A slalom-crazy wolf in sheep’s clothing
By Jonathan Lane, photography by Scott Dahlquist
Many cars live out their lives providing basic transportation, occasionally basking in the glory of a fresh oil change or a new set of tires. However, they eventually succumb to the creaks and groans of old age, ending up in the junkyard or up on blocks in a cornfield. While this may be the fate of most ’84 Chevy Citations, thankfully it’s seldom the fate of our beloved British sports cars.
By his very nature, Tim Reese of Thousand Oaks, California, was born to tinker. In the late ’80s, Reese became infatuated with a friend’s Bugeye Sprite. He loved the car’s utter simplicity and eventually found himself searching for something similar for his own garage. After considering a TR6, Tim finally settled on a 1970 MGB. Fifteen years later, the car is set up just the way he wants it. “I really just wanted something to tinker with,” Tim explains. To say that he’s tinkered with it is quite an understatement.
Previously owning a ’75 280Z and a two-liter Capri, Tim was familiar with small-displacement engines. Nonetheless, stepping down to the 1.8-liter MGB was more than he could bear. Like many MGB owners, Tim liked the car’s nimble handling, but he felt that the old car was woefully underpowered by today’s standards. Thus began Tim’s unending quest for more horsepower.
Tim’s fascination with small engines ruled out the popular Rover V-8 swap. He also considered a Chevy 2.8-liter V-6, but the purist in Tim won out—he decided to soup up an MG four-cylinder instead. This would be easier and also leave the car looking original.
Tim’s quest for power yielded a little big engine. He imported a stroker motor from England. To increase the displacement, the cylinders were bored to 1950cc and Lotus pistons were installed. Adding the stroker crank raised the displacement another 300ccs to 2.1 liters- approaching TR4 territory!
While Tim wanted beyond-factory performance, he wasn’t looking for a racecar. Granted, Tim likes to carve the twisty canyon roads between Thousand Oaks and Malibu on weekends, but he didn’t want to sacrifice daily-drivability. As a result, the stroker motor was built with 9.0:1 compression so that the car would still run on pump gas.
A side-draft Weber carburetor is reputed to make more power, but Tim went with a pair of new 1 ¾-inch SU HS6 carbs from Moss to retain drivability and keep the original appearance. He also used a specially curved Lucas 45D distributor to get power to the plugs and bolted an oversized Moss stainless-steel exhaust system to a standard manifold to get rid of the fumes.
Adding heavy-duty shock valves and a 13/16-inch swaybar certainly helped the MGB’s already impressive handling. However, Tim claims that the greatest improvement came from 15-inch Minilite two-eared knockoff wheels and 185/65Rl5 Dunlop tires. The original wire wheels looked great, but they had a tendency to flex in corners; the Minilites give the car much more predictable handling.
To complete the wolf-in-sheep’s clothing facade, the rest of the car was left basically stock with the exception of a Pioneer stereo and original seats, which were recovered in velour. While Tim likes having a powerful car that will do 0-60 in 9 seconds, he also wanted to keep the car’s original beauty without calling too much attention to himself. (After all, he works for the company that created the B-2 Stealth bomber.) Tim is an active member of the Central Coast British Car Club and uses his car on a regular basis for club events as well as the occasional l40-mile round-trip commute to work. At the Moss Motors British Extravaganza at Buttonwillow last year, Tim beat out a bunch of more powerful cars to win the slalom competition.
Now that the MGB is basically done, Tim is content with his Coalition Forces creation: an American defense-industry employee piloting a British machine. But Tim Reese is a consummate car fanatic who is now making noises about Big Healeys. Ah, it’s good to know that there are still gearheads in this perilous world to keep our beloved machines safe from the ravages of time.