By Gerry Strachan
I am a transplanted “Brit” who arrived in this country as a member of “Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Corp” in 1978, and expected to return to U.K. in 1981 after a three-year “tour of duty” at the British Embassy. Two years later, I decided I wanted to stay in the USA for a few more years, and duly found a job with an international company that was prepared to provide a job and the necessary work visa. The plan was to stay five more years and return to U.K. in 1986. I worked at that same company for a total of 29 years before retiring to Pennsylvania with my wife of 34 years.
About five years ago I met a guy who, upon realizing I was a Brit (although now, an American citizen), introduced me to a retired USAF LT-Colonel who owned a British car. The car was a 1952 MGTD, with a mirror paint job (except for some “orange peel” on the front and rear fenders), a stainless steel exhaust and a new soft top. The rest of the car was questionable. For example, both doors had to be held in place with bungee cords and the forearms during driving, to prevent them swinging open.
The conversation went something like:
“I guess there’s a long line of folks waiting for you to sell this car?”
“Then can I be first in line if you ever do decide to sell?”
About a year later, I received a call from the Lt-Colonel, saying he was downsizing and did I still want the car. I did, and we agreed a price and I drove it to my house and parked it in my garage. Being a “Brit” born in 1946, I grew up with these type of cars and used to work on other people’s, as well as my own, and, although I had never restored one, I was excited to get started. A Moss Motors catalog lay on the floor, which I quickly realized was going to be my main source for a lot of needed parts.
I researched the car and found out it was built on 6 July 1951 (TD/8849 EXL/XA), but, for some reason didn’t arrive in the USA until October 1951, by which time cars were being registered as the following year 1952. So really it’s a 1951/1952 MGTD.
I took the car for its first test drive and discovered several things, most of them not good: on the good side, the engine ran strong, the clutch didn’t slip and the gearbox was working nicely. On the bad side, none of the gauges worked, except the oil pressure/water temp. I knew it was working because the oil pressure started out at 45 psi, and, after 30 minutes was down to 10 psi. The temp needle however went the opposite direction from 30C to 95C. By the time I realized what was going on and brought the car to a halt, the needle went past the 100C, and of course boiled over. Oops! I waited 30 minutes, added some water, and then limped the car home from there.
It was disconcerting to discover there was no oil filter assembly and that the line from the oil pump fed directly into the engine block. I was pretty sure this was not correct and a check with my Moss catalog confirmed it. After studying the workshop manual and a drawing of the fan blades, a light bulb went on in my head as I realized they were on backwards—hopefully the reason the engine overheated. I turned my attention to the oil pump and removal of the relief guide, spring and ball, showed wear, and a flat spot in the spring as if it was rubbing inside the oil pump cap. Could someone have stretched the spring to try and increase pressure against the oil release ball ? Logic said, if they had, and the spring folded slightly in the cap, then pressure would be reduced on the ball, not increased. Sure enough, a new spring from Moss showed a height difference of about half an inch. Changing around the fan blades, plus replacing a totally rusted thermostat and its housing, resolved the overheating issue, and so did the new spring as I now have a constant 48psi (or maybe it was the purchase and installation of a new oil filter assembly from you know who).
My next plan was to go all over the car, writing down all that I could see was wrong, and all I suspected was wrong. It was quite a a list, including being able to see my garage floor, through a hole in the carpet on the drivers side footwell. Not knowing anything specific about the MGTD, and not using a flashlight to look at the hole, I swore under my breath, “That’s all I needed was a rusted out floor.” I spoke to a good friend of mine and asked him if he would be able to weld a plate (or plates) to the floor. He said he could, so, in order to check the rest of the flooring, I struggled to remove the rusted seat tracks and seats, finally cutting off the bolt heads, and then removed the carpet and underlay. I immediately called my friend and rather embarrassed said, “Never mind. It’s okay, welding services not needed.” However, the wood floor was almost all rotted away, so was added to the list of “to do’s.”
I decided my plan of action was to begin removing parts that would need to be sent away for refurbishing. (I don’t do chrome, upholstery, welding or painting.) I took out my American wrenches—spanners in UK—and discovered none would fit any of the nuts and bolts – “what the heck was going on?” So back to my now trusty Moss catalog, to discover (and then to recall from the old days in U.K.) that Whitworth was the magic name. So online to Moss Motors to purchase two full sets, one for the bolt head, and one to hold the nut. My first unexpected expense. By the end of the restoration there were a great many more!
As an aside, when I first bought the MGTD, my wife asked me about how much I expected to spend on the restoration. I put on my serious face and thought I was overstating when I said six to eight thousand dollars. How silly am I! If you are reading this and laughing, you know that it cost many times more than my initial estimate to my wife. Fortunately, she wants me to be happy in my retirement, and goes with my flow, even to the point of pointing me in the direction of my next restoration (now in progress) of a 1972 MGB Roadster.
But I digress!
I sent all the chrome (including that from the dismantled windshield) to a company in Evans City, Pennsylvania (Paul’s Chrome Plating), and took the seats to a local company (Bill Secrest in Chambersburg) for reupholstering. Removed the old floor, sanded what turned out to be just surface rust from the frame, painted rust inhibitor throughout the frame and repainted with matte black paint, and prepped and installed new floors from Moss. The wheels all went to a local company (Biltwood Powder Coating), and the orange-peeled fenders to another local company (Forresters Auto Repair) for re-painting.
As I moved forward with dismantling, I discovered one problem after another to a point where I walked in the house and said to my wife, “I’m getting fed up with this. Yet another issue rears its ugly head.” To which she responded, “Isn’t that what it’s all about, fixing and restoring whatever comes up.” It was like a smack on the back of my head. I realized she was absolutely correct and complained no more.
After a year it was starting to come together nicely—new carpets and seat slide assembly’s (from Moss), chrome looked great, wheels looked good, upholstery looking sharp, fenders looking same as rest of bodywork, etc.
The doors I took off, adjusted the hinges, put on new door checks and locks (from Moss), and put it all back and—magic—the doors worked!
The gauges I had previously sent to a company in U.K. (JDO Instruments) who did an excellent job. They even got the clock working—even if it does lose about five minutes a day.
I removed the SU’s only to discover that both jet holes were egg-shaped and that one needle actually had a piece missing from the tip. No wonder the SU’s wouldn’t tune and produced much black smoke and smell of gas while engine was running. I decided to send the carbs to a guy in New York called Joe Curto, who not only did a magnificent refurbishing job, but who is also very customer oriented. He and I had several informative and helpful phone conversations when I had questions re-installing the carbs.
While working on the engine, I noticed the distributor had some play in the shaft, and, upon removal noticed missing teeth parts in the distributor gear. I sent the whole thing to Jeff Schlemmer of Advanced Distributors, in Shakopee, Minnesota, and he did an excellent job, and did something good to the distributor so that it is now set to 15 degrees BTDC, rather than the original TDC. He did explain the reasoning, but it was above my pay grade, so I did as instructed and set timing to his specification. All other ignition parts were replaced and I moved on the the fuel pump. I took it apart and realized the seals were breaking down and the points were a disaster waiting to happen. I sought advise on the forum and the unanimous suggestion was Dave DuBois of Washington state. So off it went to Dave, who refurbished the pump and put electronic something or others (I didn’t know so many items were above my pay grade!), instead of points, and it works great.
Reasoning that the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was a good thing, I decided that because I had no clutch slippage, no gearbox problems, and compression was 140, 140, 135, 140, that I wasn’t about to get into engine/gearbox rebuild (my specialty back in the mid/late 60’s). I the spoke to Ken Beck, owner of K&T Vintage Sports Cars in Allentown, PA, about the suspension, as I don’t have the expertise with girling shocks nor the facilities to take on such a task. He drove down and we went over what was needed, and he then transported the car to his place in Allentown. He and his crew refurbished the Girling shocks, and replaced the rear leaf springs. During this process they discovered two oil leaks from the sump and replaced the gaskets and bolts, and also found the fuel tank was leaking slightly around the sender unit and “fixed” that issue as well. Another good company, and great people to deal with, who do a marvelous job and whose sense of customer service is excellent.
My plan had been to restore and then sell the TD, however, I love this car and know pretty much every nut and bolt and all the pieces of it. I also figure I’m not quite upside down but if I sold it, my hourly working rate during restoration would be about 5 cents (or less) per hour. But, I also realize realize per hour rate is unimportant compared to the fun I’ve had doing the restoration, so the car stays as I begin restoration of my next MG.
As can be seen in the beginning photo, we had a few friends over to unveil the MGTD. As my wife said, “It’s a great excuse to party!” And the Colonel did the honors of driving the car out of the garage.