John's MGA V8 Project - John is attempting the conversion of a MGA to a Buick/Rover aluminum block V8. The MGA John is using was in extremely bad shape and probably would not have been saved otherwise.
Over the past few years Iíve built or had a hand in building at least six MGB V8ís. Iíve always had a pretty nice and quick MGA, but I really wanted more power like those B V8ís. A couple of years ago I decided that it was time to build a V8 for myself. An MGA V8!
(click on each image to enlarge pictures)
Can this MGA be saved?
started buying parts a few at a time. First
it was the engine. I was told of a
place in Wisconsin (later youíll see why I chose to forget some of the details
of this trip) that had a Buick aluminum 215 V8 for $400.
I contacted the owner of the salvage yard, sent him a $200 down payment
so he knew that I really wanted the engine and had him pull it.
was sure he had it pulled, I planned a road trip over a weekend to pick it up. Mike Fishman, Rich Berger, and I left on a Friday night, in a
truck that I borrowed from another friend, for this salvage yard in Wisconsin.
We enjoyed a very nice dinner in Springfield, IL and then spent the night
somewhere in southern Wisconsin.
donít quite remember what month it was, but it was down right COLD and the
snow was pretty deep. We arrived at
the salvage (junk!) yard at a previously agreed to time only to find that we
could not find the owner right away. We
had to wait for him in one of his buildings that was stuffed, stacked, piled,
scattered, and who knows what else with all kinds of just plain JUNK.
However, it was a bit warmer standing next to his potbelly stove than
outside in the snow. When he
finally did grace us with his presence, I paid him the balance for the engine
(big mistake) and went to load it in the truck.
He said it was sitting outside the building under a tarp and had a helper
go fetch a tractor to lift it into the truck for us.
I jokingly said, ďHey, it canít be that heavy, itís all
aluminum!Ē We pulled the tarp off
to find a filthy, nasty, and very RUSTY engine.
Just about that time I realized that aluminum engines donít rust!
What we had was a cast iron Buick 340 engine.
Not what I was looking for at all. With
that, the first words out of the ownerís mouth were ďNobody said nothiní
about a Ďluminum motor!Ē I was
starting to get a bit ticked off and after a minute I figured he just pulled the
wrong engine. No problem, he can
get the right one while we wait. I
wound up slogging through about eighteen inches of snow, in the cold, with this
junk yard ownerís flunky worker looking for a car with an engine that just
wasnít there. All the while, Rich
and Mike were sitting with the owner in his potbelly-stove-heated junk shed
listening to him say, ďNobody said nothiní about no Ďluminum motorĒ over
and over again.
finally decided to leave and let this guy see if he could find me an engine when
the snow melted in the spring, as I wasnít in a big hurry and since I was just
trying to get parts together at the moment.
About six months later, I finally got $200 back and no engine. I felt lucky I got that much back! I then found out that John Perkins had a good engine he would
sell me for $200 and IT WAS IN TOWN!!
came the transmission and the bell housing. As
luck would have it, I found them on Ebay and almost lost them as I had never
bought anything on Ebay and forgot to look to see if I had the highest bid. After receiving a nasty e-mail message from the seller for
not holding up my end of the deal, I e-mailed him and explained that I had never
done this before. We finally got it
all straightened out and I got the transmission, bell housing, and TWO shifters
for one great price.
the car! Fast forward about two
yearsÖ Originally I was going to
convert my 1960 MGA that I was driving on a pretty regular basis. The only problem was that I really hated to tear into a nice
car to rebuild it since it did run and drive great. The only alternative was to sell it and buy something else.
The sale went quick as I had gotten a call to look at a car at a dealer
in town. After find out the person
on the phone wanted me to look at a 1960 MGA that was for sale at a ridiculously
high price, I mentioned that I had one for sale about $8000 less.
e-mailing a bunch of photos and a few phone calls, we planned a meeting in
Champagne, IL at the Champagne British Car Festival over the Memorial Day
weekend. He loved the car and said he would come to St Louis in a
couple of weeks to pick it up. This
is a whole lot different story in itself. The
sale went through and I was off looking for a new MGA.
looked on Ebay, the MG BBS, in the newspaper, in different club newsletters Ė
everything I saw was much more than I wanted to spend.
I didnít want to buy a nice car and rework it as that is what I already
had. The other inexpensive ones
that I found were usually on the East or West coasts and I didnít want to go
on that much of a road trip.
Then I talked to Dennis Scanlan. Dennis had two or three MGAs that he had gotten out of a warehouse in East St Louis that was about to be torn down. He had them stored at his parentsí house in Grey Summit, MO. After a trip to visit the cars on a cold, wet March morning, I decided on one car to be mine. I still had to make room at the shop to be able to bring this car home to begin the transformation.
Finally, I got the room. Itís July 4, 2003. I have a plan and people to help me get the new car. Ken Biermann and his friend Tim from Atlanta, Rich Berger, Drew Gilmer, Charlie Maguire, and I met up with Dennis at his parentsí home to rescue my new MGA on this steamy July morning. After chopping weeds that had grown up in front of the shed that the MGA was in, we had a plan to extricate the hulk from within. Since the doorway was overgrown with weeds, the ground was soft and wet, and there were a bunch of other things in the way, we had to take the car over the part of the foundation to get it removed. We placed a couple of ramps then rolled her out of the shed into the weeds. She was finally on her way home to begin the fun.
First found in the barn Rich helping clear the weeds
Getting it loaded on the trailer No engine. No anything!
Floorboards? What floorboards? The entire interior was in the boot!
The transformation begins...
The first order of business was to
remove the body and inspect the frame for rot.
Oh yes, plenty of rot in the frame and body!
Oh well, I didnít want to start with a pristine car and wreck it with a
V8 conversion. With the body off,
it was time to try to fit the engine and transmission to see what had to be cut
out and/or removed. First were the
floor rails at the transmission mount, and then it was the motor mounts. After these were removed and the engine set in place, blocked
with wood, I then fabricated front and rear engine mounts from scratch using
other V8 parts for ideas.
Initial fitting of the V8 Motor mount fabrication Modification of chassis for exhaust
Next came the exhaust headers, I modified the goal post struts and moved them outboard about two inches so the headers could be relatively easily removed. Then came the steering rack. It was moved forward about 2 ĹĒ and tilted down at the rear. I added a pillowblock and steering joint from a Volvo, which had an extra u-joint. The steering was finally in place.
Steering with Volvo pillowblock Steering rack behind header
The transmission tunnel was next. First I was going to fabricate a completely new tunnel, but after looking at the original one I realized that I could transform it into one that would work for me. A few nip and tucks and a few spot welds here and there was all it took. I made the tunnel so it will be able to be removed so work can be done on the transmission or clutch without removing the engine!
T-5 transmission initial fit Modified transmission tunnel Fitted with gearshift
Now, on to the initial bodywork.
With the front half of the body tub in place, I found that I had to metal
work the front inner fenders so the headers would clear.
I had an idea to make removable panels within the front inner fenders
that can be removed to access the sides of the engine.
With that done, Iím now working on mounting the radiator to clear the
front of the engine. This will
require cutting and modifying the panel just behind the grille and the front
crossmember that the front bumper attaches to, to make it all fit.
Itís almost Thanksgiving.
I have the radiator mocked up, wheels ordered, and am looking for more
time to work on the fun stuff so in the meanwhile; Iíll work on the paying
All this time, Iím trying to figure
out if I want to use a Volvo rear end assembly with rear disk brakes or not.
Since shopping for the rear end is another story.
Testing placement The placement is pretty good!
As I left off last month, the engine and
transmission fitted and the radiator mocked up. Well the radiator mock up didn't
work out as I thought it would. I got an idea to use a late model MGB radiator
like the V8 MGB guys do, turn the upper and lower tanks around make larger inlet
and outlets and install a much needed draincock in the lower tank! As it all
turned out, the radiator will be removable from the bottom as it is too wide to
come up through the hood opening. To accomplish this task, I had to modify the
front lower frame section so the radiator could pass through. Then I had to
fabricate new radiator mounting baffles and cut loose then rotate and reweld a
cross member so it would clear a front mounted electric cooling fan. Not wanting
to spend the $80.00 odd dollars for a new front bulkhead panel, I decided to
fabricate a new one, as I just knew it would have to be modified anyway. Sure
enough, after fitting the radiator and fan assemblies, I had to find a way to
get more air through the radiator. After some fiddling and fussing I made a few
cuts and a couple of extra pieces and did a little welding, now the bulkhead
panel curves downward and makes a nice scoop into the radiator.
the mean time my wheels came in from the MG Owners Club parts line in England. I
found a set of Minilites that really tickled my fancy. Originally I was going to
fit 17" x 7" 2003 Mustang "Bullit" wheels with a five bolt
pattern. When I figured out that the only way they were going to fit was to have
adaptors made and the adaptors would make the wheels set too far out past the
wheel openings, I had to find something else. So after lots and lots of
searching, I found THE set of Minilites that I liked the best and they are
15" x 5.5" so I know they'll fit fine!
I've also decided to use the MGB brake / clutch master cylinder assembly. This will make it easier to incorporate the MGB electric brake light switch as well as dual line braking for safety. When I finished making this assembly fit, I found that the original MGA windshield wiper motor assembly would not fit in the original place. What to do now? I wound up using a MGB unit and mounting it on the passenger side of the bulkhead, now I'll have TWO SPEED windshield wipers!
OK, I finally did use a Volvo rear end assembly. A trip to Speedway Auto Salvage by Robert Rushing and Bill Fox found the correct Volvo rear end assembly. Would they stick around until the rear end could be removed? NO!!! It seems that Bill didn't want to put that filthy, greasy, dripping old part it the back of his clean Land Rover. Go figure! Robert tied an old rag on the antenna of the car so I would be able to find it among the sea of other cars. The following weekend, I gathered up some tools, my wife Carol and I went to Speedway to retrieve the part. On this cold blustery Saturday in early December, I thought I would pull the rear end out of the car myself. Carol was smart and stayed in the car. It took me about half an hour to find the correct car, even with the rag tied to the antenna. It turned out that the car that I wanted was in the middle of all the other cars around it and sitting almost flat on the ground with no wheels. I'm not sure how Robert got under the car to make sure it had the correct gears. Now, I'm not going to crawl around on that cold ground and take out this rear end!! I'll ask the salvage guys to do it and pay a little extra. They tell me I'll have to wait till they get done with their lunch. So I stand there, in the cold and watch them eat. I didn't want to leave because I didn't want to get out of line and have someone else get ahead of me. Now, I don't know how these guys could sit there, in the cold, and eat / enjoy their lunch but, somehow they did and still worked with customers selling parts and answering questions. They were a bit snarly at times but seemed to have a good time. After what seemed like hours, the main guy had ME find a worker that was sitting in a WARM van eating his lunch and tell him that lunch time was over and take me to show him which car I wanted. Naturally, he cussed that the car was the one in the middle then left to get a HUGE articulating forklift to start moving cars. He finally got to my car and carried it up front and put it on a big rack with about five other cars that were waiting till after lunch, to have parts removed. I went and sat in the car with Carol. It was WARM!! As Carol and I were sitting in the car, I saw Bob Bentzinger and Walt Murphy coming out of the salvage yard. We watched as they finally got to work on removing the rear end, what a sight! The only tool they used was a cutting torch! When they were done, they said to bring my vehicle in a pick it up. I saw this filthy, greasy, oil dripping and in places HOT piece of crud, lying there, I didn't want to put it in the back of MY, clean car!!! Thank the Lord! Walt suggested that we put it in his pickup and he would bring it home for me. Thanks again Walt!
After a few
quick measurements, I found that this rear end would not fit my car as someone
said it would. It needs to be narrowed. About five inches! This is ok as I'll be
able to have it cut to length to use the wheels the wheels I bought already. Ken
Biermann found the name of a place to have the rear end narrowed at a reasonable
cost. The shop name is B&D Fabrications, located in Villa Ridge, Missouri. I
called and talked to Brian, the owner. Brian said he could narrow the axle
housing, shorten, respline and redrill the axles to accept the MGB wheels all
for around $250.00. As it turned out however, he did have to charge extra for
some tooling he had to make special for the Volvo axles. The total then came to
$425.00 but it did include the tooling and two new brake rotors. Since Iíve
paid for the tooling, the next rear end he does will only be the original
$250.00. He also said that since the Volvo rear end is a Dana 30 style, he could
replace the gear set with a positraction unit and set it all up for around
$500.00. As the Volvo rear end is so robust and they almost never break, at
$100.00 for a used unit plus narrowing and the positraction unit, its still
cheaper than buying a limited slip unit to fit the MGB rear end.
to the body work.
I was able to cut the inner wheel panels to make them removable as I had mentioned earlier. After much discussion with a few friends one night at the shop about just exactly how to accomplish this, out came the old plasma cutter and the cut was made. Next I had to fabricate a flange to attach the cut out piece to. With the flange all welded in place, some shrinking, stretching and all around hammering done I only have to attach captive nuts to hold it all in place.
With the inner fender removed Access panel in place
these jobs, Iíve been thinking about how Iím going to lay out the dashboard
configuration and what Iím going to do for a wiring harness. The dashboard
will have to wait as I did decide to make my own wiring harness. This should be
interesting, as Iíve replaced plenty wiring harnesses but never made one from
scratch. For this one I started by finding out what wire colors are in the MGA
then ordering the individual wires from British Wiring. British Wiring seems to
be THE place to get the correct wires for the MG as well as all the correct
connectors and they were very helpful.
Checking dash fit and layout
Its now New Years Eve, I have not yet received the wiring supplies but they should be in soon. Robert Rushing and I just picked up the rear end from B & D Fabrications and it looks great. So, until next year, Happy New Year and Happy Motoring, John
My MG V8
Happy New Year!
Last month I had picked up the Volvo rear end from the machine shop, cut the front inner panels for engine access, started the dashboard layout and ordered the wiring for the harness.
Since then I rough finished the inner panels, (they still have to have the welds ground smooth and some final fitting), fitted the rear end, fabricated (reworked) hand brake cables, made up the driveshaft, got the dashboard layout figured out, the dashboard materials bought and the wiring came in. Lots of wire!
Fitting the rear end was pretty much straight forward. I had to cut the mounting plates from the MGA rear end assembly and weld them to the Volvo part. Then I had to fabricate the hand brake cable mounting brackets and since the Volvo axle tubes are larger in diameter I had to have some larger u-bolts made up. The original mounting brackets had to be cut off the Volvo rear end so it could be narrowed.
Freshly installed shortened Volvo rear-end Mounting brackets and new U-bolts
The driveshaft was another debacle. As I had the rear u-joint flange that came with the Volvo rear end, all I had to do was come up with the front flange for the T5 Camaro gear box and get the connecting tube to put the two flanges together. No problem, right? Wrong! After some research, I found that there were about a gazillion different cars that had the right flange then, I made a trip to Taylorís salvage yard to look for a driveshaft flange that would work. I passed up on a complete driveshaft that was lying on the ground (I wasnít sure if it was the right one) and opted for a flange that was already cut and still sticking in the transmission.
While at Taylorís I looked for a higher output alternator to use in the MGA. I found one on a Chevy Astro van that looks like it will work. Total cost for the flange and alternator, $30.00. Good deal. I then mocked up the pieces and measured to get the correct driveshaft length. Now off to the shop that will make the driveshaft.
The guy behind the counter didnít like the way I measured for the length. After some discussion we agreed on a length. Now he has to figure the cost. When he was done looking up the pieces on his computer, pieces, I thought all he needed was a piece of tube to join the two flanges. No way! It was pieces. His finger was like lightening on his calculator and when he was finished I would have sworn he told me $91.00 for the job and that it would be done in about two days.
To make a long story short, we miscommunicated on the cost. It would turn out to be $291.00! Thankfully I found out the real cost before he could complete any work. I then made another trip to Taylorís, picked up the driveshaft that I had passed on earlier, took it back to the shop and had the driveshaft cut to the proper length and welded back together in less than two hours. Total cost for the driveshaft now, still $30.00 (including the alternator) plus some time spent running around. I now only have to get the assembly balanced.
New drive shaft flange at differential
Now, on to the handbrake cable. I was thinking ( bad move ) that I would get a new cable from Volvo. I then found that the cable that I needed was actually two cables and they cost about $60.00 each! As I was not sure that these cables would even work, I thought it was time for a trip to the salvage yard, again. An hour plus $13.00 later, I had the two cables in hand and heading for the shop to get to work. I then fabricated the cable mounting brackets and welded them in place. ďThis looks good ďBut, the cables are too long. One, only about six inches, the other about three feet. How do I shorten them?
Sometimes the easiest solutions are the most difficult to achieve. I must have spent four or five hours on the internet and the telephone looking for someone that could, or would shorten my cables. Most everyone wanted to make me new cables. But, how do I attach them to the brackets?
Fellow club member, Mike Tutas happened to call me one day and I ask him if he knew anyone that could shorten the cables. Mike made a few suggestions then he told me how he used to shorten brake cables when he built dune buggies. The procedure is soooo simple and works great. Mike explained that all I had to do was cut the cable to length, drill a hole the size of the cable into the center of a ľĒ bolt (the bolt will be used for an adjustment point), insert the cable then smash the bolt. It works great! Thanks for the tip Mike! I then added an extra mounting point and made another piece to join the two cables into one so they would work with the MGA brake handle.
Cables shortened with bolts Cable routing around differential Cable routing overview
Now, with the inner panels fitted, the driveshaft, rear end and handbrake cables in place, I think its time to take it all apart and start the body and frame restoration.Its now almost Valentines Day. So, until next time, Happy Motoring, John
Mesh grill for better air flow Still have a lot of work to go on that grill The possible color combo
Progress has been slow. Iíve been tinkering with the body work, fitting panels, and reworking fenders that most people would have thrown in the junk pile. In fact, I think most of the body panels should have been thrown in junk pile with the exception of the bonnet. The right front fender, for instance, was so rusted that I had to rebuild about half of it.
The left door is made up of two doors. One door had a rotted-out frame, but a good outer skin; and the other door had a good frame, but a terrible outer skin. I removed the skins and replaced the bad skin with the good one. It sounds a lot simpler than it really is. The door skin has a flange that is crimped around the door frame to hold it together. This flange needs to be straightened so the skin can be removed then it has to be re-crimped around the frame to hold it on. The problem is when straightening the flange; it is actually being ďwork hardenedĒ, making it brittle and subject to cracking. If the flange cracks, it has to be welded; and welding on the edge of a door is not always a good thing. Did I mention that the door skin is made of aluminum and the frame is steel? This makes the job a lot more difficult.
Due to other obligations, I have not made any progress in some time. Fortunately, at the December 2004 MG club meeting, I was shamed into finally getting back to work on my car when our chairman, Bob Bentzinger, asked how my car was coming along in front of everyone and I had no update for the third month in a row! Since that meeting, Iíve finished the junk fender, repaired the doors, replaced all the rusted parts, straightened the bent parts which included all the fenders, both the doors, the trunk lid, and the front and rear body surrounds. The bonnet was the only thing that did not need a load of work so I went out and had a bunch of louvers punched into it.
I have also made new mounting brackets for the grill as the radiator fits so close to the front that I canít get my hand in to bold the grill in its original place. The body work is completed and itís in complete primer, about ready for paint. Iím going to wait until I have the frame finished to do the paint because I donít like to leave a painted body sitting around and take a chance on scratching it. Besides, the paint thing is a whole different storyÖ
Now that I have the body in primer, the next thing will be to finish the frame. I do have all of the modifications made to the frame, but I still have to repair the rust, replace all of the floorboard rails, and paint it.
Two steps forward
three steps back!
I think the last time I wrote an article, I had just finished priming the body shell. Well, a lot has happened since then. As I write this, the car, which now has a name ( Iíll explain later) is sitting in my shop, on jack stands, with the transmission out and torn apart on the bench, waiting for parts. The body work and painting is all finished the top is fitted, engine is in, wiring harness is almost complete, the stereo sounds fantastic, and most of the interior is in place. The assembly of the frame, body, engine, suspension etc. went very smoothly.
The color of paint that I was going to use was to be Black Tulip. This was a dark purple that was used on BMC cars in the mid to late 60s. When I painted a test panel, I found that I liked the color inside the shop; but when I looked at it outside, in direct sunlight, I didnít like it at all. It was just too purple. Over the next few months, I must have looked at hundreds of color chips for the color I had in mind and I was not seeing it. I finally settled on a color and had it mixed. The mix was not even close to the chip so I worked with the person at the paint store, together, we came up with just the color I was looking for. This color is such a dark purple that, in some light it looks black or brown. In fact it looks like an eggplant. When people ask what color it is, I tell them ďI call it Aborigine or MelanzaneĒ. Aborigine is (MG) British for eggplant; Melanzane is Italian (hence I decided to call the car ďMelĒ).
we get to the three steps backÖ..
The radiator was already fitted but, had to be connected to the engine. I called on the professionals at American Radiator for their help. They suggested that I use 1 ĹĒ copper pipe and fittings to connect the radiator and engine with short lengths of rubber hose.
I know how difficult it can be to find the perfectly formed radiator hose when stuck along side the road with a broken hose so, their idea to use short lengths of hose is a great idea. Once I had the pipes fitted and marked, I sent them along with the radiator to be silver soldered and the radiator re-cored with a high efficiency radiator core and a much needed drain cock. When all was done, it was time to fire the engine up and see how it cooled. The first thing we smelled was smoke. I forgot to attach a grounding strap from the engine to the frame. The electrical system decided to ground through the stainless steel covered hydraulic lines. Needless to say, it got hot! Really hot!! I had to replace the lines and added a grounding strap. It all works fine now.
The engine started and it got hot too. The one thing I forgot to do was install a bleeder screw into the highest point in the cooling system so all of the air could be purged. As you might or might not know, air in the cooling system will not let the water flow as it should. I located the high point, drilled a hole and silver soldered a bleeder in place. The last time I ran the engine the outside temperature was about 100 degrees that day, but the water temperature never got over about 190 degrees!
I had to build the wiring harness from scratch as I felt that it would be foolish to start with a new, store bought one, only to change it to accommodate all of the added electrical options and the V8 engine. Plus not to mention the great stereo system I wanted to install. With the help of my friend, Kevin Maguire, we took a Saturday installing the stereo along with a sub-woofer located where the driverís side battery used to go, the custom speakers in the doors, as well as tweeters.
Trying to find a place for all of the wires was another job in itself. As I routed the wires across the floor, I stapled them under the carpet to the floorboards. I didnít notice that one of the staples went through a wire and grounded to the frame until later. With the new harness almost complete and everything working, (except for the windshield wipers) it had to be removed from the car so it could be wrapped/covered with heat shrink tubing. Over one weekend, I removed the harness, covered it and replaced it, only to find that some of the electrics no longer worked including one of the speakers. It wasnít until the next weekend that we found the staple through the wire and corrected the problem.
The windshield wipers were another big issue in themselves. Since Iím using a MGB wiper motor for the two speed wipers (MGA wipers only have one speed) and wanted all of the switches to look like MGA switches, I needed to modify a MGA headlamp switch to work for the two speed wipers. This worked fine except that the wipers would not park when switched off. I called on my good friend, Bob Bentzinger Ė who is an electrical engineer Ė for help. Bob suggested that we use a relay connected with a capacitor connected to a resistor on a circuit board bla bla blaÖ I had no idea what he was saying so; I turned him loose with the task. Bob just informed me that he has the problem solved so the windshield wipers will work and park just right. Yea Bob!!
The next step was the exhaust system. For this, I called on Rich at Midas on the corner of Woodson and Page. Rich did a fantastic job of fabricating a complete system from the headers to the rear of the car. The pipes fit so well that there are no clamps on the pipes where they connect at the headers. Right now, I think the sound is a tad too loud for me; but it sounds great and another muffler can be added if need be.
While driving to the muffler shop, I found that the transmission would not shift without grinding. A bunch of bad synchronizers and broken tabs inside the gearbox are causing this. The gearbox is apart and awaiting parts and labor hopefully, this weekend.
In the mean time, I have a handful of minor things to finish up and with any kind of luck, I hope to be driving her home in late July.