In the last issue of “Moss Motoring News” (Vol.5 No.4) an article titled “The English Connection” caught my eye and caused me to reconsider a possible MGA restoration project. The sentence that did it was the simple statement “The line of products they already carry is complete enough to construct a brand new MGA body shell from scratch.” Well, why not? The availability of an affordable body shell may be the deciding factor in a restoration decision. For my own situation, a new body shell is a critical part before I can attempt a restoration project. The story behind the acquisition of my “parts” car seems to bear this out.
It all started innocently enough when I began to replace my badly leaking exhaust system with a new Moss stainless steel system with the proper brackets. This was the one area of my 1960 MGA 1600 roadster that really needed attention. To make a long, sad story short, I broke the flange on my exhaust manifold attempting to unscrew the old unit. By now the foul oaths that I uttered are reaching the vicinity of Mars. My wile actually thought the car fell on me!! Alter I recovered some semblance of composure. I called Moss to purchase a new and/or used one. To my sad surprise, this was a part that was simply unavailable. The sympathetic voice on the other end of the line suggested that I try calling salvage yards for one. As luck would have it, I found an unemployed welder recently let loose from the oil patch who skillfully welded my old manifold using high nickel content rods. However, my mind was made up. I was going to get a parts car for those “hard to find” parts.
As if in answer to my prayer, there was a listing for a basket case 1957 MGA roadster in the regional “Shop n Swap” advertiser within the next two weeks. This caused me a great deal of amazement at the time because I thought that most of the basket case MGAs had long since been chopped for parts or restored. I called the gent on the phone and bought the car sight unseen for the grand total of $185 (good thing too, because he subsequently had 35 other phone calls about this car). I drove over 140 miles with an auto dolly behind my van to get to this car. For $185 I knew it was going to be bad, but I was totally shocked when I got there. Rather than being stored in a nice warm garage, it was parked unceremoniously underneath a tree in a pasture and covered with a blanket. It was the typical victim of not one but two abortive “restoration” attempts. Mudwasps and mice called it home. The fenders were oil and the engine lay in many pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. Boxes of parts were lying everywhere. My nephew who had accompanied me on the trip looked at me as though I had taken leave of my senses. Undaunted, I saw a great many parts (cores?) that are hard to find. The steering rack and rear end were in fairly good shape. Unfortunately, I found green slime in the gearbox instead of oil. Collecting all these parts filled the interior of my van and the sight of the old MGA strapped to the auto dolly was indeed pitiful. Despite the condition of the car, my nephew told me he saw tears in the former owner’s eyes as we began to pull the car out of the pasture.
More problems awaited at home. Fortunately, my wife is understanding as she owns an MGB and knows full well the value of numerous spare parts. The neighbors were less sympathetic. I tried vainly to convince them that the tarp covered blob in the back yard was a picnic table that I had covered to keep the bird guano off it. None of them had ever seen a picnic table with wire wheels before. I eventually told them the truth and that I was going to chop it up quickly for parts and begged them not to call the cops and report my derelict in the backyard. I can’t tell you where that dirty word “restore” crept into my thinking, but it did. Perhaps it was my 14-year-old daughter’s questions that first planted that seed. Her questions were logical and to the point.
Daughter: “Dad. when can I drive”?
Father: “At 16”.
Daughter: “How long does it lake to restore a car like this”?
Father: “With a lot of help, luck and money—maybe two years”.
Daughter: “Great. That times it perfectly. I’d like it painted black with a red interior and chrome wire wheels”.
Wiser heads now came to view “the leper,” as it was now being called. A friend from my local MG club looked at the wreck, saw the frame rust in the passenger compartment, looked al the bondo on the rear of the car and the holes for the stereo speakers on the back deck. Shaking his head forlorn. he asked me if I had a revolver and then seeing my head nodding in the affirmative he promptly suggested that I put it out of its misery. Still, I couldn’t go through with it. Perhaps it was the fun I was getting out of my own functional MGA. It didn’t seem right lo cut up a car that once again could provide someone with a lot of good clean fun. However, the problem was now two-fold—time and money. The frame and running gear were restorable, the body with its bondo, surface rust and shredded rocker panels was more a case of resurrection than restoration. A new body shell that was available for a reasonable cost seemed a wiser choice than to restore the present shell. I know full well that this suggestion will cause a problem for many purists. When does a restoration cease being a restoration and become a replica? The answer will be different for each person. To me, a body shell made from British Heritage approved parts and assembled in the same way as the original will “keep the faith.” To let others make their own decision, I would suggest that in the location on the right firewall where the body number ordinarily appears, there instead be a plate with the phrase “Body by Moss” and a serial number. The result would be a bondo (or lead) free car that would offer a lot of driving pleasure and give this basket case a second lease on life.
Before closing, it’s important to consider the potential market for MGA body shells, since Moss Motors is a business concern rather than a historical society. Since acquiring my wreck,I have learned of at least two oilier MGA basket cases in my immediate area that are quietly awaiting restoration. One owner even took apart his car and stored the pieces in his house to slow down the rusting process. Look behind his TV and you might find a rear lender! I am convinced that there are enough such cars to warrant either production of a completed body shell or at least a packaged kit. As usual, time and money are both factors in the decision of whether or not to put these cars back on the road.
The MGA is old enough and classic enough to assure owners a car that won’t depreciate, but frequently they fear their expertise will fall short, particularly in the bodywork department. As a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association and a visitor to their annual convention at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, I was immensely impressed with the makers of many of the kit airplanes. Step-by-step instructions often with videotaped highlights on construction are available to first-time builders. The airplane is available in prepackaged subkits that builders can pay for and build each subkit without taking out a second mortgage on the house. Since the builder is associated with a single supplier, the arrangement is more lucrative to that supplier. Restoring cars is different in that each builder needs different parts depending on what he already has at hand. A complete body shell would go a long way toward speeding the process. I hope Moss Motors takes my suggestion to heart now that it has the capability. Couple a parts program with an education program, and the number of cars on the road should increase significantly, they will need to be restored—again and again.
By Jack Bentle
Jack will receive a Moss gift certificate for his contribution.