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MG Magnette V8

The Christmas break was largely spent on superficial cleaning and polishing.   Then fate conspired to stuff things up even more...  Mal's number two, Farnie, handed in his notice, so at a stroke, an ace fabricator was lost.  By'Gone is a busy shop and as I had been so disappointed at the lack of progress last year, I made the painful decision to take the MG to another workshop until By'Gone was back up to a decent staffing level. I just didn't want the MG sitting around and ignored, due to the ongoing pressure from other regular (wealthier!) customers.


A Rover P6 passed on to Mal as a donor for his own rebuild, had a bit of a Rover V8 enginehistory.  Suffice to say at this point that it had been taken off the road after a hasty rebuild, but there were immediate problems and then it was just parked up for several years.  Mal and his team managed to get the engine running, having diagnosed two bent pushrods. They put a couple of temporary adjustable ones in, and the engine sounded great, when I heard it, hence my agreement to purchase it from the supplier - but I didn't know that it was misfiring again just before they switched it off...  Its true history didn't emerge until June 2006, by one of those quirks of fate that seem to make it all worthwhile.

The engine, as acquired, (picture above) had a set of Rover rocker covers that had been polished -  once upon a time, but as Mal had a set of covers without the word 'Rover' on them elsewhere, I decided that I'd go for them instead, even though they were coated in scruffy red paint. 


Several hours of paint stripper (too slow) then an abrasive pad in an electric drill, followed by some fine wet and dry, then the buffing wheel, turned them around.  The intention was not to over detail the car, so the degree of polishing can best be described as clean and tidy and smart, rather than 'concours' or 'show-standard'.  But, I wanted the car to look good from day one....                                       

I then took the tin engine top cover off and found that another two push roads were floating.  Oh dear. 

It wasn't the best day to decide to shift the shell...

And so, late January, once again the car was loaded up from home and trailered out, but this time, to Berton Automotive in nearby Glenfield. As Mal had started at the front, it seemed sensible to let them loose to start at the rear, and hopefully, the two ends of the car will be compatible...   

First of all the hire trailer had a broken cable on the winch, but fortunately, Glen, a local Muscle Car competitor who was filling in a late entry form at the time, for a race meeting where I was entries secretary,  lent me his trailer - and it rained... Oh how it rained...  I was flat out with the organisation of the end January 2006 F5000 Tasman Revival race meeting, but the Berton team were ready, so I couldn't let them down.  With senior grandson Lucas on the winch, and wife Paula, we struggled to drag  the wheel-less shell onto the trailer and then deliver it to Berton. 

They already had the rear axle on the bench and the half shafts sent  for crack testing and new bearings organised...

The original rear springs and shackles were unearthed from the mountain of bits in my garage and the boys discussed the options for the back end.  A sophisticated rear end may well be ideal, but bearing in mind the project at this stage was NOT for an out and out racer, but a useable road car, and the budget was not infinite, the rear needed to  be as basic as is practical at that time.  Later, if the rest of the project worked out OK, we could get a more sophisticated structure, to match the all singing all dancing front end.

This meant that the original angled rear shocks position would be retained as turretting or mangling the rear of the bodyshell would be expensive and compromise track and the fuel tank.  The shock locating pins on the MGB rear axle needed moving to meet with the Magnette's original location.

Whilst at Berton, the original petrol tank was cleaned and a bit of corrosion was found to the underside so what looked like a good solid tank needed either modifying - or replacing.  Some thought had to be applied to fuel lines and fuel pump(s) and the thinking was that stainless braided hoses were expensive overkill for this project bearing in mind the road use and minor track use for paid 'Hot Laps', so passenger comfort was important.  Loads of hoses through the passenger area are not a good look.    

The MG Car Club magazine printed an article about Darren Brock's Mercedes powered Magnette in the UK,  Stunning!

At this stage of the project, many things gave me that gut feeling that this was going to be a very interesting car indeed when complete and the more it progressed, the surer I was that it would work. The all singing and dancing front suspension may be a bit too advanced for a road car, but should the day arise that someone offers me sufficient money to buy the completed car, I would probably accept it and do another, using the lessons learned from this one, but as I was already over 60 (now over 66...), I am not too sure that it would happen...


As mentioned above, Brett & Steve stuck to the plan after much discussion, and had the rear axle end sorted and also ordered the new wheels.  I now had even more nice shiny bits and pieces in the rumpus room, just ready for later!

Berton managed to graft the original Magnette bump stops onto the MGB axle and also sorted out the shock mountings.  Steve sorted out new bushes and hangers as the originals were wrecked when stripping the car.  Everything had been loosely assembled only, as the dif still needed checking, so the use once Nyloc nuts were not used.

I borrowed a couple of MGB wheels from fellow competitor Dave Mallin, to make transportation a bit easier as the shell needed the next stage of fabrication completing.  The smaller Rostyle wheels look most odd.  The wider and larger 15" wheels are so much better.  The options available were to stick with the MGB wheel stud spacing as at the back or convert to Ford spacing (Cortina front hubs).  We opted for sticking to MGB spacing as apparently, there are many more wheels around as the spacing is the same as for many Japanese cars.  We opted for Performance Wheels (to match the Marcos) and there is only one choice of offset anyway.  Eight spoke wheels look better than ten spoke - and I was very happy with them... initially.

Buying the wheels so early eventually led to filing a court case at the end of the year, as the wheels weren't what they seemed and only one was used to set clearances etc.  What we didn't know was that 3 of the wheels were damaged...  More later.

The next stage was closing off the butchered front subframe and sorting the transmission tunnel.

So, once again the shell  was loaded onto yet another borrowed trailer and carted back to ModFab in Beachaven.  Mal's ex-employee Farnie had moved a just a couple of units away from Mal, working primarily on a private collection of jeeps and army vehicles, and is an excellent fabricator as well as a mechanic, so as Mal still hadn't a full complement of staff, I approached Farnie to see if he would be willing to do the next stage of the metalwork. Fortunately he agreed, as his employer didn't require his services for the full 40 hours each working week... 

MARCH 2006

Although Al (Mal's brother in law... so confusing for the reader) had started to form a rounded transmission tunnel, a bit of thinking by several people came to the conclusion that a strong but removable transmission tunnel was a sensible option.  This meant that it didn't need to be round at all and a squared or angled section would be quicker, cheaper and stronger - and the gearbox and rear of the engine more  accessible.  So, no prizes for guessing what Farnie's first job was...

I hadn't been totally idle either but went through one particular day where I struggled  and failed with everything I touched!  Nothing seemed to go right. My welding and brazing is abysmal anyway (I need guidance on setting up the gas pressures) the fibreglass went off too quickly and the woodwork didn't go too well either, so I retreated to the computer...

I had bought some expensive Walnut veneer and even though I thought it was well clamped, and also stacked the welding bottles on it, for extra pressure, the PVA glue I used and the uneven pressure produced a 3D relief map of the Yorkshire Dales, rather than the smooth and level surface I needed to make a new dashboard.

I made a new dash top - almost, from ply, and that had to fit around the roll cage front legs and also fit when the screen was in place. It would also carry the screen vents but at that stage, no decision had been made regarding heating and demisting.  The hot engine would probably provide a fair bit of heat any way and New Zealand's climate is such that a heater for a car not likely to be used as a daily driver, may not be required.  Air conditioning is another story.  Keeping cool may be more important as the local humidity can cause major condensation problems.  The original MG  dash top has a small raised part echoing the octagonal theme but it wasn't large enough for the planned dash, so I spent a fair bit of time making an extended octagon top. Had I been awake during geometry and trigonometry at school, (and woodwork) I may have been able to calculate the angles rather than using eye and guesswork and judicious use of sandpaper and a small dab of filler.  The very coarse file shown alongside was  donated by a farrier and is a great file for rough fibreglass or wood (and horses hooves of course).

APRIL 2006

I had spent a bit of time cleaning up the gearbox casing with a selection of attachments in an electric drill over Christmas  The most effective seemed to be a cheap and nasty set of wire brushes, as the quality of the steel was so bad that they wore down quite quickly on the aluminium casing.  Farnie refitted the gearbox and the bell housing to a bare block (borrowed from Mal), to get some idea of clearances.

The open subframe sides were boxed and some strength restored.  The decision made was to have a tunnel that echoes the MG octagon  theme as this is not only easier to make, but looks better. Without the transmission tunnel, the body shell is very weak, as Farnie found when he tried to lift the car from the front - and the floor moved up 11mm!  By fabricating the side rails only and still without the tunnel, the deviation upwards dropped to about 1.0mm.

 Farnie's card template  is shown before it was translated to the metal and the angled framework is also shown.  The hole above the octagon frame was panelled in, making up the main bulkhead or firewall and just by completing that  part, the project appeared to have moved on at quite a pace.  It is very tidy even without cleaning up welds or edges.

The original Supra gearbox or gearlever top cover was  then attached to the box to get a height for the panel work and the front part of the tunnel, plasma cut to the card template and bolted on to the frame. By having a removable tunnel, future access has to be so much easier, but the shell will still be strong enough without it.  Hopefully, once everything is fitted, it won't come off again in a hurry... Getting all the angles correct was not easy (Farnie was cursing himself for getting some slightly wrong...) but it looks so much better than a round tunnel and should mean that any centre console will be much easier to fit, but that will also have to be designed to be easily removable. Much of the octagon may be covered, but at least we know it is there.



MAY 2006

Next stage was to deal to a slight modification to the rear stays of the cage, lifting them to make access to the rear seats a lot easier, even though NZ rules with cages may turn the car into a legal two seater, I wanted to be able to use one rear seat for track days.  Farnie also swapped the diagonal from top right to top left, meaning that the driver's seat has a bit more adjustment.   To move the rear stays up from the wheel arch to the parcel shelf meant that the space between the shelf and the wheel arch had to be strengthened. Although the difference wasn't too much in measurement terms, it certainly meant that getting into the rear seat was made a lot easier.

The front driver's seat support frame had been sorted and my original seating position lifted one hole on the adjustable brackets.  BUT, the original Wilwood pedal box as purchased, was not then the most practical, so we initially investigated using the original MG pedals...  Regardless, it meant a purpose built  pedal arrangement.

Wood veneering tests were slow, as the the new walnut was much browner than the original. The original centre upper panel shown with new veneer alongside the original glove locker lid, after stripping the varnish but before recovering.  Now I don't know about you, but I wasn't too impressed with the original's dash, mixing walnut with mahogany didn't sit too well with me, so I decided to use all walnut, and even strip the door trims -  though that did depend on whether or not I had enough veneer left.  

Having established the seating position, Farnie welded up the bottom end of the steering column that was earlier modified.  The wheel position is such that the column now sits almost directly onto the roll cage cross bar and the Montego wheel has a large enough hole to have good visibility to the larger instruments (rev counter and speedo).  Ironically, I probably didn't need to build the expanded 'octagon bubble'  on the top, but at least it looks the part and would give good clearance.