Article and photos by Paul Williams
In 1955, the MG car company finally introduced its all-new sports car, the MGA. It replaced the vintage “T” series cars that dated back to the 1920s, and in doing so, belatedly left behind the era of the car as motorized carriage.
The MGA, in contrast to the charming but primitive “T” cars, was a modern, streamlined thing of beauty, perhaps taking its design cues from the bigger, more expensive Jaguar XK line released a few years earlier.
I purchased a 1956 MGA in the fall of 2011 during a brief but productive period of willful ignorance. I knew that even though the Virginia-sourced Glacier Blue MGA was “partially restored,” this likely meant it was 20 percent “restored” and 80 percent “partially.” But it looked good and was inexpensive enough to permit the period of temporary delusion required to take delivery. Once in my care, the vastness of the project revealed itself.
1956 MGA Restoration. Click image to enlarge
Turned out that there was much more body filler than expected, and the engine, while sounding pretty normal, was sending no oil to the cylinder head. The wheels were toast, as were the tires; the gauges didn’t work, the windshield was cracked and its frame was pitted and dull, there were dents in the hood and trunk lid, the brake master cylinder had leaked its contents all over the engine bay, the exhaust system was unattached to the engine and the frame for the moldy convertible top was held together with what appeared to be stove bolts. Furthermore, one rear fender looked suspiciously bigger than the other.
Other than all this, it was, y’know… good.
A lot of the MGA’s exterior panels are aluminum so when it comes to restoring one, body work can be tricky. Panel fitment is a particular challenge with ill-fitting doors a common issue. This car was not going to be driven anytime soon, but maybe spring, 2012 could work.
Fortunately, I had a British car mechanic/restorer up my sleeve. Steve Hayes, recently arrived from England, was trying to establish Classic Automotive Repair, his ticket to success in Canada (he’s an optimistic guy, is Steve). He’d shown a sweet Ford Cortina GT that he’d restored at the annual British Car Day in Kingston, Ontario, and it was a very impressive piece of work. I thought it would be good to give Steve the MGA for a similar restoration. It would help him get his business off the ground, and he was obviously a stickler for detail, which is good when you’re restoring cars.
So off it went to Hartington, Ontario, just north of Kingston. Steve was completing a workshop/garage at the time, where my MGA would reside, but he showed me the corrugated lean-to/shed in which he’d restored the Cortina. It had no heat or electricity, and in fact had no floor (unless you count dirt and gravel as a floor). It was during the preceding winter that Steve worked in this “building,” and it gives you some idea of what you may have to do to get yourself started in this business (or any business, for that matter).
But the garage was almost finished and with the snow beginning to fly, I left my car.
As people experienced with car restorations understand, it’s never as straightforward as you expect. You know the old adage about renovating your house? Get a quote and double it? Car projects are like that.
Steve sent the car to a colleague down the road for bodywork and paint, and that just about blew half my budget right there. Stripped down, it was clear that the work would be difficult and extensive (the swollen fender contained about an inch of bondo; the paint hid a history of crude, unsympathetic work in the delicate aluminum). We elected to remove the filler and painstakingly hammer out the panels rather than buy new, so the car, as far as I know, is still wearing its original sheet metal.