Now I'll get to the point. This is no forum post. I haven't got 200 pictures of every nut and bolt nor a particularly technical run down of what we did, however what I can tell you is that if you're thinking about setting to work on ripping out the beating heart of your classic for the first time, you'll probably want to read this.
After a significant number of miles spent with a gritty clutch pedal and a fairly embarrassing grinding noise, the MGB needed a proper looking at. Replacing a clutch release bearing on a car is a job that some of the more experienced folk among you will know can be done by shifting the gearbox back and popping a new one in. Hooray. The reality is on the MG there isn't enough space which of course meant the engine had to come out. So, we found a workshop, and got to it!
Now I'll be honest. I've never pulled an engine out a car before. Good weather was approaching fast as doubts began to loom over the prospect of major surgery for the car. We decided it was important this was no restoration job, this was a 'fix it and get driving again' job; so things had to be slick.
Pulling bits off an older car is satisfying when you've been driving it around a fair bit. You can cure your natural curiosity of how bits are bolted together, how they operate and where the air gets in that makes your knees cold above 50mph. We noticed ourselves getting good at guessing the various AF sizes for nuts and fixings, saving heaps of time. This gives the ego a much needed prop-up as filthy dry waxoil cascades down into your eyes whilst you remind yourself how much fun you're having. After not much time most of the components attached to the engine block were off. We threw frugality to the wind and bought a decent engine crane all out. Having bought a high quality low entry jack, experience told us that it was worth the few extra bob. Cheap tools are just plain nasty. A decent jack and crane are a godsend and make the whole job much smoother. The MGB engine block is made of cast iron so its one serious lump of metal.
After figuring out the complicated cross-member fixings, the engine was out. The bearing and clutch replaced, the block was tarted up a bit with the traditional dark red. A few extra things needed looking at, most importantly the speedo cable. Now as an inexperienced mechanic you quickly learn that the lazy way very quickly turns into the long way. I eventually discovered to get the the cable in the back of the speedo whole dash had got to come out. It took a whole day but was worth it only because I learned a valuable lesson about large projects like this. Going immediately back over complex areas you've just covered is key to keeping things moving. Sure it was a pain spending a day fiddling around with the dash, but hey-ho by the morning it was done and back in. Problem solved. I know now if I hadn't put it back the same day, it would have never been the same.
Putting things back in wasn't as bad as we were anticipating as we took time to consider the correct order to do things. Getting it started was another story. Methodically going through the checks before starting the engine left enough optimism to at least hope. It sparked and ran uncomfortably for about 20 seconds then died. We were so close. It turned out our distributor was simply out by 180 degrees. Calling for help form a mobile tuner was a good idea, plus we wanted to get the carbs balanced and tuned for the K&N filters, especially as they hadn't been done since owning the car. A decent drive to blow the cobwebs away and now it's never run smoother.
The MG has a new lease of life, although really we haven't changed much that would affect the way it drives so it must be something else. It must be the way we feel. I know that car now. There's no part of it I haven't seen - even the ugly bits. I respect it more.
So if you're pondering whether to go ahead, do it. Every job no matter how small is that one step closer to having a more complete car exactly the way you want it. All it takes is the courage to pick up your spanners - something that's been delaying me until now. Oh, and never underestimate the importance of a good cup of tea. But I'm sure you know that.
Words - Tom Aiton // Photography - Tom Duke