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In an occasional series, Malcolm Robertson outlines life with 'Alison', his 1957 MG ZB Varitone Magnette….
Episode Six - the end of the journey


Well, here we are several months after the ceremonial starting and I can honestly say that the journey is pretty well over. In fact, as I write this I'm just getting over a strange feeling of anti-climax and listlessness that suddenly overcame me when I woke up the morning after Alison's first official concours event, our local "Terribly British Day", and thought "what am I going to do now….?"

I had been aiming for the Terribly British Day on Sunday 4 December to have Alison ready for her first concours judging. For those of you who saw my report on the Sydney MG Car Club Concours, I didn't count Sydney because the car was clearly not ready - it had no dashboard for one thing, and many other small jobs hadn't been finished. But on the Terribly British Day, at which some 250 fine old British cars of all makes and models line up in Australia's national capital for a fabulous picnic day, our local MG Car Club also held its annual concours d'elegance and Alison just had to be ready - no excuses. She was, and she was well received by everyone, especially the Magnette owners who had been waiting to see a Varitone on the road again.

For the record, she came second in her class which included Magnettes, MGAs, MGB Mark Ones, MG Midgets and Austin Healey Sprites. I think there were some 20 cars in the class and she came in behind a splendid bright red Austin Healey bug-eye Sprite that had also just been completed. Now if there had been a weighting factor based on sheet metal area, door openings, complexity of construction or number of moving parts, things might have been different…. But I don't mind, I was just pleased to have made it there on the day.

The tasks that I had been attending to over the past couple of months included repairing and then refinishing the timber dash and the other dress timber pieces. On these I used a two pack polyurethane material called Estapol which I brushed on with a very fine bristled brush, leaving it to flow and cure over two or three days before sanding back and repeating the process until I was reasonably happy with the finish. The final coat I sanded with 1500 grade wet and dry paper and polished up with that marvellous fine cutting liquid, Brasso. I haven't gone for the glass look that you find on modern robot-built Jags and Mercedes, so you can still see the grain in the timber here and there, but it is nice and smooth and shiny, which is how I like it. All the old knobs on the dashboard cleaned up nicely and were refitted, as was the glovebox, and I was delighted with the heater decal that had come in from America via Paul Bray and the bulletin board crew. I turned the speaker grille over to find beautiful unmarked golden paint, so I refitted it that way around. One less job to do!

I also finished off the rubbers on the doors. These were in two parts, the actual rubber seal which is of the curved open profile type and the furflex itself. The latter only comes in red or black these days, so I had bought red which I then sprayed with the same vinyl paint in a spray can that I'd used to clean up the door trims and other leatherette panels. The end result wasn't too bad, but it took quite a few coats to get the colour close to the original deep red.

I found that the rubber seals seem to come in two sizes that look almost the same, depending on which company you buy them from, and by the time I had finally got the doors fitting reasonably neatly I had used the thinner of these on two doors and the thicker on the other two in order to get the doors to close easily. I've also done one complete door again, this time glueing the rubber to the pinchweld before squeezing the furflex on, otherwise the whole lot falls off too easily. I can see that I'm going to have to do this on the other three doors in due course.

The interior of the car was finished off by my motor trimmer edging the few pieces of carpet that require this finish, namely the front mats and the pieces around the front of the back seat. Once these were done, the interior looked simply magic.

My last task has been to clean up the boot. I think my car came with flat black paint on all the exposed surfaces, at least that's how it looked and so that's what I have done. I had a new grey hardura mat made and edged for the boot floor, and thanks to Lou Shorten I was able to get a full complement of clips and straps to hold the tools in place as most of mine were missing. I'm still working on the tool roll. I re-used the old cardboard panels, but I have covered them with some black vinyl that is a close match to the original surface finish and they look quite good.

And that's where I got to by 4 December! I just had time to give the car a good clean, after all I've been driving her around for the last six weeks, get out the bowler hat and the tightly-furled black umbrella, and make an early start for the Terribly British Day.

As I write this, summer has come with its usual vengence in Australia and the temperature has been soaring over the 30 degree Celsius mark, something I've been waiting for to see how my insulation sandwich in the roof works. My benchmark on this is five-year-old Leah who travels many miles with me in Alison. In my black, uninsulated SA she is the first to complain about how hot it is in the car, but so far in Alison there hasn’t been a single complaint from the back seat! I notice it myself - the car feels cool and shady, as if you were under a nice big shady tree. It doesn't even get terribly hot after standing, locked up in an open car park while you go shopping, and once you get on the move, with all those windows, vents and quarterlights open, it is just great - much better than being blasted by refrigerated cool air. It helps too that the windows are more vertical than in a modern car, so you don't get as much direct sun shining onto you. The verdict - the insulation works really well.

So there you have it, the journey has come to an end and it feels quite an achievement to have made it. As someone who has mostly driven MGs over the past forty years, maintaining them for the road, but never doing a real restoration, I had always admired the people who had the time, stamina and skills to create the concours cars. Now at last I think I can claim to be one of them, and it feels good!

Could I finish off with a special thank you to everyone who has contributed to the restoration, from the smallest comment on the Bulletin Board, to the specialist suppliers like Lou Shorten in Norwich and Bruce Smith in Sydney right through to the people who physically laid hands on the car such as Don Cabban and his team at Nepean Classic Cars in Sydney and Mike Stearn in Canberra. Without your help the journey would have been considerably longer and far less pleasurable. What a huge circle of friends have been made!

Now for those of you who have been following this series, there will be one last episode - "The Untold Story" - which will go through many smaller issues that cropped up during the rebuild and which somehow didn't make it into the previous episodes. I've got quite a list of these which I will compile into "hints and tips" style of episode early next year. After that, it will be up to others to keep Gunter supplied with stories!

OK, I know you want to ask the question. What am I going to do now? Well, I've one more major restoration left to do before Leah and Gaye put their heads together to chose my nursing home, a 1936 MG SA Tickford, and I'll be starting on that just as soon as I've finished off some jobs around the house and garage that have been piling up for the last year or two. With all this wonderful experience with Alison behind me, I should knock it over in half the time, don't you think?

The finished union cloth roof lining looks absolutely marvellous and was a lot easier to do than first thought

Now working happily for the first time in many years, the electric clock adds a touch of class to the interior of the Magnette

Glue, clamps and tape are all part of repairing the veneered sections of the dashbaord

Here are the main components of the dashboard almost ready for reassembly

A few coats of polyurethane finished off with Brasso brings lustre and life back to the old dashbaord

This photo shows how the faded old leatherette trim can be restored with a couple of coats of vinyl paint

Here is the centre console panel now with two new coats of vinyl paint

Once everything has been rennovated and put back together, the dashboard looks like new

The glovebox just need a good wash and brush to look almost new.  The fresh dark brown paint on the inside of the lid, and around the instruments, was mixed up at home

The completed interior is almost as it left the factory - you can just see a couple of new four-inch speakers for my CD/radio unit fitted under the parcel shelf where I cut out circular holes to accommodate them

Here is a nice photo of the finished back seat - doesn't it look comfortable?

And this is the passenger's door and rear compartment

The boot has been completely cleaned up with a new mat and refurbished clips and tools.  The cardboard card has been covered in a black vinyl that closely matches the original stamped finish.

And here we are - the Terribly British Day, Canberra, Australia, December 2005 - the end of the journey

  • boot
  • clock
  • dash repairs

  • dashboard with Brasso
  • dashboard work in progress
  • dashboard-drivers side

  • dashboard-full width
  • glovebox with Owners manual
  • interior-back seat finished

  • rear interior-left hand side
  • roof lining-finished
  • terribly British Day

  • trim refinished 1
  • trim refinished 2