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Episode Two - Underneath the Grease and Grime

In an occasional series, Malcolm Robertson outlines life with 'Alison', his 1957 MG ZB Varitone Magnette….


I was really pleased when I had finished the painting of Alison in April 2004 because it seemed that I was getting somewhere - I could really see progress. Unfortunately I cannot report a similar sense of satisfaction this time, although when I look back on what I've been doing I guess progress has been made.

Firstly, the last few months have been winter in Australia, so there have been occasions when working on the car has been just too miserable to contemplate, but on other occasions we have had beautiful weather, if a little cool, and it has been a pleasure to pull on the overalls even if I was not looking forward to the tasks that had to be done.

These have been to clean up the front and rear ends of the car which were still in their original states - covered in fifty years of grease, grime, rust and dirt. As reported in my last episode, I had done most of the paint job but I had left the running gear in place so that I could move the car around. Perhaps in hindsight I should have stripped the shell bare and sent it off for sandblasting as this would have made the tasks of restoring the running gear a bit easier. However, it would also have been logistically more difficult, and probably more expensive.

So, it was on with the gloves and everything on both the front and rear ends was dismantled, cleaned up either by sandblasting or by hours of painstaking scraping, repaired where necessary and painted prior to reassembly. Once again I used two-pack paint and I am pleased with the result - an excellent tough black gloss on all the components. New rubber parts and several new nuts and bolts went into the reassembly and at last Alison is starting to look like a new car.

Apart from the sheer difficulty of putting everything back together with new rubber parts, the main challenge I had was to decide where on the front end to paint birch grey or twilight grey. Alison is a Varitone so the lighter colour, birch grey, is used throughout the engine bay, while the darker colour, twilight grey, is used under the front guards and on some of the suspension components. What I couldn't find out was where the lighter grey stopped and the darker grey started. Just about everywhere else on the car this is an easy decision - it's either the chrome strip, or some distinct line (as you can see from the photos elsewhere on the website).

In the end I decided to paint the chassis rails and the cross member in birch grey and leave everything that came off the front end in black. The only dividing line I had to make was between the chassis rail and the curved section of the bodyshell that forms part of the inner guard. All the other panels that form the mudguards I had already painted separately, namely the side panels (the inner side - forming the engine bay - birch grey and the outer side twilight grey), the undersides of the mudguards themselves, and the splash panels.

I suspect that in the factory they probably painted the darker grey on after partially assembling the cars, so the ends of the chassis rails would have been squirted in the darker colour at the same time as the outside face of the side panels were done. There must have been lots of overspray here and there, certainly more than I would have been happy with doing a restoration, as there are plenty of gaps around the side panels. If anyone really knows how this was done originally, please add a description and some photos to the "How to Paint a Varitone" section of the website!

I had to take the engine and gearbox out to do this paint job effectively, so that was a bit of fun. Fortunately this had already been done by Nepean Classic Cars when they fitted the five speed box and the MGB engine, so there wasn't much cleaning to do, only some sanding of the chassis rails prior to applying the new birch grey paint.

At the rear of the car, I finished off what I hope will be my last rust repair - the boot floor! I welded new metal myself in the spare wheel well, but I had to have a complete new section made for the flat area. This was done using the old rusty section as a pattern for the pressings and I had some fun cutting the old piece out with the angle grinder. The new section was made locally by one of our skilled restoration houses and was welded into place using MIG by one of my friends.

I have now sprayed a gloss black rust preventative paint under the new boot floor and under the car where the rear axle goes as far forward as the panelling that forms the front of the rear seat. The only section of the car that now has to be painted is the underside from this point up to the engine bay. There is a bit of dirt to be scraped off first, and I'll probably paint this by hand with thick bitumen paint, so I haven't finished with lying on my back under the car just yet.

By the way, I fitted a pair of MGB rear shackles as these lower the car by half an inch and hopefully will make it sit a wee bit more purposefully on the road.

The next job will be to fit out the doors and to start reassembling components under the bonnet. I've already cleaned up and painted many of these such as brackets for the washer bottle, the heater fan and the wiper motor, and I have a new wiring loom ready to install so by the time I do my next report there should be real progress!

It is hard to believe the amount of work it takes to get the front suspension components to look like this! Notice the demarcation line I have chosen between the two colours - this is bound to be wrong! I expect that all the light grey you can see in this photo should be dark grey, but I couldn't live with the overspray involved.


Once it is all together, the front suspension looks better than new.

Even a relatively simple rear end, such as on the Magnettes, has a lots of separate parts - all need rennovating and painting.

TheToyota gearbox and its new bell-housing match up nicely to Alison's new MGB 1800 engine. Here the completed assembly is about to go back onto the freshly painted sub-frame.


  • Alison-rear end components
  • engine_going_in
  • rear_end_comp

  • suspension_ass
  • suspension_disass

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