I eventually got the MGA home in late November 2002. The car sat for at least four months in my garage with me pondering should I or shouldn’t I restore it, some club members knowing the story even wanted to buy it as it was. Eventually I decided to restore the car and that was when the real fun began.
Removing the wings was simple, everything taken off was labelled, even though lots of the parts were not going to be re-used, they were still identified for future reference. Lights, boot lid, doors, bonnet, etc., were all removed and carefully stored. I tried to sell the fibre glass wings, I even tried to give them away but no takers, they eventually ended up in Bruslee Dump.
After a few weeks the body was ready for removing. I needed three extra pairs of hands and I called upon my two son-in-laws, Martin and Richard and then asked Noel Corry (mentor) for his assistance, the first of many calls for Noel’s help.
The body was held in place with 27 bolts and these had all been removed, however the wiring loom was still in situ but Noel took a hacksaw and cut through the loom leaving it still connected to the instruments, etc. This was useful for guidance when eventually re-wiring with the new loom. After a bit of tugging the body lifted off remarkably easy considering it had been in the same place for close on forty years.
A first look at the chassis showed the normal areas of concern which would need attention. I decided I would need to get the body shot blasted before the ‘real’ work began. I spent around seven years restoring this car but don’t worry I will not include the details of all of the work this article is intended as a summary!
The body repairs undertaken included new wings, replacement rear section, inner wings,sills and new bottom sections of the doors. Significant work was completed on the chassis to replace the corroded sections. The engine and gearbox were completely stripped and overhauled. I sent the quarter lights across to David James (GB) who is a guy who specialises in the refurbishment of these parts. David also assisted me with the re-chroming of some of the parts which are no longer available to replace.
At this stage I also started to purchase various components which I thought I would need during the restoration. Items such as radiator, fuel tank, bumpers, wiring loom, etc. I also arranged to have the various gauges overhauled, this proved to be very expensive but don’t tell the wife.
Things were starting to come together. When the engine and gearbox was ready I managed to paint the engine in the back garden. Noel Corry (my mentor) a club member arrived one evening to take a look at the engine and the chassis. He was impressed. Although he pointed out that he was not impressed by the starter ring on the flywheel so off came the flywheel and up to OD Cars to have a new ring fitted.
I must have spent a couple of days fitting the engine and gearbox into the chassis frame a lot easier without the body but still takes a lot of time, must be my age! I fitted the floor boards, these were marine plywood coated in varnish and then sealed into position before screwing down to the chassis runners. Suspension had also been assembled front and rear along with the new wire wheel hubs and the brand new shiny chrome wire wheels. I chose Firestone tyres supplied by Maghera Tyre Centre, friends of Noels and they did a very good deal. Noel even delivered them.
Now it was a case of fitting the fuel tank, carburettors, master cylinder, brake pipes, etc. I also fitted temporally the oil pressure and water temperature gauge as I did not want to miss any early warnings of a problem during the initial test drive planned with the chassis. With everything that I thought I needed fitted including the batteries then I pulled the starter and with no hesitation the MGA after seven years sleeping fired into life. What a fright it gave Martin, my son-in-law who was sitting idly nearby.
Now to the next stage of taking it to a suitable location to drive it. That is with engine and chassis only no body. By chance I had met a previous neighbour from our early days of marriage and he had built three units for storage purposes, none of which was being used so he had kindly offered me one to get the ‘A’ sprayed in, etc. Close to this was a disused barn and that was where I took the ‘A’ to test drive it.
The test drive with the chassis went very well so it was the all systems go. However I was a bit concerned about getting the body painted and then fitting it back on to the chassis. So I decided I would lift the body on to the chassis and make sure before painting that the body at least fitted like it did before all the major work had been done.
So one Friday afternoon I organised for five ‘big’ helpers to meet me at the workshop and taking a corner each with two reserves checking for clearance at both sides we lifted the body on to the chassis. It would be wrong to say no problems as we experience a couple of foul conditions that needed rectifying but nothing too serious but at least all this clearance action could now be done before the shell was painted.
So when the shell was removed from the chassis it was over to my son-in-law Richard to do the painting. I insisted that all the parts had to be painted individually which the size of the workshop that I was using proved very beneficial as there were a total of thirteen parts that required painting. The first mix of paint proved badly wrong but after a further purchase of a re-mix the colour was fine and Richard went ahead and painted all the parts over a period of about 3 weeks. Then it was a case of re-fitting the body and this time there were no problems with fitments.
The MGA was now ready for fitting the windscreen, etc. The screen and the chrome infill’s are similar in concept to the MGB GT and having tried, albeit with some degree of success to fit a screen into friends car I thought this time I would call in an expert. The guy is called John Kerry and I have used him a few times, as I know have others in the ‘club’ and he really does do a good job and makes it look quite simple. The MGA however proved just that bit more difficult than the GT and John spent at least 12 hours in total before he was happy with the work. I have shown the car with the the screen fitted in one of the photos.
Next stage was the head cloth and again I used an ‘expert’, Bill Clarke from Ballymena direction, he had an advert in our newsletter about 18 months ago. Bill took some persuasion to come to Jordanstown but after a bit of soft talk he did. I think it took him most of day but when he finished it was really worth the wait. Now down to the carpets and trim. I tackled this myself and it was really just a case of patience and taking a step at a time. The fitting of the seats was straight forward and at long last the car was almost ready for its ‘first on the road’ test drive.
The MOT was booked for the 6th February. Yes it had to be a Friday, my car day, but what a day it turned out to be. I could not believe it, snow on the ground and quite a lot as well. My mind started racing, should I cancel, what were the main roads like etc., etc. Well I decided to take the Mondeo up to the MOT centre to check out the roads. Of course I got caught in a traffic jam on the A8(M) and looking at my watch I thought there was no way I was going to get back home collect the MGA and back to the MOT centre for 11.00am.
I tried calling the centre on my mobile. Now for those familiar with the Glengormley area then you have no doubt experienced the same problem, no signal. Well, I really was panicking, I really don’t know why. After all it was only an MOT. Not life or death but well I am sure you have all had that same feeling, almost like getting ready to sit an exam. Anyhow, back home I called the centre. They must have had a lot of cancellations as the guy was very, very sympathetic. I could not believe my ears when he said “Bring the car up when the roads clear a bit”. Around lunch time that’s what I did and the MGA sailed through with no issues.
This was the first time I had driven the car on the public roads, sorry I tell a lie. I took the car for a short drive through our development just to make sure there were no obvious concerns. This is a dilemma that I am sure a lot of folks come across after a major re-build as to how do you really test the car before taking it out on the public roads? I have now driven the MGA for around 200 miles, not without some issues.
On a trip to meet with the MG Owners Club in Galgorm in May I experienced a misfire. Viv would not get back into the car for the return journey, travelling back home with Desie and June. However the misfire in the ‘A’ cleared about three miles from home and so far has not returned. Second time out for the Day at the Thompson Dry Dock I heard a loud squealing noise which turned out to be the speedo seizing. Easily fixed but expensive. Well this is the final section (sighs of relief) of my restoration efforts so I thought I would finish with a few photos.