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In an occasional series, Malcolm Robertson outlines life with 'Alison', his 1957 MG ZB Varitone Magnette….

Episode Seven - One Year On

As I write this episode in October 2006, it has been a full year since Alison was returned to the road after the long restoration described in my previous six episodes, a year full of interest and enjoyment (mostly) as we began to get to know each other better. Together we have covered some 10,000 miles in that year, and generally those miles have been without too much drama. Never-the-less, I thought it was time to wrap up this series with one final episode that serves two purposes: firstly, to fill you in on some of the highlights of the first year on the road, and secondly, to offer some last words of wisdom in the form of helpful hints that somehow slipped through the net when I was doing the first six episodes.

Let's start with the highlights, well a low light really, ie the first thing that went wrong - the fuel system. After decades sitting with a half tank of fuel quietly degrading and turning into varnish, you would expect the fuel tank to be a shambles. Well, it was and despite several attempts to clean it out with solvents, nuts and bolts and compressed air, as soon as I started to use the car, my fuel filter clogged up after only a few short miles on the road. Actually, after several false starts to find the problem, it wasn't the fuel filter, nor the fuel pump, nor anything else, it was the pickup pipe in the tank which clogged at its mouth with all the silt still washing off the tank walls. Part of the problem was the gauze filter that is normally soldered onto the drain plug to prevent the bigger bits of contamination being sucked up the pipe had disintegrated with age and I had failed to replace it, thinking that an in-line filter would do just as well. It didn't and I had to make another to protect the end of the pipe. After several more roadside failures, I also cut about a centimetre or so off the bottom of the pickup pipe (which sits right down almost to the bottom of the brass plug and can therefore clog up quite easily) to give it more petrol sucking space.

As a precautionary measure (there is nothing worse than breaking down on the roadside!), I also decided to clean out the tank at regular intervals, best done when it was nearing empty as it is quite easy to pull out of the car with only a gallon or so fuel in it. The last time I cleaned it out, there was very little sediment, so I think I've got this problem licked.

By the way, talking of fuel tanks, before I put the cleaned-up fuel level sender unit in, I tested it on the bench and noticed that the resistance reading was very erratic when the float arm was moved across its range. The earthing between the contacts and the unit body seemed to be the problem, so I soldered one of those little flexible earth straps that you find on the SU fuel pump points sets onto the arm and screwed the other end to the body of the unit. The reading immediately became smooth across the range and as a consequence my fuel gauge gives a good steady reading from full all the way down to empty.

The most rewarding highlights of the year were the awards the car received at various MG Car Club concours d'elegances, in particular its first place in the Magnette class at the Australian MG National Meeting in Launceston in April 2006. Awards such as this mean that all the hard work that went into the restoration, and in particular the extra effort gone to in terms of originality (let's not mention the MGB engine, the Toyota gearbox and the 10-stack CD player!) paid off and various groups of judges were generally pleased with the presentation of the car. Alison also picked up "Best Restoration for 2006" in my local MG Car Club here in Canberra, an award I was very proud to receive as it is not presented every year and it truly reflects what my peers think.

But enough big-noting ourselves. After all, the real purpose of the restoration was to create a classic MG that could hold its own in modern every day usage, so the real test, and the best highlight of all, has been driving. This has been sheer pleasure, especially since I fitted the 3.9 diff a couple of months ago. This really transformed the car and matches its weight and gearbox ratios to the engine's power just beautifully. With a good CD playing, the open road in front and a full tank of fuel, driving Miss Alison is a dream…

Now to some last helpful hints before I hang up my pen on Magnettes and don the overalls for the next project:


It is definitely worth pulling the speedo apart and giving it a good clean and grease or oil. Because I didn't do this, thinking incorrectly that it should be just fine, I broke a speedo cable when the input drive to the speedo seized. I was lucky that the little worm drive gear that runs off this input shaft didn't seize, as it strips, especially if it's one of the nylon ones and your odo stops. There is a number on the front of the speedo called the tpm number which tells you how many turns per mile the speedo is set up to record on the odometer. From the ones I pulled apart, I could see that the number is derived from the multiplication of the small worm drive which on all of mine had 25 teeth, and the number of teeth on the odo drive itself which is etched or stamped onto the big drive gears. I had three different odo gearings, 59, 60 and 65. One of my next tasks is to order a ratio box to convert the current turns per mile coming out of my gearbox (significantly different from original thanks to the 3.9 diff and the five-speed gearbox) to one of the standard tpm numbers. This will mean that my odo will be more or less accurate, but I'm not sure about the speedo itself. It should make it read closer to real speed, instead of the 3 mph per 10 kph it currently reads! I'm waiting until I decide on a final set of tyres before I do this.

Rev Counter

The Magnette definitely needs a rev counter. After much thought about how to fit one, I made a small half-octagon veneered panel, edged in some spare chrome strip from an old door capping, and fitted this below my heater controls. The instrument is a three inch one which is quite readable as you drive along. It is also readily removable (well, not entirely readily, as you have to take the instrument panel off to remove its brackets), but since I'm over the "extreme concours" phase and am now using the car seriously, I guess the tacho will stay where it is for the foreseeable future.

Indicator lamps

I made the decision to fit flashing amber-coloured indicators quite early in the restoration as an essential safety modification for every day driving and after seeing a couple of other Australian cars similarly modified. I decided to go with the Lucas L539 lamps as these match the red tail lights but are a few millimetres smaller in diameter. I made sure that I had the wiring loom made up to include extra wires for this modification.

I made the nacelles for the rear indicator lamps myself out of flat panel steel that I rolled and welded into a tube of the correct diameter for these smaller lamps, leaving about the same amount of metal showing around the lamp when it is mounted to the finished nacelle. I probably could have saved myself this effort by buying some truck-sized exhaust pipe! Note that each indicator is vertically above the brake light (which requires the chrome strip on a Varitone to be cut) and set back about an inch. This looks better to my eye than having them offset (to avoid cutting the chrome).

On the front, the same lamps are simply mounted on the mudguard on a rubber pad that has been sliced to follow the contour of the panel to ensure that the lamps are vertical and facing correctly forward.

Rear Overriders

If I was doing up another Magnette, I would weld on the bolt that holds the rear over-riders to the bumper bar. Normally these are held on with domed-headed bolts that clip into a special squared-off slot cut into the over-rider bracket. If loose, the over-rider can actually fall off the car as one of mine did, never to be seen again. In searching for a replacement, I found out to my surprise that on the rear of the cars, the ZA over-riders are mounted in a different position to the ZB (who would have thought it) and so have a different sized semi-circular cut-out on the sides which face the numberplate. On the ZA it is smaller as the over-riders are closer together.


There are lots of different pieces of carpet! Without the originals to copy from, it would be easy to make a new set of carpets to an entirely incorrect pattern. Perhaps this doesn't matter, but in case it does, I've laid out and photographed my original carpets in more or less the way they fit into the car. If in doubt, buy a set already cut correctly from Lou Shorten!

Setting the doors

John Park from Ontario in Canada asked about adjusting the doors on the MG Enthusiasts Magnette Bulletin Board in July 2006. This was my advice:

Ah! The dreaded doors! Many a happy hour did I spend trying to get my doors to look as they must have when new (or maybe they didn't?). You will need a pencil to mark the outline of the hinges on your new paint so you can see any adjustments you make. You will also need to have, at least, the rubbers fitted to the pinchweld around each door opening, you will need a good sized Phillips head screwdriver (preferably one with a hex head that you can fit a socket spanner to) and you might even need some shim materials. Then you will need plenty of time, a comfortable stool, lots of patience and some good luck

Note that the doors do not adjust forwards, but they do go up and down (the down movement is the easiest and great care needs to be take that a door doesn't drop when you loosen off the screws or that new paint will be chipped!), and they can be packed out if necessary to close up or open out gaps along their rear edges. And of course they rotate around either of their hinge positions.

I suggest you start with a front doors and use the sill as the datum line, ie move the door outwards so that the bottom edge lines up with the sill. If you tighten the lower hinge so that it can still be moved a bit (one bolt only should be quite firm, the other three can be loose) and then rotate the door until the top of the trailing edge lines up with the top edge of the B-pillar. Take care that none of the edges catch on the car. I found that you need to keep the hinge bolts firm otherwise the position can be lost (hence the pencil), so firm that you can't move them unless the door is wide open and then you can lift or lean on the door itself to move the hinge position. Once the door is well positioned, you can then locate the locking plate to suit. I also found that on at least one door the position moved a bit when all the hinge bolts were tight, ie only having one or two tight was not necessarily giving you the correct final position of the door.

Once you have a front door in place, the rear door follows only this time you need to line it up with the sill, the trailing edge of the front door, the trailing edge of the B-pillar and the leading edge of the rear mudguard.

One last word of warning - be very careful opening an unrestrained rear door - they crease against the trailing edge of the front door very easily. It is possibly best to have the restraining straps in place, even though this makes adjusting them a bit harder to do.

Bonnet stops - an innovative solution

The bonnet stops are an intriguing design. At first glance it looks as though the ones attached to the bonnet itself are designed to locate the bonnet and stop it rattling from side to side. In fact, they don't do this. As far as I can work out, all they do is provide a rubber rest for the bonnet when it is closed, to stop it from banging down on the front splash panel. And the small pads bolted to the very bottom of the mudguards do something similar - they allow the bonnet to rest against them and not rattle on the mudguards. I saw an innovative modification to these recently and photographed them for future reference. You can see that a roller rubber system has replaced the rubbers on the bonnet and some metal slides have been added on each side of the radiator so that the bonnet is tightly located when shut.

The last word

One final comment. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about any aspect of the restoration of Alison, you can write to me at PO Box 3031, Weston, ACT, 2611, AUSTRALIA, or email me at "musgrovemedia at netspeed dot com dot au" - sorry about the longhand, but my email address is already overrun by the spammers so I try to avoid writing the address in the usual way on the web.

 I made a new filter for the pick-up pipe in the fuel tank out of very fine stainless mesh soldered to the plug at one end and a washer at the other

On the road With a 3.9 diff, a five-speed gearbox, and an 1800 cc engine, driving a Magnette is a rewarding experience

There is no need to be intimidated by the speedo despite all the parts you can see in this photo. It's all pretty straight forward, really

After much agonising about where to put the rev counter, a small panel has been attached below the heater controls

Here are two close up photos showing the rear lamp cluster and the newly fitted L539 amber turn indicator lamps.

You can see the indicator lamp nacelles have been located to be vertically above the brake lamp and set back about an inch (2.5 cms)

The old set It is unlikely that a modern upholsterer would do the carpets in the original manner - there are just too many ways to cut the 22 pieces without a pattern.

The normal rubber stop on the bonnet has been replaced with an innovative roller system

As the bonnet closes, the rubber roller runs down this curved rest fastened near to the base of the radiator to ensure that the bonnet is located firmly in position.

  • bonnet stop-rest
  • bonnet stop-roller
  • carpets-the old set

  • fuel pick up filter
  • indicators 1
  • indicators 2

  • on the road
  • speedo disassembled
  • tacho

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