Cherished director Pete McIlvenny explains how he restored an MG Midget.
I spent the following weekend doing a closer inspection, prodding the 1500 with a screwdriver seeking out rust hewn holes. Finding a pleasingly solid chassis, I cracked on with the track rod ends, recommissioned the brakes, replaced a faulty temperature sensor and other general housekeeping. I was in a hurry to get it mobile again as I got the car in July, and in August I was moving up from the West Midlands to Cheshire to start a new job with Carole Nash and I didn’t want to pay someone to trailer it up for me.
But like driving on an A-road during a government austerity drive, the journey to a successful MoT was not so smooth, the metaphorical pothole being badly tuned carbs. The car was juddering because the carbs weren’t tuned properly, it was the middle of rush hour and a total nightmare. I got to the garage and the guys said they would check the car out before doing the MoT and sort out the carbs. That way if there was a lot of work that needed doing, I wouldn’t be wasting money. A couple of hours later they rang to say it had passed, just needing those carbs to be adjusted.”
A week later and I was Cheshire-bound, taking my first real drive up the M6 in this gem of a Midget. There is a little lay-by at junction 16 where it says Welcome to Cheshire, so I pulled in there and put the hood down – I’d always wanted an open car – and drove the last 20 minutes home like that. I think the sun was shining though it wouldn’t have mattered because I just had a huge grin on my face.
I had to drive the Midget to work every day, about a 50 minute run each way. Even though it hammered down with rain all the time, I loved it!
But of course back on the road did not mean job done. A few months later I spotted some rust bubbling up and, whilst the attentions of angle grinder, revealed much solid metal below, a section of the offside wing had suffered some fairly severe oxidation damage. It’s at this point that my day job fortuitously brought him into contact with one Fuzz Townshend, former tech editor of Practical Classics magazine and owner of renowned restoration workshop, Westgate Classics.
The link came first through an approach by Pete for Fuzz to become a regular contributor to Braking News and was then forged even more firmly through Car SOS, the TV motor makeover show which Carole Nash now sponsors. The pair found themselves working closely together with Fuzz not just writing for this magazine and presenting the show, but becoming a brand ambassador for Carole Nash and frequent guest at the company’s increasingly popular pub meets.
Like most owners, I wanted to keep a lid on costs. I wanted something that would be smart enough to take to shows with my lad, William, who is five. We’d gone to CarFest North in it just after moving up and he’d loved that, so I wanted something that was a bit tidier for shows, the club meets the Arden Run that we are sponsoring, Oulton Park – things like that.
So into the workshop it went. And the result? It didn’t soak up silly money, even though it came back from Fuzz’s looking superb. It made fitting everything back on quite a nerve-wracking job!
I wanted to keep it as original as possible. The car is one of the last 200 or so made and I believe they were all black so there was never any intention of changing the exterior colour. I also kept the original rubber bumpers. So many people ditch them that I think it makes my car a little bit rarer. I have to admit that when it came back from the workshop gleaming and without the bumpers fitted, I did have a moment when I wondered about converting it to chrome. But I decided it would always be trying to look like something it was not, and so I put these back on and I have to say that I quite like the way they look.
But something had to go – and some things had to be added. The wood effect dashboard trim that had looked like the real deal on eBay was given its marchings. I’ve always liked the Dunlop alloys, going right back to when I used to run Minis. At that time I couldn’t afford to do the disc brake conversion with ten inch wheels rather than 12, but at the MG Show in Stoneleigh this year I found these in the right size for the Midget. The Monza fuel filler cap is the other main change. I had one of them on my Mini Clubman, and I do miss that car so this is to remind me of it. They can always swapped back to standard, though – I am having the original RoStyles restored, and will keep them with the car.