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In an occasional series, Malcolm Robertson outlines life with 'Alison', his 1957 MG ZB Varitone Magnette….
Episode Five - the ceremonial starting

At the end of my last episode I was about to tackle the interior to have it ready for the ceremonial starting of the car, the sequel to the launching that took place in April 2004. When launched, Alison was just a bare shell so it has taken nearly eighteen months of reasonably concerted effort to bring her to completion. You just don't realise how long everything takes, especially if you want the finished product to look like a new car. Well, the same is true of the interior. I'll knock this over in a week or two, says I optimistically, back in early August!

As it turned out, the week or two became a month or two, and I had to fudge a bit to make her look finished for the ceremonial starting, which I have to say was a great success. On the day, Alison started easily and drove out of her garage to the whistles and cheering of the assembled crowd who then gathered around her making appropriate complimentary comments, as did many of you via the Bulletin Board. My thanks to all as it is very rewarding to have nice things said after some years of hard work.

One of the reasons for not quite making the deadline was that I did have to reassemble and fit the carburetters, and I had to take Alison on a trip via a trailer to have her exhaust fitted, so time got a way a bit. However, I had no real dramas with any of this, it just took time, which is why I was confident that the interior wouldn't take all that long - after all, it's just glue, scissors and screws isn't it?

Well, no, not exactly. First, you have to sort out your seat belts if you are going to fit these, especially drilling holes on the rear parcel shelf before the rear windscreen goes back in. I had already welded upper mounting points into the B-pillars to take the shoulder points for the front seat belts, but I hadn't finalised the lower mounting points, so that had to be done also. You can see from the photos that I have mounted retractor units on the sills directly below the B-pillars, and located the stalks on either side of the handbrake lever on the tunnel. Because I have been refreshing my old leatherette (vinyl) panels, rather than make new ones, I had bought several spray cans of a maroon vinyl paint, so I also used this on the seat belt units and fittings to give a bit of colour coordination to the interior. The lower mountings for the rear seat belts were relatively straightforward and line up along the vertical section of the rear seat floor, just below the petrol tank. I've got three lap belts fitted for little peoples' harnesses, plus the retractor set up for two adults, so I have six mounting points across this stretch of the car, two of them going through into the rear wheel arches.

By the way, if your interior panels, such as the ones on the B-pillars, in the footwells at the front, and on the parcel tray, are still in sound condition, you can re-glue them to either their old backing boards or to new panels quite successfully. This can be easier than making a full new set. I'm not 100% happy with the vinyl paint on the old panels. While it certainly spruces them up and covers over the blemishes of age, it is also a bit too shiny compared to the original. I'm hopeful that it will dull off over time.

But back to the interior. Like many of you, I was keen to reduce noise, drumming and heat, so armed with FRM's (see the Bulletin Board if you haven't met FRM yet!) basic laws of physics and good solid advice, I went searching Australia for appropriate materials to use on the floors, firewall and roof. I ended up with some marvellous material called 'plastofelt' for the drumming and sound proofing - apparently it is used in the cabs of heavy machinery and I could hardly lift the four metre roll I bought it was so heavy - just what I was looking for!

I did the floors and tunnel first, cutting the plastofelt to fit exactly and fixing it in place on the tunnel with contact glue before fitting the carpets over the top. In the footwells I also used the wool underlay, so that there are three layers - wool underlay, plastofelt and carpet.

The firewall took the longest to do as I had to make templates first before cutting the plastofelt and fixing it in place, again with contact glue. (By the way, one of my best discoveries was contact glue as a gel instead of the traditional runny version - fantastic on the roof and on vertical surfaces!). You can see from the photo how many little pieces it took to cover the firewall effectively, bearing in mind FRM's advice that any little hole will transmit any noise straight through!

Once the rear parcel shelf, the back panel, under the rear seat, the floors and the firewall were done, I turned to the roof. I couldn't find any insulation suitable for the roof, so I made my own out of the wool underlay I had used under carpets and reflective roofing insulation. I glued these together so that the wool underlay was between the steel of the roof and the reflective insulation (which is blue on its underside as you can see in the photos). According to me, the wool (a marvellous insulator) will cut down any heat being conducted through by the roof panel, while the reflective sheeting will reflect back any radiated heat so I should have the three heat transfer processes (conduction, reflection and radiation) well covered. I was careful to minimise the amount of the reflective surface that I covered with glue so as not to compromise the reflectivity too much.

It took quite a while to cut and glue the roof sections as I had to make sure I wasn't going to interfere with the Union cloth roof lining or its supporting bows, so I ended up with four panels, leaving a tiny gap between each where three of the four roof bows could run. The rearmost bow had sufficient clearance without having to leave a gap.

Once the insulation was in place I could trim and fit the new Union cloth roof lining that I had bought from Lou Shorten, and Alison's interior was at last beginning to look complete. I had had all sorts of bad dreams about fitting the roof lining, but in the end it was a relatively straightforward process. Tensioning the material is the only really important process, and I know I had to do a couple of places twice to get it right, especially after fitting the side panels. I've even got the old clock back in place and ticking nicely (you have to delve into the clockwork mechanism with your magnifying glass and tweezers and establish a new contact point for the springloaded thingy that strikes the pin on the little flywheel that does the ticking, if this makes any sense!).

In my next episode I'll tell you about the door rubbers (I already know that these are painful), the front parcel shelf, the timber work and the fitout of the boot (trunk). I might even be able to report on how Alison goes with the motor registration authorities when I present her for the inspection that hopefully will pass her fit for the road!

Many small pieces of plastofelt insulation were needed to cover the firewall effectively.

Wool underlay and reflective insulating paper are glued together to form the panels for the roof.  Here they are ready to press together

Once the two layers of insulating material are together, they can be glued to the roof

With a reinforcing plate behind them, the two stalks bolt quite neatly to the tunnel, just behind the handbrake lever…

…and the retractor unit mounts firmly to the sill.  A reinforcing plate has been slotted in behind through an enlarged hole in the sill which allows access for fingers, a spanner and the nut.  If I had been smarter, I would have sorted this out before painting so that these items could have been welded in place.

These mountings were welded in place before painting

This photo shows the left side retractor unit and one of the child's harnesses.  I have two other points for the child's harnesses - one in the centre and one on the right.  A reinforcing bar runs across the car underneath the parcel shelf to secure these three points.

This is a close up of the left hand retractor unit.  A reinforcing plate underneath secures it in place.

At the starting up ceremony on 21 August 2005, Alison emerges from her garage for the first time under her own power.  Little Leah, in the passenger seat, seems impressed…

…as were the assembled crowd when the bonnet was opened to reveal a gleaming set of SU carburetters and ancillary equipment…

…and as was the owner-driver!!  He hasn't looked this happy since his first night out with little Leah's mother!!

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  • Insulation-roof-construction
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  • Seat belts-rear retractor
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  • Seat belts-top mounting
  • Starting Up-Engine
  • Starting Up-First drive

  • Starting Up-Happy Driver
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