Toby’s Story
Michael Beswick

It all started in a pub –well it would really!- Back in October 2002.

Every first Sunday of the month, the local pub has a classic car gathering. I had been invited by a mate who had some friends over from France.

At the time I had a 1500 Midget –great fun, but rather busy at 70mph, and it kept getting smaller as I tried to get in it. Over the previous 2 years, I’d rebuilt suspension, steering, some electrics, the interior, and generally tidied the car up. I casually mentioned that I was thinking of putting a stage 2 engine in it.

Waste of time –said the mate –buy a Jaguar instead (he had 3 at the time). Or at least get a B. He reminded me that some months before I had said the quickest way to go faster in a 1500 was to buy an MGB.

We went our separate ways, or so I thought. The phone rang next day. “I’ve got this mate with a 1969 MGB Roadster for sale –solid-being rebuilt –but cheap as it’s an awful yellow colour.

Well, I had to go and just look –you do, don’t you….

It was an awful colour -Bronze Yellow, or roadworks yellow as we came to know it. Rebuilt engine, tatty interior, but with a new hood, stainless exhaust and with all the usual welding culprits well fettled.

Hmmmm. I went back a second time, drove it, and had a long time MGB owner look at the sills, door shut lines and other bits. But I already had a Midget… Oh, well, why not.

A week or so later, money changed hands and on a soaking wet day I drove it the 10 miles home.

I drove it daily for the next 6 weeks. The Midget stayed in the dry in the garage, while I drove the B. Still tatty, but nothing major actually fell off. The brakes seemed a bit suspect as the discs were rusty, but it stopped. The radiator leaked so out it came and a new one put in. The overdrive seemed temperamental –slipping in and out- until I discovered that by holding the gear lever back into the gate it worked. Out came the dashboard switch –strip n clean, adding a fuse along the way –still the problem. Same thing applied to the reversing lights.

You could get a finger in the gap round the boot lid, and the seal round the petrol pipe was perished, which explained the water in the boot. The “period” radio didn’t work, but there again there was no aerial, which might explain why. There were also a few bits of wire hanging loose or taped up. And the clutch master cylinder seemed to leak down the pedal.

My friendly local garage let me put the car up on a ramp, where I changed all the oils and discovered that the gearbox had a dip stick designed for double jointed midgets with very long fingers.

Come Christmas, the cars swapped over –the Midget parked under the “bath-hat” (breathable cover) on the drive and Toby –as he had come to be called- was tucked away in the garage.

Out came the carpets, interior trim, door trim, seats, console, and anything else that would move, though we left the dashboard till later.

I’d bought every rubber seal for an overdrive unit, but by now was thinking that the gearbox switch might be suspect. Nibblers make a lot of noise in an enclosed garage, and mess –but we did it! Working from above we undid the switch, removed one of the two packing washers, and tested it using a lamp.

A stainless panel was shaped and bolted over the hole, with sealant to keep it weather-tight.

The reversing lights still need the gear stick held against the gate, but I though two large holes in the transmission tunnel not a good idea.

I was concerned that the batteries were exposed, so I bought a pair of battery boxes –seemed a good idea until I realised that they needed lots of holes for the cables to fit. So even more holes in the bottom to let any water out. It does keep the worst out though. The clutch cylinder had seen better days, so was replaced. We even managed the trick of blowing fluid up from the slave cylinder!

Moulded carpet set and panels were collected at a show and were stored in the spare room –guests were not welcome!

The seats had been sent away to be retrimmed –a mix of leather where it mattered and vinyl where it didn’t. Collecting the finished pair was fun –trying to fit them and daughter and luggage (she was coming home from school) into the “sensible” car. Later, trying to get the runners and seats refitted was a nightmare.

I had decided that a few items needed to be added –electric fan, proper (noisy) air horns, radio (that worked and played tapes) hazards, rear fog, boot light etc, so cables had to be laid before the trim could go in.

A neighbour’s son had upgraded his car sound from merely loud to the sort of level that makes your internal organs vibrate, so I acquired a Radio/tape player. The plan was to fit speakers up near my shoulder in the rear side panels. Out came the nibbler again, but the speakers fitted and cleared the hood mechanism. About this time I realised the radio had 4 outputs so another pair of speakers went in the doors. Means you can irritate the kids with the thudding bass by playing Beethoven or Meatloaf! The radio is quite a weight so a strengthening plate was added behind the face of the console. And then the wiring…..

I had decided to use a “professional” to fit the aerial. Turned out a joke. Once he’d cut the hole, he realised the tube that it retracted into was too long. So naturally he cut the tube off (you would wouldn’t you) Now the aerial retracted onto the boot floor with about 3 inches protruding above the car wing…….

The electric fan uses on-board telemetry –look at the temperature gauge, apply finger to switch. The fan came from an autojumble, sounds like a jet but shifts air. It is mounted on a frame in front of the radiator. Various other bits were acquired including a smart Motolita wheel, as I kept banging my knee on the original.

The heater matrix seemed to wobble about in its box, so a new one was ordered. Now you just have to get the old one out……The book showed two pipes –I didn’t seem to have these –more like a bit of thick dense foam rubber. I later discovered that it was exactly that, and glued to the bulkhead and the heater box. I used a hack saw blade up the passenger side air outlet to get (wrench) the heater box out. New heater, foam fitting strip and check and clean the fan. Avoided thick foam rubber and reverted to pipes cut from a basin waste pipe…

Spring 2003 and it was looking good –bit of a whine from the back axle, but not too bad if the hood is down….

Off to Le Mans, with same mate who got me into all this (something about the E type’s brakes needed doing)…Fine till we got to Guildford when dreadful squealing alerted me a potential problem. No worries as it then stopped; as did the speedometer after a couple of last gasps. Well -who needs one, and anyway French roads have kph not mph. Leaving Le Mans the temperature was about 30 degrees, but Toby did well –only a little warm and the fan only needed sometimes. The run back to Caen was smooth except for a few occasions when tacho, and most other instruments (and probably lights) stopped…..and then came back on!

The summer was wonderful- great weather and enough small tinkering jobs to play at. Only problem was the colour……

Autumn 2003- time for the annual service, need to do the carburettors, but still that colour….What would Toby look like in Midnight Blue?………

Piggy bank raided and it was off with as much trim as possible, before he went off to G& B Autospray (Restoration to the stars). I didn’t have space to take the engine out to store it so we agreed that I would finish the engine bay when I got the car back. They sorted the rear panel and boot lid, and even re-positioned the aerial hole…..Meantime the chrome went off to be redone.

All back in time for Christmas, though I was forbidden to actually work on it on Christmas Day! Now he was a beautiful Delft Blue (actually a Triumph colour, but it’s the right period, and looks great. Midnight with black interior looked too dark)

And back in went all the trim, radio, wiring. I think I’ve been here before…..

The carbs were stripped  and a rebuild kit used. Then off to the rolling road to set it up. Not bad –the timing was spot on and the carbs ¼ turn out. However the new radiator had started to leak at the top hose, so off it came to be rebrazed.

A trackday at North Weald in the snow was great fun. The car looked great, and people could not understand how it arrived so clean but we only live 5 miles away!

The whine from the back-axle was definitely getting worse, so a recon axle complete with half shafts was ordered. Out came the old one for exchange and in (with appropriate swearing) went the new, with fancy urethane bushes, and Koni shock absorbers.

Negotiating (badly) a raised kerb, I removed the exhaust system and bent the rear valance. Luckily it was outside a Classic Car garage. Although they were Triumph, they fixed it, with much noise about “superior” cars!

Off to Le Mans classic-well nearly –the radiator started leaking again. So, out it all came and was replaced. I was getting good at this! Great fun at the Classic – I think it is better than the “real” event!

More track days followed, and a 1200 mile trip to Spain in Autumn 2004 with the travel club. This was fun, so more continental travel was booked for the following year.

Then my alleged mate –he who got me into all this-asked if I’d seen an ad for a supercharger…….40% more power without engine work. I dithered –it was a lot of money and my long-suffering wife was beginning to suspect my claim that “it’s cheaper than playing golf” might not be entirely true….. However, like all B’s, (and probably middle-aged men) Toby’s mid range performance was great in the 60’s –not so good now. And I could fit it myself –not perhaps in the claimed week-end, but over a few. We debated. I claimed that to go faster meant fettling the brakes….Toby claimed that it  didn’t go faster, just got to a faster speed quicker…..He won and I continued my mid-life crisis….But on condition that brakes and handling were looked at

I collected the kit -  huge box,  in November ready for fitting over the Christmas “break”. It was an excellent kit-complete right down to shims to match up different manifold thicknesses. All I added was a new distributor, as I was not sure of the “provenance” of the original, and Green Stuff brake pads.

Wow!- even on a gentle run to a rolling road it felt good!

Properly set up, we went to a track day at Brands. “What are you running that on?” was a common comment. Toby looks standard –no big bore exhaust or anything to suggest a bit of extra oomph. Better still were the looks of the faces of thrusting BMW drivers who allowed you into (their) overtaking lane on the M25. No more flicking out of overdrive or into 3rd. Just mirror signal and go! Up to !! mph to pass the truck and back to cruising …….Puzzled BMW driver passes wondering why he thought he needed to slow down as much!

Then I was contacted by a company who wanted to produce a DVD of MGBs. Fame at last –Toby became as insufferable as the driver.

Of to the sprint circuit at Curborough, where a professional driver would compare the various cars on the track. Here, the need for improvements for the brakes became apparent, as did the “compliant” (a.k.a. floppy) handling. The brakes were actually smoking –even after a cooling down lap- but they worked! However seeing and hearing the car (Toby has a great whine from the supercharger and a purposeful exhaust note) was magic. A few words from the owner (everyone’s 15 minutes of fame –well 2 actually!) and we went home to await the final production.

Another track day was followed by a trip to Ireland with the travel club. Irish road rollers are special –they leave out a segment so it’s like driving across a ploughed field, but with holes…..

Crawling through Dublin gave a hint of things to come –the temperature gauge definitely reading higher, though as the weather was not too hot all seemed well.

And so off to Corsica in June. Reckoned to be 28-30 C at this time of year…Well, the heatwave in the UK was mirrored in France, but hotter. 38 + with 47 being recorded around Lyons (though this was on a thermometer at the mouth of a tunnel). French drivers have an interesting week-end past time. Go out in the car, find another and form a queue! On seeing a British sports car, accelerate and move smartly to the middle of the road! This, in contrast to people at the side of the road who wave enthusiastically! We had met some friends -Ian & Lorna with a V8 and that magnificent burble (the car- not them!) There were one or two pairs of French drivers who were a bit surprised when passed by a thunderous burble of the V8 and demented howl of the supercharger! But we did have to cover 290+ miles each day, and we kept to the speed limits…….

Overheating –yup. The V8 travelled with the heater full on –being a GT it got quite warm inside, we were told….Toby got hot under the collar when stuck in queues as did the driver when we got caught in the traffic jam in Lyons.

Trips around Corsica needed to be very early or late or maybe left in preference to testing the wares of the bar…

Three miles after returning home – the head gasket blew! A prayer of thanks was offered to the God of Motoring, as we had done over 1830 miles in France and Corsica.

So head off, clean up head and block, cut in the valves, and confirm that the engine was in good shape (we could see the honing marks in the cylinders).

Head back on and just waiting to do 500  miles before checking it and the tappets……

Toby is not becoming a track-day car, though he enjoys hurtling around tracks, but is an ideal long distance cruiser. Unfortunately he has become something of a hooligan. Whilst not yet wearing a baseball cap back to front, he tends to respond to youths in Saxos. Whilst (politely) allowing them to go first, he then roars past them with smug grin (always keeping to the limits). He also tries it with Porsches but tends to lose…….

The front suspension is a bit tired –road humps are a night mare, and the handling needs to be sharpened up a bit. This is scheduled for the winter. Then maybe some more trips to Europe……..

To be continued ...