The Next Generation of MGA Enthusiast

Photo for The Next Generation of MGA Enthusiast

A recent trip to the UK coincided with the MGA Register of the MG Car Club having their annual MGA Day. The gathering took place at a National Trust site, Canons Ashby, in Northamptonshire. The British summer weather did  not cooperate - grey skies and drizzling rain on and off, and as a result the attendance was a little sparse with only 27 cars attending.

Among the owners that we met that day, was Daran Scarlett who has an ex California 1959 OEW 1500 roadster. This car required a lot of work, and Daran was assisted by his daughter, Poppy, and his son, Charlie. This ten year old boy was at the MGA Day, dressed in his blue MG overalls, and we got talking to him.  He was very knowledgeable about their car, and also about the different MGA models on the field.

While talking to the Register representative under their tent, our attention was directed to a pile of old style Safety Fast! magazines that they were selling. By coincidence, on top of the pile was the magazine dated March 2007, and the front cover featured an OEW roadster.  The photo was us with our car, and the photo had been taken in Canada earlier that year.

When we saw the magazine, we pointed it out to Charlie, and asked him if he recognized the people with the car on the cover.  Of course he did, and he got his Dad to buy the magazine. Anne and myself then signed the cover for him.

Charlie Magazine

Later in the day, the Register chose "The Car of the Day", and Daran and Charlie's car was chosen. They were presented with The Danny Byrne Trophy by Peter Morgan, Chairman of the MGA Register of the MG Car Club UK.

Charlie's AwardBelow is the story of the car's restoration, and Charlie's involvement.

1959 MGA Roadster KAS 893

Ours is an Old English White 1959 Roadster. It spent most of its life out in Ridgecrest and Kernville, California before returning to the UK in 2004 in very poor condition. At some point it had been painted red, the engine was shot and it had no gearbox.

Original stateIts first owner then spent several years undertaking a body-off restoration, with the aim to use it for European touring. With this in mind, it was fitted with a 5 bearing MGB 18v engine and unusually, a late MGB 4 speed ‘box with overdrive on 3rd and 4th. The back axle is MGB also, which gave it long legs for cruising. The suspension was also uprated, with Spax adjustable shocks added all round, together with MGB disk brakes to the front. The car was converted to RHD and in the process they did a very neat job of cutting up the dash and rewelding it into the right positions before repainting it – you can only tell from behind and I guess there were not many RHD dashes to be had at that time!

The car was then used for several years with trips into Belgium, France and Germany with other MGs. But then it seems it was put away and remained unused for quite a few years. After the usual search, we acquired it last summer from a Garage up north in England, where although up for sale if anyone asked, it was almost being used as a display piece. I traded a state of the art Audi cabriolet for it, which was literally sending me to sleep.

It was in no fit state to drive when it was delivered – the brakes were seized, the rubber on the tyre walls was badly cracked and there were all sorts of electrical gremlins. It didn’t even have water in the engine (thankfully I realised before we tried to take her out for a spin).

However, on inspection we were pleased to find that previous owner had done a decent job on the bodywork, which had held up well. From the condition (and the fact that the hood was completely unusable) it appeared as though the car had never seen rain during its travels and must have spent its life indoors whilst in the UK. So we didn’t find any horrors lurking, save a little surface rust in a few places underneath. This gave us a sound project to fettle; I was happy to get involved with the oily bits (and we have, a lot!) but importantly it meant the car could be back on the road relatively quickly.

From the outset we wanted this to be a family car. My wife Jane was very supportive and I soon found that my son Charlie, 8 at the time and his sister Poppy, 10, were both very interested and would soon become willing helpers. Collectively, they christened the car ‘Kassy’ after it’s licence plate number, KAS 893. I started creating a very long work list, joined the MGCC and began pouring over Barney Gaylords superb MGA GURU website.

Although bodily sound, the interior was a different matter. The carpets were simply offcuts loosely arranged to give you something to put your feet on. More seriously, once removed it became obvious that it needed new floors. The originals looked to have been put back into service after its rebuild but were splitting and pretty poor. Luckily, we managed to save most of the original screws, and Charlie’s first job was helping me clean up those very rare original cup washers!

Charlie Steering ColumnCharlie Working on the Steering Column

With the floor boards out for renewal, the chassis received a repaint where required and new brackets for seatbelts were welded into place in the centre. With my wife and children expected to use the car, adding effective seatbelts became a priority. This was an interesting learning curve, as many seatbelt kits were found to be incorrectly orientated or wound for use in our cars. Following discussions with others in the UK MGA Register, I received particularly useful advice from Brendan Leach, who had also gone through the same experience. Both of us now advocate inertia reel, reverse-wound belts for the MGA, with the belt exiting the reel at the 12 o’clock position, as this reduces the steep angle the belt takes from the boot over the bulkhead. (See an article on this topic on the NAMGAR website in the future).

PoppyOnce the new floor was in, painted and sealed, my daughter did the honours with the cutting and fitting of foil-backed insulation throughout the cabin. The interior then received a complete fitted set of carpets, including the boot, which were supplied via MGOC in Cambridge. I work nearby, so I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve visited them since!

The electrics were a bit of a mess and being a 1500 originally, the L549 Lucas rear light/signal/brake light combo was felt to be too weak for driving in modern traffic. With this, the Autumn of 2017 was spent wiring in a new LED setup which retained the original light units but now gave us bright lights and enabled a flashing yellow signal light through the red lense – very clever. The car has subsequently been fitted with a hazard kit from the same source. Charlie’s smaller hands were invaluable for feeding through wires and fitting grommets. He also lent his hand to plumbing in a new windscreen washer system and helping me to reinstall the heater.

Poppy working on the electricsPoppy Working on the Electrics

Mechanically, much has been done to bring the car back to life. A full service by the book, with many new parts needed to replace those perished or seized though being left standing. Using a grease gun again reminded me of helping my grandfather many years ago. The brakes have been totally rebuilt; all pistons were seized, and the front pads were worn right down to the backplates. For cooling, we fitted a Revotec fan system and a 3” ‘bilge blower’ fan to the left hand duct for the carbs. The car came to us running on open bell mouths. It now runs on Vokes cans with K&N filters, as per Barney’s web site. A new addition is low profile stub stacks for the filters. These were made in the UK on a limited production run from billet aluminium – almost too nice to be hidden away behind filters! Having discussed what they did and the benefits, Charlie fitted these.

The hood was never restored and arrived with the car from the US in a pretty sorry state. It was never fitted, the previous owner relying on a Tonneau. The frame was rusted and seized, the windows yellow and the wooden bow rotten. But we gently brought it back to life. Once stripped, the frame was sanded back, etch primed and repainted in as close a match to the original as we could find – a RAL colour not unlike desert tan for military vehicles. Luckily, the vinyl was not torn, and responded to a thorough clean. Finally, a new bow and weather seal was added, the join hidden by the hidem strip. When fitted back on the car, it stretched into position and latched down to a great fit. This was one of the most satisfying aspects of the renovation; we were so pleased that an original part of the car could survive like that and it has since held up well to wind and rain.

The car’s first real outing was due to be MGLive! at Silverstone in 2018, but alas our water pump failed the day before. Instead, we took the grey family box, visited the MGA Register at the show, took inspiration from the beautiful MGAs on display, made friends and bought parts. My son came away really impressed by the kindness and interest shown by the Register - fully living up to MGCC’s slogan ‘The Marque of Friendship’.

The car’s first real test came in July, when I drove it to the 2018 Le Mans Classic, together with friends from our local MG club. The highlight was taking to the track on the Saturday morning. Kassy put in a great performance, overtaking half the field, with a 102 mph run down the Mulsanne according to my GPS. Good enough!

In August, Charlie and I then made the trip to our first MGA Register gathering, this year at Canons Ashby in Northampton, UK. Although the weather was less kind, we had a great day out and again we were struck by how friendly and inviting everyone was. It was a surprise and honour to be chosen as the car of the day. Charlie couldn’t believe it and still thinks of that day as the highlight of the year. A very proud moment.

In September, we visited another major event here in the UK - the Goodwood Revival. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, this weekend-long event is a festival of cars and racing for pre-1966 vehicles and motorcycles, with everyone in period dress. Charlie went for the young Jim Clark look, complete with oil stained face. I understand we missed a few of you who attended also! The highlight was a 130 mile night time blast back home, open top all the way. A great way to finish the season.

Charlie at Goodwood

Being Autumn here means the car is now seeing less outings to events, but is still being taken out on a weekly basis until the worst weather is on us. A hardtop was acquired in the summer, of unknown origin (see Barney’s site) which should allow us to continue to make use on sunny winter days.

Altogether we’ve had a fantastic first year with the car. I’m also really happy that Charlie and Poppy have taken a keen interest and have had such great experiences with other members of the club. We are already looking forward to next year and more of the same.

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Last updated on December 15, 2018.