1967 MG Midget - Rust Bucket or Project Car?

That Is The Question!

Over the years we have managed to own several British ‘toys’. These have included a ’74 Truiumph Spitfire, a ’79 MG Midget, as well as Royal Enfield, Ariel, Norton, and BSA bikes. We even have some potential restoration projects on the back burner such as an Arkley SS Midget, a Morris Minor, a pair of 40’s vintage James bikes, a 250cc Triumph, and an early Whizzer.

In other words we have many pleasant memories and obviously plenty of future projects awaiting our attention. Therefore, it can truly be said that buying another MG was not even on our radar screen. We had no intention of even ‘window shopping’.

However, one morning during the month of May 2004, a friend of my husband, whom we had not seen for several years, telephoned. He informed us that he had an old ’67 Midget that he was trying to get rid of. I very quickly tried to convince my husband, Ken, that we weren’t dragging any other cars home because there simply was no more space in our yard or in our shed. He quietly smiled and nodded. In retrospect, I should have been more suspicious of his reaction or of what I took to be his silent agreement.

Two weeks later, while we were out for a leisurely Sunday tour, we ‘miraculously’ found ourselves in the vicinity of our friend, the Midget owner. Ken, innocently enough, managed to convince me that we should stop for a quick look. The idea was that there could be some valuable parts which might be used on our Spitfire. I remained in the car; content in the certainty that it would be a quick stop.

After five minutes, I began to realize, that from where I sat, the condition of the Midget didn’t look too bad. After ten minutes, I started to think about the fun we had had restoring the ’79 Midget and the '74 Spitfire. After fifteen minutes I realized that there was a real danger that Ken might actually refuse the car based on my previous comments. I decided I had to act fast - and that’s when it hit me - I had unsuspectingly become as obsessed with British sports cars as my husband! I too thrived on the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of the restoration. I was completely taken aback by this epiphany!

To make a long story short, we trailered our prize home a week later. I still couldn’t believe we had done it; we had bought another project car. We didn’t even have to find it; it seemed to find us. Ken, on the other hand, just smiled and nodded once again. ( strange habit that!)

For twelve hours we bubbled about the potential of another endeavor. So, next day we immediately set to the task of stripping the car down, starting with the interior. We decided that we had to determine its true condition. Was it just a rust bucket and a pile of spare parts or was it a possible project?

At this point we’re not sure ourselves. We had spent a total of $50 which we felt had already been redeemed through the parts that were acquired with the car. So we had nothing to lose and much to gain by forging ahead with our investigation of the little MG.

We had yet to determine whether it was a rust bucket or a project car; a passion or an obsession? Perhaps in time it would be possible to answer those questions.

August 2004August 2004

With all of this in mind, we tried to list the pros & cons of either doing another restoration or of salvaging the parts for resale. There were many factors to consider. We knew it would be a challenge either way; the restoration of the little MG would be a major undertaking, but even the removal of the 37 year old rusty parts wouldn’t be easy.

First of all, what factors would render a decision to restore? Considering the apparent condition of the car, we knew it would be a major test of our abilities and of our patience. However, we also felt that it would be good physical and psychological therapy for Ken who had just experienced a rather difficult/ tedious winter recuperating from major heart surgery. Secondly, it was unclear if there would even be any parts worth keeping from this poor ugly duckling. Nevertheless, we had to pull the rebuilt Datsun 210 engine that was presently in the car, as that was what had originally drawn Ken to the MG. He had anticipated using the engine as an upgrade to his Spitfire. Next, he felt that the Midget might be an opportunity for him to fulfill a lifelong goal which was to teach himself how to MIG weld. In addition, we felt that it was important to take into consideration that the tired and rusty body which sat in our yard was a product of the 60’s; a special time that had brought us the British Invasion. This included such important additions to pop culture as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, bell bottom pants and flower power. If for no other reason, this little British roadster deserved some respect quite simply for having been a part of such an important period in our history.

Then with another one of his smile & nod combinations Ken came up with what I considered to be the turning point in our decision making process. He implied that he would like to rebuild a car so that I could have my very own British roadster. That certainly piqued my interest. Furthermore, he suggested that it would be my job to make all major decisions as to interior or exterior color and any engine or body modifications. That would give it a personal touch and truly make it my own. It was all I needed to hear. I was hardly able to contain my excitement at the prospect of my very own British ragtop – in blue….. my daydreaming began and I heard nothing after that. Although with further consideration and with typical hindsight I now think that this might have been part of his master plan. It was that quiet smile and nod that made me suspicious – were we in fact trying to make a joint decision or had he already made up his mind and was simply trying to convince me?

In the mean time the ‘monsoon season’ hit – or at least that was what it felt like. For the next two months our ‘outdoor garage’ was too wet in which to work. Even though our outdoor work space was off-limits we were far too excited about the pending project to sit still. Therefore we began refurbishing some interior parts with the thought in mind that they could be sold on e-bay or used in our restoration, depending on what we ultimately decided. We started with the cleaning and polishing of such things as hubcaps, trunk rack, steering wheel, heater shut-off valve etc. Next, Ken stripped down the metal dash, sanded any surface rust, polished bezels, checked instruments, and repainted the dash with black wrinkle paint. Then we tackled the grille. However, we came to a bit of a stumbling block here, as there were four slats missing which could no longer be purchased new. Therefore we had to either hunt for another wrecked grille for parts, then refurbish this one or we had to try to find another one. This decision was tabled until a later date.

At this point we learned that the owner of the local upholstery shop was planning on retiring within the next two months. This then led us to the seats. We would not normally proceed with work on the seats before we had fully examined and evaluated the condition of the car. However, we thought it would be best to have them done locally which therefore necessitated doing them immediately. So, we began by tearing the seats apart. We discovered that the foams were in good condition and could be reused. Unfortunately new seat diaphragms would be required, seat stiffeners would have to be made, the frames would have to be cleaned up of rust and repainted, and the slide rails would also have to be brought back to like-new condition. The foams and the old vinyl seat covers were sent to the upholsterer. I then began the grinding process on the frames so that we could remove all the rust and Ken subsequently repainted them. One week later we retrieved the newly upholstered seats and reassembled them.

All things considered, we still weren’t sure the car was worth the time and money to restore. As a result we decided to pull the Datsun engine, and to continue the evaluation of the situation. The front fenders, the hood, the trunk lid, the wheels, and both front and rear suspensions were removed – although it was not easy at times, as in the case of the rear end. Just the same, several days later (inspite of rain showers and numerous seized bolts) we completed the dismantling process and the tub was placed up on sawhorses, where it awaited a possible facelift.

Typically of all Midgets, there was considerable rust in the battery box, both inner and outer sills, as well as the lower “A” posts. In addition both the outer left hand foot well and the left hand front floor along with the lower rear quarter panels on both sides contained substantial rust problems. There was also the usual surface rust to the engine bay and body panels that would be expected of a 37 year old neglected vehicle. In other words the tin worm had done its job well! Now the moment of truth had arrived. After lengthy discussion and with the understanding that most people would at this point abandon the thoughts of restoration, we decided to push on. After all, was this not a prime specimen for someone who wanted to learn how to weld? ( and for someone who wanted a little blue sports car?) Obviously this little MG would present a variety of different opportunities for Ken to try his hand at metalwork as well as MIG welding. So it became official. It wasn’t just a rust bucket; it would be our new project car, our new passion, and at times it would most definitely become our obsession .

This brought us to the next task which was to decide whether we were going to use the Datsun 210 engine or the Austin “A” series 1098 engine. By delving deeper into this tale of two motors we found that there were good qualities in each of them. The Datsun would definitely give us more power and would allow us to easily make an upgrade to a 5 speed transmission. This in turn would make the car more user friendly. On the other hand the 1098 “A” series was known to be quite a durable little engine and had been used in several different cars before and after the Midget. It could also be upgraded to a 5 speed though with a bit more difficulty. This engine would also maintain the authenticity of a ’67 Midget. It was at this point that I decided I would like to keep this car as close to stock as possible. To me that meant that I would use Midget parts wherever possible even though I might not necessarily restrict myself to ’67 parts; as in the case of the 1098 engine or perhaps a slightly newer grille.

Consequently the work began on the original Midget engine which turned out to be nothing more than several boxes of parts thrown together. This jigsaw puzzle had to be sorted and evaluated in preparation for the first parts order to be made. It was determined that the cylinder bores were within specs and did not require reboring. Therefore a few parts needed to be replaced such as main and rod bearings, rings, oil seals, oil pump, new timing chain, and crankshaft. Then the head was checked for cracks and valves and guides were fitted.

It was during this part search that I found myself not only perusing parts catalogues but also several MG magazines and internet sites. I became dazzled by the shiny aftermarket products that were available for the car in general and for the engine bay in particular. As my daydreaming began to run away with me, I was reminded of our earlier goal of rebuilding the car for 3,000 to 4,000 dollars. I briefly wondered whether or not this would endanger our ability to stay within that margin. Then I just couldn’t resist how cute, or rather ‘tough’, the little engine would look with all those shiny little gems under the hood and so I charged on. I hoped that it would in fact give our little 1098 that big 427 look, as in 'the little engine that could' of fairy tale fame.

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Finally, with the arrival of the month of July, the rainy spring weather slowly began to clear and we were once again able to return outside to work on the tub. We had already spent the previous two months purchasing a combination of new and used parts through e-bay, Moss Motors and Victoria British and were more than anxious to get started. For Ken's first foray into metalwork and welding, he thought he'd tackle the battery box. In our minds we felt that if he was unsuccessful at that, then there was little hope of being able to do the necessary fabricating and welding on the rest of the car. So far anything we had could be sold for parts. It was best to find out what we would be capable of before we were too far into the project.

Upon examination of the battery box we discovered that it needed a fair bit of work. It was severely rusted from three and a half decades of leaking battery acid. In addition, the previous owner had decided to sacrifice the heater and part of the battery shelf in lieu of extra space to fit the larger Datsun 210 engine. In so doing he cut out part of the heater duct using a cutting torch and a hammer. Needless to say the end result was a product neither as successful nor as functional as he had hoped. The remainder of the heater duct work was sound but bent. Therefore Ken straightened what was there and fabricated a piece to make up for what was missing. He drilled out the spot welds on the old shelf and removed it. Then he made a cardboard template from that shelf. Using 18 gauge sheet metal, he fabricated a new and improved battery shelf and welded it in.

Our next task was to prepare for removal of the rusty panels on the drivers side and eventually the passenger side. The most important step of the preparation involved bracing the car to avoid having it fold inwards upon removal of the sills. For this purpose we used 1 inch square steel tubing and bolted it to the top hinge mount of the “A” post and also to the striker plate mount in the “B” post.

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The second step of the preparation involved sorting out some equipment problems. We had already borrowed a wire flux mig welder and a helmet from friends; as we did not have one and weren't yet prepared to purchase one in the event that Ken found welding to be too daunting. However, this welder and helmet became a totally frustrating experience for a beginner. First of all the mig would spark as soon as the wire touched the metal and before the trigger was actually pulled. This caused Ken to have his first experience with a welding flash. He was not happy! The next problem occurred with the older style helmet he was using. He very quickly found that it was extremely difficult, if not impossible at times, to see the work after the helmet was lowered. As a result he would often miss the area he had intended to weld. In other words the work on the battery box was almost the last work on this car. Fortunately, through talking to other car guys, he was given some very helpful advice. There were newer and more efficient helmets and welders out there. The first stroke of good luck occurred when our neighbor Ed brought over an auto-darkening helmet for Ken to try. This turned out to be, shall we say, an enlightening experience. He very quickly decided that there was no question of using anything but that type of helmet. Next it was strongly suggested to us to try another welder. In so doing Ken learned that in fact the first one had not been working as well as it should have. Unfortunately as a beginner, one has nothing to compare with and must learn all things the hard way.

With all of that straightened out the job was looking up. Now Ken began by cutting out the outer and inner sills, the lower “A” post and hinge box, as well as the front floor, and part of the foot well. For this job he found that a 4 inch angle grinder, with a cutting wheel attachment, was indispensable. The job was not difficult but it did require some time.

The first step in rebuilding this side of the car was to fabricate a new front floor. Ken chose to use 14 gauge sheet metal which he then cut large enough to include a ¼ inch flange all around. The next step involved placing the metal in a vise, between two pieces of angle iron, and using a large ball peen hammer to shape the bends of the flange. Due to the fact that most of the welding on the Midget was spot welding, Ken then used an air flange/hole punch tool to insert small holes approximately ½ to 1 inch apart. He then positioned the floor pan and spot welded it in.

Before continuing to work on the sills it was necessary to fabricate a new jacking point as the old one was completely rusted out. Ken used a piece of 1 inch pipe, cut it to the appropriate length and welded it into place on a plate that he had also fabricated. Next the entire assembly was welded into the end of the cross member section. This then gave us more confidence that this area would actually be strong enough to withstand the weight of jacking the car.

We then tended to the inner sill and a patch for the foot well. First the inner sill was cleaned up by removing the paint where welding would take place. Holes were then punched into the flange and it was welded to the car. Subsequently Ken fabricated a patch panel for the foot well . He once again cut the metal to fit the open area with the addition of a ¼ inch flange. This flange allowed the patch panel to sit flush with the rest of the foot well. Once the holes were inserted in the flange, the patch was spot welded into place. The welds were then ground down, leaving a relatively smooth outer surface.

At this point the outer sill was prepared for welding. It must be noted that even though this was an aftermarket sill from England it required some minor modifications to fit. It also had to have the painted surfaces ground clean for welding. Once again the holes were inserted and the sill was fitted and clamped into position. Ken then placed the front fender in its correct location so as to test fit both pieces and to check that all gaps were correct. Finally, the sill was spot welded.

Next it was necessary to tack weld the lower hinge box and tapping plate. The door bracing was then removed and thankfully the car did not fold. All was well; the welds were holding. This then allowed us to position the driver’s door to check the door gaps. At this point we found that all gaps, but that of the lower door, were fine. The gap at the bottom was a bit more than ideal but we decided that we could live with it; we even considered ourselves lucky on our first attempt. We could strive to improve on the passenger side. The door was then removed and the hinge box and lower hinge repair cowl were welded in permanently.

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August 2005August 2005

The door bracing was then replaced and a major bolstering of courage led Ken to begin the work of cutting out the bottom two-thirds of the rear quarter panel. At this point he fabricated the trunk outer floor panel and rebuilt the under wheel arch. He then welded in the new quarter panel. It was time to sit back and examine the work so far; not bad for a beginner! Ken’s confidence at welding had grown as things seemed to be working out.

At this time our work was interrupted, as a short vacation was in order. Subsequently, after a well deserved rest, Ken once again set his mind to the repair of the car. He determined that the first task was to move the door bracing from the driver side to the passenger side. Upon further examination, the tub appeared to require a small repair to the front footwell, as well as the outer sill, the lower hinge block, the front and rear patch panels of the lower quarter, and the outer panel of the trunk floor. It should be noted that all of this was completed using many of the same methods as on the driver's side but in much quicker order than had originally been the case on that side. There was definitely something to be said for Ken's recently acquired experience. Finally, all the welds on the car were ground down and cleaned up with our trusty grinder.

Next we called upon three young friends to help us form a 'human rotisserie' to turn the tub upside down and set it up on blocks. Following that, Ken and I worked together to remove all surface rust with a grinder and wire brush combination. Then, using a 4" brush, Ken applied two coats of a rubberized undercoating. It was our intention that this coating would provide some extra protection when traveling on our less than perfect road surfaces. Once again we called upon our trusty 'human rotisserie' to return the little MG tub to its upright position.

As working out in 'God's garage' was becoming a little frosty and snowy, we decided that it was time for the little Midget tub to become mobile. As a result it was loaded on a small trailer and tarped; or as I preferred to think of it - 'gift wrapped' for the holiday season and the remainder of our rather brusque prairie winter.)

Our intention was to move it into a shop as a cold weather project and perhaps complete the bodywork throughout the winter. However, the only space available to us was open strictly on weekends and holidays. Therefore, the little MG was trailered to the shop every Friday night and trailered home again every Monday morning without ever leaving its cozy little spot on the trailer.

The first job during the winter months was to do the bodywork. Ken began by dollying out any dents in the tub, the trunk, and the doors. Then he used a lightweight filler to cover the remaining minor blemishes in the body. Once this was applied it was leveled with the use of an air board. In some cases this process was repeated more than once until Ken was satisfied that all was well. He then sprayed three coats of a three-part epoxy high build over the entire body. The final step before sending the car for painting was to sand all of these surfaces by hand with 400 grit paper.

The next task involved the interior of the car and of the trunk. In these areas, any remaining rust and dirt was cleaned up with the help of a 4" grinder. At this point it should be mentioned that it is a well known fact that British sports cars tend to have a bit of a tendency to leak regardless of how well sealed they may be. As a result, Ken sprayed a rust retardant product as well as black truck box liner paint over all inside floor surfaces in the hopes that this would provide further protection against moisture.

The last task before sending the little MG to the paint shop was to refurbish the engine area. So, we set to cleaning up any old grease or oil and to sanding out all surface rust. Then the entire motor compartment was sprayed with rock guard to hopefully provide some protection against stones and other road debris which tends to enter this area and mar these surfaces.

As our scheduled tasks for the winter project came to an end, we began to look excitedly forward to the prospect of putting a little color into our Midget's life. Thus we trailered the car out to a shop which belonged to our friends, Reg and Elaine, who lived about 13 miles away. This did not seem like a great distance at the time. However, one had to realize that over the space of the previous four or five months the little MG had already racked up quite a few miles and hadn't even left the confines of the trailer. We briefly wondered how many miles it would actually travel before it was on its own.

Before proceeding with any of the painting steps, Reg examined Ken's bodywork and together they touched up a few minor imperfections with the hopes of achieving a more faultless finished product. During this time, Elaine readied the paint equipment, mixed the two part sealer product that was next on the agenda, and prepared the painting area. Reg then applied one coat of the sealer.

As the sealer required approximately 30 minutes of drying time, Elaine immediately proceeded to clean the gun and mix the single-stage acrylic enamel paint that we were to use. By this time the sealer coat had dried and Reg sprayed the tub, the doors, and the trunk lid with three coats of the teal blue paint. The car was then allowed to dry for two or three days after which we reintroduced the 'moving crew' to the work area and 'Lil Blue (as the little MG would now be referred to) was moved to another heated garage for the paint curing process.

We then temporarily left 'Lil Blue to continue on with the refurbishing of other parts in preparation for the tub's return home. First we had the rear end, the rear and front springs, the A-frames, and all five wheels sandblasted by a local sandblaster. Then Ken painted all but the A-frames with a black Rustoleum paint. Subsequently, he reattached the springs to the rear end with new U-bolts and rubber seating pads. Next he installed the rear wheel cylinders, the brake shoes, and some new stainless steel brake lines.

However, with a closer inspection of the A-frames it was determined that they were not ready for paint and would in fact require rebuilding or replacing. We felt that there were some minor improvements that could be made to the original system. With that in mind, we took the frames to a local machine shop where two friends, Cory and Terry, worked with Ken in formulating a new and hopefully improved plan for the frames, rather than acquiring new ones with the same old problems. As a result of much discussion, they machined new fulcrum pins and A-frame bushings. The latter were partly threaded on one end with a plain bushing on the other. The idea was that this would give more plain bearing surface instead of the threaded surface which would hopefully make the bushings last longer. Finally, the old bushings were removed, the new ones were welded in, the fulcrum pin and king pin were installed and everything was checked for alignment. Of course, only time will tell if this arrangement will be successful or not.

The front end required one more piece of refurbishment, the vertical link or swivel axels. Here the old bushing were pressed out, new ones were pressed in, and then reamed to proper size. Next, the A-frames, the front shocks, the front springs, along with the rebuilt brake calipers were all painted and new stainless lines were installed.

At last, the big day had arrived! Approximately one month after the painting had been completed, we brought our pride and joy home. Finally after eleven months of riding the trailer, 'Lil Blue was lifted, by the trusty 'moving crew', and positioned on blocks. It was time to begin, what for us had always been the most exhilarating part of restoring a car - the reassembly of the vehicle, when you saw it develop into what you had previously visualized only in your mind eye. As a result Ken began to pull refurbished parts out of boxes everywhere. The first step involved installing the rear end, the rear tires, and the hubcaps. This left us with what looked remarkably like a little blue wheelbarrow!

The next step was to mount the hood hinges and a new windshield along with the wiring harness and the dash. At this time the wiring to the rear of the car was also completed and the tail lights were installed. As I was captivated by the brilliant appearance of the chrome around the lights, Ken decided to finish the rear of the vehicle. Therefore, he fit the trunk lid, the aerial, the rack, the MG Midget emblems, the license plate lamp, and the bumper to the car. This then gave me something to admire while he put in a full carpet set, fabricated new panels within the interior of the car and bolted the doors in place.

There were only a small number of things left before 'Lil Blue was on her own. To this end Ken cleaned up and reinstalled the rack and pinion, the steering column and wheel, the A-frames, the front hubs, the brake calipers, and the front wheels. At last the car rolled on all fours.

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It was finally time to install the new black vinyl top. This required a good hot day so that the top would stretch more easily over the frame. In turn, this would avoid over tightening of the vinyl or ripping of the stitching itself. The installation process of a new top is never as easy as it looks. Although this particular aftermarket top was a very well made product that featured a zip-out window (not found in the original car), it came with no instructions and no tenex fasteners. Needless to say the installation was a trial, error, and mutter process that made Ken an unhappy camper. The end result was just fine. Ultimately, I was actually very pleased with with the fit and finish and Ken was very relieved.

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June 2006June 2006

The next task at hand was to prepare the motor for installation by removing the carbs and header. This would hopefully make it easier for it to slide into the engine bay. We then placed the motor on a small trailer, to facilitate joining the transmission to it. We bolted a new clutch kit to the flywheel and mated the transmission to the engine. The motor lift was moved into place, connected to the motor, and lift off was achieved. Everything was lined up with car in the middle of the driveway. It should be noted that this sounds easier than it was as our driveway is gravel covered and the lift was a bit of chore to move around.

Nevertheless we began to lower the engine into place. After several attempts we realized that the steel brackets which were used to mount the engine to the frame were probably from an MGB. We had purchased them through e-bay and the seller had unknowingly represented them as Midget brackets. However, they were much too high and didn’t leave enough clearance. As a result there was instant panic and lots of muttering that can not be quoted here.

Now, out in the middle of the driveway, on a cloudy Sunday afternoon, we had an engine and transmission perched above a Midget. What if it rained? We couldn’t leave it there while we ordered new parts and waited days for them to arrive. The scramble to find the brackets began. Shortly, we discovered that they were not even available in the parts catalogues we had. (so much for plan B) Then we had to spend several hours on the phone attempting to find something nearby. Our time was spent to no avail. (so much for plan C) With darkness only a matter of two or three hours away, we resorted to plan D - Ken cut and modified the MGB brackets to fit. Once again the MIG came in handy.

With the new brackets back on the frame, we made another attempt to lower the engine into place. We were very nervous. Remarkably it worked – the entire engine/tranny combo slid in as smooth as butter. We couldn’t believe how easy it was. Too bad we had wasted so many hours and so much nervous energy on the wrong part. The last thing we did that day was to return the carbs and header to their respective locations. A little down time was definitely in order after that hair raising experience.

After we had recovered from the engine fiasco, we bolted in the driveshaft. It should be mentioned that this could only be achieved from under the car. One can easily understand that the available clearance or space under there is limited to small people only, even with it jacked up. Thus this was somewhat of a fiddly job too, as only a Midget owner can truly comprehend.

We moved on to installing the fuel pump and a new gas tank. The thirty-nine years had not been kind to the original tank. Even after having it cleaned, it was still plugged at the pick-up tube inside the tank and we could not open the passage.

Next we installed the cleaned and repainted radiator along with a new thermostat and all new rubber radiator and heater hoses. We were ready to add the fluids to the engine, gearbox, carbs, and rad. Everything was going along just fine until we found that the water pump leaked – we probably should have replaced the seal. Sometimes it’s those little short cuts that haunt you in the end. This little car is British, so you do expect it to have some minor leaks but hopefully not before you’ve even turned the key for the first time. So at this point we ordered a new pump and took no more chances.

Winter descended upon us yet again and the car was placed in storage. Therefore our work on the little MG slowed. The winter weekends were spent finishing the body work on the hood, the front fenders, and the front clip assembly. Even though Ken was never completely happy with his body finishing work, these parts were trial fitted to the car first thing in the spring and deemed ready for paint. After this everything was set aside to cure. It was our intention to install these panels only after the car was running. We felt it would be easier to work in the engine bay if we didn’t have to worry about damaging the fenders.

At this point we crossed our fingers. We had determined earlier that the transmission appeared to be in good condition and did not require any work as far as we could tell. We hoped this would not prove to be a mistake. If it was, then we would have a lot more practice at installing the engine and transmission in a Midget; perhaps more than either of us had hoped to obtain.

August 2006August 2006

It was time to build a new exhaust system. Therefore, Ken bent up a new front pipe to fit the headers and added a Pacesetter muffler with dual chrome tips at the other end. We hoped this would give it that "growly" British sports car sound that we both liked.

At this stage of the game we looked at the engine bay and felt it could use some dressing up. As I continue to be captivated by all the shiny accessories on a '67 MG, we decided to add more chrome under the hood. At the next spring car show that we attended with the '74 Spitfire, I interrogated some of the car guys. This led me once again to my computer in search of shiny new things. I came up with a mini chrome Denso alternator which weighed only about five pounds and would supposedly run the electrics such as stereo and amplifier more efficiently than the generator. Next I found a stainless radiator overflow tank and an octagonal shaped chrome radiator cap. I also found stainless steel line for the vacuum advance and for the rad overflow to canister line. I was completely enthralled by my little treasures so I then attempted to find a stainless steel radiator top hose but quickly discovered that because it was so small and so short none of the chrome coolflex hose and chrome end pieces looked appropriate in size. As a result I settled for some stainless sheathing and chrome decorative ends from Summit Racing. Ken then set to installing all of my little finds.

We then wanted to see this little engine run. So we bled the brakes and the clutch, installed the new water pump, and also the battery. After the earlier problem with the old water pump seal, we were a little apprehensive. Nevertheless there were no leaks to be seen anywhere. So, we added some fuel, crossed our fingers, pulled the choke, and turned the key. To our complete relief and utter amazement 'Lil Blue sprang to life. The car idled a bit roughly due to an air leak in the PCV valve. Therefore Ken changed to a NOS PCV and adjusted the timing and the carbs. The little car then purred like a kitten.

At last 'Lil Blu was ready for her maiden voyage - to the corner and back (Woo Hoo!!). However, I should add that I lost the toss as to who would make the first test run. Ken told me that because he was the mechanic he had to check it first to be sure that the gearbox would shift properly and that the clutch worked as it should. Personally, I think I was strung along once again. Oh well, it was just as much fun to watch our long term project finally hit the road. Besides, he wasn't even going to go far enough to be out of sight. In the end, even though we were terribly excited, the actual tour of approximately two minutes was quite uneventful.

The next step would allow us a preview of what the little car's final appearance would be. We then proceeded to bolt on and adjust the remaining front end pieces. These were the front fenders, the hood, the front clip, the horn, the chrome surround, the headlights, and the signal lights.

With the electrical system fully installed, Ken then checked and cleaned all grounds. It had been our experience in the past that when using old wiring harnesses there would inevitably be a problem somewhere if great care and attention were not taken with the grounds. Therefore I must stress that all grounds must be thoroughly cleaned and checked in order for all aspects of the exterior and interior lights to work. This little project was no different. After a bit of fiddling with these grounds all systems worked, including the horn.

After we had finished with the electrical systems, we decided that it would be a good time to make the changeover from generator to alternator. To this end, the working generator was removed in favor of the more modern one wire Denso. This would give us more continual charging current and we hoped would be an important upgrade when the stereo components would be added. In order for this to work Ken had to change the entire system from the British positive ground to the North American negative ground. Though this sounds complex, it was in fact quite simple. It merely involved turning the battery 360 degrees, reversing the wires on the ignition coil, and then reversing the wires inside the tachometer.

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At this time the front bumper and grill assembly were attached. It should be noted here that I had previously found a NOS '74 grill on e-bay which I far preferred to the original grill. In my estimation it appeared to be stronger and more ascetically pleasing to the eye. Therefore we decided to deviate a bit from the stock '67 look and allow this modification to the car.

This brought us to the door windows. We started by installing new seals in the vent windows along with new vent seating seals and then we inserted the finished product into the door. Once this assembly was installed, our nightmare began! The doors would not close properly. Apparently we had the wrong rake on the windshield. We could not move forward with the project until this was rectified. Unfortunately this involved moving two steps backwards. We had to loosen the dash and the windshield bolts, then we pulled the windshield back towards the front bumper so the vent windows would not bind on the seals. We learned the hard way that two things would affect the fit of these two windows. The first was the purchase of a new frame to body rubber seal, which was considerably thicker than the old one and affected the fit. The second thing we learned was that the vent windows and windshield should have been installed at the same time so that they could be properly aligned together.

We were then ready to fit the door glass. After inserting the window regulator, Ken fitted the door glass, and the rubber outer waist seal. Next he attempted to install the fuzzy weather strip on the inside of the glass. Here the nightmare returned. There were several minutes of frustration, due to the fact that it was extremely difficult to accesss. Ken came to the conclusion that the process would probably have been simplified if the fuzzy strip had been installed before anything else had been done to the door. With the usual benefit of hindsight we might have done this somewhat differently.

Finally the windows were done and Ken moved on to finishing the door. He installed the door locks with care so as not to damage the exterior paint. Then he fitted the inside door panels, as well as window cranks, door pulls, and inside door locks.

The last major task was to finish the trunk. I had purchased a full trunk carpet set with a spare tire cover on e-bay, as I felt the space looked unfinished without it. The installation went very smoothly as we used double sided carpet tape rather than contact cement. This was less messy than cement and would also facilitate the removal of the carpet if necessary in the future. I had also purchased an original jack assembly and wheel wrench which I wished to include in the trunk for authenticity. Therefore Ken cleaned up the set and prepared it to fit at the back of the trunk such that it would eventually be positioned beneath the stereo amplifier when it would be installed at a later date.

Now we have come to a point that we feel our little MG is finished and the time has come to answer the questions we posed two years and two months ago. Our first question asked if it was just another rust bucket or if it was a worthy project car. We have come to the conclusion that it was both. We could perhaps have found a better example of a car to restore. However, we did say that it was to be a project through which Ken would learn some MIG welding skills. In fact, as you can see, this project did involve a large variety of welding challenges. Ken not only learned to weld but we both learned much about the MG Midget through the teardown, the rebuild, and the research. As for the question of whether this was a passion or an obsession, I think we can safely say that it was both of these as well. We have over the years developed a passion for the British sports car, and the Midget in particular captured our hearts. However, it must be said that once one embarks upon such an in depth project as this, with nearly every aspect of the car requiring some sort of attention, it would be difficult to maintain a passive attitude towards the car and/or the project. We most certainly became obsessed with finding the time and all the best possible avenues for restoring 'Lil Blu. For the better part of those two years plus we spent most of our spare time with either working on the car or dreaming and planning what would be done to it. We decided that we would not have changed that and that it was completely worth it.

Eventually we could not help but make some minor changes to the stock appearance of our little car as we found things that we felt would make it truly ours and perhaps at times make it a little more user friendly. So is it an exact '67? No. But it is a reasonable facsimile with just enough changes to make it truly a mark of our efforts. We did, however, try to keep all modifications completely Midget, even though some parts may have come from different years. For example the teal blue color was originally intended for the 70's rather than 1967, as was the grille. The chrome enhancements that appear under the hood were mostly Midget products or those that could be used for any vehicle. The chrome strips on the hood and on the sides of the car were removed to present a cleaner appearance. The stereo system and amplifier that will eventually be installed will perhaps be the one thing that was never originally intended for a Midget but it will be a modern upgrade that will make it more enjoyable to us.

We have become very involved with acquiring background knowledge on MG Midgets in general and on'Lil Blu in particular. As a result I also did much research on the history of Midgets. In so doing I found that it was possible to trace my little MG from its inception through to its arrival in Canada. I contacted the British Heritage Corporation of England and for a small fee was issued a certificate with the history of 'Lil Blu. This certificate stated that the car was built over a period of five days, (from April 28, 1967 to May 2, 1967) in the Abbington factory in England. It also included such information as the exact numbers on the engine, the body, and the chasis. This informed me that most of the car was as it should be but that the engine had been changed from a 1275cc to a 1098cc at some point after it had been shipped to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on May 11, 1967. It also mentioned all options with which it was built. It was a beautiful and informative certificate that will be cherished as a keepsake of our car.

Ken has always stated that since he has his Spitfire he would like to do this restoration so that I could have my very own British sports car. He gave me full reign on the decision making. I was able to choose which parts and which upgrades I wanted to put into the car and he promised that he would provide all of the labour. So this truly is exactly the way I would like my car to look and to operate. The only other changes will occur before next year's sports car season; we will make two upgrades. We will change the original wheels and hubcaps for rostyle wheels and we will install the stereo system. That will conclude this project except for the usual maintenance etc. Considering our passion for the MG Midget we are very pleased to have brought a forty year old vehicle back to its previous glory.

In July 2006, Ken completed the car (except for the stereo and the rostyles) and presented me with the keys to 'Lil Blu as well as a leather console, and a new tonneau cover. In addition he had the driver's vent window sandblasted with a rose and with my name on a scroll. This gave it a personal touch that I must say gained him many brownie points. Next year 'Lil Blu, will be forty years old and I will be... well it doesn't matter what I will be. What matters is that I fully intend to drive and enjoy this amazing little car for many years to come.

The MG Midget was never intended to be a muscle car. Instead it was intended to provide pure simple automobile fun with a low price tag, in both purchase and operating costs. It was not intended to be a high speed vehicle but one that would continue to fuel the sports car passion that was so popular in Britain during a good part of the 20th century. I am sure that it will be pure driving fun that will most certainly fuel my passion for the sports car. There is no doubt in my mind that as I drive down the road in the future, I will do it with a huge grin on my face and with my thoughts returning fondly to the days of Expo 67 in Montreal, the Fab four(the Beatles), flower power, and many other enjoyable memories of the era from which my little car came. Oh what a time it was and oh what a time I will have with Ken and 'Lil Blu in the next few years.

So, was it worth it to take a rusty old box of bolts and spend most of our spare time, over a period of a little over two years, diligently working on it? Absolutely! Did we stay within our goal of $3,000 to $4,000 to restore this little car? No such luck, but we weren't far off. Was it worth it to spend so much time and effort on a car that would have originally cost only about $2200.00 in 1967? Absolutely! Would we do it again? Without a doubt! As a matter of fact we have a '66 Arkley SS Midget on the back burner for our next project. However, I think we'll take a little time to play with this one first. I wonder where we'll go tomorrow? Maybe we'll pack a little picnic basket on the trunk rack and ...

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