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Episode Four - light at the end of the tunnel

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


Winter has struck Australia and Alison has been moved in-doors for the final running gear work.  Lying under a car on a concrete driveway in the cold, the wind and the wet is no fun as I'm sure many of our Northern Hemisphere readers will agree. 

You will remember that at the end of my last report I had started on the brakes so that I could complete the under bonnet work and refit the side panels and mudguards.  Before the cold weather claimed a grip on things, I did manage to do this work and refit the lights and bumpers so that Alison does look like a real car again.  As you will see from the photos, I have fitted the amber turn indicator lamps that match the style of the brake lights.  While this approach is not original, I've said before that I'm sure this is what the MG Car Company would have done if they were not working on a developmental shoe-string budget at that stage.  After all, by 1959, barely a year after Alison was born,  the 1600 MGA and the Farina Magnettes had appeared with amber indicators all round instead of the stop-gap measure of flashing parkers and brake lights.  Since Alison will be subjected to rigorous daily use, I consider the amber lamps an essential adjunct to modern motoring (along with the five-speed gearbox and retractor seat belts).

I have also fitted all the chrome mouldings and these really make a Varitone car look magnificent.  Although the moulding which follows the gutter line from front to rear on the Varitones clips into place, some adhesive is necessary to ensure it doesn't come adrift on the road.  I used silicon for this and strapped the two mouldings tightly onto the car with tape overnight to ensure the silicon had time to cure.

Now that she is in-doors, I have completed the brake overhaul and gone through the wheel bearings and oil seals.  The brakes needed everything doing, of course, so Alison now has new linings, new or re-sleeved wheel cylinders, some new pipes, a full set of new hoses and freshly machined drums.  Even with a bit of shopping around, this cost quite a lot of hard-earned Aussie dollars, but it is inescapable.  Fortunately, after good clean up, a penetrating soak in degreaser and some new oil, I was able to use my old handbrake cables.  So far I have decided not to fit a booster or disc brakes.  Time will tell whether or not I decide to go down this route.

I am just finishing up the re-assembly of the wheel bearings as I write this.  The MG Enthusiasts bulletin board has been invaluable with advice about this archane aspect of the car, especially the rear axle assembly with its quaint breather assembly (mine was blocked up) to relieve pressure build up, and clever little drain holes (these were blocked too) for leaking oil to escape through rather than ooze over your brake linings.  And who has a 1 61/64ths inch octagonal socket lying around in their tool box to undo the nuts on the end of the axle tubes - not many and certainly not me, but help was at hand as Mr Bruce Smith at Sportsparts in Sydney (+61 2 9875 1144) rents one out for the very reasonable sum of $8 - what a life-saver.

I've also had the carburetter components overhauled and will be reassembling these in the near future.  Midel in Sydney (+61 2 9759 5598) have an enormous stock of SU parts and offer a full range of services.  They have cleaned up my old parts, supplied a few new bits and pieces, plated the rusty metal and now it is up to me to put the two SUs back together.  As you can see from the photo, there are a lot of components, but hopefully I can work it all out from experience and the instructions in the workshop manual.

I've also bought a fabulous new old-style battery to complete the under bonnet restoration, and am really pleased with how it looks - all big, black and genuine, complete with glorious lead links between the cells.  Following my comments in my last column about using a 12v torch battery to check the new wiring before letting the new monster loose on it, I had an email from Paul Vermont in Melbourne advising me to use a small battery charger.  I did this and it was fantastic - not only does it adequately power just about everything, but it has a cut out to prevent anything more than about 4 amps running through the system.  I've now checked all the circuits and am happy that all is well.

I'm now about to get stuck into the upholstery as my deadline for the ceremonial starting and driving of Alison is looming.  It is scheduled for 21 August to coincide with a major birthday that I'll be having this year (and it's not 21 I reluctantly have to admit!) so I have to keep at it.  But there really is light at the end of the tunnel at last……

Mudguards and bumpers on, lights fitted and Alison is beginning to look like a car again.  Soon the brick handbrake will not be needed.
The new old-style 12 volt battery completes the under bonnet presentation nicely - just the carburetters to go.
This array of tiny bits and pieces (plus a few others) will hopefully come together to form a pair of semi-downdraught 1½ inch SU carburetters.

  • alison together
  • battery
  • carburetters

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