New from the pages of Journal of Practical Classicswe meet two new car restorers who have transformed their classic cars for the better.
As an expert classic car insurance brokerwe love seeing old cars restored to their former glory, that’s why we have joined forces with Practical Classics to bring you two great stories every month to digest and act as inspiration for your old builds.
MG Midget saved by the K-Series upgrade
Text by Nigel Clark and Photos by Matt Howell
Tim Dafforn is a big Triumph fan, he currently owns a TR6 and a Stag. However, having enjoyed time with the Spitfire in the past, he was keen to find out how its main rival, the MG Midget, compared. MG’s limited history of strong handling and readily available parts helped his choice, as did his garage.
In 2005, with a fortune of £200, his search began. Soon, he heard about a Midget restoration project just ten miles from his home. Tim explains: “It was worse than a normal renovation job; the engine was missing, the gearbox only had one working gear and the suspension was completely shot”. The car was almost scrapped when Tim took it in to collect £125 and return it to his garage.
Tim says “it’s better to take a car that is going to be scrapped and put it back in the community”; he also enjoyed the technical challenge and found that after a busy day at work, an hour or two in the garage every evening was quite therapeutic. Likewise, because restoring the rust to the Midget shell required 1,000 hours of his time in welding alone. The front end was particularly bad and given the high cost of the steel wing and bonnet, Tim opted to change the aesthetics with a single piece Speedwell Monza glass fiber front end. The styling – reminiscent of the Jaguar E-Type – is the work of automotive and automotive designer Frank Costin.
The car was mechanically restored to near standard, though the 1275cc A-Series engine was fed a single SU HIF44 carb from Metro. Back on the road after a project that spanned four years, Tim’s first trip behind the wheel of the Midget was a trip to the MoT test site. This was a double success, the car passed, receiving good praise from the tester, and Tim found that he enjoyed the direct, responsive handling of the car.
Incomplete A-Series: an idea is born
Over the years, Tim and his wife enjoyed driving their little MG on B-roads and country roads, with Tim doing a few mountain climbs, including a mountain climbing school in Prescott. He walked away from it feeling like he had a great sports car, but it was built with the wrong engine. As he says: “After so much excitement in Prescott, the A-Series engine was struggling. I was worried that it would show up at the event”.
After hours of fun surfing the internet in various social networking sites as far away as the Antipodes, the answer was obvious. The Midget required another Rover Group engine as fitted to later MGs, in the form of the K-Series. With an alloy block, crank with two camshafts, this engine is bigger and more powerful than the A-Series, and can provide power and reliability without significantly affecting weight distribution.
Tim cares about the quality of his work, so before modifying his Midget, he spent time gathering information on the Internet, and to save money he searched the Internet for parts. Of course the Midget’s gearbox could not cope with the first gear problem, so the model became the MG 1.8 K-Series engine, driving in a Ford Type 9 gearbox, giving the Midget a suitable fifth gear ratio. The tall fifth gear also means that the rear axle and final drive of the car can remain, at a cost you might imagine.
He found a MG TF engine in good condition and wisely opted to have a modern head gasket. The engine is a 160bhp version with fixed valve timing; powerful valve shift engines require a subtle hump in the nut to clear the VVT mechanism. He separately found a Type 9 gearbox and bellhousing suitable for the K-Series. The most important features of the Midget’s evolution were present.
Installing the engine and gearbox
In 2018, Tim began a well-planned turnaround. He described it as “a huge leap and removed most of the information I gained from the first restoration”. After removing the engine and the original box, the hardest part was cutting the metal that they had already fixed, to get the clearance between the new engine and the bulkhead and transmission tunnel. There was also a lot of welding to be done as Tim rebuilt the main head around the boiler, requiring the use of his favorite CAD tool for home restoration, Cardboard Aided Design! Battery reset in boot.
The engine mounts were made from welded steel bottoms, and heavily welded. Because of the extra welding required, Tim justified the purchase of a better MIG, which became his favorite tool. Engine installation requires a lot of planning and measurement; internet wisdom advised that the engine should be tested four or five times, and adjusted repeatedly, to get it to the correct position.
A new winner was needed under the Ford gearbox. After removing the old one, Tim opted for the simple option of buying an off-the-shelf crossmember that went straight up. A hole was cut a few inches back in the road to accommodate the Ford’s gear shift, and Tim has neatly reworked the center console to hold a mobile phone to operate the satnav.
On the road again
After 18 months of finalizing the MG TF engine, Tim’s Midget is back on the road. When asked about his first sight, he recalls: “It was scary with a lot of power in the Midget suspension”. He has sharpened his performance by improving the landscape with a Panhard iron and putting in a large front lawn. But the biggest improvement came from the new tires, the Uniroyal RainMasters range. He now describes his performance as ‘very predictable’.
How it feels to drive
First, find out how to enter Spridget – feet first. When you’re on the ground, this car feels like any other Midget, comfortable and rewarding with all four corners for easy visibility. The competition for the Triumph Spitfire is wide in comparison. The Ford Type 9′ breather box is a few inches back from the original but it fits perfectly.
Turn the ignition key and there’s a brief hum from the fuel pumps, then the ignition produces instant fire from the car’s EFi fuel. The smoke crackles a little on the tickover and off we go, quickly shifting from first gear down to second. The clutch and gear changes feel good, so gear changes are done smoothly. This midget runs fast with a four-wheeled pot bark from the tailpipe. The steering is precise in Spridget style, the suspension is firm though not harsh, and the standard brakes do a good job of stopping the light car.
His thoughts are on the engine in this car, a performance conversion similar to Ken Costello’s V8 engines in MGBs. This K-Series upgrade is a testament to Tim’s vision and creativity, and it’s all the fun of a regular Midget but much, much faster!
Read the full version of how Tim modified the MG Midget K-Series at Practical Classics website.
Stuart Shackleton in his perfect Ford Puma
Words and Pictures by Theo Ford-Sagers
When rust attacked Stewart Shackleton’s Ford Puma, it was the start of something special. He explains that:
“My daughter bought this car about 15 years ago, and after driving it for a few years she asked me if I wanted it. The answer was yes, and it became my go-to car until 2017. That’s when it failed an MOT and a long list of issues. So… what are we going to do?
“I already bought a car to donate money, and stripping it gave me a clue of what was to come. Surprisingly it was better than what I was restoring! Luckily, I have a shed and a shed, and a summer house that was put up for storage.
“The car’s tires were rotting, so I took it to a shopkeeper to have it repaired. Dear, but when I returned the car the record was not good, so I cut it and made it myself. My good friend Martin lent me his welder and showed me the ropes – I had never welded before so it was a real lesson.
“Martin told me, ‘if you’re going to fix it yourself, you’re going to do it right,’ and he was right. I made that sill three times before I was happy with it! The other side also needed replacing, although it wasn’t too bad, and I had learned something this time. It’s a thin metal – about a millimeter – so you need a light touch. Welding is not difficult, but you have to be patient because it takes time to start again.”
“The bottom was also rotten, so I had to make new parts, so everything was glued and painted.” There was some rust under the front inner wing that I had to repair, and a lot of new metal was needed around the bottom of the rear wing. It turns out that the part of the front wing on the Peugeot 205 is exactly the same as the rear wheel on the Puma!
“I had the wheels, subframes, wishbones and hub carriers professionally coated, and installed new shocks and new OEM suspension bushes all around. The poly bushings are very strong in my opinion. It all came back together with new brake lines, callipers, pads and rear shoes, and I painted the fuel lines different colors to help check where the return is, and where the supply is.
“Then when everything was agreed, I filled the prepared area, smoothed it smooth and sent it to the paint shop. It came back looking like it was being crushed, but I still had to install the rubber that goes under the front bumper. I raised the front with the hydraulic ramps, installed the cable, then went to park the car outside the garage… Result: One front bumper! As you can imagine I had to close the garage door and leave it alone for a few days while it cooled.
“But in the end, it all came together, and a local mechanic gave it a once-over and put it in his MoT. Now the Puma comes out of the garage a couple of times a month, and I have 10 car shows lined up this year. It brings out the boy racer in me sometimes!
“I have kept the details of everything about the car, writing down what happened and the date I got hold of it.” What did it cost? Don’t ask. The car lives with me and I go back to my daughter and granddaughter when I nail it!”
Read the full version of how Stuart completely modified his Ford Puma at Practical Classics website.
Practical Classics: A great read for classic cars and restoration enthusiasts
The Restorer of the Year competition is one you won’t want to miss. Any magazine contains two unique stories about how luxury car owners can restore their beautiful past to working life. The winner will be chosen by readers and will be revealed at the NEC’s Classic Car & Restoration Show in March 2023.