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






irst, let me point out that of all these images, only the first is actually of my car. I did have a very complete archive file of all my cars (and motorbikes); but in one of the many moves, the file was lost. Consequently all the other images have been sourced from the web. You can tell this because, unlike mine, they're all immaculately presented. Where possible I've created links or acknowledged the sources.

my Morris 8The first car in which I had any nominal equity was an Austin 7 saloon - a 1932 Ruby, I think - which I was supposed to own jointly with my brother. However, he counted it as his, and took it with him to University and I never saw it again. But it's hard to hold this against him: he did turn up with some pretty spectacular cars, for example a now rare and much sought after 2litre in-line 6 cylinder S-type MG, a BSA three-wheel cyclecar which used to race against Morgans, an aluminium-skinned space-frame special, chassis number CC1, which he claimed to be Colin Chapman's original Lotus, but which wasn't, and later a Lotus 7 with genuine Coventry Climax engine and racing slicks for which he got pinged for driving with bald tyres.

Anyway, because it doesn't remotely fit the pattern of sports tourers, I'm happy not to count this Austin as one of mine. The first car unequivocally mine was a 1937 Series II Morris 8 two seater tourer reg no DXX 778 (funny how this number has stuck so clearly in my mind - it must have something to do with how often I had to quote it to police, who in those days thought that if you didn't know the registration number you must driving a stolen car, as if anyone would have stolen this one). In this I was in very good company: the Emperor-in-exile Haile Selassie bought one for his son; Colin Chapman was given one for his first car in 1945 when he would have been seventeen; and Margaret's old mate Dennis Connolly from Lethbridge University had one for his first car (not to be confused with David Lethbridge, one-time Professor in the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University, who also had one). Not bad, eh? direct parallels with two Professors, with a man who created one of the most successful racing marques ever, and with a man who claims direct descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Sadly, in a disappointingly non-Euclidean way, the parallels diverge after that: I would suggest that the Duke of Harar's car would have been brand new, courtesy of his father's wealth (no inheritance tax, see, and all those generations to inherit from); Chapman's was virtually brand new when he received it in 1945 as a University entrance present (well, eight years old, actually, but of those eight years, six would have been war years when with petrol rationing it would probably not have had hard use); unfortunately no details are available of Connolly's or Lethbridge's. My parents sourced mine in 1960 from a sergeant in the RAF who was being posted away. It would have been twentythree years old when it came to me (five years older than me), and it had had a Hard Life. My memory is that Mum and Dad paid 10 for it, but I had to pay for rego and insurance, which I'm pretty sure was another 10. Mum's memory is that I paid for the car as well. My life's achievements don't compare remotely with Connolly's or Chapman's, and although I'd be pretty sure that at least some of my ancestors would have been alive in King Solomon's time, my pedigree becomes pretty vague after only a couple of generations.
Morris 8 two seat tourer Morris 8 two seat tourer
Well, this car was the best value. Apart from being a great learning instrument (mostly what I learnt was that it needed better care than I gave it) it was great fun. Undergraduates weren't allowed motor cars or motor bikes, but whenever I felt I could afford to run it (ie whenever I'd been able to get a vacation job) I took it illegally to University with me where I learnt that into this two seater you could fit six people or two people and two firkins of beer. It had a top speed of about 60 mph which meant I could just get illegal by the top of The Avenue in Southampton if I could get a running start without having to stop at the traffic lights at the bottom. I learnt a lot about mechanics and how to coax reluctant engines into life. I learnt how to line-ream kingpin bushes, and I learnt the hard way about hydraulic brakes and some of the things that make them ineffective and why it would be better if they weren't. I learnt what makes axles whine, although I never really learnt how to stop them. I learnt how to coddle white-metal big ends, and I learnt that after the journals have been ground so many times that the crankshaft looks like a coathanger, the metal can squeeze out of the bearings like toothpaste. The second time this happened I was far from home with no money: I took off the sump, drew out the con-rod and piston, covered the oilway in the journal with a jubilee clip and a bit of leather cut off my belt, and carried on on the remaining three cylinders. Much later I learnt that this was only possible because of the narrow-bore long-stroke engines favoured by the absurd RAC rating formula; but at the time I learnt that oil in your hair and eyes is no fun, and that the police really don't like the smoke that comes from having the oil mist in the sump connected directly to the exhaust valves. But I did get home.

I learnt that even in a Morris 8 you can do very satisfying four-wheel drifts around corners provided the centrifugal force generated by cornering is greater than the friction with the road surface, and you can help this by keeping the tyres worn down to canvas. And thanks to keeping it tuned this way for four-wheel drifts, I learned how to change tyres and repair punctures.

another view of Morris 8
There are other interesting similarities and differences between the Morris 8 and its contemporaries, the PA and later PB. Both had 8hp engines, as rated by the absurd RAC formula; but the 8 had a 918cc sidevalve engine giving 23.5 bhp and a top speed of about 60mph, whereas the PA had a 847cc overhead camshaft engine giving 36bhp and a top speed of about 76 mph. The PA's engine was increased to 939cc for the PB. The Morris's production run - series 1 and 2 - lasted from October 1934 until October 1938; the P-type's from 1934 until 1936, when the TA was introduced with some of the features already standard in the 8. The Morris 8 tourer cost 118, and sold about 24,000 units out of a total production run for all prewar 8s - including saloons - of over 160,000. The P-type cost 220 when it was introduced, and sold about 2,500 units. The total production run for all Midgets up to and including the TF was 59,425 units; the big seller was the TD, with 29,664 units. Perhaps it was so popular because of the features it had borrowed from the 8?
I learned that it was surprisingly advanced for its age, and lent a lot of features to MGs. Of course MGs were closely related to Morrises, having sprung from the same bloodline, but later it was a surprise to me to find that in many ways (perhaps not including engine and gearbox) the Morris was more advanced than its cousin - and even with its inferior motor, a Morris 8 beat a supercharged J3 by almost one whole second and was narrowly beaten by another and was only marginally slower than one of the mighty K3s at the 2014 Rob Roy Hillclimb. The lines are most obvious, having reappeared almost intact fifteen years later in the TD: have a look at the front and rear mudguards, the rear valence, the fold-flat windscreen, the way the doors curve magically into the quarter panels; notice also how the radiator isn't quite straight, and, especially in the first picture, the bonnet doesn't quite match the line of the radiator, just like most TDs. Other features included, as far as I remember, bumper bars (when 8s first appeared in 1934, bumper bars were an optional extra; but by 1937, they were already standard, preempting MGs by 14 or 15 years), bucket seats, fully sealed firewall, hydraulic dampers, the hydraulic brakes and synchro gears which had been a feature of Morris 8s since their introduction in 1934 but didn't appear on MGs until the TA in 1936, and a single-plate dry clutch which finally appeared on MGs with the TB in 1939.

I learnt that MGs and Morrises had a lot of components in common; in particular both cars used identical Silentravel door latches, a fact I learnt when I found my passenger door latch had been disappeared and one of the previously unreliable MGs around the campus now had doors that shut. I learnt that it might have been better to have simply stolen it back, rather than confusing the new owner by confronting him with the theft. After the theft the door closure was never completely reliable. I resorted to a bolt, but this could rattle open, so normally it was supplemented with string across to the steering column. Obviously, when I was carrying passengers, this couldn't work, so their job was to hold the door closed. One day, driving through the narrow Somerset lanes with their high hedges, I came a little close to one of the hedges, and my passenger let go of the door. The door swung open and scooped half a hundredweight of Somerset hedgerow into the back of the car. This led to another discovery, which I didn't appreciate until I started the restoration of the TD: the method of timber construction of my 1952 MG TD was identical with that of my 1937 Morris 8. In the meantime, the accident had cracked the rear door pillar timber, and the door never closed properly again. Thereafter it was kept shut with a padlock and hasp, and passengers had to climb over the door, or scramble in over the driver's seat.

When the rear nearside mudguard fell off because the wheel arch had rusted through, we made some brackets by cutting off slices of slotted angle iron, and bolted it back on by drilling and bolting through the quarter panels, on the outside.

MoT (roadworthiness) testing had already started, but luckily at that time it was limited to brakes, lights and steering, and I was always able to find an inspector who would turn a blind eye to its patent unroadworthiness in almost every other respect.

The car had one more endearing feature. At that time, the road rules only required that cars have a single nearside headlight, which had to be set so it didn't dazzle oncoming traffic. Dual filament lights hadn't been invented yet (or if they had, no-one had brought that fact to William Morris's attention), so the solution was that on main-beam both headlights would be on, illuminating the road as well as two glow-worms could, but when you dipped the lights the offside (driver's side) light would go out, and, with a loud spark and a slight electrical smell of ozone, a solenoid would move the whole nearside light - bulb, reflector, and all - so that the one remaining light pointed at the ground just in front of the wheels, leaving the driver effectively in the dark. In one of his rare failures, Chapman tried to copy this, but the best he could do was a spotlight on the offside which went out, and a spreading foglight on the nearside, which was always pointed at the ground. It had much the same effect - you could never see well anyway, and when the lights were dipped you were effectively blind - but it lacked the electrical excitement, and in the Seven Series 2 he abandoned the attempt for a conventional dual filament system using 9" Lucas lights identical with those on T-series MGs.

This car lasted me all the way through undergraduate studies and well into my first job. As a serious professional engineer, working as a circuit design engineer on the TSR2, the world's first supersonic swing-wing fighter plane, I felt I needed a more professional image, and thought this could be achieved by driving an MG. I borrowed 100 from the bank, and looked for and found a TC.
1939 MG TB
With only 350 built, pictures of TBs are like hens' teeth, and because they never show the distinguishing feature, the sliding trunnions, they all look like TCs. This restoration is a slightly lighter green than mine, and the wheels fitted by the proud owner are not factory originals.
The day before I was to take delivery, the owner drove it into his garage door, and dented the front mudguard. I was able to negotiate the price down to 70 on that account, and drove it back to the cottage I was sharing in Bushey Heath. When I got there, I realised from the sliding trunnions that it wasn't a TC at all, but a much rarer and more desirable TB - quite a coincidence, because one of the other three housemates also had a TB, so between us we owned more than half of one percent of the 350 TBs ever made! I remember feeling pretty smug: I had a highly desirable car, plus an unexpected 30-worth of beer vouchers. One of those rare moments when everything seemed to have fallen into place, which you should treasure and bring out to relive when things aren't quite so good. I gave the Morris away to some-one I met in the pub while redeeming some of vouchers; I'm sure that after the first euphoria he never treasured the moment, and probably still has nightmares about it when times are bad. Apart from the XPAG engine, which made its first appearance on the TB and stayed all the way through MGA, still leaking oil onto the clutch through the rear oil seal, the TB had some truly wonderful attributes. For example, when you lifted the bonnet, on either side was an array of nipples, with copper tubes running back to all the lubrication points on the suspension, legacy of MGs all the way back to the J2: you could service the whole car from one spot. And look at those headlights, Lucas King of the Road 8" dual filament: notwithstanding all the bad jokes about Lucas, you could actually see by them, even on dip beam. (Malcolm Green (p96) reckons that lights on TBs for the home market were arranged like those on the Morris, with only the near side light working on dip beam, but my clear memory is that both lights worked on dip beam - maybe they had been changed to the export system). There was no petrol gauge, and no petrol warning light, unlike the TCs. What it did have was a fuel reserve: the main supply was taken from an outlet a few inches above the bottom of the tank, and the reserve was taken from the very bottom. Two pipes ran from the tank to a tap which was operated from the dashboard, and when you ran out you just had to turn the tap for another four gallons. Unhappily I never seemed to be able to afford more than four gallons, so I never got off the reserve, which rather defeated its purpose. I had a piece of dowel for a dipstick instead, and a one-gallon can for when I misjudged. It had beautiful knock-on wire wheels, and I used to rotate the wheels much more often than necessary, just because I could. My young cousin, who you can see in the first photo in the back of my Morris, once admired my "imitation knock-ons": but only once. It had no timing chain tensioner, so the timing was always noisy and also a bit unreliable; but on the other hand it had twin SU carburettors, which I learnt to master, so that people used to come and ask me to tune their's. It was great.

At my parents 25th wedding anniversary I was silly enough to leave the car parked in the driveway. Late in the evening, a drunken conga line made its way around the neighbourhood, each person in turn leaning on my hood as they negotiated the steep driveway, till by the end of the line it was attached to the car only by hope and faith. Mum still denies any knowledge of this. Well, she would, wouldn't she: she and Dad were at the front of the line, feeling no pain.

It seemed to be one of those endless summers which last for ever, but in retrospect it can only have been eight or nine months before the TB met its destiny on the A1000 at Barnet - very close in fact to the site of the famous Battle of Barnet, one of the defining battles of the War of the Roses, when, almost five hundred years earlier, on April 14 1471 Edward and his mates clarified Henry's destiny for him. My MG met its fate with much less drama: in the first few light drops of rain after the long hot dry summer of 1964, a pedestrian dashed across the road in front of me, and, the road being oily and slippery, instead of stopping we drifted gently and inexorably into the oncoming traffic. Nowadays the damage would seem trivial, and I would fix it in a couple of weekends. Then it seemed unredeemable: I had no competency at panel-beating or spray painting, nowhere to keep the car or work on it, and no time anyway as I was going back to Uni for postgraduate work. I remember I sold the wreck, but I can't remember how much I got for it: there were 20 or 25 left after the fine. To my surprise, the magistrate let me keep my licence, so I looked for new (cheaper) wheels.

What I found was a 1932 MG J2, for 20. I enjoyed the cross-flow overhead-camshaft engine and the fourspeed crash gearbox. I found if the engine revs were just right, you could slip it into gear without using the clutch, and I practiced this assiduously against the time when the clutch might not work. Eventually it was easier and faster not to declutch.
1932 MG J2
Again, my J2 was a darker shade of green (come to think of it, everything about it, even its very existence, was darker), and never looked as good as this one. In one of those amazing coincidences, I had an email recently from someone who recognised in this picture the car - JC1500 - which had belonged to his father in 1930, and seeking more information. Unfortunately I wasn't able to help, having only the link to the website; but if anyone knows more, they could drop him an email.
My father, who'd once owned a Riley with preselector gearbox, saw me doing this and thought the J2 must likewise have a preselector box (or perhaps he knew more than I give him credit for: many of the early MGs, notably the mighty K3s, almost exact contemporaries of J2s, also had preselector boxes). I was never able to persuade him otherwise, and wisely (I think) I never let him try it. I enjoyed the speedometer, which was really a tachometer driven somewhere off the engine side of the drive train; it was marked off with rings showing different speeds, according to which gear you were in. I enjoyed a great deal about the car.

It wasn't long though before I found some of the drawbacks - but even the drawbacks were eccentric English delights. For example the overhead camshaft: the generator was mounted vertically in front of the block and driven by bevel gears from the crankshaft, and it drove the camshaft via another set of bevel gears at the top. The oil seal at the top was a triumph of optimism, so that oil leaked constantly onto the generator. When the engine was running it sprayed leaking oil horizontally, and when it wasn't running it simply soaked into the generator. It can't have been entirely a coincidence that the generator was never able to keep the charge up to the battery. There wasn't a sealed firewall, just a vertical bulkhead: when the bonnet was open the footwell was open to the elements, and you could see the engine on one side of the bulkhead, and the passenger's ankles on the other, which which could be nice occasionally. On the other hand it meant that when it rained there was only a slight impediment to water getting in onto your feet and the passenger's, and the prettier passengers tended to complain about this. There was no water pump or fan, it relied entirely on the thermosyphon effect for cooling, which meant it boiled often and vigorously. Perhaps because of this, the head had warped, and the coolant leaked inwards into the sump. Overnight the oil and water would separate, the oil floating on top, so when the engine started the oil pump would pump water around the journals and (water being less viscous than oil) it would register no oil pressure. Someone had thoughtfully put a stopcock into one of the oil galleries, so the starting sequence included opening this cock until water stopped being pumped out and oil started to flow, when you could close the cock and oil pressure would start to register. I still don't know whether this stopcock was a design feature or a brilliant piece of retroengineering.

Sadly the car came to an abrupt end. I had driven to Staines to the MG wrecker (Richardson?) for some part or other, a long trip for this little battler. Exactly as I drove into his yard, the engine made a loud mechanical noise and stopped abruptly. He convinced me that the overhead valves were notoriously unreliable, and one of them had dropped onto the piston beneath. He showed me row upon row of J2s (well, probably ten or so), and told me they had all dropped valves - the car was worthless. Out of (what he said was) kindness he gave me 5 for the remains, and I hitch-hiked into London and spent the 5 on beer. Somehow I still feel as though I missed an important lesson there somewhere. Nevertheless, that was the end of motoring for me for quite a while, and a few days later I hitch-hiked to Southampton, carless and unfinancial, to take up my postgraduate scholarship.

The next two cars were so awful that I've been having real trouble even sorting out the order.

I'd always known that most of my social ambitions would be realised much more easily if I had transport, so as I gradually rebuilt my finances, I started to look for new wheels. Someone tried to persuade me that what I needed - and could afford - was a Fiat 500 Topolino, but once I saw one it was hard to stop laughing. There was very nearly another serious mistake, and after racking my mind I have remembered what it was: a Berkeley B65Berkeley, designed (as I have discovered) in 1956 by Laurie Bond and manufactured by the famous caravan company. It was a very small fibreglass car, weighing next to nothing. The basic model was powered by a two-cylinder 328 cc Excelsior two-stroke engine and chain driven through the front wheels and would do 65 mph (hence the name, B65). Alternatively you could get a three cylinder 492cc version, which as you might infer from the arithmetic was achieved by simply bolting on another cylinder and sorting out issues like crankshaft timing. This version had three Amal carburettors, and was far preferable, because it had much more power, and because the cranks were arranged at 120 it was smoother still with even less vibration. Being so light it had truly remarkable acceleration and very low petrol consumption, and would do a claimed 80mph, which was quite enough for me (they later offered a thing called the B105, powered by a Royal Enfield 700cc 4-stroke engine and delivering 50 bhp; you would probably infer that the name implied 105 mph, which would be truly terrifying. This was a relatively common format at the time: the first cars designed in 1946 by John Cooper, who went on to design highly successful F1 and F2 cars and later gave his name to Mini Coopers, were powered by 500cc JAP engines and chain driven through the back wheels). Well, I sourced one of these 3-cylinder beauties somewhere in South London, hitchhiked up and bought it. It did indeed go like sewage off a shovel, but it did seem to have more engine vibration than I would have expected, and after about ten miles, the engine seized up. I left the car by the side of the road, phoned the disappointed owner to tell him where to find his car, and hitchhiked back to Southampton and stopped the cheque. Because I'd owned it for less than 2 hours it doesn't count as one of my cars, which is a good thing because, as you can see from the picture, and notwithstanding that Stirling Moss drove one at Goodwood in September 1956, it would have left me with a serious image problem (and it's refreshing, isn't it, to find that there are still plenty of unpretentious people for whom image isn't a problem - enough at any rate to form the Berkeley Enthusiasts Club). Several months later he phoned me to ask if I were still interested. He had diagnosed the problem, and explained that apparently the car had originally been a two-cylinder version, but "someone" must have added the third cylinder without rejigging the crankshaft, so two pistons went up while one went down. He told me that this had now been fixed, without telling me how, but he still couldn't explain the firing order. He was nearly convincing enough to make me change my mind, but I was already planning my next two mistakes.

The trouble here is, I can't remember which order they came in. I can't remember how or when I acquired either of them, or how I disposed of them, and in Margaret's eyes that has undone all the good work in I did in being able to remember the Berkeley.

As I puzzle over it, and try to match the cars against the contemporaneous issues of the time (ie who I was squiring from time to time), I think the next mistake must have been the Markham-Peasey. Markham-Peasey Sabre
Markham-Peasey Sabre
How it really was...
...and how I imagined it
Markham-Peasey Sabre
I have to admit that with the little aero screens this looks like a real car. The flimsy wire wheels knocked off from a Ford 8 give it away: they would simply wind up if any serious torque were applied to them. Happily this is never likely to be a problem in a Markham-Peasey Special.
This was generously called a Special, but in fact the only faintly special thing was the fact that mugs could be persuaded to buy one. It had a fairly pretty fibreglass body on top of an absolutely standard Ford 10 chassis and transmission - no attempt at all to improve a readily improvable setup, the only thing that made it remotely redeemable was the relatively light weight due to discarding Mr Ford's unbelievably heavy and ugly body. I remember one trip towards Brighton, I kept being stopped by traffic lights. Each green phase, I would burn off, and each red phase a learner on a little 100cc motorbike would catch up. We would eye each other off, and I would rev my engine a bit, and eventually he spoke: "Nice car", he said, "What sort of engine does it have?" Modestly, I replied, "just a Ford 1172cc sidevalve, with hardly any tune". "No bloody wonder, then", he said, and catching the change of lights better than me, he left me standing and I never saw him again.

The car would normally have had a windscreen and hood, as the picture shows. Mine had neither, like the one on the right, which could be a bit of a liability occasionally. He's made little flyscreens: I made a short wraparound perspex screen, like a Maserati 300S. It looked good, but had no serious utility. It had no doors, either, so it was like driving around in a bathtub. I was caught in a thunderstorm near Winchester one bank holiday. There was a typical bank holiday traffic jam, with no-one moving; there was nothing to do but sit there. The car gradually began to fill up with water. When it got to the top of the seats (which were really just squabs flat on the floor, so it's not as dramatic as it sounds) I punched holes in the floor with a screwdriver to let it out. We parted company soon after, but, as I say, I can't remember what happened to it.

The first photo shows a Markham-Peasey posing proudly for its picture; someone must have cared enough to want to remember it (actually it just might have been a publicity photo from Messrs Markham and Peasey themselves; I've found the same picture in several places). The second shows one in what I feel is a more appropriate setting. This was published in Classic and Sportscar, July 1991, in one of those "look-what-we've-found can-anyone-guess-what-it-is?" articles. Sadly, I could, but for very shame I wouldn't admit it. And from the third picture, I can only assume that the Members of Fairthorpe Sports Car Club have now finished all the worthwhile projects and the Devil has been finding work for their idle hands!

Now it's always risky to tempt the gods, but what I hope was my last mistake was my next: a Ginetta G2. I've seen a few of the modern Ginettas, and I have to say that they look stunning, and if they go nearly as well as they look, and I'm sure they do, they deserve to be rated among the supercars. But I think you might have to conclude that the only merit of G2s was that they were the first of the marque. According to one source, only thirty of these were made, and I had to go and own one: what are the chances of that? (but according to other sources, almost 100 were made, which does seem to dilute the sheer bad judgement a little and make it less painful). Once again, I have no memory of sourcing this or disposing of the Markham-Peasey - mercifully
Ginetta G2
Someone obviously loved this G2 enough to take the trouble to polish it to a high specular finish, which should tell us something about the diversity of mankind's aspirations.
Ginetta G2
Who would have thought so many could survive. In what is described as "this beautifully restored example", notice how the bonnet doesn't quite seem to fit the nosecone. This is typical of my memories of the car: things tended to fit where they touched, and they tended not to touch too often. Anyone who takes the trouble to reproduce this level of detail in a restoration clearly deserves major points at concourse.
Another G2
I kept coming across pictures of this one in different settings. In the end I think I've traced it back to to the Fairthorpe Sports Car Club website, which does rather support the conclusion I formed earlier.
Another G2
excised from my memory, perhaps. I suppose its not impossible that I got it from a second-hand dealer, leaving my Markham-Peasey in exchange - if so, we'd both have gone off chuckling, thinking we'd made a good deal. It looked very much like a Lotus Mk VI, but somehow lacked the pleasing lines and finish of the Lotus. My mind is mercifully hazy on many of the details. I believe, but cannot now be sure, that it had the split front axle made popular by Chapman, giving a primitive form of independant front suspension. It had telescopic dampers, but still used the transverse front spring used by Ford because it was cheaper. The fore-and-aft location was defined by a trailing link, which you can just see in the pictures. The problem with this modification is that the length of the steering link is different to the axle length: so when the suspension deflects, the steering geometry changes, and both wheels point in different directions, which makes for interesting cornering. Like the Markham-Peasey, it had a Ford 1172 sidevalve engine, this time in a mild state of tune, which did nothing for reliability. Because it had a mechanical petrol pump driven off the camshaft, the engine had to crank long enough to pump the fuel to the carburettors before it would start, and the slightly higher compression made it hard for the starter motor to crank the engine. Usually the battery was flat long before the float chamber was full. I found an easy solution, and that was to convert to 12 V, by the simple expedient of replacing the 6V battery with 12V. The generator coped easily, running up to 12V with no trouble. The spark was about 1/2" long, and I reckon it probably delivered more energy than the engine. The 6V starter motor had the engine cranking fast enough to start - indeed I think the car would have gone faster on the starter motor than it did on the engine. I also put in an electric petrol pump. The battery was one of the old-fashioned sort, with external lead straps connecting the cells. So it was easy to drill and tap into the middle one to provide a six-volt source for the lights and ancillary equipment. But as the Walklett brothers had copied the lighting system from the Lotus (who as I said earlier got the idea from the Morris 8), the lighting was always poor (one night driving on the M2 the light-switch failed, and the lights went out. I genuinely did not notice, because all the cars around me were lighting my way much more effectively than my own lights. This was hard to explain to the police). It boiled frequently, and emptied the coolant onto the ground. For this reason I never put anti-freeze into it, but emptied the radiator each night in winter. That worked well until one party, when, predictably, I forgot. The cracked block didn't seem to make any difference to how it went, but it did look ugly. I think what finally persuaded me that our futures lay apart was an instrument failure. One morning I drove home through the New Forest just as the sun was rising, after a night out in Bournemouth (what can you find in Bournemouth to keep you till dawn, you ask). I remember thinking how pleasant it was - and how surprising - that there should be so much heat in the sun, so early. Well, of course, it wasn't the sun, but the lead had popped off the back of the oil pressure gauge, and instead of pumping it around the galleries and over the bearings, the oil pump had pumped just over a gallon of hot Duckhams 20W/50 over my smart trousers.

So that was it, it had to go and eventually I found someone gullible enough, proving that if you wait long enough you can always find someone more stupid than yourself. My faint memory tells me that I had already finished University and was now in London earning a high salary, so I probably didn't ask much, only that the new owner would never embarrass me in front of my friends by phoning up to discuss its shortcomings.

And that, I hope, brought me to the end of such disasters.

Rob Walker's 1960 Lotus 18
The first Lotus to win a F1 GP was a Lotus 18, campaigned not by Team Lotus, but by Rob Walker's Ecurie Ecosse, and driven by Stirling Moss. It wore the Scottish colours of Blue with Walker's distingishing White Stripe; consequently Walker Blue was a popular colour for Sevens of that era. Team Lotus did not win their first GP until 1961. Lotus 18s were designed to be used, with different engine options, in F1, F2, and FJ. I saw this car at the Motor Show that year, and just for that first instant I thought it was a Seven, stripped down with mudguards removed for racing.
My next car was a Lotus Seven Series 2, bought in 1967 for 400 from Graham Nearn at Caterham-on-the-Hill, while he was still only the concessionaire for Lotus (and thinking of Lotus Sevens, could Mike Sherrell have been right when on p 23 of his flawless book in appreciation of TCs he wrote that that Colin Chapman had "embodied the spirit of the TC into his Lotus 7"?). Its registration number was OO3981, and its chassis number was SB 1268. It was painted Walker Blue, and it looked - and was - beautiful. It had the Ford 105E 997cc engine. My father at that time had a Ford Anglia, also of course with the 105E engine. I was never able to convince him that the engines were the same (except that mine had twin SU carburettors), or that my car would go just as well with his, and his wouldn't go any better with mine. Hardly anything went wrong with it. It went willingly, steered where I pointed it, and stopped when I asked it to. It was prone to boiling in traffic, though, and one evening in Soho it did just that. Now what I really should have realised is that if it boiled hard enough, it was likely to boil over the distributor, and wet distributors are show stoppers. I kept cranking the engine, and occasionally it back-fired through the exhaust with a sound like a rifleshot, raising all the pigeons from their roosts in surrounding buildings. It didn't disturb the residents at all, who were probably used to rifle shots.

I loved the car for two years, and sold it for what I gave in order to come to Australia.

And that ought to be the end of the story of earlier cars, and the beginning of the restoration story, because that's just about all about all the cars I owned before I owned the MG.

NSD 882 - my current carExcept that while we were in England, and the MG was gradually fragmenting back in Australia, we bought another Lotus Seven, so although it doesn't count as one of the cars which shaped the decision to buy the MG, at any event it is pre-Restoration Period. I bought this for 1600 in September 1977, in a private contract, on Caterham's forecourt, one busy Saturday afternoon when the salesmen thought they didn't have time, or couldn't be bothered, to deal either with me (a buyer) or the owner (a seller). Consequently we matched ourselves up, on their forecourt, and they missed an instant commission, and were very upset when they found out. The car was sold to me as a 1969 Series Three, and certainly the livery matches S3s, but in fact it's a Series Two, as I discovered when I found that parts I'd bought for it didn't fit. So it must be earlier than 1967. Unfortunately it's lost its chassis plate, so it's hard to date it any more accurately. According to Graham Nearn, this was not uncommon: what used to happen, people would buy the cars to race, and when they became uncompetitive, they would put them on the road ("Buying a Lotus Seven", Practical Classics, Oct 1983). In those days, the value of the marque itself had less value than the age of the car: that is, its value as a late model car was greater than the value of its original Lotus pedigree. So people used to have these recycled racers registered as new cars "built from used parts", which was allowed at that time. In that case, they had to have a new identity, and that meant a new chassis number, and that accounts for the lack of chassis plate. But it does have a frame number: AM 90, built by Arch Motors who named themselves for their original factory under the railway arches in Tottenham.

We drove this car all over England and Wales and Scotland. On the Isle of Skye the silencer and tail-pipe came off when we hit a rock on the finely groomed main road; I tied it back on in approximate position using a bit of string from the tent's guyrope and we drove back to London, attracting what I'm sure were admiring glances all along the way. When I found myself living on one side of London and working on the other, Margaret used to drive it to work so that it didn't stand in the street. Her colleagues ran a book on what time she'd arrive. When we came back to Australia, we brought it with us when we came back, and we still have it, thirty years later (as I write these words) and half a world away.

I think I've done every job possible on this car, many of them several times (LOTUS: Lots Of Trouble, Usually Serious). All the rubber bushes, of course, several times. The brakes, several times. Half shaft and differential (the car came to me with a 4.875:1 axle and the engine used to rev its poor liitle soul out for me; I've replaced this with a 3.89:1 diff from a Triumph Spitfire, and because the speedo is calibrated in mph for 4.11 ratio, the mental arithmetic involved in converting to and from real kph helps keep me young). Gearbox, when the synchro hub for 3rd/top gear stripped its internal splines and I couldn't get third or top. I drove home in second, to the intense annoyance of other drivers who in Sydney at least are intolerant of anything which gets in their way, as if I were driving slowly just to annoy them. Engine, of course, many times, although if it involves machining this is just a matter of taking it out and letting someone else do the work. Starter motor, and thanks to using the correct pinion to match the ring gear, it now cranks fast and reliably. Exhaust system. Front suspension rebuild after verifying which of Motor Sport's various assessments of handling in the wet was correct. New wheel studs on the front near side wheel after it came off (I'd been interrupted while replacing the wheels after some job or other; the nuts were only finger tight. A valuable lesson, which was much cheaper than it might have been). Reweld the inlet manifold (this was interesting: the car would idle nicely when cold, but as it warmed up, it would idle faster and faster, and the problem got worse with time. I traced it to a hairline crack in the manifold, which opened up as it warmed up, and which must be a farly common problem, due to its cantilevered nature). Clutch operating lever, when it simply fell apart on the way to somewhere. I collected the bits off the highway at great personal risk, and had them welded up ("I fix for you. I make better than factory. You bring twenty dollar cash money, I fix"). I've reskinned the rear panel, using skills I had acquired for rebuilding the MG body, and using, to the greatest possible extent, the original rivet holes - I was pleased with that piece of work. All the fibreglass panels - people, especially in Australia, seem to have a habit of driving into parked cars and then driving away; how could they not know they'd done damage? Some of the repairs are quite immaculate, others less so. I'd gone to Tech to learn how to spraypaint the MG, so I painted the fibreglass bits as a test. I sprayed it royal blue, in metallic colours, which looks stunning with the polished aluminium. The team wouldn't let me paint the MG the same colour. I made, but never fitted, a new bonnet, because I wanted louvres like the Series Threes, and I wanted to do away the non-original piano hinge up the middle. I couldn't make the louvres, which was a pity, but the show-stopper was that I couldn't nicely make the cutout for the carburettors. So the panel is still suspended in my garage ceiling, and the car still has the piano hinge. Tiring of the unreliable electrics due to corroded scotch terminals, I rewired the whole car using proper terminations. I went to a different Tech college to learn how to sew the upholstery for the MG, and I made a new tonneau and reupholstered the Lotus, again as a test vehicle. Just for the moment, I can't think of what's left.




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