Part 3 – Epithany
As you’ll no doubt see from the above title, I have been daydreaming far too much about this whole MGF project. Far, far too much. And now I have gone and designed a bloomin’ logo for it! Good grief, I’ll be giving the car a name next. Oh, I’ve done that already. Ah. But some of this daydreaming has been for the better, as I have been solidifying exactly what I want to aim for with the project. As the budget stands, I am still inside the 1 grand working fund that I promised to keep within with Chairman Tim (of the MGF Register). The idea of keeping the costs down is very attractive; I am not going to be building a F1 contender after all! And nor am I a Lewis Hamilton behind the wheel, so that’s fair enough too.
With the focusing of ideas, I have thrashed out what the car’s final spec will be for its first incarnation (you’ll notice I say first incarnation, as I anticipate that the car will evolve over time as ideas and cash become available – a good project is never really finished). Using whatever standard engine comes to hand first – be that a 1.8 litre MPi or VVC – the car will derive its performance from less weight. So that means no interior, heater, stereo or any other superfluous trim. Out will go the standard seats to be replaced with lightweight racing items (a pair of slightly scabby Cobra buckets have been secured from Fleabay for the princely sum of 30 quid). I shall retain the windscreen too – which means more weight in terms of glass and wipers etc, but I shall investigate glass fibre replacement panels and polycarbonate side windows to off-set this penalty.
In fact, quite a lot of what I have in mind for Project Shed draws inspiration from the Vehicle Handling Solutions’ stripped out sprint car, seen pictured right in action:
Intriguingly, this car uses glass fibre boot lid, doors and bonnet: these were all off-the-shelf MG Sport and Racing panels when the car was first built, and as mentioned above, is something that I am very keen to get replicated on Shed. Unfortunately and somewhat frustratingly, I don’t think that they are available any more following the collapse of MG Rover in 2005, a great shame not least because it leaves me with the problem of attempting to source them from somewhere else. But I have some ideas as to who may be able to come up with comparable panels…
As pictured below, the VHS Sprint car also has a stripped out interior – which very much mirrors the appearance of Project Shed’s at the moment – so that is going to be easy to achieve…
… and the really interesting bit is that they’ve got the weight down to around 900kg! Now I don’t think that I am going to quite achieve that as the plan is to keep the Shed road-worthy – which means keeping electrical items such as lamps, indicators etc etc, which the VHS car does proudly without. But perhaps 950kg is attainable? A standard MGF weighs in at 1075kg – so that’d be close to a 125kg (nearly 12%) weight shaving. A very useful saving I think you’ll agree – especially when you start to look at the power (and torque) to weight ratios and compare this with far more expensive machinery.
The other interesting feature of the VHS sprint car is its aerodynamic package. I have written before about the MGTF 200HPD project that was undertaken jointly between MG Rover and MIRA (read more here). Much work was done on that car to improve the aerodynamic lift characteristics and reduce drag, and having spoken to one of the engineers at MIRA, I am convinced that this is the way to go. It is no co-incidence that the VHS car uses the same principles; the VHS chaps worked with the MIRA team on the project (VHS comprising, as it does, former MG Rover chassis engineers) and were therefore privy to the wind tunnel results. Consequently a 200HPD-like aero-package has been applied to their Sprint car, and what you see below is the result:
Again, this ought not be too difficult to apply to Project Shed.
But enough day dreaming, where have I got to with the Shed?
From small beginnings…
First – good news! After much F’ing and blinding, sweat and tears, some significant amount of WD40 and careful application of wanton violence, the spare wheel is finally free! It looks as though the spare wheel well received something of a knock at some stage, distorting its shape and putting the retaining screw under rather a lot of tension. But now the spare is free, and ready to join its friends in the wild (a small herd of 14" steel wheels has been reported on Hampstead Heath recently – err – perhaps I should lay off the red wine for a while?).
Obviously removing the spare wheel means less weight, but rather more importantly it also means that I can now get on with cutting a great big hole in it to introduce 200HPD style front-end aerodynamics by venting the radiator through the bonnet (as also pictured on the VHS Sprint car above). More on these developments (and more!) in future instalments of your favourite MG Car Club Magazine.
The next stop was the braking system (unintended pun, sorry). I have now removed all four brake callipers: these will be serviced by Tech-speed motor sport and receive a thorough clean up and all-new seals. This is, remember, going to be a competition car, so sub-standard braking components are not an option. When the brakes are eventually rebuilt, I shall be using braided hoses in an effort to get the best possible pedal feel. You may be surprised to hear that the plan is to retain the standard-sized 240mm rotors front and rear rather than to upgrade the front to AP 304mm rotors and 4-pot callipers and the VHS rear 288mm conversion. There are two reasons for this. First is that I intend to use Mintex 1177 racing pads, and I know from experience that their performance is simply brilliant on standard-sized rotors. Second is cost – both in terms to upgrade to new brakes, but also in terms of tyres; I intend to keep 15" rims. I could pretend that this is all down to my keenness to keep a low un-sprung mass; 15" MGF rims are a good deal lighter than MGF Trophy or TF160 11-spoke alloys and certainly this decision will have a beneficial impact in that direction, but in reality the verdict is more down to the choice of tyres. Tyres for 15" rims a good deal cheaper than the equivalent for 16" – for example, the cheapest price I’ve found so far for a set of 4 Toyo R888 195/55R15s came in at 280 quid whereas the same tyre in 16" form would be 400 notes (source: http://www.pistonheads.com/SALES/159649.htm), over 40% more. Essentially, the reasons for keeping 15" wheels are pretty compelling economically – I know I’d rather have a set of sweet 16"s, but I don’t think that there is a sufficient performance benefit in going down that route to justify all the costs involved.
As the Shed was originally a VVC before the maniacal Mini enthusiast stripped out the engine, this is an MGF that was originally equipped with ABS as standard. I have not touched the ABS as yet. Some say that for racing purposes, you don’t want ABS – but unless you are a demon at cadence braking, there are strong arguments for maintaining the system in terms of keeping you on the black stuff and out of the kitty litter. Returning to the weight argument, although the pump/ECU and the harness certainly add weight, to remove the system would necessitate replacement of a fair amount of pipe work – quite a phaff in other words – so the final decision on this will have to wait until a spares car is identified and purchased, not least because the donor will almost certainly have to supply all the necessary replacement braking components (master cylinder, front left and front right brake pipes, plus the brake pipe for the rear brakes via the bias valve).
Rear Subframe away!
The rear subframe has now also been removed. This proved to be childishly easy; as collected, the Shed’s subframe wasn’t even bolted to the car, but rather the car was simply resting on top of it – hence providing the somewhat ‘interesting’ rear-wheel steering encountered when we were trying to manoeuvre it onto the trailer. To facilitate removal of the rear subframe, all we had to do was disconnect the Hydragas interconnection pipes and the subframe was free to be rolled out of the way. This has resulted in the Shed looking somewhat forlorn, suspended in mid-air on axle stands, waiting to be brought back to life. Hopefully that time should not be too far away.
The first step of body work renovation has been the fitting of a replacement driver’s side front wing. Let’s remind ourselves of the true horror of the condition of the original – pictured below (those with an aversion to ferrous oxide should look away now)…
Again an ebay purchase, the replacement panel is in a fetching shade of Alumina green – a colour that I’ve always rather liked. Of course, that’s irrelevant, and looks a bit weird on a British Racing Green (paint code HAM) car, but as it is rather less rotten than the panel it replaces, whose complaining? And thanks to the ‘United colours of Benetton’ appearance of mismatched body panel colours (VW Polo Harlequin anybody?), the car retains that lived-in "sheddy" look that’s clearly so important to maintain. May be.
Thanks to that one sheared-off wing retaining bolt in the headlamp closing panel that I mentioned in the previous instalment, this wasn’t quite the case of a bit of Mechano-spannering that the car’s designers’ had intended. Attempts to remove the retained part of damaged bolt end failed, so all that remained to do was to drill out the bolt and tap a new thread – something that I haven’t done in years, and was immensely satisfying when I was able to screw in a new replacement bolt to complete the wing replacement. Funny how something like this can prove to be such a highlight (err – perhaps I should get some more red wine?).
Picture left – ‘new’ alumina green front wing and inset, the offending but now replaced, retaining bolt. Note too (main picture) the garden shears in the headlamp panel and the fir-tree leaves on the windscreen – for surely, this is a Garden Shed…
A DIY wing replacement guide is now on-line here.
The evil that is EBAY
Still, no time to hang around, on to the next job! Scouring ebay revealed the occasional bargain. As it happens, I have come to the conclusion that there are three classes of motoring tat advertised on fleabay, and whether you like it or not, I’ll share this epiphany with you now. The first is the genuine bargain – they’re out there, but they are few and far between. Then there’s the apparent bargain; the purchase price is reasonable, but then you’re stung for the postage. I can only imagine that the wrapping is made of gold leaf and bound with platinum inlayed with precious stones – which clearly some thieving scum bag has pilfered before you received the outsize mass of recycled cardboard, shredded news paper and 6 metres worth of parcel tape. This brings me round to the third, really annoying class of tat; the overoptimistic, overpriced ‘buy it now’ or the auction with ‘no reserve’, but with a daft starting bid of a billion pounds. I think that some people live on another planet, but perhaps there is someone out there willing to pay neigh-on new prices for the privilege of playing the "lottery of the ‘bay"? Or perhaps I am becoming a grumpy old man…
Well, rant temporarily suspended, it quickly became apparent to me that if I were to buy all the required replacement parts required to get Project Shed back into a running condition from ebay, the rebuild budget would be blown before even a third of what was required could be sourced. What is really needed here was a donor car. A car that has been smashed, but leaving the mechanicals largely intact… Given that the MGF has squishy occupants to protect those valuable engine and transmission parts from the oh-so-common frontal collision, a suitable vehicle ought not be that difficult to find should it?
Finding a donor
So I put out some feelers – and found a number of potential sources, but buying a complete car proved very difficult from usual scrap merchants; for them selling the car in parts is far more profitable than selling a whole car. Eventually I came across a very nice chap called Steve (mobile 077660 14017) who buys sports cars from the local salvage auctions and then breaks them for a living (he’s usually got a couple of MGFs in for breaking and has very reasonable prices, so is probably worth a call if you need some part or other). He saw the potential of what I was doing, and was prepared to sell me a ‘donor’. Great! He and the car in question are in Wiltshire, and I am in North London: not quite so great.
So yes, I’d need a trailer again. I chatted to Tim Woolcott for a second time on matters attached to tow-hooks – and this time we both reckoned that his Caterham-hauling trailer would not be up to the 250mile round trip carrying what would this time be a full-weight MGF. I am beginning to think that I need to put a tow hook on my MG ZTT – a decision that has been put back on the back burner as fortunately our mutual friend in the MGs on Track community, Dick Owen, came to the rescue with an offer of both his tow car and trailer. Dick regaled us with tales of MG-building (he’s competed in an MGA in the Classic Monte Carlo Rally; the car built within a year for the purpose after the application for the event was accepted – now there’s a motivating deadline to work towards), sailing daring-do and women (about whom are tales probably best not printed here) on the way down to Wiltshire to collect MG Shed #2. This was quite an entertaining day out – which included an able demonstration of how well a Vauxhall Zafira can run on fuel fumes whilst towing a twin axle trailer – but I’ll spare you the detail. At the end of the day, I am now the proud owner of not one, not two, but three MGFs!!! Admittedly, only one is road worthy, but there can’t be many people with so many MGFs sitting on their drive (well, their in-law’s drive if I am being honest, but probably less said about that the better, ahem). That said the third MGF (Shed #2) is destined for the scrap man’s crusher once it has yielded all the necessary parts. You can see Shed #2 below – ain’t she a beauty? More on the strip down of Shed #2 next time!
Last picture (right) – Shed #2 finally in its new home – note shed #1 in the back ground (behind, appropriately enough, the recycling bin)…
... and great – just what I needed. Look, another spare wheel…