We frequently get asked for tips on car building and restoration so we decided to put together a quick list of issues that we see often. If you're not careful, these "seven deadly sins" can cause your project to go overboard on timeline and budget!
7. Underestimating Rust and other bodywork repairs
“Has minor rust. Just needs a little TLC”. Translation: Better look closely.
This is probably the most common sin in the classic car world- buying a cheap classic British car in hopes of saving thousands in the long run. What looks like just a little “bubbling” on the paint is usually a tell-tale sign of major rust issues. Body fillers won’t fix it and you can’t ignore it forever. But here’s the real issue- bodywork is expensive.
Floor boards for an MGB are only about $200, but if you have to pay someone for 11-15 hours per side to install them, they become outrageously expensive. On a really rusty MGB, for example, you could conceivably pay less for a new Heritage bodyshell than it would cost to repair. On other older vintage cars such as Morgans and MG T-types the same caveat applies to the wooden substructures.
Unless you’re capable of doing the repairs yourself or willing to pay a lot of money, bodywork can easily become the most expensive component of your car project. It can easily add dozens of hours of labor which will quickly outweigh the expensive of having bought a better car in the first place. Our recommendation is to buy as solid a car as possible. Inspect thoroughly and don’t be afraid to walk away from a potential purchase if you see red flags.
6. Buying a “Frankenstein” car
What year car is this again?
I wish we didn’t have to include this on our list, but we’ve personally seen it too many times now. It’s not the end of the world if your car is pieced together using parts from various cars but you should be wary of what you’re buying. It can negatively affect the value and give you a ton of heartbreak.
Recently, we had a customer bring us an MGB that he assumed was a fully restored 1971 MGB chrome bumper car with a fresh paint job. He paid about $18,000 for it but wasn’t well versed in MGB’s. It turns out that it was a 1980 rubber bumper MGB that had been poorly converted to chrome bumpers. The late dash, brakes, and firewall gave it away for certain. With numerous badly botched rust repairs- including sills and floorboards, it looked like someone had assembled the car using whatever MGB components were lying around.
Worst of all, the VIN was a complete fabrication. Somebody had stamped a tag with a VIN using numbers and letters that could not have existed on an MGB. Moreover, none of the numbers matched what was stamped on the frame.
This particular car was badly misrepresented by the seller and isn’t worth nearly as much as our customer paid. Now he feels stuck with a car that has an improper VIN number and a motley collection of parts of undetermined heritage.
Using parts from various years isn’t a huge problem; there’s a lot of interchangeability. You do need to know what you have, though, so that you can order the proper parts when you need them. If you’re not familiar with the car you’re buying, plan on taking it to a shop to have them inspect it. They should be able to make sure the VIN number and components are correct for the car.
5. Starting with interior and minor trim pieces
Your car project needs a lot of parts. Don’t start with an aftermarket steering wheel!
It’s easy to fall into this trap. You’ve just purchased a classic British car project and you’re not sure where to begin. You crack open a catalog and see a bunch of shiny, affordable parts you can easily add to the car. It’s tempting to start ordering and installing little interior and exterior trim pieces but it’s really the last thing you should be doing on a big project.
When it comes to car projects, make sure your car is mechanically sound and safe, then move on to bodywork/paint. Once that’s done, the last bits should be new interior and exterior trim. Doing it the other way around puts those little parts at risk of damage through handling. Also, it may be a few years before you finish your car project. All those shiny, new parts might not look so shiny or new when you finally get finished.
4. Buying tires too early on
I know your tires look brand new… But they’re 12 years old!
We see A LOT of old tires roll into the shop and it’s a bit of a paradox. The owners replaced their tires when they first bought their car because the original tires were too old to drive on. Now that their car restoration is completed many years later, they refuse to replace their tires because they haven’t had much of a chance to use them. Most tire stores won’t even service tires over 6 years old.
Unless you plan on driving your classic British car project right away, you should wait until after the build to buy new tires. If it’s just going to roll around in a garage until the project is completed, it’s best to buy those tires when the car is ready for the road. Don’t drive on old tires, even if they look new. Dangerous – end of story.
3. Ignoring major safety items
It may look pretty but if you can’t stop or steer it to safety, you’re headed towards trouble.
Even if your car project seems mechanically sound it’s still a good idea to inspect your brake and suspension systems. It’s imperative for your car brake and handle optimally in modern-day driving conditions.
We see a lot of bad brake systems and worn suspension components on cars simply because they’re forgotten or because the owner wants to do paint and interior first. Those items really should be taken care of first.
It’s not difficult to replace suspension bushings, brake hoses, and rebuild the brakes on most British sports cars. The parts are usually inexpensive, few British cars require any special tools to do brake or suspension work, and it’s always a perfect time to inspect the health of your other brake and suspension components. There’s just no need to risk using old parts. If it looks or acts sketchy- replace it!
2. Botched electrical add-ons and repairs
Electrical systems are critical in car safety and reliability. Carelessness or lack of experience can cause a fire!
By the time you’ve purchased your classic British car, there’s a good chance the wiring has been modified in some way. Previous owners may have added electrical components like radios, fog lights, horns, or kill switches.
One thing we see frequently are incorrectly colored battery cables and wiring. Red cables used for ground on Negative ground cars and vice versa. Hook your battery up in reverse and you could fry an alternator or other electrical component. Or perhaps the last owner got a great deal on green wire so everything is done in that color! Use the correct color wire in all your circuits or clearly mark them.
It’s always a good idea to print out a copy of a wiring diagram for your car. They’re usually available online for free with the help of Google but also commonly found in repair manuals. It’s a good idea to make sure you have clean grounds and wire connections. Inspect for potential electrical shorts too (loose wires or bullet connectors pulled out slightly). Make sure wire crimps and soldered wires are secure and have good continuity. Check for any damaged wires and replace as needed.
If the previous owner has added anything to your car, you should always double check their work and make sure it’s wired safely. Occasionally, new replacement wiring harnesses are a better starting point. It may seem silly, but you don’t want to see all your hard work go up in flames.
1. Buying a car that’s beyond economical repair
It’s possible to restore anything but is the climb worth the view?
Buying a classic car that needs EVERYTHING usually means buying a car that can overwhelm your time and budget. While it’s not impossible to restore those cars, the overall condition of the car can make for an extremely expensive and difficult process. Much like bodywork, hundreds of labor hours can absolutely sink your budget.
If you find yourself with a car like this, the best approach is to tackle it system by system; brakes, suspension, electrical, fuel. Do it once and do it properly. Don’t just do the left front and leave the right front for later. Once done you won’t need to revisit that system for quite some time. Be realistic about your budget, both in time and money.
In the end, it’s always best to find a car in the best possible condition for the money. No project car is perfect, and we all must learn to play our cards right to get the most value for the money.
Written by Brian Collins
“Gathering of the Faithful” (GOF) was coined in 1965 by the late Frank Churchill of the New England MG T Register as an event for MG owners to gather and meet other faithful MG owners. Typically, GOF’s are a weekend long event that feature tech seminars, driving events, and car shows. Last weekend Ceres Motorsports joined 200 MG owners to attend the Gathering of the Faithful South Mk LII at the Hilton in Altamonte Springs, FL. This year’s GOF-South was hosted by the Classic MG Club, a large and active MG club based out of Orlando, FL that began in 1963. As you can already tell, the MG roots run deep with this crowd and their event is easily one of the best in the area. We couldn't miss it!
This year we were invited to present a tech seminar on MG Performance alongside Hap Waldrop, owner of Acme Speed Shop. It was a huge honor to speak at the seminar and we were glad to have finally met Hap in person. If you aren’t familiar with his work, Acme Speed Shop builds top notch race and street engines for both MG’s and Triumphs. They’re also known for cylinder head porting as well as do-it-yourself engine rebuild kits. If you get a moment, check out their website at www.acmespeedshop.com.
Our seminar was a little over an hour long and focused on improving performance for MG street cars. We didn’t necessarily focus on extreme modifications (like our turbocharged MGB project) but instead reviewed some important performance topics for street cars- ignition, carburetors, exhaust, wheels, tires, and a few more. We were asked a lot of great questions from attendees too. It was wonderful seeing how many people wanted to keep their cars running optimally for frequent use on the open road.
There were also a few car shows held throughout the GOF-South. What I love the most about these shows is that not all the cars are show cars. There's a large mixture of project cars, modified cars, daily drivers, and race cars to go along with the typical restorations. It's a really welcoming event for all MG owners- no matter what condition their car is in. Somebody had even brought their rolling MGTF chassis to show off their recent 5-speed T9 gearbox swap.
It's actually a little difficult to summarize this event in one article since there were so many fun things going on all weekend. Plenty of driving tours around Orlando, an awards banquet, etc. Overall, this was a very fun weekend for us. We're really looking forward to the next GOF. If you've never been to one and are interested in checking one out- do it! If we got to see you at this year's GOF-South, we look forward to seeing you again next time!
We're on a RockAuto magnet now! RockAuto sells parts for a variety of classic British cars and they also have a huge inventory for all the modern parts we need- especially for cars like our Ford Zetec powered MGB roadster. If you need parts for your car, do yourself a favor and take a look at their online catalog at www.rockauto.com
Written by Jack Collins
Starting a web-based business can be a daunting task, especially if you want to deliver great content, great accessories and the highest quality parts, and outstanding service. There are a ton of things to prepare, consider, and maintain to keep your site relevant. Developing content is really time consuming. Simply keeping a website fresh becomes a full-time job.
We may have been web-based, but the reality is, you still need physical space to support all the digital activity. You need to have storage for all the parts, apparel, and other swag. You need a garage to store vehicles, test fit things, road test parts, and take photographs for the site and instructions. You need a shipping and receiving area as well as a small office to do all the necessary accounting and bookkeeping.
In addition, we found ourselves doing more and more work on other people’s cars and that activity displaced a lot of our other work. The fact was, we outgrew our workshop and were also occupying several storage facilities that housed cars and parts. It wasn’t very cost effective or efficient.
Over the past year, we had been planning to open a garage with the space needed to do all those things above. Our search for a shop took us all over Central Florida. Aside from space and price, we had some specific criteria that were must haves:
After looking at so many potential locations that I lost track, we found what we think is the ideal place for us. This spot hits all the right marks. We have 5000 sq/ft in a working neighborhood at the end of a quiet cul-du-sac. We have great parking for us and our visitors. We have a nice office, kitchen, and visitor reception area with clean restrooms. Our location in Oviedo, FL is not too difficult for most folks living in the region.
Our landlord is local, a helluva nice guy, and very supportive. The next-door neighbors are car guys who build Porsche racecars and work on some other interesting things. They’re excited for us and have offered to lend a hand anytime we need it. In fact, they brought over the racecar scales and weighed our Ford Zetec powered MGB for us when we moved in (2060 lbs, BTW).
So, this is it. We are now in a beautiful shop where we are able run this business without space constraints. We’ll be able to continue our previous work as well as take in cars to repair. Thanks to the support of our family, friends, and all of you, 640 Kane Court, Oviedo, FL 32765 is our new headquarters and home base for Ceres Motorsports!
Written by Brian Collins
Now that cold winter weather is gone, classic cars across the country are being prepped for driving events and road trips. Before you take off, are you confident that your car is reliable and safe to drive?
Classic British cars don’t suffer from a lot of problems just because they’re British. That’s a stereotype that’s been perpetuated by people who don’t properly maintain their cars. While some British cars feature engineering oddities, these cars typically suffer from problems that plague many other 50+ year-old cars. With proper maintenance and thorough inspection, your car can be made to be reliable and road worthy. We made a short list of things to inspect before you hit the road:
What to Inspect: All tires that have been produced since 2000 are serialized to help identify the manufacture date and age of the tire. Tire Rack has an excellent guide on how to find and decode serial numbers. Click here to read their how-to guide. If your tires are over 6 years old, simply have them replaced with new ones. You’ll have one less thing to worry about and can enjoy the improvement in traction in handling.
2. Brake System
What to Inspect:
• Inspect front and rear brakes for excessive wear or fluid leaks
• Replace old rubber brake lines
• Replace old fluid and make sure air is purged from lines when you bleed them
• Check to see if your brake lights are working- If they don't, inspect your brake switch and grounds
• If you hear a hissing noise beyond your firewall, inspect your servo, check valve, and vacuum hoses.
• Check for brake pedal for clevis pin wear
• Inspect your return spring under the dash
3. Headlights and Brake Lights
What to Inspect:
• Inspect to make sure headlights and brake lights work
• Inspect headlight switch
• Inspect hazard and turn signal lights
• Clean up grounds on lights and use dialectic grease to protect them
• Clean any corroded or dirty fuses or terminals. DeoxIT and pipe cleaners are tedious but worthwhile.
4. Old Rubber
What to Inspect:
• Inspect radiator hoses for cracking or coolant leaks
• Replace old v-belt. They're cheap and easy - just do it.
• Check valve cover gasket for oil leaks
• Inspect old suspension bushings. If they're cracked or falling apart, replace them.
5. Fuel System
What to Inspect:
• Inspect your fuel filters for sediment. If you replace your filters and notice a quick sediment buildup, your tank may be suspect.
• If you're using an original or questionably old fuel pump, consider installing a new one. In the very least, make sure your power connections and hoses to the fuel pump are good.
Written by Jack Collins
Brian and I have the opportunity to go to a lot of car shows and gatherings here in the Orlando area and we get to see a lot of hot rods, muscle cars, customs, race cars, and motorcycles, as well as British cars and MG’s. There are usually several very impressive restorations at these events. The owners and builders have put a lot of time and attention into their cars and you have to admire the effort, love, and attention that they’ve put into them.
Occasionally, there’s a car that sticks out of the crowd. Sometimes it’s because of the exceptional workmanship, sometimes it’s a radical powertrain, sometimes it’s just different. At the last British car driving event we attended in Mt Dora, Florida, we came across just such a remarkable car.
I had first spotted this car two weeks prior at a driving event sponsored by the All British Car Club of Central Florida. I was very interested in talking to the owners more, but time ran short and I didn’t get a chance to closely check out the car. I was very happy to see it again at an Orlando MG Club gathering in Mount Dora.
The car, a 1949 MG TC owned by Glen and Jill Moore, immediately grabs your attention with its race inspired handmade cycle wings. As you get closer you begin to see all the other little details that sets this car apart. This is not a restoration or a survivor – it’s more like a period perfect MG hot rod. The number of wonderful modifications are astounding in their detail and execution. It looks like something an MG enthusiast might have built in the late-50’s using parts at hand to build a high-performance TC. The execution of the details is immaculate and well thought out. Everything added or changed is completely purposeful, with form following function, and most of it made by hand just for this car. Nothing on this car is there simply to add “bling”.
The hand-formed, one-piece, alloy bonnet is held down with handmade leather straps. The bonnet is equipped with clever aluminum guides that protect it from the buckles. The radiator shell sports a stainless mesh grill.
The maroon MG power plant is the first thing you notice under the bonnet. But the carbs are on the left side, a sure giveaway that this is not an XPAG. My first thought was “MGA engine”, but the details are not quite right and the engine tag is not a familiar MG series number. Sure enough, this is not from an MGA, but a B-series 1500 from a Wolseley with 3-mains, but no tach drive. Several other details set it apart from an MGA engine. The TC transmission is attached via a bespoke adapter and sends power to a Morris rear axle.
The original MGTC Bishop Cam steering box was replaced with a more precise steering VW unit. If you look closely, you’ll spot the aluminum lowering blocks on the TC front axle that give it just the right stance. A discreetly hidden modern electric pump passes fuel thru the original SU pump. There’s a very crafty throttle linkage that crosses the firewall to the carbs on the left side and looks as though it is a factory original piece.
A pair of nicely finished vintage style, custom bucket seats occupy the interior. The rear wings have small one-of-a-kind Lucas taillamps that aren’t original to any other TC. The Brooklands windscreens are a great touch that add to the racing look. The fuel tank has an ingenious gauge and the polished finish looks great against the two-tone maroon and red paint scheme. There are literally dozens more details that are well thought out and constructed.
The thing I love most about this car, though, is the honest patina that it wears. The radiator shell has some dings. The paint has some orange peel, chips, and scratches. The badge bar is getting a little rust. You simply cannot create this look; it must be earned. This clean little car has earned all those marks thru experience and that’s what gives it a unique beauty. It’s loved, driven, well used, and well kept.
Unlike a glossy, factory perfect MG TC restoration that you might be afraid to use, this car beckons you to fire it up and drive it as hard as you dare. I’m certain that’s what the builder had in mind and it shows in every detail. We absolutely love this car just the way it is.
Glen and Jill, thanks for sharing your marvelous, exceptional MG TC!
Written by Jack Collins
This is the first in a series of posts and articles that will hopefully express our thoughts and feelings about the cars we drive and the hobby that has been such an integral part of our lives for so many years. In coming articles we hope to share how we approach the hobby and our philosophy on how the automobile fits into our lives.
For me, automobiles have always been more than just transportation appliances. They have been expressions of style, art, and creativity. Sure, they get me back and forth to my destination, but there has also always been something in the garage that was more than just a ride. I can’t really pinpoint one particular reason for it, but British cars have had a hold on me since the first time I drove an MG.
British cars, in particular, have always held a special appeal to me. From the time you open the door you’re greeted with the smell of English leather, wood, and Wilton wool carpets. Maybe even a little oil and fuel as well! The driving position is usually arms outstretched, clutching a wood or leather wheel, shifter coming readily to hand. First a process of choke and throttle, turn the key and listen for the ticking of the fuel pump. Hit the starter, hear the distinct sound of a Lucas starter motor and the engine springs to motion. With a whiff of exhaust, the pressure, temp, and tach jump to action. It’s at that moment you realize that there is something more going on than just mechanical movements. It’s almost as if the car is alive, begging for you to take it to the road. It’s a silly notion, but you can’t help but feel it in these machines.
I’ve heard all the “Prince of Darkness” electrical jokes, the comments about oil spots, SU carburetors, and how the wiring is only there to contain the smoke. For every story we’ve heard about how someone used to own one, we’ve heard another story of how troublesome the car was. Frankly, there is a kernel of truth in many of these comments and stories. Deserved or not, these cars do have a reputation for being somewhat unreliable. They leak. They have archaic and uncommon systems that require some specialized experience to tune properly. They are very underpowered when compared to modern cars. Even the most entry level (insert Japanese brand and model here) has enough power to easily outrun, out corner, and out stop most British sports cars of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
I can’t remember how many cars I’ve owned over the years. I do remember that some were a joy to own and drive while others were miserable things that made me want to throw wrenches. But thinking back on it, the cars I hated most were not necessarily the most unreliable or uncomfortable ones. They were usually the mundane appliances that just started up and carried me to work without any struggle, but also without any joy.
That brings us to the reason Ceres Motorsports exists. While I love the old-school charm and appeal of the wood, leather, oil, smoke, and noise, I also realize that if we really want to enjoy these cars day to day in modern traffic, at high speeds, great distances, with better reliability, we have to make some changes and improvements to bring these cars into the 21st century. The conundrum is, how do we do that without sacrificing the very soul that makes these vehicles so appealing to us?
What we hope to achieve are distinct improvements that make our vehicles more reliable, easier to maintain and drive, while retaining all those visceral and emotional attachments that make this type of car so much fun. So stay tuned; we have a lot of interesting things planned for 2017 and beyond.
Jack Collins and the Ceres Motorsports team