The first MG TD I ever saw was Peter’s, my brother-in-law. I lived in Florida but was back in England to visit family—this was about 20 years ago. Peter had owned the car for a long time, had bought it restored and, as he said, “It’s the only thing left from my first marriage.”
He had rolled it out of the garage and just washed it – and I was absolutely taken aback by how cool it looked – it was a bright red and chrome, vintage 1951, and it reminded me so much of Noddy’s car I couldn’t believe it. (Noddy was a character in Enid Blyton’s extremely politically incorrect books.)
We took it for a day out to the DeHavilland museum on the M25 and I fell in love with it. It was so much fun to drive and everybody, yes everybody, either smiled or said something nice when they saw it.
It was about ten years later, and I had moved to California, when I discovered eBay. I started fairly innocuously, but eventually typed in “MG TD.”
After a period of trying to work out what they cost and what appeared to be a good buy, I came across a 1951 TD, antique white, near Los Angeles. Time to have a look, I thought, and drove the thirty-odd miles to see it.
It started first time and I drove it. It was fine to about 40 mph when I thought it was going to shake completely apart—the steering wheel was wobbling all over the place. Overall it looked okay—paint was shabby, but it was the original engine and had 25,000 miles on it. It had been bought in Colorado in 1951, taken to California in the eighties and left in someone’s garage for 25 years.
I was the only person who bid on it and went down to pick it up. My wife, Lesley, decided to add to my anxiety about this particular purchase by suggesting I pay in cash. So I took a really big bundle down and, counting the notes out one by one, completed the transaction.
I drove the MG back with Lesley following with the hazard lights on all the way (40mph on LA freeways) At this point the MG acquired a gender and “she” made it back all the way.
The work starts
With really very little trouble I was able to get the engine where I wanted it. I stripped and rebuilt the carbs, timed and tuned it. Most of the grief came from the gunk in the petrol tank that kept working it’s way into the carbs, etc.—that took a good few months to completely sort out.
Then the brakes suddenly started leaking all over the place. Brakes and brain surgery are two things I stay away from, so I found someone who specializes in Olde English cars and got them fixed. In the months prior to when I was mechanically happy with her, I had been recovered by the tow truck three times (each time to Lesley’s tremendous amusement).
I decided to start on the cosmetics. I had been surprised to find parts of the rear interior chewed away, but thought nothing of it until I found rat’s droppings under the carpet. The carpet had to go. I realized at this point I hadn’t taken her above 40 mph so I gave her another go and found exactly the same problem as before (surprise!). I took each wheel, one by one, to another local guy who heated them up, pressed them straight, and put new tyres, etc on them—Lo and Behold she would do 50 mph or so and stayed in a straight line. He told me it’s a common problem. Wheels simply get twisted out of shape over the years.
So I started to strip her apart—more amusement for Lesley. But my Dad had taught me the trick of taking a sheet of cardboard and starting from left to right on anything, sticking all the bolts, etc through the cardboard and writing on it where they came from.
I found another local guy who agreed to paint the panels (to MG red, or a close approximation) if I took them off myself. So I dismantled the car as far as I could, leaving the tub on the frame and took the rolling chassis, plus a great pile of panels, doors, wings and more down to the paint shop, which he promptly pushed in a corner and forgot about for a few weeks, until I called to check on the progress.
The chrome was another story—someone had recommended a lady who ran a plating shop down in the Valley. Being a little cautious, I went down there with the rear view mirror, which was very badly tarnished, for her to test out.
It was a wonderfully Dickensian setting—a very small, dark, dusty office, tucked in the back of a yard with very big gates. Inside, a very big desk was cluttered and surrounded by shiny chrome parts from every imaginable car, including in one corner a pile of bumpers and wheel hubs from a really old Cadillac that no-one had ever bothered to collect.
She did a beautiful job of the mirror so each week I would take another load of bits I had taken off. Gradually all the parts were refinished. Each time I went to pick up the finished parts I had to go through her office to find them, usually buried under somebody else’s stuff.
Because of the trick with the cardboard the TD took twice as long as I anticipated to take apart. But when the time came to put it all back together, some months later, I knew where every single nut, bolt and screw went—in order. The paint and chrome came out even better than I could have imagine. It, too, took way longer than I had hoped, but it was worth it. I had to buy very few new parts, and those I did were readily available.
It took about a month to put back together, working weekends and being very careful, but suddenly she looked like she was becoming whole again. I got her finished a week before by brother-in-law came over for the summer.
I’ve won a couple of awards, nothing grand, but I’m so proud of her and enjoy the crowds she draws in the grocery store parking lot.
So now we have (nearly) matching MG TDs on either side of the pond—both bright red and chrome and both looking just like Noddy’s car.
I would recommend The Complete MGTD Restoration Manual by Horst Schach and The Original MGTD at mgcars.org.uk for all those nitty little details.
Next, I’m looking at fixing up a DeHavilland Tiger Moth – now wouldn’t that be fun!
By Rob Moverly
Rob’s MG TD is featured on the cover of the 2012 Moss Motors catalog.