Non-Zen and the Art of MGB Maintenance

Brendan McAleer
by Brendan McAleer

For some people, climbing into a car, starting it on the first try and driving off with reasonable confidence in actually arriving somewhere is as sacrilegious as getting communion wafers out of a vending machine. These zealots (let’s call them Tinkerers) regard motoring as a religious experience filled with arcane ritual, unfathomable mystery and fervent prayer (or at least frequent blasphemy). To members of The Church of The British Sports Car, there are few better altars than the MGB upon which to sacrifice one’s time and money. But perhaps MGB ownership is not so much automotive-hair-shirt-wearing as it is Guy Fawkes emulation: brilliant plan, ‘orrible execution.

The MGB arrived in 1962 with lightweight unibody construction propelled by literally dozens of horsepowers. It did zero to sixty miles per hour in roughly eleven seconds. It could pull a respectable 9/10ths-of-a-G on the skid pad. And the MGB would hit a top speed of 100mph “without fuss” (early evidence of journalistic pandering).

The MGB’s ever-so-British styling was simple and appealing: long hood, short deck, two seats and a drop-top; keep ‘er low to the ground and add lashings of chrome. Compared to the lead-bottomed behemoths of the time, the ‘B was a frothy delight. My Dad bought a used one. He cheated death when a gravel truck ran a red light and smacked the MGB.

Our bent MGB spent several decades in a bramble-covered barn on a corner of a neighbor’s property while several generations of rodents ate the upholstery. (Marinating a car in a medley of rust, dust and time is an important step in creating a classic/relic.) Dad would periodically check in to see how things were getting on. There was much standing around with arms folded and grand plans that never materialized. It wasn’t until the neighbor decided to knock down the barn that my father was forced to come and shift the corpse.

While the MGB was hauled off to the rack for some chiropractic frame-straightening, Dad cleaned out the garage and tried to find all the errant components of his socket set. I soon learned that automobile restoration is not so much a project with a definite ending point as it is an ongoing process, like self-improvement or, more accurately, continental drift. What other possible reason could there have been for investing several days in painting each engine component a different colour of rust-proof Tremclad?

I seemed to be primarily involved in shining the trouble light on what was, invariably, the wrong bolt. And yet what an education I was receiving! Not in the inner workings of the combustion engine, nor the basics of tool use; I learned the language of automotive repair.

Being of Irish extraction, my father was blessed with the knack for inventive cursing. My young ears soaked-up his best material. To this day, I find no salve as soothing to a crushed fingernail as the ability to earn oneself a few extra years in purgatory with an ingenious epithet.

As the years passed, and perhaps despite my father’s best efforts, the MGB drew nearer completion. And then that fateful day arrived. There was nothing left to do except fire it up. Which couldn’t be done.

“Aha!” cried Dad with barely-disguised glee, “The carburetors must need adjustment.”

Out came the wrenches. There was some last-minute choke-cable difficulty. And then the indignant spluttering gave way to a muffled roar. And that was just Dad. Still, when the bluish smoke had cleared, there she stood: a gleaming, candy-apple red Lazarus, purring as she would have done brand-new in 1967. Then she stalled.

Eventually we got her running rather lumpily. After several test-circuits, my father decided to reward all my hours of semi-incompetent grease-monkey-ism by letting me get a feel for late ‘60s motoring, UK-style.

Grasping the yacht-sized, somewhat floppy Bakelite wheel, I felt a twinge of unease. I soon discovered that the brakes favoured the Neville Chamberlain approach to forward velocity: they preferred appeasement over action. To avoid becoming a tree-ornament, constant forward planning was required. Still, with the wind in my hair, careening around a blind bend with the narrow tires squealing, I couldn’t help feeling alive; perhaps even going so far as to shout, “I don’t want to die!”

The MGB sleeps in a shed (where else?) waiting for the sunny morning when Dad will begin the pre-flight preparations necessary for taking an autumn blast through the leaves. Wherever he parks it, it will mark its territory with scattered oil patches, like an elderly and incontinent dog.

Should it unexpectedly rain, Dad will find its convertible roof as pointlessly complicated and time-consuming to assemble as the Millennium dome. My mother will need to have the phone nearby if/when an emergency SOS comes through. As for me, I’m off down the pub. On the bus.

Brendan McAleer
Brendan McAleer

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  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Mar 23, 2008

    Now that's FUNNY!!! Well done!

  • David C. Holzman David C. Holzman on Mar 23, 2008
    I sold my rust bucket GT in 1979 for $400 and bought a soulless but reliable RX-7. To this day I miss the MG, but not the Mazda. Anthropologists need to compare the love that people have for these, um... difficult cars with the love some people have for difficult members of the opposite sex. I love cars like Mr. McAleer's father's old MGB, as long as I don't have to take care of them. I'd much rather own a Miata.
  • ToolGuy First picture: I realize that opinions vary on the height of modern trucks, but that entry door on the building is 80 inches tall and hits just below the headlights. Does anyone really believe this is reasonable?Second picture: I do not believe that is a good parking spot to be able to access the bed storage. More specifically, how do you plan to unload topsoil with the truck parked like that? Maybe you kids are taller than me.
  • ToolGuy The other day I attempted to check the engine oil in one of my old embarrassing vehicles and I guess the red shop towel I used wasn't genuine Snap-on (lots of counterfeits floating around) plus my driveway isn't completely level and long story short, the engine seized 3 minutes later.No more used cars for me, and nothing but dealer service from here on in (the journalists were right).
  • Doughboy Wow, Merc knocks it out of the park with their naming convention… again. /s
  • Doughboy I’ve seen car bras before, but never car beards. ZZ Top would be proud.
  • Bkojote Allright, actual person who knows trucks here, the article gets it a bit wrong.First off, the Maverick is not at all comparable to a Tacoma just because they're both Hybrids. Or lemme be blunt, the butch-est non-hybrid Maverick Tremor is suitable for 2/10 difficulty trails, a Trailhunter is for about 5/10 or maybe 6/10, just about the upper end of any stock vehicle you're buying from the factory. Aside from a Sasquatch Bronco or Rubicon Jeep Wrangler you're looking at something you're towing back if you want more capability (or perhaps something you /wish/ you were towing back.)Now, where the real world difference should play out is on the trail, where a lot of low speed crawling usually saps efficiency, especially when loaded to the gills. Real world MPG from a 4Runner is about 12-13mpg, So if this loaded-with-overlander-catalog Trailhunter is still pulling in the 20's - or even 18-19, that's a massive improvement.