Seven Year Hitch
Rod Smith is a classic car enthusiast, who has a broad range of tastes in makes and models, eras and styles.
“It probably goes back to the first few cars I owned”, he revealed. “The first one was a 2½ lt Riley, followed by four Peugeot 203s, followed by another Riley, then things like a Cortina GT and Triumph TR3A. I just like a whole variety of cars. I’ve probably had around 70 cars since I’ve been driving.”
Then came a string of French cars, particularly Renault and Peugeot, and he is currently restoring a 1950s Citroen. “One day I was talking with a friend of mine who had an MG TC and he said, ‘oh you should get yourself a Magnette’. I started reading about them, then went down and saw one that was advertised, and that was it.”
Rod was immediately taken by the styling and bought the first one he looked at, a 1958 ZB model. “Yes, it really was. Because it was a total wreck, it was about a thousand dollars, I think. It ran; I drove it up and down the fellow’s driveway, but the interior was totally stuffed and the exterior, too. There was a lot of rust.”
“But I thought it was a good restoration project and should only take me twelve months”, he laughed. “It took me seven years, and about three times my estimate of price. But it’s always like that.”
In fact, Rod is only counting the time he actually worked on the car, and not the six-year break in the process, as he explained. “I actually started all enthusiastically, as you do, ripping bits off. It’s quite easy taking a car apart, as you know, and in the first twelve months I was really enthusiastic. I did a lot of work on the woodwork inside and put all those parts aside.”
“Then for some reason I left it for a few weeks and that turned into a few months, which turned into six years. So, it was sitting in the garage there, just gathering dust, and in the end you could hardly see the car, because I used to just chuck stuff in it and on top of it, just as storage. And after six years I thought I’ve got to either sell it as is, which it was a basket case, or I’ve got to get stuck into it again.
“My wife, Nicky, was going overseas to see her parents, for about five weeks over summer, and I thought this is a good opportunity, so I decided to get stuck into it. I stripped it all and spent eight to ten hours virtually every day and by the time Nicky came back she didn’t recognise the car. There was still a long way to go, but all the body was cleaned, stripped, and the engine bay painted.”
“Then it was another six years. I bought it in 1989. It was one year, then a big gap, then six years to finish it. So about thirteen years I’d owned it by the time it was finished.”
Rod knows little of the early history of his Magnette, but believes it was originally sold new in Queensland, without any factory options, then spent some time in NSW, before being brought to Victoria.
Although Rod had restored a number of cars previously, this remains his only MG and he considers it easier than many of the others in some respects. “In some ways it was simpler, because there are more bolt-on panels, and things like that. But otherwise, it was fairly similar, I suppose.”
“I had no trouble finding all the mechanical parts, because it’s basically MGA, most of it, but body parts are difficult to find. Luckily, this was probably 90-95% complete; apart from the rust.”
“There was a fair amount of rust in the usual places: in the front floor, driver’s side, over all the doors and the bottom of the rear guards, and a bit on the front guards as well. All the usual places. Oh, and it needed new sills welded in. That took a lot of work. I happened to get the sills when I was in England, and got those sent over. All the other panels were repaired.”
Although not a trained panel beater – Rod was a primary school teacher before his retirement in 2008 – he has a lot of experience with panel work from his earlier restorations, but painting a car completely was fairly new to him, as he continued.
“I’d done a few bits and pieces of cars when doing them up, and I did one little Renault completely, which was okay, but I just learnt as I went along, really. As you know, it’s all in the preparation. That’s where a lot of time is spent, getting it right, getting it smooth.”
Rod also did all the repair work to the timber dashboard and door caps, but had the interior trim taken care of by a professional; Peter Boscoe from Donvale in Melbourne’s north-east. “I can’t do upholstery”, Rod admitted, “but I’d like to learn one day.”
The other job that Rod farmed out was the engine, though not for lack of ability. “I actually priced all the bits to do a complete rebuild and then I went down to MG Workshops and said, ‘well how much would you charge to do the whole thing, if I brought the engine to you?’ And it really wasn’t that much different, with the price they could get the parts for and the price I had to pay, and in the end I said, ‘oh, you just do the whole lot’. ”
“I thought I’d let the experts do it. I mean, it’s a simple engine to rebuild. But, in a way I’m glad that’s happened, because we’ve driven it all over Australia and its never let us down. It’s been fantastic.”
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The BMC Experience Issue 18. Jul-Sep 2016 Magazine
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