BEGININGS OF THE PROJECT
Although initial talks about this project with Chris Flanagan of MG Lifestyle (UK) began at Stoneleigh in February 2013, I think certain ideas go back a lot further. I joined the MG Car Club in 1978 and attended my first MG Silverstone International Weekend. There I saw a pale blue MGA, I later found out the colour was Iris Blue. It looked stunning and I became determined to have a car of that colour one day. That day was a long time coming when I bought a basket case ex-California 1965 Pull Handled MGB in 1992. I took the opportunity to change its colour from BRG to my preferred Iris Blue during the restoration. In March 1996 I bought a brand new flame red MGF. Whilst I still own the red F 17+ years later on I often wondered what an F would look like in Iris Blue.
Now back to Stoneleigh and Chris. I knew he had already put a 2500cc KV6 engine into one of his MGF’s. I also knew Chris had a new MGF body shell. We spoke about the prospect of me buying the shell and Chris fitting a KV6 engine. Over the next few days we discussed the project and agreed on a specification and price. The car would be Iris Blue with dark blue leather upholstery and fitted with a KV6 engine. This spec stayed until the end of the project but with quite a few changes. An optimistic target date of MG Live at Silverstone 2013 was set for completion.
Obviously with only a body shell to start with many other parts had to be acquired. Chris suggested we start with a year 2000 MGF to supply suspension, sub-frames, steering and interior. We would also need a MGZS 180 to provide the KV6 engine. An assortment of wiring looms from both cars would also be needed. I actually ended up with two MGF donor cars, I hadn’t realised the first one I bought was a 1.6 and did not have some parts I would need. However the 1.6 came with a very tidy hardtop, front splitter and air intake cowl. These came in handy for one of the spec changes. Both the Fs and the ZS came via that famous auction web site; I cannot believe how cheap these cars were. It is a shame their previous owners did not realise they have future classics.
BODY SHELL ALTERATIONS
The body shell only required two alterations to facilitate the fitment of the KV6. Firstly the forward engine bay bulk head behind the driver’s seat needs to have a section about the size of an A4 sheet of paper removed. A bulge is then formed to accommodate one bank of cylinders from the engine. An inspection plate is then formed in the boot bulkhead to allow access to the other bank of cylinders.
Other alterations got rid of the seams on the sills, windscreen frame and rear panel near the light clusters.
The praise for the great finish goes to Dan at Cleckheaton Bodyshop. The underside of the shell was covered with stone chip protection prior to priming. The top coat is two pack, with clear lacquer mixed into the final coat. During the build of the car Chris suggested that the hard top could be Old English White instead of my original idea of dark blue to match the new dark blue hood. Gradually other ideas came to us such as Iris Blue on the centre console and door cards with OEW on the gear lever surround, front splitter, side air intake and high level brake light surround. Chrome exterior door handles and electric mirrors finished off the look.
click on image to enlarge
©photos by Graham Saunders
The original plastic fuel tank is now too big to fit back in place due to the bulkhead alteration, so it was discarded. A new bespoke aluminium tank was made to take the original fuel pump. The new tank is a little smaller and holds about 1 gallon less than the plastic one.
The front sub frame is standard with the exception of TF cross bars for stiffening. The rear sub had the back part replaced by a welded in steel tube arrangement to increase it’s strength and allow the custom made exhaust to fit. The sub frames were also shot blasted and powder coated in satin black, as were all other connecting parts.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
Due to our tight deadline of Silverstone the engine and gearbox were left pretty much as they left the donor ZS. The only exceptions were a change of cam belts, water pump, and thermostat and clutch assembly. Possibly this winter will see the engine coming out for an internal inspection as it is using a bit too much oil.
click on image to enlarge
©photos by Graham Saunders
Obviously with a larger engine more heat would be generated. We had a custom made radiator made which is the same height and width as a standard one from a MGF but twice the depth. Two new variable speed electric fans where fitted, each with its own fan speed controller from the ZS.
WIRING AND ELECTRICS
The wiring loom used parts from both donor cars as necessary. I am glad to say everything worked first time. Chris really knew what he was doing, sat on his garage floor cutting bits out and soldering other bits in, amazing.
As with my 1996 MGF this one also uses hydragas units for the suspension. I realised 3or 4 years ago that my 1996 car was having problems with the ride gradually getting more and more uncomfortable. I investigated how the hydragas units work and figured that the nitrogen in the upper part had leaked out. I devised a method of attaching access valves to the units and pumped in fresh nitrogen. Not knowing what the original pressure was lead me to experimenting raising and lowering the pressure until a comfortable ride condition was achieved. The access valves I had used allowed me adjust the pressure without having to keep removing the units from the car. I did the same for the new car. However I also made it so each unit could be filled with hydragas fluid independently as well. This enabled a comfortable ride and easily adjustable ride height to be gained.
All the rubber suspension bushes where changed for Orange poly-bushes from Pro-flex. New top ball joints, lower ball joints, suspension arm roller bearings, suspension knuckles and track rod ends where used.
The front brakes were up-rated from a Trophy 160 at the front and standard brakes at the rear, using new discs and pads from Mintex. All solid brake pipes were made new from high quality copper tube and coated with heat shrink tubing to protect them from the weather and road salt. The flexi-brake lines were replaced by stainless steel braided one all round.
WHEELS AND TYRES
Having used larger brake discs and callipers on the front necessitated the use of 16” wheels all round. Again the auction site was very useful as I could see all the various designs that were available. I settled for what I think is called hairpin design from a year 2000 anniversary car. I looked at various tyres and found that only four manufacturers seem to offer the same design of 16” with same tread pattern front and rear, bearing in mind the different widths. I settled on Yokohama S Drive. A very helpful guy called Mark Beaver at Powder and Paint powder coated the wheels and fitted the tyres for me. Whilst putting the wheels on the car Chris mentioned that if I got a puncture on a front wheel I would have to move a rear to the front and then put the standard MGF spare wheel on the front. Not ideal, so it was back the auction for another 16” hairpin wheel. This I had powder coated bright orange to force me into changing the wheels back once any puncture had been repaired.
When balancing the front wheels they had to be balanced by putting weights on the inner and centre rims. If weights were fitted to the outer rim they caught on the brake callipers.
CARPETS AND UPHOLSTERY
The carpets and hood were easy, just a couple phone calls to Newton Commercial and BAS International. The carpets fitted perfectly first time. I had never fitted a hood before so I was a bit apprehensive, however this went very well. It was a little tight to start with but soon relaxed and now fits well with no leaks.
The upholstery was a bit more of a problem. I only knew of one upholsterer near to where I live. At first they said my deadline was no problem. However two days later they said they would not look at the job for at least three months. I was in panic mode now not knowing who could do the job for me. As luck would have it I had to collect some of the powder coating from Mark and mentioned my problem to him. He recommended Ryedale Upholstery in Elvington and told me to ask for Jim. Having found Jim and explained my predicament to him he said he could help. However he was not happy with my idea using leather everywhere, seats, dash, centre console and full door cards. He persuaded me it would look a bit too much, a bit tarty. He explained the seats and dash could be done in good quality leather. He could also put leather inserts on the door cards. The rest of the interior he suggested that it could be coloured the same colour as the leather. This would look like leather without all the stitching involved. We agreed on dark blue leather with double stitching as near to Iris Blue as could be found. As good as his word Jim got all the work done in time for Silverstone. I actually picked up the final outstanding part, the headrests, on my way to Silverstone.
Although the project was first thought of in February we didn’t really start until the last week of April. However the help of Chris and Adam at MG Lifestyle (UK), Mark at Powder and Paint, Jim at Ryedale Upholstery, my neighbour Mike, numerous eBay suppliers and the support of Anita my wife the car made it to Silverstone on time. At Silverstone I met Grahame Bristow who can produce tea mugs with an art deco design of your car on. I couldn’t resist buying two, one with hard top fitted on one with the hood down. I think they finished off the project perfectly.
Review by Grahm Saunders