I've even seen one brought to the meet, and taken home, on a trailer: I can't be sure that it actually went. These days they seem to be judged largely on "originality": colour matches (even the ugly engine colour must be matched), materials, number of fasteners on the tonneau, and so on (just this week I overheard the judges at a concourse discussing whether there was enough yellow in the colour of the rocker box cover!). Yet I'm sure that they use modern paints, modern oil seals and modern hydraulics; modern pistons, gaskets, and bearings: and what's the point of simulating originality? It'd be like having a replica: why bother?

I decided that wasn't for me. I would be guided by what I thought Cecil Kimber would have wanted, had he survived to be involved in TDs in general and this one in particular. This car would be a working car, with club outings strictly a secondary consideration. It wouldn't pretend to be, what it clearly was not, a brand-new car straight out of the showroom: it had had an interesting life, and like Harry's soldiers it would be entitled to roll up its sleeves and show its scars. But of course the whole point of this exercise was to make it look and feel cared for, and to make up to it for some of the neglect it had suffered at my hands, so most of the scars would have to be treated at least cosmetically. Cost would be important: because MGs were always intended to be affordable cars, this wasn't to be a cheque-book restoration, and I would use existing components where possible. I would be reasonably faithful to original design, but any modifications I made would be sympathetic and in keeping. I would take advantage of the best of modern materials or components where this was a consideration, noting that modern systems are usually more reliable and often cheaper than second-hand originals or modern replicas. I would feel free to modify components to improve reliability, comfort, and appearance (in that order). I wouldn't be constrained by the colours dictated by the austere paint technology available in post-war England (but I probably wouldn't use metallic paints or paint flames coming from the bonnet louvres). I wouldn't use lairy colours, but would ensure that the car was dignified and unmistakably an MG, and not a modern replica. Whatever I reasonably could, I would do myself, unless it compromised the result unacceptably, and I would expect to learn some new skills. I would always do the best I could, but I wouldn't strive too hard for perfection. Perfection is the prerogative of the gods, they are offended by the hubris of mere mortals who aspire to it on their own account, and they have ways of getting even.

But most of all, this would be my car, and I would enjoy it, irrespective of whether it met with complete approval from more professional conservators.

Read on: look on my works, and weep...

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