In the case of my car, there was no question of anything other than a total body-off rebuild. It was evident that all the main structural areas of the body were seriously corroded and beyond normal repair. The only strategy is to retain the body on the chassis, cut out the rot and replace with new structural metal, to the point where the body is strong enough to remove from the chassis without fear of distortion. Removing the body from the chassis before replacing the inner and outer sill structures, is to guarantee a nightmare, at worst the body breaking in two and at best serious problems in achieving door and panel fit.

At this point, the decision has to be made as to the extent of the metal removal – what can be repaired and what needs to go. It’s useful at this stage to be armed with all the repair/replacement panel suppliers catalogues, to be aware of what’s available and of course, the cost. Bear in mind that some of the main repair panels, for example the front shroud, are extremely expensive. If a decent repair is possible, then it’s a much cheaper route.

The majority of my panels were supplied by Sportscar Metalworks of Iver in Buckinghamshire, England. Most were good, but there were a few exceptions, which I’ll tackle separately later.

Dismantling

Over the years of storage, gallons of penetrating oil had been sprayed into any accessible area of the car, which was a big help when it came to dismantling. In the whole job, I only had to resort to grinding off one properly seized bolt, which was the near side rear spring forward mounting bolt. Aside from a couple of small fastenings, everything else yielded to spanners and sockets.

Dismantling is the easy bit, but there are some bits of advice that can seem obvious, but should be made:

Avoid the temptation to start stripping until you are really ready to start the full restoration – a dismantled MGA takes up a huge amount of space! The best place to store parts is on the car.

At the risk of repetition and unless you already have a body in two halves, do not remove the body from the chassis at all costs. Structural body restoration must be carried out with the shell fixed to the chassis to ensure everything fits when finished and to give structural strength to the shell to prevent it breaking in two when removed. Once the critical inner and outer sills have been replaced, then consideration can be given to lifting off the bodyshell, but even then its recommended to brace the cockpit between front and rear scuttles.

Removing the wings is the point when the worst ravages of time are revealed and at first sight, depression can set in. It’s amazing how good even a seriously rusted car can look from the outside when all the panels are in place, but removing them shows the awful reality!

Compare this with the mess once the wings were removed - covered a multitude of sins!

The fitted wing covered a multitude of sins – compare this to the mess once removed.

Removing the rear wing revealed several kilos of a concoction of mud, rust and road salt...not a good moment.

Removing the rear wing revealed several kilos of a concoction of mud, rust and road salt…not a good moment.

 

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Sills injected with foam, sometime before 1974.

Sills injected with foam, sometime before 1974.

First major surgery, involved cutting away all rotten metal, first having taken key measurements. Tip here is to retain all old sections to use as reference later, when time has passed and the new sections have to be set in place. Also, work on one side only and use other side for reference no matter how bad it is. Addendum – in hindsight, I wouldn’t have cut away quite so much metal from the upper section behind the ‘B’ post, as the repair panel was a poor fit – easier to have patched it up at the top and replaced just the lower section.

Left side in slightly better shape and useful to take datum measurements to help position right side repair panels

Left side in slightly better shape and useful to take datum measurements to help position right side repair panels

 

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Horrendous as this looks, it still provides valuable datum points and its worth taking various measurements before making the first cuts – only wise after earlier mistakes!

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Filthy work removing 54 years worth of crud.

Filthy work removing 54 years worth of crud.

Even having sheeted as much as possible, the dust got everywhere

Even having sheeted as much as possible, the dust got everywhere

Removal of sill structure revealed a patch repair to the chassis, running under the A pillar. Given that at this point I’d owned the car for 39 years, I’ve no idea when this would have been carried out, but the state of the sill structure, which has been bodged with filler and expanding foam, suggests serious corrosion problems before my ownership. The car was 15 years old when I obtained it and had been exposed to salt sea water, so unsurprising really.

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The first cut is the deepest………cut line was made following the upper edge of the original inner sill, which will help with alignment of the replacement sill.

As the dismantling gets going it’s worth taking time to bag-up small components, nuts and bolts, wires etc. and labelling larger parts. Even if you plan to replace all the fastenings, it’s worth keeping them to help identifying the correct type of replacement.

From the start I've bagged up parts using freezer bags. It all takes time, but is well worthwhile.

From the start I’ve bagged up parts using freezer bags. It all takes time, but is well worthwhile.

Tempting as it is to remove the engine/gearbox early on in the restoration, it’s much easier to leave it until the body is removed. It’s another thing to have laying around, tripping over in the workshop and there is plenty of time later when the chassis overhaul takes place to strip and carry out any machining that may be required. It’s also a much easier job with the body off.

Bill Jeffries – billnjeffries@gmail.com

 

 

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