37 YEARS IN THE LIFE OF MG TB 0489
All TB’s are 70 years old this year and I have written this piece for TTT in recognition of that and to share with others some of the enjoyment of owning the car for 37 years.
I bought my TB in 1972 for £200 from an advert in the local paper when I lived in Essex. I’ll always remember the excitement of that first glimpse of the car through a crack in the owner’s garage door although I don’t think I was aware of the rarity of the TB at that time. I was driving a PB (my first MG) with a 1200cc Ford engine and got fed up with the comments whenever I opened the bonnet. I also got fed up with rear ending all and sundry as that car could accelerate very well but deceleration was virtually non-existent as the cables stretched in direct proportion to the increase in panic on the face of the driver.
As was common in those days I also received a small shed full of spares with the TB – the owner had scrapped a TC and had fortunately kept many of the good bits. He wanted an extra £15 for the TC gearbox but as a student I couldn’t afford that at the time. However I called in about 5 years later and yes he’d still got the gearbox and yes I got it for £15!
Unfortunately one part of the TC which the previous owner transferred to the TB was the suspension. Shackle suspension was fitted and remained on the car until the latest rebuild completed in 2008 when trunnions were re-fitted. I’d bought the front trunnion boxes years before from Barry Bone with a plan to one day return the suspension to original. The outer parts of the rear TC cross tube were sleeved over the TB tube and secured with gutter bolts. It worked fine for around 30 years. On the positive side the lubrication tubes were all still in place although obviously with no end connection. Over the years we have seen many MG experts scratching their heads as they walked around the car trying to figure out which model it was.
Around 1974 I took the body off to respray the car which was orange when I bought it (a trendy colour at the time). I remember that my Dad did most of the mechanical work and Mum did the trimming whilst I kept out of the way and used a Frogeye Sprite as a temporary car. As a result of breaking the crankshaft in the Frogeye within 2 weeks of purchase (oh happy days!) I visited the library in Chelmsford to borrow a workshop manual. I knew the librarian, Angela from schooldays, asked her out and as they say somewhere “the rest is history”. Soon back together (remember I was not doing the work) the TB looked good but by today’s standards was highly non-original in many ways – formica wood effect dashboard for instance. The car stayed like this for many years and can be seen in Chris Harvey’s book “Immortal T Type” early edition page 90
Around this time I joined the MGCC and with my future (and current) wife, Angela – yes, the librarian, attended the Cricketer’s Natter at Danbury, Essex. This was a hotbed of activity and I was soon persuaded to race the car in the T Series championship. Whilst greatly enjoying the experience of driving fast at most of the major British circuits I never really took matters very seriously and kept the car standard. Consequently I was far from competitive and spent a lot of time keeping out of the way of the likes of Ron Gammons, Gerry Brown and to be honest most of the other racers who were doing 2 laps to my 1. However, mainly because I turned up and finished I did win the newcomers award in 1976. As part of a 3 car team with (I think) Pete Lynn and Pete Faulks we won a very imposing silver rose bowl for exceeding our target in the high speed trial at Silverstone by the largest margin. Angela was lap scoring for me and was reporting 1 less than I’d actually done. Jokes about Librarians are not allowed in our house – well not too often. This meant that instead of achieving the laps required I’d exceeded by 1 and with the others doing well the trophy was ours for 12 months. I won my final race at Brands in 1977. It was a handicap and I obviously convinced the handicapper on the day that I was slow, not a difficult thing for me to do.
We married in 1976 and the TB drove us from the church. This meant that Ange’s Mum could stop telling her sisters that we had separate tents when we went camping at race meetings. Incidentally, mother-in law is still going strong at 99 so this year is a significant year for her as well as the TB.
Before the arrival of children we enjoyed many European holidays in the car (don’t get me wrong – we’ve enjoyed many holidays since arrival of the children – I put that bit in as I may need them to look after me one day!) We just drove and camped overnight in all sorts of “off the beaten track” places. There were many highlights including the following:
On return from Norway the TB was left in the garage where a leaking head gasket led to a seized engine and several years of MG inactivity except for a few trips in my TD including camping in Weymouth with 2 small children in the back and a trailer. 3 children and 11 years later the TB was back on the road but looked rough and was not used much. A rat’s nest in the seats was the final straw. Around 2000 I decided a full rebuild was required. Many may be familiar with the general theme so far but maybe not with the rats, the Frogeye or the librarian. Many will also be familiar with arrival at the point where total rebuild is inevitable and the surprise at how easily the whole thing comes apart but how slowly it goes back together again!
8 years later in 2008 the car was rebuilt from a total strip down and back on the road with the red replaced by non-original green because I fancied it. Despite the programming skills I’d learnt in the construction industry I still managed to have the sprayed body ready 2 years before the chassis was rolling and there always seemed to be another part which needed rechroming. I enjoyed the process of returning items to sound condition and learning more about the car. The small issues like discovering the original sidescreen frames with patent plate hidden under the 1960’s retrim was good, but buying replacement frames before the discovery was not so good. Most purchased replacement parts were poor – many just did not fit and I reused the originals (such as windscreen top pegs). Surprises were many including learning from a guy in America via the MG-TABC website that someone 20 miles from where I live makes replica FT fog lamps (very good ones) and that under the formica was the original dashboard.
The car is now back on the road and running well. One of the Norwegian ½ shafts broke in January this year (I didn’t write and complain) and I’ve replaced both with new tapered shafts and hubs. The odometer does not record mileage covered as I made the mistake of running the speedo without freeing it up first – the oil can congeal inside over time and something has to give (I didn’t want to get the instruments rebuilt as I liked the faded green – I mean the dials not the notes in my wallet). This has stripped a tooth from a small cog but the speedo and 30 mile an hour light are working. A fault has developed with the 3 brush charging so that the ignition light is faintly on and the ammeter shows discharge when the PLC switch is on sidelights but charges well when switched to headlights. I suspect a problem with the connections to the PLC switch but as the car runs OK I cannot work up the enthusiasm to take the instrument panel out yet. Perhaps I’ll pretend I’m driving a Volvo and keep the headlights on at all times.
However none of this stops the enjoyment. We have attended some events with the Lincolnshire Centre of the club and they have been great. I would like to do something competitive with the car but I’m not sure what. My daughter is due to marry in 2010 and although there is no room for a chauffeur she wants to use the car at the wedding so there’s the incentive to keep it well maintained. I’m still surprised that most T-Type owners are as old as me. I still expect them to be in their 20’s. When I’m driving the car with the screen down along a country lane I still think I’m twenty something. Only when I get out do the knees tell me a different story.
So there it is – a few of our highlights from 37 years with a TB. Writing this piece has bought back many memories and made us realise that thinking of the car as part of the family is maybe not as irrational as it seems.
Jeff and Angela Townsend