The MGB was such an ordeal I wasn’t going to post to this thread.
I started out with the best of intentions. I found a '66 MGB on eBay that was complete; and though it had been sprayed red at one point, it was originally Old English White like my firs '66 MGB. And it was only three figures. I knew the floorboards would have to be replaced, but I reckoned I’d have new ones welded in, get a temporary coat of paint, and fix it up as I went along. Here’s the rub: I lived in an apartment and didn’t have a garage. I have no experience with metal working. I thought I’d get the body sorted and the engine rebuilt and I could turn wrenches and screwdrivers for the rest.
Enter ‘J’. J is a T-series MG guy who belongs to an MG club in SoCal who said he could get the restoration started. He had a friend who could strip the car for me. After the car was tubbed (in April) it went to another of J’s contacts; Antonio of A To Z Auto Works. (I’m using his real name because I’m still mad at him.) J’s friend ‘H’ has a machine shop and the non-body parts of the car when there. J would work on the car in H’s shop. Antonio said the main crossmember and a couple of longitudinal pieces were rusted and needed to be replaced. He said it would take him six weeks to finish the body.
Six weeks later I called Antonio and he said it would take six more weeks. In six weeks I called back. ‘Oh, chipping away at it. Maybe about six more weeks.’ In six weeks I called again. There had been some sort of falling out with Antonio’s employees, and his wife was seriously ill with an aneurysm. She nearly died. I cut him some slack. After all, I’d lost my dad three years before and I know what it’s like to lose a loved one.
Every time I checked on the car I got the same answer: ‘About six more weeks.’ Why didn’t I find a new body guy? For one thing, the country had been shaken by the WTC attacks and as a news junkie I was distracted. For another thing, I wasn’t in a hurry. I’d seen Antonio’s work on other cars and it looked pretty good. He assured me I’d have a ‘show winner’. And there were day to day interests that took up my time. And then there were lay-offs at work. My employer knew that I wanted to move to Washington, so I was put on the list. The deal was that the company would try to keep everyone they could, and that if the listed people did not quit we’d receive a retention bonus when we were laid off. I told Antonio that he needed to finish the car before I lost my job.
It turns out we weren’t laid off (and the company gave us half of the bonus anyway). So time passed. Then in October of 2003 (a year and a half later) there was a purge. A month and a half later I was moving into my house in NoWA. I kept in contact with Antonio, and now the story was ‘Two weeks.’ I called every two to four weeks and got the same answer. But being over 1,200 miles away I couldn’t put much pressure on him.
I needed a convertible for the summer, so I found a '63 Triumph Herald 1200 in Sacramento. Some friends and I took a road trip, then decided to continue down to L.A. I’m not a little person, and I was the smallest of the three of us. One of my friends, the one with the shaved head, and though he totally looked Caucasian is half-Mexican and had hung around gangs in Long Beach when he was a kid, stood back and glowered at Antonio when we went to check the car. The other (larger) guy frowned at Antonio a bit. (By this time there was actually paint on the car!) It was very shortly after our visit that I was informed that the body was finished and the car was at H’s shop where J would complete it.
Only J seemed to like buying parts (with my money) more than actually putting them on the car. I started getting calls from H asking when I would get my car out of his shop – oh, and don’t tell J he was complaining because they’re friends and he doesn’t want to get him mad. Calls to J, trying to be diplomatic. Even after repeated calls, H said he hadn’t worked on the car in months.
Then my company hired me back and I moved back to L.A. I found Chris, an Englishman who used to work for a resto shop in Anaheim who was building his own shop. I had to wait a few months for his shop to be finished, and there was another car ahead of mine; but I arranged to get the car to him.
Chris was disappointed in Antonio’s work. The engine work (by a guy H knows) was great. The components J had bought were great. The ‘work’ that J did… not so much. Chris had to redo it. Unlike the other clowns, Chris actually worked on the car and had it finished in six months after he got it.
What I got was a car that was virtually new. Better than new. Except for the bodywork. The doors almost fit right, but they’re not perfect. The bonnet doesn’t fit right, and the left side looks like it’s open, because Antonio did not align the fenders correctly. The boot lid has a gap on the left side, and it overhangs the rear panel by about 1/16 inch. It looks great from ten feet away, but it still needs some work.
Chris did a stellar job and I’d recommend him. Antonio is heartily not recommended.
There have been two glitches with the car since I’ve been driving it. First, a freeze plug popped out of the engine. American engines use ‘cup’ shaped freeze plugs, and English engines use ‘discs’. Chris said the English plugs have to be hit with a hammer until they make a certain sound. The engine guy works on American engines and didn’t know this. (He really did do a great job on the engine. He builds race engines. He just didn’t know about this type of plug.) New freeze plugs were installed by a shop up here and the problem has been resolved except for the engine paint that was stained by the glycol.
The other problem is electrical. What are the odds an British car would have electrical problems? I have a Pertronix electronic ignition. The car ‘misses’ and eventually quits. I wiped out the distributor cap and it has been running fine since then. I don’t know if this (graphite?) dust in the cap is the problem, but old British cars have quirks and this is just one I’ll have to keep in mind.
In short, listen to Rick. Restoring a car takes longer (four years in my case) and costs more than you think – especially if you’re not equipped to do the work yourself and have to have it done. Know what you want before you start. I never planned to make the car as good as it is. I just wanted a '66 MGB to drive that looked OK. But things got out of hand, and were it not for Antonio’s body work I’d have a concourse car.
I love my car. It’s a blast to drive! But let’s call this How Not To Restore A Car.