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A TOUCH Of LUXURY in a Roadster -- INT-200

Say WHAT? You already have leather seats, so what else could you want in a Roadster? By design intent and philosophy, the roadster is not supposed to be luxurious. The MGA is one of the last great side curtain roadsters, intended as an inexpensive light weight weekend warrior, so to speak. It has hardly anything on the car that is not required to make it go down the road, even the heater was an option. There are light aluminum skins on the doors and bonnet and boot lid, no door handles, and no roll-up windows. When you go racing on the weekend you empty the boot, leave the side curtains in the paddock (maybe even remove the rag top) and tape over the headlights. Some people even remove the bumpers and install a cut-down windscreen. On your way home from the track you can take a side road for a pleasant cruise, pick up a few groceries, and even drive the car for daily service if you like. In essence it is a street legal race car, or about the best rendition of that compromise that anyone could build in the 1950's.

Okay, so times change. Fifty years on it can hardly be considered as a race car, except in vintage racing clubs. These days you can get blown off at at traffic light by the lowliest of economy cars (although you still have a good chance of dusting the bugger on an autocross course). A few current MGA owners (now increasing in numbers) want a concours correct show car, in which case you can forget about luxury options. More often the current owner wants to slightly "upgrade" the MGA to be a bit more amenable as a casual touring car. The first thing coming to mind its to get the damn heat out of the cockpit, and maybe cut down the noise some. Aside from a slight increase of weight, this endeavor is not particularly expensive, and first part of this article is dedicated to that cause.

On 11/4/2011, Mike Elliott in Richmond, Virginia wrote:
"I am ready to reinstall the finished body on my frame up restoration. I have used Dynamat like material from Eastwood on the cockpit floor and trans tunnel. Would that be a good material to put under the shelf under the dash instead of the fiber mat that has to be glued on from Moss"?

There are a bunch of per-requisites for this course so be sure to read these articles:
INT-100 -KEEPING The HEAT OUT and Sealing Bulkheads.
INT-101 - CARPET LAYING.
INT-101E - BATTERY COVER SEAL.
INT-108B - DOOR SEALS.
INT-201 - INSULATION, THERMAL and ACOUSTICAL.

Using 3/8 inch felt under the carpet (especially full length of tunnel) does wonders for thermal insulation and sound reduction. The process of carpet installation goes hand in hand with thermal and acoustical insulation.

I happen to like the under dash pad sold by Moss Motors. It is not foam rubber like the original Coupe pad that would disintegrate in far less than 10 years. It is a felt pad with heavy vinyl on the surface, and it does a bang up job of both thermal and acoustical insulation. This is a HUGE improvement over the original bare single sheet metal bulkhead. Of course it does add weight, which is contrary to original design philosophy of the light roadster.

Dynamat is good for sound deadening, not so good as thermal insulation. It works well on the gearbox tunnel and upper firewall (heater shelf) before installing thermal insulation (you can do both), and it works well inside of doors (glue to inside of outer door skin for noise damping). It works by mechanically changing (lowering) the resonance frequency of the sheet metal panel, as well as damping mechanical vibration. Dynamat is a waste of time and money on the plywood floors.

If you follow what I did in my car, you can get an idea of priorities. Top priority is to completely seal any holes in the firewall and behind the front kick panels. Then in the following order of importance, insulate the tunnel, floorboards, heater shelf and battery cover, and install an effective muffler. By the time you get that far everything else is so low in effectiveness as to nearly fall off of the chart of value. My next moves might be to insulate the bonnet to reduce tappet noise, and insulate inside of the door skins to reduce a little cool draft from the door pockets in cold weather.

By far the most noise and heat (or cold) intrusion will come from the open (or closed) convertible top (and leaky side curtains). Not much you can do about free air with the top open. Some people like a rag top with zip-out rear window to give sun shade and ventilation. Women like the same thing to reduce blowing hair. Since I drive a lot in winter, I would consider a Cabriolet top, meaning another layer of fabric inside the rag top with some padding in between for thernal insulation and noise reduction. Food for thought.

As a follow on to Luxury, the list of options can get quite long. I will begin with what I consider to be the most useful, and end with what I consider to be "fuzzy dice".

The very first option I would install would be 2-point lap belts for safety reason (and required for most competition events). Lots of people prefer 3-point safety belts, although they are just a bit tricky to install in conjunction with the articulated convertible top frame (and may be prohibited for some competition classes unless you also install an approved roll-over bar). If you have to ask what seat belts will cost, you're just not interested in this accessory. In North America seat belts are not required in the MGA as they were not required by law until after the cars were out of production, and retrofit is not mandatory. But if you do install them, in many locals you will be required to use them constantly.

Perhaps the easiest "luxury" accessory that is actually useful is the factory option screen washer. The parts are readily available for relatively low cost, and it is relatively easy to install, requiring drilling of a few holes in paintwork. I personally consider this to be a safety accessory rather than a luxury item (unless you will never drive in inclement weather). Figure the parts (original style) to cost about $100 (cheaper for aftermarket style), and install it in a few hours. Along the same lines, you might consider an aftermarket intermittent wiper control module (never concours) for about $50, and a few hours installation time.

Another of the least expensive of the useful factory options is the late production front sway bar. This is only a luxury in the sense of cost and the idea the it is not absolutely necessary. But once you discover what it can do to enhance handling of the sports car it can become a high end luxury item for maybe under $200. It will be highly complimented by modern radial tires. Original type sway bars are a bit of a pain to install while some aftermarket bars are much easier.

The next one is likewise a factory option in the numerically lower 3.909:1 final drive ratio. This slows the engine down by 10% relative to original 4.300:1 (5% for the 1600-MK-II cars with 4.100:1). It may improve fuel economy about 5%, and it reduces engine noise a bit at road speed. It also makes the car a more tolerable expressway cruiser when you may chose to follow something in the fast lane. Although somewhat rare on original MGA cars, it is easy to obtain the needed parts from a 1962-1967 MGB. Depending on your shopping prowess and do-it-yourself imputes, this might cost less than $100 and can be installed in a few hours. It will however require some modification of the speedometer for correct speed and mileage readout. If you drive a lot this option may pay for itself in a few years with fuel savings.

The next "luxury" option in the same vein is the 5-speed or overdrive gearbox. The primary goal here is the 5th gear (or OD) which will reduce engine speed by 18% to 30%. The overdrive gearbox may be obtained from an MGB. The earlier ones (pre-1968) will be easier to install, while the later ones (1968 on) have a synchronized 1st gear and are a bit more durable. These may cost in the range of $500 to $2000 installed (after compete overhaul of the used unit). All overdrive gearboxes are somewhat difficult to install in the MGA with some cut and weld required. There are 5-speed gearboxes that are essentially bolt-in kits that can be installed in a week end, in the range of $2000 to $3000. Probably any of these will be more durable than the vintage MGB OD units, and the 5-speeds all have synchronized 1st gear.

Following along the lines of driveability, a growing number of people place personal value on a supercharger. You can go for a vintage Paxton supercharger (vane blower) for concours show, or a modern Roots type screw blower for better power. Figure a few thousand dollars either way, for 20 to 30 HP improvement (and lots of luxurious bling of course). I find the standard (near stock) MGA engine to be quite adequate for keeping up with modern traffic, so have no particular desire to spend big money here.

Air conditioning may be of questionable benefit in an open roadster, but has apparently caught on in a big way with modern convertibles. It would be more useful in the MGA Coupe. It can be done in the MGA, but any case it adds considerable complexity to the otherwise simple car, makes engine maintenance more "confined", adds weight, and reduces fuel economy. To the extent that it may reduce performance, when full power is required you can switch it off for minimal power drag. This will likely cost $1000 to $3000 for parts and installation, adds weight and clutters up the engine bay (not to ignore future service problems).

For the roadster, especially if you drove a lot in cold weather, I might rate a bolt-on hardtop equally desirable to air conditioning. There were two different factory hardtops, first an aluminum top for the 1500 cars and later a fiberglass top for the 1600 cars. There were also at least a dozen brands of aftermarket hardtop for MGA, either fiberglass or molded plastic. This item is strictly a personal choice. May people procure one and then seldom use it. Bear in mind that you can't stow it in the boot, so if you leave home without it you won't have use of it until you return home, and if you leave home with it you are pretty much stuck with it for the duration of the trip. It also requires storage space when not in use. A new one might be had for under $500 (questionable fit and quality). A fully restored factory original hardtop could be in the $2500-$5000 range.

A luggage rack may be either a luxury or a necessity (or alternative to a luggage trailer), depending on your travel needs and style. Wing mirrors can be practical enough to be considered a cheap necessity rather than a luxury. A badge bar is strictly bling, quite often a grill crusher (but some people like it anyway).

If you intend to drive a lot in inclement weather, then fog lights may be a useful safety accessory (perhaps not so much a luxury except for the bling). These may be $50 for aftermarket parts for a few hundred dollars for original style, and they are generally easy to install (almost bolt-on parts). The spot-beam version for high power driving lights is a personal choice. If you install modern sealed beam halogen headlamps (very cheap) you may never feel the need for additional spot lights (except maybe for regular night time road rally).

A back-up light can be useful for night driving. I used to call it an unnecessary luxury, until the one foggy night when I gently backed into a parked car. Oops. The factory prescription for installation of a back up light (or a rear fog light for some countries) requires a switch on the dashboard (drill a hole), and the rear lamp may mount on a standard fog lamp bracket. Or be creative to make your own bracket, because I hardly ever see an MGA back-up light using a factory fog light bracket. There was also a flash-to-pass option for MGA using a long bat handle dash switch and a relay for swapping headlamp beams. You can do the same thing by kicking the dipper switch twice, so even though this is a fairly cheap option, I'd still call it a luxury (or bling) where it is not required by law.

A car radio can be anything from $100 cheap to $1000 for something like a full entertainment system. The early factory style AM radio was not particularly light weight, incorporating a dash mounted vacuum tube driven receiver-tuner unit, a bulkhead mounted amplifier unit, and a single large speaker behind center of dash. Truth be known, most MGA radios were dealer installed of aftermarket units. Most of those were one-piece with built in amplifier, and a few had a squeaky little built in speaker. Original AM radios are for show only. Modern radios mostly look out of place in the vintage car. I personally prefer the look and sound of the MGA with a blanking plate in the dash and no radio. If you do install a modern radio, you will inevitable run into the nearly insurmountable problem of where to put the speakers.

Wind wings and sun visors are on the hairy edge of being called "fuzzy dice". Wind wings may be somewhat beneficial in select circumstances of angular headwinds, otherwise might be more bother and bling than benefit. Sun Visors of the original tinted plastic type for the MGA roadster may be nearly useless for filtering out direct sun, because the tinted or "smoked plastic" is not nearly dark enough. Some tall people may find some benefit in them as wind or rain deflectors, otherwise again maybe more bling than useful. Some people place value in the modern invention called Wind-Blocker (low transparent panel or screen behind your heads).

A car alarm is way down here on the list of luxury items, as it may be as much for bling as for anti-theft. Anyone determined to steal an MGA will likely succeed with or without a car alarm. Some people will install one, most not, depending highly on where you have to park the car. If you were so inclined, I would recommend some version of LoJack where location of the car may be traced after it is stolen.

After some people have spent lots of money restoring an MGA, they may soon be looking for more ways to spend money on their favorite toy. My first preference here would be lots of gasoline and spare time to drive it (I'd call that a luxury). Other desirable options might be a protective car cover, cockpit cover, tonneau cover, or some traveling tools that are actually practical to use (after big money for all original tool kit for concours show). Then you get into the real "fuzzy dice", defined as appearance items that do not materially affect performance of the car. This may include whitewall tires, Rimbellishers, full wheel covers, chrome wire wheels, mud flaps, curb feelers, fox tail on the antenna, and the list can go on indefinitely (see Accessories).

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