Well, the time has finally arrived when I rebuild my MG Midget Mk1. The car has been off the road since 1997, dry stored in a garage or outside under cover for the last 11 years. Pressures of work and a growing family, plus the distractions of an MGBGT, Mazda MX5 and a Range Rover. It failed its MOT with structural problems (rust) on the H frame (below the engine) and the front splashguards (footwells) and at the rear. The bodywork – rear wings and A posts were all rotting away too, though the sills were in pretty good nick following the last full body restoration in the late 70’s.
MG Midget Reference – ExteriorSee photo »
After placing a Wanted ad on the MG enthusiasts a nice chap by the name of Alistair Shaw got in touch to tell me of a completely restored shell lurking in Suffolk. I got in touch with the owner, Dominic LeFanu of MG Restorations, got him to send me lots of photos, and we agreed a price. The shell had no V5 but was complete and in very good order, with new front and rear suspension and an Ashley fibreglass front end. I sold the latter on through eBay which helped to make the deal much better value. When you think a heritage shell for a Midget is @ £4500, then there would be a pile of conversion work to make it a Mk1, the price of £1900 for this shell, less the £330 I got for the Ashley front end made a good price and worth-while exercise. The cost of sorting out my existing shell ( I am rubbish at welding and bodywork) would have been much the same (£4500). An uneventful trip with a trailer on the back of the Rangie to Suffolk saw me back home with the new shell. A couple of months passed as I waited and waited for the right time.
Plan was to reuse as much as possible, given that most of the mechanicals and ancillaries were in better nick than the car itself, but to treat myself to a new wiring loom, and to convert to disc brakes on the front.
Colour and trim, planning for MG Nightfire Red Pearlescent, with a cream interior. Undecided on whether to refit all the chrome / bumpers, and may decide to paint all the chrome/ally trim in Old English White or similar. The car has never been “standard” since I have had it (1979) and I may as well have it as I want it
Started: October 17th 2008
I decided to work from the front to the back.
Stripped the front trim and centre trim from the bonnet, then removed the bonnet. Worked through removing the front scuttle and the wings. In all only had a problem with 3 bolts, not bad after 20 years.
The two bottom bolts that tie the wings to the front scuttle were seized solid, so I decided to remove the wings and the scuttle as one, and tackle them in comfort (hacksaw!). A wing to the top of the scuttle bolt also sheared off on removal. Surprisingly all the wing bolts/screws to the footwell came out with ease. Secret bolts securing the wing to the bulkhead, at the top of the wing and underneath. I had previously fitted an oil cooler in situ, and of course it wouldn’t comoe out of the small space it occupied in the scuttle, so the pipes were disconnected from the engine, sealed off, and it all came out together. Oil black and mucky. Inside the distributor cap it looked just like the day I last used it.
Every nut and bolts and screw is all going into one pot, hope I don’t live to regret this! but planning to replace most of them with galvanised or zinc plated on rebuild
All trims and lighting removed, along with bonnet locks.
MG Midget – Reference Engine BaySee photo »
With the wings and the front scuttle out of the way I got on with the removal of all the ancillaries, working first the drivers side, removing all electrical and mechanical items, moving the loom out of the way as I went. Lots of additional wires for extra things! (horns, screen pump, fuel pump, stereo, etc). Removed exhaust and carburettors at the manifold. All water pipes came off easily, and still about a pint of water in the cooling system, beautifully clear blue as well. Dynamo and starter all came off easily, the bendix still working, a little stiff, but a dash of WD40 made it like new
Hoping to be able to get the engine out using jacks and scaffold boards, as no hoist available. Continued to strip down the engine bay, its got fiddly now. little bits and bobs. Engine and gerabox out went fine.
MG Midget – Engine OutSee photo »
Removed exhaust. Jacked up the engine a bit, tied the gearbox onto the bonnet supports to hold it up, released the bellhousing bolts, more jacking and a good tug. needed a serious yank to get it up onto the steering rack, then slide it down a scaffold plank to the ground. Almost went as well for the gearbox, undid the two bolts on the tunnel, and then the two bolts going up thorugh the floor. Put jack under the box, removed rope, and gave a similar yank. Oops, fell of the jack and oil everywhere. Fortunately, not as heavy as the engine. Dismantled all my brake piping and removed master cylinder (now that will be a job to refurb), removed engine mountings, windscreen (finally shifted the big philips, without the need to go get an impact screwdriver) and doors (strangely crosshead bolts holding these in, not on the new body). Good days work, can start on the interior next. Oh the heater box crosshead screw refused to budge, so they came off with a chisel and Birmingham spanner.
Went to work on the interior, removing all the carpeting and trim. The dash surround was going well until I had one nut that was the wrong size for every spanner i had in the garage. Finally took off the steering wheel to get at it properly! Both footwell carpets were pretty rotten, but the floors were in actually fairly solid nick thanks to the glassing I had done all those years ago. Slowly, slowly everything came out, tackled the dash last, which is only held on by three bolts above and two below. Some gentle tugging and it all came out in one piece, instruments, loom, radio the lot.
MG Midget – Interior Reference & RemovalSee photo »
Back end and brakes. Petrol tank bolts all came off, but were stiff, bumper bolts fought for some time. rear lights in good nick, and number plate light all came away OK. Found a nice rusty hole middle of the boot though. Removed UJ bolts on the propshaft and squeezed myself under enough to undo the hidden nut holding on the hand brake cable – why put it there. Whilst underneath I noticed that I had previously fitted SPAX rear shock absorbers, so they had to come off too. Dismantled one rear brake, but again no right sized spanner to remove the bolt holding the rear brake cylinder on. Time will provide the solution to this. Now both bodyshells are looking very similar.
Had a big tidy up in the garage, tucked some body parts away in the loft, and stripped the wings and doors of all trim and electrics. Been looking at the prices of new/used parts so will need to be doing a far bit of refurbishment. next job is really to make a start on the new bodyshell, find a good sprayman and agree a price. Still undecided as to whether to go for tartan red again, or to go a bit more custom and have Nightfire metallic or similar. I guess cost will be the issue here. Also need to decide what to do about the brakes. probably need a new master cylinder so should I upgrade and us 1275 masters given I will need new front calipers.
More tidying up, piled up the carpets and trim, wrapped in cardboard and stored in loft for later. Hood, tonneau and seats likewise. Removed the drivers side shock absorber, and loosened the rear axle fixing bolts on both sides Cut through the rubber axle straps, first lazy thing I have done! Removed front brake drums and dismantled brakes, removing brake cylinders and pipework. That’s just a bout it for dismantling, other than it stopping being a rolling shell. Will push it out into the front garden tomorrow so it can live under a sheet. Photos taken to see if I can flog it on eBay or via MGOC – Restorations. Found a good frogeye spares website, so should have no problems getting all bits and pieces needed.
Moved the old shell out of the garage, and place it out under a tarpaulin. Put it up on ebay as well, and have two watchers. We shall see!
Old bodyshell sold on eBay for £152.50 ! Now have to hope for some reasonable weather in order to remove the front and rear axles and get it up on stands awaiting collection. Started working up a parts and supplies list as well. Purchased a set of calipers and pedal box with master cylinders from a 1275, to improve the braking. Some work required to get the pedal box fitted as is a different shape. Still tempted to do my own respray with aerosol cans. I know its not recommended but reckon its worth a try, even if it has to go off for a final spray over. Some good help regarding under body protection from the internet, with a choice of products, one for stone chip prevention that can be oversprayed, the other for salt and corrosion protection for the bits that do not need to be shiny. Etch primer is also available in cans but won’t be getting it from Halfords at £12 a can! Also bought a couple of aerosol can triggers to improve spraying control. The cost of Christmas is going to get in the way!
MG Midget – ShellSee photo »
Moved bodyshell back onto the drive, in order to remove axles.
On a freezing cold evening, in the dark, removed the rear axle. please I released all the bolts earlier on in the dismantle, so it was a simple job, but cold. Upper Link bolts siezed solid, so they will have to stay. Released track rod ends and removed steering column
Removed steering rack, and both front suspension units (remember to take the bolt on the damper arm out in order to release it from the top trunnion!) Removed both rear springs, but reinforcing plates wouldn’t budge, probably been welded on at some point in the past, so will have to get two new ones, as the new shell doesn’t have them. Bought spanner (19/32th) to remove rear brake cylinders. One undid, the other was so corroded I had to bang a 9/16 on to get it off. One cylinder came out easy, the other required force! That’s it now, time to get on with the rebuild!
Finished: December 6th 2008
Got on with sorting the new shell, need a damn good clean up after sitting in a barn for 10 years. Pleased to find no rust anywhere and everything as it should be. Measured up and cut out some metal around the pedal box, to allow for the different / newer pedal box and master cylinders for the disc brakes. The originals are just not good enough for today’s motoring, and more expensive.
MG Midget – New Shell PrepSee photo »
Time passes, car gets covered in old boxes and stuff my wife doesn’t want in the house any more. Fast forward to 2010 !
Prepared all those little bits, the cowl things inside the engine bay (you know on one side it holds the washer bottle), the brake pedal blank, number plate light, gear lever turret, boot and bonnet hinges, and primered and sprayed with Nightfire red and lacquer.
Prepared the engine bay and the heater channels and sprayed them up too.
Prepped up the bonnet, wings, doors and boot, but only in primer for a trial fit
Fitted all the panels. This is normally easy, but I found with the wings and the front scuttle i had to take a wrap around approach: fit drivers side wing, then fit scuttle, then fit passenger side wing to scuttle then fit passenger side wing to car. Only way I could get it to go all together.
MG Midget Panels Trial FitSee photo »
Time passes again, car fills up with bags and boxes again. fast forward to 2013!
Started to clear up my clutter, made several trips to the skip, shifted stuff out of the garage into the garden shed, and began to find room in my garage for the first time (hadn’t helped that I had filled it up with 12 Range Rover tyres! Built some new shelves with some old shelving from the skip at work, which got things out of boxes. Also constructed a trolley support for the MG so I could move it around. I used an old catering trolley, cut down to its flatbed bottom shelf. really good castors. Then two 8ft lengths of 4 x 2 and a 5ft length of the same. Screwed this all together and placed on the trolley. The two long lengths run from the bumper mounts at the front of the H framed through to the diff tunnel, and the 5ft length and spacers supported the two 1/4 elliptic spring mounts.
MG Midget – TrolleySee photo »
I then did a quick hand sand with 100 grit on the entire interior and boot, vacuumed out, then primered the whole area. Once dry I masked up with newspaper the interior, the boot and the engine bay.
Now with all the panels on the car I took to it with 100 grit (non clogging) sandpaper to knock off all the high spots and sand down scratches and imperfections. I used a power sander for this, then followed up by hand.
MG Midget – Mask up and Sand down 100 gritSee photo »
Next step was to vacuum off all the dust, then Wet and Dry 400 grit, buy hand, with lots of water to start getting a smooth finish.
MG Midget – 400 gritSee photo »
Yes, it has been a while, but finally prompted to action by a warm April. Over the winter I constructed a spray tent in the garage using polythene dust sheets, and got the car sanded down with 1200 grit and applied primer inside and out. had a good couple of months to dry. But towards the end of April with good weather I pushed the car outside and applied the first coat of Rover Nightfire Red. Takes some practice to get a a good shine on it, will need to take my time with the final coat of colour. Warmer weather helps to prevent runs. Will not be sanding down the paint as this prevents the sparkly effect.
MG Midget – Prime and Paint – April 2015See photo »
4 & 6th
Where did the summer go? Paint and lacquer sitting on the shelf finally got the better of me. Given last week offered us lovely warn weather, and with a week off, the MG was rolled out into the drive, given a quick clean and rub down with a tack cloth and another good coat of paint, using a further six cans. Applied three coats of lacquer to one of the rear wings in order to test the shine, which after a further sand down with 1000 grit paper and a quick buff with Meguairs Ultimate produced a mirror finish
The rain then descended for the next two days, so was confined to the garage with the gas mask (Did a good job, btw). One of the few problems with cans is the drips and runs, these needed rubbing down and then the car was sprayed all over again with a further four cans, followed by three large cans of lacquer. Bloomin’ drips from the lacquer cans as well will require further rubbing down and respraying.
Several purchases also made over the summer, new mesh grille, grille surrounds, water pump, rear brake cylinders (again!), heater tap, engine gasket set, clutch master cylinder, slave cylinder, brake master cylinder. Buying things bit by bit, every now and then helps to ease the financial pain. 😉
Hopefully painting finished today, @ 5 light coats of Nightfire Red, followed by 6 light coats of clear lacquer. This has left me with a dull finish (by design)
Now for the magic! I did a test area on the rear wing next to the door. 1200 grit wet and dry, lightly sanded to a dull finish. Followed up by a brisk polish with Meguairs Ultimate and my Silverline Polisher, starting at speed 1 then moving up to 4.
Hopefully the difference is visible on the photos. I have a lot of lacquer left over so must do the insides as well, then allow the paint and lacquer to harden properly over the next dew days, before going for broke over the whole car with sanding and polishing (will then get washed and polished too!)
8th August 2017
Where does the time go?
Done a lot of work on the body since October 2015, my daughter thinks all I do is spray paint on the car then sand it off again, to only then spray more paint on the car! However, topsides are now done, although I am less than happy with the end result, will probably take the car to “my little man” who has a workshop on a local farm and specialises in Classics, for a spray and shine finish.
All the undersides are also complete, cleaned and sanded down, two coats of stone chip undershield, followed by 2 x primer, 2 x top coat, 2 x lacquer.
That’s it, not painting the body anymore. Let me get to work on the mechanicals.
Have prepped up the steering rack, new boots and track rod ends, all cleaned up. Rear axle much the same, and carried out a quick restoration on my Spax rear shock absorbers and mounting plates. Front suspension, mainly dampers and wishbones also got the gloss black treatment.
Time for a gallery of the bodywork, the photos and lighting do flatter it.
MG Midget – Paint Final – Aug 2017See photo »
11th August 2017
Have warmed up the waxoyl and sprayed all the cavities and wing and boot corners, making a mess of the garage floor in the process. Also doused the rear springs with the stuff.
Refurbished the handbrake from handle to compensator and refitted to car. Original cable in good nick.
12th August 2017
Loose fitted the steering rack, rear dampers, rear springs and rear radius arms, need to make up a couple of spring housing seals too, although these weren’t actually fitted to my car originally.
Fitted new rear brake cylinders to the rear backplates. The bodies on the new ones were bigger than the old ones, took a fair few clouts with the hide mallet to get them to slot in!
13th August 2017
Fitted rear axle. Did this on my own, using a couple of large blocks of wood in order that the spring hanger was just in line with the spring shackles, and anpther block to carry the weight of the prop shaft mount (levels it up). Found it easier to remove the radius arms from the body (that I had already fitted!), fix to the axle then fix to the body. Make sure all your shock absorber bolts have the heads facing out. Once in place then lots of tightening up all round on the springs, mounting plates, radius arms (with jacked up axle). Due to my Spax dampers, I had to apply weight to the car to get them to line up, with it being a bare shell, not enough by itself.
Then able to fit the handbrake compensator and the handbrake cable.
MG Midget – Rear Axle and Suspension FittedShonky set of photos, will do a properly lit photo shoot soonSee photo »
14th August 2017
Both front suspensions fitted today. No dramas, everything slipped into place nicely. Had to make up a spring compression tool (2 x 8 inch threaded rod, with nuts and washers and small sockets as spacers). Now suffering from RSI from all the turns on the spanner. Can’t release the wood blocks used to support the dampers as there does not seem to be enough weight on the shell. Hopefully once I get it on some wheels we can all sit on it and release them 😉
15th August 2017
Back on it’s wheels and with steering! Dug the wheels and tyres out from their outside (under cover) store where they had been for the last 15 years. They survived well, just needing a quick wire brushing and cleaning up. Put 20 lb/in into each, and they all still held air! The Michelin XZX tyres still have plenty of tread, but they are now getting on for 30 years old so will probably be a bit hard and weak. Popped them on the hubs, added wheelnuts and removed the jacks. Forgotten how low the car sits! Took yhe weight of me and daughter to release the wood block on the left, but even with me standing on the H frame in the engine bay and my son on the wing (combined weight of @ 160kg) the wood block on the other side wouldn’t budge. Took to it with a length of wood and a hammer which got it moving. Popped the damper rubber out on the way but I’ll get that back on later.
Refurbished the steering column with new paint to inner and outer column (note to self, be more patient, let the paint dry!), tracked down the mounting bracket and the concertina grommet rubber thingy, and refitted column and steering wheel (Must get a proper socket for that 1 1/4″ nut!) Have to do a proper alignment of the steering rack and column later. Put some old castellated nuts on the track rod ends to save the nyloc nuts for prime time.
Feels like a real car again!