The MGB Clutch Experience

After languishing through the long and especially cold winter of  ’14, we were ready for spring and the stimulating thought of summertime cruises through the beautiful Maryland countryside.

The ‘78 MGB barn find had more than a few issues, and many winter days were spent lovingly restoring our little red convertible in our somewhat heated garage—“somewhat heated” meaning that the little pellet stove had to be fired up two hours in advance and the floor never really got warm, but we managed with a few layers of warm clothes and a burning desire to get the car back into top shape. The MG fit so snuggly there and we were ecstatic to see such an extraordinary machine nurtured back to life.

I recall one particular day during one of the many mechanical test runs when the clutch plate got stuck against something in the transmission. What?….How does that happen? This was all new to me and required an open mind. I chalked it up to part of the MG experience, as they say. To say the least, getting a clutch unstuck was a challenge, and my husband tried everything imaginable short of pulling the transmission out of the car. There were lots of attempts of bleeding the line and replacing fluid, to no avail.

Finally, someone (actually a superhero techie over at Moss Motors) suggested running the car on a long, sparsely traveled country road for several miles, then stomping on the brake. Doing this while in gear supposedly will shake the clutch plate loose from its stationary position. Crazy idea for sure, however, living in suburban Baltimore, Maryland, this was not an option at all. There are no long, sparsely driven roads here to speak of. Desperate and willing to try anything at this point, my husband, one very determined German, levitated the car on a set of jack stands, simulated a long country cruise, and then slammed on the brakes. It worked! The clutch sprang loose. What a glorious moment. With the engine rebuilt, new carbs, the clutch fixed, and the transmission in top order, we were ready for the maiden journey.

The first trip around the block was heavenly. Grinning ear-to-ear, we basked in our good fortune and luck in scoring such a fantastically awesome car. The wind in my hair and warm sun on my face felt sooo good. I instantly fell in love with our little British car. There were more trips, each venturing a bit farther from our zip code, but never too far until the mechanicals were deemed reliable. It was a courting of sorts, getting to know the character, strengths, and quirks of our new bundle of joy.

One particular day, feeling fairly confident, we planned a longer trip to the countryside in Hartford County, with lunch along the way and planning to be back home a couple of hours later. The day was perfect, sunny and clear. We could feel the cool shade of the trees we passed under, smell blooming flowers across the forest, and the earthy aroma of freshly plowed farmlands. It was a wonderful day in our amazing machine, rolling along without a care in the world until…it happened. It being the clutch again.

This time we had the opposite problem. No clutch. None, zero, zip. Traveling along a windy road, far from home, the clutch pedal fluttered, then deflated to no pressure at all. As luck would have it, my determined German had driven commercial trucks for an entire lifetime and was skilled at shifting clutchless, using the engine’s rpm’s as a guide. My panic attack settled down for a short while, but the feeling of relief was short-lived.

After a few miles, we approached a busy highway intersection that required several stop-and-go periods in order to proceed towards home. The first stop left us facing downward on a small hill and able to make a right turn on a red light. No problem. The next light was red as well, but left us sitting flat at the light in a middle left-turn lane in busy traffic, with large fast moving vehicles whizzing by. I was terrified at the thought of breaking down and being stranded here in the middle of Route 40 with traffic flying by at 50 miles per hour and more.

The light turned green and then, to my absolute wonderment, my fantastical superhero husband turned the motor off, shifted into first gear, quickly turned the key to restart the engine and gave it some gas at the precise moment, and away we went. The maneuver was absolutely superbly amazing! We made the next two green lights and landed safely back home.

Chapter two of the clutch experience gets interesting. We discovered that the loss of clutch was due to the lack of fluid that apparently leaked from the slave cylinder. Once removed from under the car, we discovered rocks inside the rubber boot located on the end of the cylinder. Actual rocks! How’d those things get inside there? The rubber boot was clogged with rocks, sand, and dirty grease to the point that holes developed and numerous leaks followed. Moss Motors is great at getting orders filled quickly, and the new slave cylinder came the very next day. More fun pumping pedals, pushing and pulling hydraulic fluid, and finally we have clutch! Never in my imagination had I ever considered I’d be so happy to have a working clutch.

What a trip! A full circle of emotions ensued throughout our MG experience: pleasure, excitement, sheer fright, the relief of being home safe and sound, and finally the satisfaction of fixing the problem and a job well done. When I think how many vacations taken over the years that delivered much less, the MG seems like such a bargain. This barn find is a keeper for sure.

—Cynthia Shaffer

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