The MGA With An Attitude

This is a short introduction to restoration, and what you may be getting into that you hadn't anticipated.

"Professionally Restored". When this phrase appears in a "Car For Sale" ad, it's okay to hope for the best, but at the same time prepare for the worst. This means different things to different people, and such meaning may be heavily influenced by the situation. For an optimistic buyer with stars in his eyes it might mean a fully reconditioned and repainted show car, better in every respect than when it left the factory, and a real show stopper and trophy winner. For an optimistic seller with dollar signs in his eyes it might mean someone was once paid to install a new battery so it was "restored" to running condition (before it was parked 12 years ago). Armed with this information, do not ever assume anything better than the worst, and you may never be disappointed (maybe).

In reality the truth almost always lies somewhere in between (anywhere in between), but it is much more common that an MGA advertised as "restored" was repainted on top but never repainted underneath, as the body has never been removed from the frame since it left the factory. Looking directly upwards from underneath often reveals some tatters of the original paint interspersed among larger areas of surface rust. In the worse cases of the tin worm there may be no sheet metal left in the body sills behind those bondoed over and repainted outer rocker panels. And even if there is still some metal there, it may well disappear in future years as the tin worm carries on his normal life with the unpainted metal. This actually might be acceptable if the price was right and you were only looking for a daily driver to thrash around the back roads on rally days. Otherwise that fresh coat of paint covering a multitude of sins is about as useful as fuzzy dice, and also worth about the same.

For the purpose of further discussion here, I will declare outright that any mention of restoration will imply nothing less than complete disassembly and removal of the body from the frame for repair, repaint and/or refurbishment of everything inside and out. Also figure that each and every part of the car will be replaced with a new part or refurbished to a condition of serviceability and appearance at least as good as when it left the factory (slightly wishful thinking). Yes we are talking high end restoration here. Otherwise if you should decide to settle for something less all you have to do is to leave out some of the restoration steps.

Now suppose you have a burning desire to own a sparkling new MGA, fully restored to better than new condition, but you happen to have in your possession (won't talk about how that happened) one of the latter cases that has some rust underneath, and you are intentionally about to embark on a restoration project to create the car of your dreams. Completion of this project could well be one of the grandest accomplishments of your life, and you may also have one of the grandest cases of self pride on record (and deservedly so). However, odds are just about as good that you will end up with a huge disassembled jigsaw puzzle with some missing parts, and some fond person in your life (or maybe even your own conscience) will be badgering you to get rid of it, after having spent untold amounts of time and money on it. Be forewarned that the single most important ingredient required for a successful restoration is absolute dedication to the cause of finishing it (and hopefully in a timely manner). Other requirements of course are lots of money and lots of time, or if you don't have lots of time then lots more money to buy someone else's time. In the end the materials are expensive, but the labor has an even higher value, be it your time or others. The standard admonishment on cost is to add up all of the required parts and services and labor you can possibly identify, then double that amount and add ten percent. Even then don't be too surprised if you overrun the budget. The longer it takes to finish the more expensive it gets, as the cost of both materials and labor just keeps going up and seldom goes down.

In the end the cost of your restoration may (or may not) exceed the cost of a new car (unless you settle for something substantially less). Comparison to a new Mazda Miata MX5 often creeps into the conversation. And this total cost of restoration may not even include anything for your own time (well, it's a hobby, right?). So as your first decision it would be prudent to decide right up front if you might rather just buy the new car and forget all the time and hassle of doing the restoration. Chew on that thought for a while.

Okay, so you just can't get your mind past those beautiful classic lines of the MGA body and the grand racing heritage and the "legendary" handling characteristics of that vintage MG chassis. Of course that's the reason you're stuck here! What else could possibly posses a person to even consider wanting a stripped down underpowered 1950's vintage car the was built with 1920's technology? You had best have this perfectly clear right now, because if a state of denial suddenly clears up later it can be a real shocker. So you still must have one, huh? Then consider the next point.

Occasionally (fairly often actually) a recently restored MGA comes available for sale. The asking price may look high at first glance, but in the end they usually sell for an amount somewhat less than the cost of restoration (not including much of the labor). Of course this is nearly always the case, because if the cars could be sold for more than the cost of restoration, lots of people would be doing it regularly and getting rich, and there would be an unlimited supply of restored cars available. In fact any time you like you can buy an absolutely perfect one freshly restored with zero miles on it for exactly the cost of restoration, if you're willing to write the check to have one professionally restored. This is exactly what causes the "older restorations" to have a lower value. So now that you know that you can buy one cheaper than you can restore one, chew on that thought for a while.

Still here? Can't I do anything to bring you to your senses? Last year's restoration just won't do it for you, and you just have to have a brand new spotless one? And you still want to do it yourself? Must be only for the pride or for the love of labor I guess. Well, okay, then let's turn the page and get on with the "how to" information.

Thank you for your comments -- Send e-mail to <Barney Gaylord>
© 2000 Barney Gaylord -- Copyright and reprint information