NAN is far from pristine; more what you might call work in progress. I have only owned her for a year having promised myself I would return to my youth and buy another GT, this time a 66 rather than the Harvest Gold 74 that I had back in 1982 when I still had hair.
I had wanted an early chrome bumper with leather seats and found NAN in Blackpool described as mechanically sound with excellent body work but in need of a cosmetic makeover or to be driven as ‘shabby chic’.
The description turned out to be true! Following my policy on buying old cars which is to MoT them soon after purchase and ignore whatever claims the vendor has made on the validity of the ticket, it went through with little work, a new wiper motor (which I had missed on the test drive and would have given me room to haggle on the price had I spotted it) and a couple of other minors. First job was to have the seats re stitched where they had split along the seams and then feed the leather as it had become stiff. This seemed a big expense at the time but one I do not regret, I like the patina and the originality rather than replacements, they are now comfortable and look great.
There are degrees of shabbiness that can be tolerated and I decided that I would have to do some work to rectify the really dodgy DIY paintwork (I kid you not, it looked like silk emulsion applied with a brush!) and so I had the two worst and largest sections, the roof and the bonnet, stripped and resprayed to a colour (almost) matching the rest of the car.
At this point I decided that was enough cosmetics; there is nothing worse in my view that a pristine looking pile of junk and anyway the fun is in driving it and not polishing it on a Sunday morning to only drive 3 miles to the pub and so my attention turned to the mechanicals. I knew from the MoT that it was all pretty good structurally and mechanically: the engine is sweet, it starts well, pulls hard, revs freely, the gearbox and overdrive work well but the suspension feels underdamped and it has an unnerving habit of carrying on in straight line if you hit a bump or pot hole half way round a bend!
The Splined Hub
I took her over to my friend Oliver Winbolt proprietor of The Splined Hub, a Classic car garage near Oundle which has an ever changing and eclectic collection of customer’s cars being repaired, serviced or restored. MK2 Jaguars and E types rub noses with a Mercedes Pagoda, a Citroen DS and a Morris 1000 to name just a few.
Oliver’s verdict on the test drive was “this drives really well, I am not sure I get what you mean about the ‘jumping’ across the road, we’ll try down here round this bend on the bridge… oh that! Yes that is rather alarming!”
So the task was to set about making the car drive like it should. I am not too bothered about improving it beyond its original specification and good as they undoubtedly are, some of the suspension upgrade kits available are beyond my pocket and to my mind difficult to justify unless you spend an equal amount of money on making the car go quicker too.
However, I am well aware that some of the parts on offer for our beloved MGs are, well how should we put this politely, of undefined heritage and dubious quality? Horror stories of people buying cheap parts and then having to replace them again when they fail. Leaf springs in particular are poor, the original items last 30-40 years and the replacements have aged after 6 months.
Oliver uses BCC-Parts who manufacture brake upgrade kits for a range of classic cars and supply coil and leaf springs, damper kits and bushes all from British companies. The springs even have the coveted trade mark ‘Made in Sheffield’ logo.
It was decided we would use the complete handling kit from BCC. Not cheap, some might say, but bought as a package the complete kit is less money than if you buy all the elements separately and so represents good value for money and you are paying for quality.
The BCC handling kit includes 4 pot aluminium brake caliper set, coil and leaf springs, adjustable BCC-Spax dampers to replace the original lever arms and Superpro polyurethane bushes.
Fitment is straight forward with no modification to the car required and it all bolts on like Meccano so the purists can put a car back to its original specification any time. I am having the work done professionally but it is all within the capability of a good home DIY mechanic/enthusiast. Fitting the springs and bushes is a straightforward bolt off, bolt on replacement to the original items as are the brake caliper that mount without any need for adaptor brackets or modifications as a straight bolt on replacement to the uprights. A quick bleed and you are away.
The original calipers worked OK; that is to say they stopped the car when required but there was little ‘feel’ or progression in braking. During development BCC has done a lot of testing, demonstrating the improvement in performance comparative to the originals in outright stopping power and in lack of fade due to the better heat dissipation of the aluminium compared to the original cast. They are also much lighter and with stainless steel pistons and modern seals they should prove more reliable and durable. They are also beautifully made and look great (I might have to get different wheels so I can see them)
Spax make the damper kits for BCC which are a straight bolt on and retain the original lever arm units but now with the pressure released, they are acting as retaining link arms only.
Finally, the Superpro bushes which are stronger, will last longer and locate the suspension securely so that with less play, the springs are now doing the work rather than the rubber. The leaf springs are hand made in Sheffield the way springs should be made. Using the best quality steel (which is actually forged in Sweden and rolled in the UK) to the original manufacturer’s specification so the ride height is correct for the period of the car. The coil springs are silicone chrome, the originals would have been chrome vanadium so this is a concession to modernity as this is the material now used on all current cars. It is lighter and thinner gauge than the original, more durable and will become coil bound less quickly giving greater travel even though the spring rate and ride height are still correct for the car. The proof of the pudding. The result is immeasurably better than I could have dared hope. The car feels tight with no play or rattle and roll; you would expect that just simply from replacing the bushes but it goes way beyond that, the car feels lithe and yet the suspension is soft and subtle, the ride is comfortable, the springs compliant to bumpy fen roads. As I drove the hour and a half journey home I found greater confidence in the car’s handling, able to go in and out of corners with no drama. Combine this with the brake upgrade, it frankly makes the car feel more modern and I had to wonder at the fact that this is a 50 year old car. I am happily mixing with modern traffic where, let’s face it, your average mid-range family hatchback has greater performance in handling and stopping power than most period sports cars! I have achieved what I set out to do. I have upgraded my car making it far more enjoyable to drive but without altering the originality of the car or modifying it in a permanent way. I have used the best quality parts I could buy and should therefore be in the happy position to not have to worry about any of these items again.