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MG Magnette V8 - "MON ZA8"

Having got the car back home, to give the bank account time to recover after paying out for the engine rebuild, I could generally spend a bit of time absorbing what needed doing and also just doing various odd bits and pieces to make sure that they got done!  This may not be a very structured approach, but working on something non-essential often shows up other problems, and if not tackled early, could cause major problems later.  The heating and demisting system was a classic example.

APRIL 2007

The engine was dropped in along with the gearbox, but without clutch and flywheel but working on it at home meant that at least I had the car on site, rather than driving out each time I needed to take a measurement, or check something.  With the tools and all the bits and pieces at home, I could potter about at will!  Space was cleared in the garage and the rear wheels parked on a couple of dollies so that I could at least swing the car sideways when working on it.  With the engine set well back, this picture clearly shows just how small the basic unit really is and also that there is plenty of space for the radiator and other ancillaries.  To try and keep the engine clean, it was immediately wrapped in a polythene sheet, but I was realistic enough to accept that keeping the whole car clean and dust free was not going to be easy and that inevitably, there would be some dust around! I was able to swap the bright orange oil filler to a more discreet grey one.

The first picture shows the original heater blower mounted in its original position on the bulkhead.  Fresh air enters via the vent on the scuttle top and the blower despatches air via a flexible tube (not shown) through the bulkhead.  Well, it used to.  The new bulkhead has no provision for any heater hoses going through it!  No-one's fault, as I hadn't really thought out the heating and ventilation arrangements earlier.  As the project progressed, it was fairly apparent that in spite of the complex front suspension, the car would be spending most of its time as a road car rather than a race car, and that meant creature comforts were important.  I don't think that my wife would be too impressed, faced with a long journey in this car, having got very used to the heated seats, air conditioning and good heater in the every day Freelander. The first problem though, was that the heater motor virtually touched the carburettor dashpot top.  As the heater duct in the body shell scuttle can't easily be changed, I switched my emphasis onto the location of the motor.  Stripping down the unit was straightforward, with a two part casing and the motor itself, plus the upper and lower brackets - all rubber mounted of course.  The alloy casing cleaned up well, and once again, I opted for a  good clean and polish rather than an over restored look.  I needed to claim about 8mm of extra clearance, so first of all, I remade upper the mounting bracket.  That gained me about 4mm.  Attention then turned to the motor itself. The fan was cleaned and repainted (OK, I know it is totally hidden...) and by cutting three small (5mm) lengths of plastic tubing, and inserting them between the motor and the spacers, (just visible in the picture) once tightened, the extra 4mm clearance was gained and the fan was refitted.  The unit was then mounted using a couple of temporary rubber packers (the orange blobs in the picture below).  It all seemed to look OK and worked well, with no apparent vibration, but it still needed a bottom mount and as the large sponge washer around the unit had aged and was scrap, the intention was to attach self adhesive foam rubber around it. Having effectively worked out that the blower was OK to use, then sorting out a hole in the bulkhead needed to be addressed, but before that, a heater radiator needed to be fixed.  An afternoon was wasted dismantling the original Magnette unit, which is rather large and heavy, but does have a large capacity heater radiator core.  What I should have done was check to see if it would fit first!  It was just too large and the revised bulkhead and roll cage made it impossible to fit. It was time to have a meander round the car breakers to source a smaller unit, but that didn't happen...

MAY 2007

Attention then returned to the dashboard, as design here has to be more advanced before items such as relays and fuse blocks can be permanently located.  Pipework for the heater and demister also had to be routed and the size of the hoses established.  I had in my pile of bits and pieces, the fresh air vents from a Mk 3 Riley Elf I'd scrapped plus the vents from a Volvo 164.  I opted for the Mini vents as these seemed more appropriate.  Farnie had welded on a small bracket to the transmission tunnel (which is removable remember), and this was to be used as the location for the lower dash or centre console.  This would stiffen up the whole dashboard. All that needed to be incorporated into this panel, in addition to the vents, was the kill switch and access to the radio/CD player.  I made up a temporary panel out of a scrap piece of thin particle board and it needed 80mm holes for the vents.  Needless to say, I had hole cutters for 75mm and 90mm, but not 80...  Attaching the kill switch was easy enough.  Picture shows this temporary panel, with the space behind.  The sides will obviously have to be filled in later.   

The left hand part of the top dash hasn't yet been cut for the glove locker, but was put in place to get an idea of the total look.  The intention has always been to incorporate all required instrumentation and switches into a co-ordinated dash, rather than try to use the original dash then just add bits on as required.  Pods for additional instruments always look like afterthoughts, and so far, the only possible addition would be a Brantz meter for rally timing, but that would go in the space between the horizontal roll bar and the underside of the glove locker, and hidden from normal view. 

Having made the temporary panel, it was time to move on to a more permanent panel.  Blocks were cut to set the angle from the centre section, and this worked out to be about 20 degrees.  I had worried for some time as to how to disguise the opening for the radio.  I knew I needed a hinged flap of some sort, and wanted it originally to be flush, just like the glove locker, but when cutting the lower panel, it seemed far better to make the lid proud of the surface, but flush with the centre section above it. It was shaped at the ends to echo the MG octagon again... I cut that out before cutting out the radio aperture. Sounds confusing?  Hopefully the pics will show it better.  Pic on the left shows the lid, that is hinged at the bottom, with the two vents and the battery kill switch in the centre.

 Although the total heating and ventilation system hadn't been finalised, I decided that the centre of the car needed the fresh air (the outer side has the windows) and the  outer side needs the heat (the centre has the exhausts and engine heat).

One of the jobs I always struggle with is attaching the wood veneer.  The end result looks OK from a distance, but as I used French polish and stain, rather than a spray lacquer, the finish took a long time (maybe it will still need a coat of lacquer to protect it?) but before that, simply gluing the veneer is very tricky.  I used a PVA wood glue as this is not affected by heat, but it does need time under high pressure to avoid small air bubbles. Even before that, cutting and matching the veneer seemed tricky as the veneer is so brittle.  No doubt there are tricks of the trade that I was not, and still am not, aware of...  I have tried soaking it first to make it pliable, but attaching it whilst still damp is a bit fraught, though the water based glue makes that easier. 

The hinged flap will be too fragile, with such small hinges, so the old trick of a strip of glued/reinforced canvas may well be used to strengthen it, but for the time being, it looks OK...  The idea is to hide the modern CD/radio. 

I seemed to have trouble with my eyesight when drilling the various holes in the upper panel, as the lower set for switches, were on the slant! I should have made up some form of jig and used a combination of router and pillar drill.  Next time maybe?  The lower holes were changed to a slot, with veneer covering the previously hidden metal panel.  

Once again, attaching the veneer didn't come out as well as I expected, so there was a bit of remedial gluing required before staining and French polishing. From my perspective, this was probably the focal point of the whole dashboard construction and it needed to look as good as could make it.  This was slow, steady work and was slow because

 a) I had no idea what I was doing

b) the high cost of veneer was frightening

The picture on the right shows the initial attachment of the veneer before cutting out the various holes for switches, lights and instruments.  I used a craft knife then sandpaper - but even though I was careful, a couple of bits of veneer snapped off. You can see a small piece of veneer tacked on to the left hand edge, that covers one such hiccup.   Trying to match up the veneer was tricky as each slice of veneer is obviously slightly different to the adjacent slices, so the pattern will match in one place, but is slightly out in other places.  No matter how I tried, the veneer centre joint wouldn't butt correctly. Just like tiling the bathroom and getting just one tile wrong, we all tend to think that everyone will see the error and focus on it, instead of looking at the whole. Painting a bit of glue into the gaps, then sanding the veneer and pushing the dust into the wet glue was the only method I could think of for filling in the gaps and the occasional splits.  A coat of red mahogany stain or two, followed by the French polish gives the rich colour I was after, and I can look at this picture and feel proud that overall, the dashboard is taking shape and should look as though it was an integral part of the car and not a late addition. From this distance, the picture makes it all look OK!  I am not a perfectionist by nature as I just do not have the skills to produce perfect work...  What the above picture doesn't show are the bubbles at the edge that needed some careful remedial work, with extra glue...

The last picture (below) was taken with the centre components loosely placed into position only, just to see the overall effect.  Note the slot replacing the previous holes and the radio flap cover taped into position.  The final picture also shows the thin plywood console sides, before covering but with the first pieces of foam padding already attached.  (These would be replaced later with thicker ply.)  The ply console base in the centre picture is attached to the tunnel by Rivnuts.


 Having set the main components of the dash, attention returned to sorting out the location and fixing of the electrical wiring, that dratted wiper system, the fuseboards and the main battery cable to and from the kill switch and also the operation of the dash operated controls for the scuttle air-vent, and heater, that now interfered with the new dash... The fibreglass body trims (rear bumper, bootlid etc) and doors were also being worked on, including the location of a pair of door mounted front speakers...