The MGB Saga

The story thus far…

In November 2002 I bought a 1966 MGB from a seller on eBay. The original plan was to get the engine running, replace the floorboards, and slap a coat of paint on it. It would be a ‘rolling restoration’. Well, once the car was stripped it was obcious it needed more metal work. So much so, that I decided it would be better to do a ground-up restoration.

In April 2003 the car was taken to Antonio for the body work and painting. I wasn’t in that much of a hurry, so I wasn’t concerned when it wasn’t completed in the estimated six weeks. Antonio said it would be another six weeks. Okay. A couple of months later I visited the car. It was down to the tub and had been sandblasted and sprayed with zinc chromate. ‘Oh… Another six weeks.’ Whatever. In August I checked on the car again. Seems Antonio’s wife had an anurism and was in critical condition. I could cut the guy some slack. ‘Six more weeks.’ In October I lost my job. I paid Antonio the balance of what I owed him. ($2,500 balance on a $9,000 job.) I said I had to move out of the state, so let’s get the body done so that I could get my car up to Washington soon. ‘No problem. About six more weeks.’

I called Antonio from time to time, and it was no longer ‘six more weeks’. Now the job would be done in ‘a couple of weeks’, ‘two more weeks’, ‘two… maybe three weeks’. Now, there are other people involved in the restoration. Howard owns a machine shop and has the engine and transmission. John restores T-series MGs and is heading up the project. Paul is the upholsterer. Everyone is waiting for Antonio to finish the body. John stopped by the shop and later sent me an e-mail. He was seething. He said Antonio hadn’t done squat. I’ve been calling Antonio every couple of weeks. Which brings us to today.

Today Antonio says he just has to block the bonnet and boot and paint them, then the body will be done and painted. Huzzah! (‘Huzzah!’ that is, if he’s telling the truth.) I called John. Both he and Howard are extremely busy. John gave me Sid’s number. I called Sid, and he rebuilds a lot of British, Italian and German engines. He said he could make my MGB engine virtually new, including cleaning and bead-blasting and painting. I already have (well, John or Howard has) a new aluminum head for it, and Sid said that’s excellent. I should get another 5 hp out of it with an aluminum head. Now they just have to get the engine over to him.

I asked John if I would have the car back by summer. He mentioned how busy he is, and said he doubted it. There are some parts in the engine bay that need to be restored, which basically involves sanding and painting. I told him that if he sent the parts to me, then I could do that. I’m not mechanical, but I can use a can of Rust-o-leum. The car has been completely taken apart, so literally everything has to be done to it. John also said that since I’m out of work, maybe I could come down and work on the car in Howard’s shop. Well, I have an interview tomorrow. I hope I get the job. If I do, then there’s no way I could do that. There’s also videography work coming up in a couple of months. Man, it sure is unhandy being 1,200 miles away!

I really appreciate the time that John, in particular, has put into this project. (No doubt I’ll get a nasty bill for his time.) I wish Antonio hadn’t dicked around so much, since I could have helped while I was still in SoCal. Had I known how expensive this would be I would have bought an already-restored car. Fortunately, I paid for most of it when I was working and still living in SoCal. But the cost of restoration will be a few thousand dollars more than I would have paid for a restored example. On the other hand, I’ll have a car with a ‘new’ engine, an overdrive transmission, and new paint and upholstery in the colours I want (to replicate the '66 MGB my mom gave me).

The weather up here has been nice. Though it’s raining today, Summer is just around the corner. It’s killing me to see all of the Fiat 124 drop tops running around already. I wish my car was done.

Updates to follow when there is progress…

But…you know for sure that Antonio’s really really almost done with the body, right? RIGHT? :eek: (love the new smiley)

Had me a midget a while back. Spent as much time under it as in it, but a hell of a fun ride when it was running. When you get the car (this will be September) get a chick in the passenger seat (or make her drive!) and day-trip on over to Wenatchee for a box of apples or something. This event will teach you the real value of an MG.

The apples will be the best you’ll ever have. Enjoy but do NOT marry this girl! Trust me on this one!

He said he is. John’s going to the shop to check.

I had three MGBs, a '66 and two '77s. Usually two were running at any given time. I drove the '66 from Lancaster, CA to Denver, CO once. Ran great. The only problem was that dad changed the oil before I left. The '66 uses an oil canister with a filter element inside. When he put it on, the lip of the canister sliced the rubber gasket. Hemorrhage City. Didn’t figure it out until I got home. Just kept replenishing the oil. Other than that, it was very reliable on the trip.

Eh, nobody likes me that much anyway. :shrug:

I’m just a little teeny bit jealous–MGBs used to be my favorite cars! But I’m all grown up now, so I have to have a practical car.

I want a fun car. : pout :

Why? I never saw any profit in growing up.

My first three cars were the MGBs. Mom gave me the non-running '66 when I graduated high school, and I picked up the other two later. Then I had a Porsche 924 [insert Chevy Sprint interlude] and a Porsche 911SC. When I realised my movie camera case wouldn’t fit in the Porsche, I got my Jeep. The Jeep is practical. It can haul all of my filmmaking gear, my kayak, and a boat all at the same time and still have room for a passenger. I would have had a hard time relocating up here if I had the 911! Yeah, the Jeep’s practical. But not nearly as much fun as a sports car, and I never did get the hang of automatic transmissions.

MGBs in good, running condition (though not restored) are still fairly cheap. You should get one! :slight_smile:

Should’ve bought a Triumph Spit, then you wouldn’t have any problems.
My mum and brother both have one.

So…you’ve traded your MG for what, a white Chrysler LeBaron? :wink:

I lied. :frowning: I’ve never really grown up. I like to pretend sometimes that I’m a responsible, mature adult, but it’s really not true.

I have a Mitsubishi Mirage (red, of course). It’s fun to drive, but it has a little more trunk space.

This is bringing up some painful memories. When I was in high school, I didn’t drive an MG. I had to drive a 60-something ('66, maybe) Ford Galaxie. It was a monster. Took forever to stop. I hate driving big cars.

At least I didn’t have to drive the '67 Chevy van. Before we got it, it was being used a school bus, so it was painted school-bus yellow. Now it’s a more tasteful two-tone blue and white. And yes, my family still has all of those cars. Add in a 60’s Chevy pickup and a Beetle, and then my brother has a '40s car and a matching pair of 70-something Subarus, and my other brother has several other little sporty cars. And most of them don’t run. It’s like a junkyard at my mom’s house. She could make a fortune if she started charging them rent.

Lord Jonny, I remember when you first got that car. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had so much trouble with it. Hopefuly it will be done soon, and you can be out on the road enjoying much MGB goodness.

Here’s what my car will look like (except that mine will have white piping on the red interior).

The model arrived today. :slight_smile:

John’s been hard to reach, but Howard left me VM yesterday. I talked to him a little while ago.

Howard suggested the engine be given to Russ for rebuilding. Like Sid, Russ can make the engine ‘as new’ and look it too. The advantage is that he’s right across from Howard’s shop, and he’ll charge $200 less than Sid.

I spoke with Antonio Friday. He said he was done painting, except that hed’ forgotten the front valance. :smack: Still, it’s close.

Paul told Howard he’s ready to come up and do the upholstery, but that there’s not point in it until the rest of the car is done because it will get dusty.

Howard says he thinks he has a banjo-type rear end in his shop. He’ll look for it. With the banjo-type, there’s no need for wire-wheel adaptor hubs as it’s already set up with original splined hubs. I told him to swap the rear ends out if he does have it. He also said that John has done some good work on the suspensions, and they look new. :slight_smile:

I want to keep the ‘build-it-yourself’ hood frame, but I think the newer, Michelotti-designed hood frames of later cars would be more practical in the PNW. They’re cheap ($200 new, in the Moss catalogue), and I can always take it off and use the BIY frame if I get the urge to be more authentic.

I’m still confused about the wire wheels. John says that the heat from the brakes combined with the wet weather up here might attack the chrome rims (but stainless steel is good for the wet). Howard says he’s never heard of such a thing. Chrome/stainless wires definitely have the bling-factor going for them. Painted wheels are about $300 cheaper for the set. Unlike the chrome/stainless wheels, painted wires are more authentic and avoid the ‘over-restored’ look. This is not going to be a concourse car, but one that will be driven; so absolute authenticity is not a major concern. Painted… Chrome… Decisions…

Painted. If you go with chrome, you might as well put whitewalls on it.

Ever see The Money Pit?


Got a call from Howard Wednesday. Russ has rebuilt the engine. Howard says it’s beautiful!. When I visited L.A. last month I saw the rocker assembly. I thought they’d bought a new one, but it was the original. They did an excellent job on it. If they rest of the engine is similarly well done, then it should be awesome.

Part of the rebuild was replacing the cracked original iron head with a new aluminum head. I’m told I’ll get a couple more horsepower out of it. Russ absolutely refused to paint the new head to match the rest of the engine. He said, ‘It’s just not done.’ I know it will look great, having seen photos in the Moss catalogue. I wanted the car to be as original as possible; but as I’ve said, I’m making compromises such as switching the electrical system to negative earth and leaving the holes in the rear bulkhead for speakers. I guess I can live with a flashy engine. If not, correct-colour paint is cheap.

I tried to call Antonio on Wednesday, but he was out. Didn’t have time yesterday, and I’m shooting a wedding down in Seattle today. I may call him from the road. Howard has put his MGB Limited Edition back together, and now has a space in his shop for my car. We’re just waiting on Antonio to get his act together.

I’ve decided not to go with the newer Michelotti-designed hood frame. It would be the logical option up here in Rainland, but if I’m moving back to L.A. then there’s no reason not to retain the build-it-yourself frame and stow-in-the-boot hood.

One more thing: I was wondering about an iPod-capable stereo with vintage looks, or if there is a way to hack into a vintage radio. I have a Sony CPA-9C cassette adapter for the iPod, so all I have to do is find a vintage-looking stereo with a cassette player.

That Antonio. 6 more weeks will put right smack in the middle of convertible sports car weather. This has got to feel like Christmas for you.


The car is out of the clutches of the body shop!

At long last! It’s on its wheels, and wire wheels are about to be ordered (if they haven’t been ordered already).

Huzzah! :slight_smile:

Johnny I have told you before, and I will say it again, if I can help, let me know.

So… The car is out of Mr. Slow Bodyguy’s clutches. It will be done any day now, right?

BWAHAHAHAHA! They got me!

Got an invoice for some more parts in August. Sent a cheque. Never heard back from the guy, so I sent an e-mail about a month ago. He didn’t reply. I’ve been busy with the film and such, so it was only Saturday when I called Howard. He’s getting a little ticked. He hasn’t seen John in a while. The thing is, Howard has his own machining business. It’s only a one-man shop, but he has some impressive clients. IIRC, he recently made something or other for the JPL or another such place. My car is in his shop (along with his MG-TF) taking up space. Whenever he needs to work on something, he has to roll the car out to get it out of the way and then roll it back in when he’s done. And he has a 1979 MGB LE. He said he had to rent a storage space for it while my car is in his shop.

I tried to call John but he wasn’t home. I left a message and haven’t heard back from him yet. There’s still a lot to be done to the car, but it’s not the time-consuming bodywork. It’s on its wheels and a few bits have been put on. Not to minimse it, but it should go fairly quickly now. The engine and transmission need to be put in. That should take like a day, right? The new wiring harness and the overdrive subharness need to be installed. The gauges and dashboard have to go in. The windscreen needs to go on, but it has to wait for the top of the dash (which is part of the body) to be upholstered. Upholstery has to wait for the rest of the car to be done. But really, how much work is there left? Trim? The wire wheels? Some switches? Testing and tuning? I’ll bet John could do a nice job on it and have it done in a week. (To be fair, he’s a hobbyist and rebuilding cars is not his business.)

Howard found a guy who can finish the car for $25/hour. John said no, he’ll finish it himself. But Howard thinks John has another project going on and my MGB is a lower priority. So Howard is losing some shop space and his own car has to be stored elsewhere, and Winter is fast approaching and I’m involved in this indie film so I would have little chance to use my car even if it were finished tomorrow.

If I were still in L.A. I could go down and turn a wrench, even though I’d have little idea what I’m doing. I’ll try again to reach John.