22nd April 2024

MG Owners' Club Northern Ireland

Promoting the Enjoyment of MG Motor Cars

The Great Pit Project

5 min read
The Great Pit Project Figure 4 - MGOCNI

Figure 4

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I have a 1970 MGB Tourer which I love driving and Sandra and I really enjoy taking on Club runs. I also do all of the servicing and nearly all repairs (so far anyway) myself. However, I am not getting any younger and I find it increasingly difficult and uncomfortable to lie on my back with the car supported on either axle stands or ramps.

So a plot has been hatching over the past few years to find a better and more comfortable way of accessing the underside of the car. I had taken a car restoration course at the South East Regional College after I got the car and had the use of their two-post lifts while I was there. Absolute heaven!

I did a lot of online research into the various options: Two-post lift – favourite choice as provides best access including allowing wheel removal. Models are now available for single phase electric operation suitable for domestic garages. Only need bolting down to floor but take up same amount of space whether in use or not. Mini-scissors lifts (either electric or hydraulic operation) which raise the car and allow it to be tilted forwards or backwards for better access. These are relatively cheap and don’t take up much space when not in use, but access to the centre area of the car is restricted and they still don’t raise it very high.

Inspection pit – provides either standing or sitting access to underside and takes up no space when not in use. But they can be prone to dampness and potential risk of fumes accumulating at the bottom of the pit. Expensive to install due to building work required. I have a single width but extra length garage with a normal height pitched roof so some measuring quickly ruled out the two-post lift as the posts would completely block access along either side of the car when the lift wasn’t in use, in fact I wasn’t sure I would even be able to open the doors to get in and out! Also the lack of headroom meant that I would be in a rather cramped position when working underneath.

The mini-scissors lift was attractive but the access it provides is still a bit limited and I was concerned about how safe and stable they are when tilted. The makers recommend using axle stands as additional support but that compromises the access even more. Sandra and I were at Goodwood Revival last year (fantastic time – but that is another story!) and Mechmate had a stand there. I had read about their fibreglass pits in the magazines but had not seen one “in the flesh” before. They seemed really solid and well finished. They are also completely waterproof.

Never one to rush into things, especially when it involves spending money, I went away and started working on Sandra to get, at least outline planning permission, from the Domestic Manager. Eventually this was granted and serious planning started. I decided on a 2.41 metre pit with a sliding seat arrangement as this would require less digging out and also I am inherently lazy (why stand when you can sit?). 

Now 2.41 metres covers about 2/3rds of the length of an MGB so by putting the car in either forwards or backwards I can access all areas with a bit of overlap. Also this allowed me to retain quite a bit of concrete floor in the garage.The pit was duly ordered from Mechmate and I went for an SP241 sitting pit with extra deep option at 1.4 metres deep as I am just under 6 feet tall and didn’t want to end up having to crouch under the car. They were really helpful and were in regular touch with me by phone and e-mail.

Delivery was a very reasonable £160.00 including VAT and it arrived after two weeks (well ahead of schedule). I had engaged a local builder to do the digging out and concreting in as I have no experience of this although Mechmate provide very detailed instructions and I’m sure most people could manage it themselves (remember what I said about being lazy earlier?). That just left me with purchasing and wiring up four lights and a switch with suitable conduit before the pit was set in.

I sourced the bulkhead lights, switch, rubberised cable and 20m conduit from B&Q (other suppliers are available) and set about drilling the pit walls as required. The points where the lights and switch mount are heavily reinforced so this helps a lot. You just need to be careful drilling through the gel coat to avoid cracking. This was all done with the pit under the car port lying on its side on some padded boards (See Fig 1). Once completed I put a plug on the end of the trailing wire, plugged it into a temporary extension lead, crossed my fingers and switched on. All four lights came on – result!

The Great Pit Project Figure 1 - MGOCNI
Figure 1
The Great Pit Project Figure 2 - MGOCNI
Figure 2

Now it was over to the builder. He took a day to dig out the hole, another day to set the pit into a bed of concrete and brace it against the garage rafters to stop it rising up (See Fig 2). Once this concrete had set for a couple of days he came back and concreted round the sides finishing off the edges very neatly. The bracing was left in place for another day and then removed.

I was just left with attaching the non-slip tape to the access steps and the hazard tape round the perimeter of the pit. Both of these items are provided with the pit by Mechmate. I had opted to have the electrical feed tracked under the floor and up the wall in plastic conduit then terminated with a 13amp plug which I plug into a socket. This avoids having to pay a qualified electrician to hard wire it into the mains as required by current legislation for permanent installations (See Fig 3).

The Great Pit Project Figure 3 - MGOCNI
Figure 3
The Great Pit Project Figure 4 - MGOCNI
Figure 4

I bought some nice new scaffolding boards and a friend cut them to the right length for me on his band saw. I got four brass recessed handles on eBay for less than a tenner and the same friend let them into the board at each end of the pit to make lifting the boards out easy (See Fig 4).

So now I am good to go and I feel an oil change coming on in the near future, together with some undersealing perhaps!

This has all only been possible due to Sandra’s support and encouragement so my heartfelt thanks go to her.

Ps. I have absolutely no connection with Mechmate except for buying this pit from them.

Peter Faulkner, MG Owners’ Club Northern Ireland

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