My first classic car is my first proper restomod project. Tom Cruise, save me!
Searching endlessly on Craiglist, eBay, and various classic car listings can yield limitless possibilities. Will I bite the bullet and spring for a 911 bare-metal husk with minimal rust and let it stand on concrete blocks? Or will I fulfill my inner rock star wannabe days and spring for something with a V-8?
The reality is, I couldn't afford the keychain to many of these projects, let alone possess the bandwidth to see a proper build through with my busy schedule. So what am I—a hopelessly romantic classic car fanatic—to do? Get real, that's what.
I had to lay the groundwork for what it was I was after. First things first, determining the driving experience.
Rear-wheel drive? Yes.
Manual? Well, duh! Of course.
Decade? 1967-1972 seemed to yield a few gems.
BMW 2002? Getting pretty pricey these days.
Datsun 240Z? Again, wonderful but starting to pick up steam amongst collectors and gearheads.
MGB GT? "Yes. However, to be honest, I hadn't thought about this one until my good friend Justin Jurgens up at British Sports Cars in San Luis Obispo, California, mentioned it.
"You know, Ezekiel, the right MG B GT would be a great project. Plenty of parts thanks to Moss Motors, plenty of enthusiasts who respect the car and will always want to own one at some point. And they are nearly bulletproof...nearly. They make wonderful entry-level classic cars."
Justin's words were the sweet nothings I'd longed to hear from somebody with a professional background.
As if I were at the bar with friends looking for affirmation that hiring an escort was a good idea. Unbeknownst to me, Charlie Sheen, who overheard the whole exchange, turns around to me and says, "You won't be disappointed!"
Luckily for me, a few things played out in my favor to see this endeavor through. Justin found the perfect car quite literally the evening after our conversation about the B GTs. This project was always meant to be a family project, so with the assistance of my father, mother, and brother, we all agreed the MG B GT that Justin found would be our first collaborative family restoration project. Naturally, Mom held the most electoral votes in this election, and she was enamored with the idea. "The car shows great bones, and it should be plenty of fun to see it all come together. Do it!"
Like all classic cars, our B GT did come with a few issues that needed to be addressed. First, the transmission. The car was driveable but needed some love. Primarily, the Overdrive switch, gears, and reverse.
Since the engine was already out of the car, we decided to take a look at all the bits and drop in a new APT street/race cam along with new rockers, valves, and a period-correct burgundy paintjob before we had even taken delivery.
We sunk money into the project without even officially owning the car, but the day had arrived for us to drive up to San Luis Obispo and retrieve the car. A check was signed and the title was in our hands. Insurance was a little difficult to set up, seeing as this was to be the new "daily driver." Not only that, but the company that uses a lizard for a mascot had no idea who MG was. (I think that lizard's accent is fake! -ed.)
Firing up the car for the first time was thrilling and simultaneously scary as hell. Yes, we finally had a true classic car in our family, but I had to drive it 200 miles to get home. A deep breath, a small prayer to our favorite petrol-based deity, and we were off. I topped off the fuel tank and then optimistically grabbed a bottle of wine to celebrate with once we got home.
Not even two minutes on the road and I realized two things. Mechanical brakes are no joke and modern car drivers are total jackasses. There is no sympathy left on modern roads for your fellow motorists. Crappy modern econoboxes with questionable leasing terms can hit 100 mph faster than the Ferraris of a bygone era. Equip these questionable, inconsiderate jackholes with a need to see every social media post in real time, and your romantic drive along the California coast now becomes a test of your best Mad Max automotive survival skills.
Luckily, the British sports car crew put the car in tip-top mechanical shape, so the journey home was without incident. A few points on the trip, I even pulled past a couple giant SUVs in the passing lane cracking past that 80-mph threshold with oil and water temps holding steadfast.
Just 12 hours later, the B GT and the family all arrived back home in one piece. A few deep breaths later, the aforementioned wine now open, and another dose of reality set in. How would I start the project off?
Well, the car was rough. Rust free, but rough. It's clearly been lovingly driven it's entire life, but in turn, it's also been lived in it's entire life. A respray sometime in the '70s, RV camper-style seat covers, locks that don't quite lock, a wire-jungle in the engine bay, tired suspension, and brakes and a dash with more cracks than a shattered iPhone screen.
Phase One: Spruce It Up
Yes, things need to be seriously tended to before you start a project. Most people think projects start just like they do on TV. An epic rendering, a dramatic yet fun-filled teardown, and all hands on deck for the next few months to a classic car with a new lease on life. WRONG!
Reality is, for most of us with day jobs, limited garage space, and HOAs with more rules than North Korea, restorations or rebuild projects tend to take a bit more planning. Not to mention budgeting. For our project, British Conduct, we started with the motor. Classic ignition systems using points can be cumbersome, unreliable, and pending driving habits fail frequently. When we handed the project over to Frank Monise Motors in Montclair, California, for an oil change and valve adjustment after our road trip, the family decided to upgrade our points system to an electric system from Moss Motors. We also discovered the locks weren't really locking, let alone accepting the said key provided to us. A fairly simple fix, but nonetheless, another fix.
Phase Two: Dream
The best part about sorting out a project car is diving into the massive amounts of history, clubs, parts, and current builds to use as inspiration. When the family had a powwow, we decided to forgo the BMW S52 engine swap along with a fully re-engineered independent suspension. What we wanted to do was breathe some new life into the car with modern parts and style. Sure, a Magnus Walker build would be great, but we didn't have the budget. So getting the car back to a more acceptable driving standard was key. Modest wheels and tires thanks to Fifteen52 and Pirelli, overhauled and refreshed suspension parts thanks to Moss Motors, and an interior that is functional and a tad more comfortable. As much as I'd like to drive with my thighs, the reality is that the original steering wheel will have to be replaced by a smaller and sleeker Momo Prototipo for "big boy" driving.
Phase Three: Assemble!
None of this dreaming is possible without the right team. Luckily, one of the leading experts in all things MG is located just a hair over 40 miles from my home, where the car is stored. Frank Monise Motors will be implementing its decades of British motoring knowledge on Project British Conduct—everything from the daily maintenance tips and tricks to the hard-core suspension overhaul. Not to mention a detailed inspection of the interior bits.
Phase Four: Dream some more
Taking the dream a bit further will be CFI Designs in Pomona, California. The skilled hands of Kyle Pecarovich will straighten out the tired bodywork and help add some metal details that most would quiver at. The rear passenger quarter-panel clearly met with a metal object at some point in its life. Not to mention the need to inspect the common rust areas along the rocker panels and fender seams.
In the end, the goal is to show our fellow enthusiasts that not all classic project cars need to pony up thousands upon thousands of dollars to achieve a respectable driving experience. The parts available on today's shelves are far better than the refurbished, hunted, or classic aftermarket replacement bits from a bygone era.
The MG B GT is a unique package that is often overlooked for the iconic shapes of its German counterparts. The B GT boasts a durable driving experience and a history to rival the best coach-built vehicles of its day. Many do not know that Pinin Farina was the source for the unique silhouette. So it's with this car, this team, and these supporters that we start our newest and first restomod build in european car magazine. Welcome to Project British Conduct.