Wheel alignment

Thursday 8 September 2022

Classic car ownership - the first 12 months

As the title says, it's been 12 months since finally taking ownership of the MGB GT.  It's good to take stock of how it's gone and might be of interest to anyone who entertains the thought of classic car ownership at some stage.

Regular readers will be familiar with the thought processes which helped to decide what to buy HERE and the handover problems we had with an unhelpful government transport agency HERE .  The purchase of a vehicle in good condition was the primary consideration as I didn't want to spend vast amounts of time and money stuck in the shed doing a major rebuild.  I had enough of that building and campaigning a drag bike decades ago and it wouldn't be fair to Jennie who's suggestion that we buy a classic car kicked the hunt off.  Hitting 75 next month meant that actually getting out on the road and using it was the priority although routine tinkering is just fine (and fun, although the CEO just rolls her eyes).

The 1972 MGB GT on a sunny day at Te Kouma

Making the purchase
My close friend Rick in the UK and an acquaintance in NZ both recommended an MG as they were generally reliable and parts available internationally at reasonable prices.  It also appealed emotionally in terms of looks - an important factor.  The car was spotted for sale online and had been restored by the previous owner in 2017/18 with all receipts available for the work undertaken.  It was in pretty much stock trim apart from 185 section tyres which were standard on the V8 version. It also had Spax adjustable rear shocks and electronic ignition to improve reliability.  There was no rust whatsoever, it had been rustproofed and the original Blaze Orange livery respray used an expensive 2 pack lacquer.   We paid NZ$22,500 for it (Approx. USD/EUR 14,000, GBP 12,000, AUD 20,000) which we thought was a very reasonable price for something so beautifully restored.  The interior is flawless and is like new.

Immaculate interior

New carpets and interior linings throughout

Building up knowledge
In terms of reading material, it came with a Haynes manual and a full parts list from an MG specialist in Auckland.  YouTube is a fantastic source of knowledge for MGB's and there's nothing like watching someone doing a job to avoid all the potential pitfalls through just reading about it.   However, it didn't stop me spilling oil from the upright filter on my first oil change all over the concrete drive! Fortunately, it cleaned up ok.  Another awesome source of knowledge is the MG Experience international website forum.  The members have decades of experience and go out of their way to help.  The NZ MG Owners Car Club is also a great source of knowledge.  Chewing the fat with my classic car and bike-owning mate Rick in the UK has also given valuable insights.

An engineer's porn - a parts catalogue

Part of the knowledge-building is the ability to have a good poke around in the car and underneath it.  A normal roadside jack isn't a safe option for grovelling under the car so I bought a good quality 3 tonne trolley jack, not an el cheapo from popular auto store chains.  I also bought some good quality adjustable axle stands for further confidence.  If greater access is required, then it's off to our village garage owner and his hoists for the price of a few beers.

The 3 tonne trolley jack

Any classic car is going to require more maintenance than a modern one but one of the positive aspects is that much of it can be done by the owner without too many special tools or an electronics degree!  I ended up supplementing my meagre collection of Imperial spanners and sockets plus one or two other odds and ends which didn't involve much expense.

The previous owner mainly relied on one of his local garages for routine maintenance.  I can't be sure whether he got value for money or not because the Zerk grease nipples on the suspension and driveshaft looked dirty and dry of grease.  Based on these observations, I started keeping records of the maintenance I performed to set up a baseline maintenance schedule - all done on an Excel spreadsheet, sad bugger that I am.

Many (most?) classic vehicle engines require a high zinc content non-synthetic oil and the priority was to find a reliable local source, which was less challenging than expected. The oil was changed just after initial purchase as part of a routine maintenance timeframe, along with the filter.  Part of the reason why I dumped oil on the driveway when removing the filter was that with its vertical orientation, the anti-drain back device didn't appear to work properly. It was replaced with a filter which received favourable reviews from MG owners.  We'll see how good it is when the oil gets changed in the very near future.  

Easy access under the bonnet

Incidentally, the car has covered a little over 3000 miles/5000 km in the last 12 months.  In that time, I've topped up the oil with ~300 ml, which is fine.  There's a slight weep from a pushrod access cover but overall, it's pretty good.  There's also a very slight weep from a cover on the overdrive and steering rack but neither require my immediate attention. All part of classic car ownership!

In the last 12 months, we've spent a little under NZ$2000 on the car.  This includes oil, filter, antifreeze, spark plugs and other items required for scheduled maintenance, plus a USB port for phone charging.  The biggest single expense has been a complete rebuild of the SU carbs by a specialist in Auckland.  This was prompted by a constant slight smell of petrol and evidence of leakage on the overflow pipes.  The rebuild cost was a shade over NZ$1000 and was worth every cent.  Far more bottom end and mid-range performance than previously.  The photo below shows the carbs cunningly braced together for removal and replacement to stop the linkages flying apart!

A strategic bit of fencing to stop the carb linkages falling apart

Now that we have a routine, maintenance shouldn't be too onerous in future.  There's one job which is being left for the Auckland MG specialist but isn't urgent.  Changing the diff oil revealed some small amounts of copper/bronze swarf.  

Diff thrust washer bits

It's common for diff thrust washers to progressively wear out.  With the aid of a proper vehicle hoist, they can be changed in about 4 hours by someone who knows what they're doing so I'll be taking the easy way out!

The choke cable didn't lock out and a replacement was purchased at a very modest cost.  The manual simply says "remove choke cable from the dashboard".  No mention that you need hands of a 5 year old and that you're going to bleed profusely whilst attempting to loosen the locknut.  Fortunately, one of the MG Experience forum members posted a photo of a tool he adapted from a cranked ring spanner.   I made one too and even at one flat per movement, it made life so much easier.  Told you they were great people!

Special choke cable locknut removing tool - easy peasy!

A few minor improvement opportunities have also been implemented.  The battery on the MGB GT is a bugger to get at (a technical term).  I've made up a power supply attached to the battery which can be easily accessed from inside the car for trickle charging if the car isn't going to be used for some time.  I've also made up a funnel attached to a length of fuel line for filling the gearbox on some future occasion.  Access is behind the lower part of the dashboard in a cramped position which is perfect for spilling oil everywhere.  Far better to have the funnel tied to the steering wheel with clear access!

Ready for future gearbox lubrication

So what's it like to drive?
The million dollar question, seeing that we bought it to drive and not be worked on.  In short, it's great fun and brings back waves of nostalgia.  The steering effort is ok when you're on the move but the lack of power steering makes it hard to park in restricted spaces.  Not a big deal though.  As you might expect, handling is harsher than modern cars but roadholding is surprisingly good.  I had to stiffen the damping of the Spax aftermarket rear shocks but it's good now.  The brakes don't have power assist and were initially a bit daunting.  However, it didn't take long to learn to leave a bigger gap when following other traffic!  The motor has a reasonable amount of grunt and there's no issue keeping up with traffic and tackling decent gradients, especially with the electrically-operated 2 speed overdrive.  It's a car that rewards well-considered driver situational awareness, just like a motorcycle and is a lot of fun to drive.  Absolutely no regrets buying it.  Mind you, in another 5 years, I'm not sure that an 80 year old body will find getting in and out of it a piece of cake.  Better keep up my fitness routine!

The MG was originally designed to run on 100 octane leaded fuel.  It runs just fine on 95 octane with a small amount (1ml per litre ) of lead replacement additive added to the fuel tank every time it's filled up.  No hassle at all.

Where to from here?
At present, Jennie isn't keen to drive it because of the extra physical effort required in combination with a manual gearbox but is more than happy to be a passenger so that's ok.  We have near-neighbours who own classic cars and the Coromandel Peninsula is a perfect venue for impromptu runs.  

Social run to Cook's Beach with neighbours Vic and Denise

The MG Car Club run regular events and later this month, it's the 60th anniversary of the MGB.  We'll be attending a gathering/photo shoot in Auckland of around 100 MGB's representing every year and model variation.  In February next year, we'll also be attending the Brits at the Beach 3 day weekend.  Should be a lot of fun!

As a final remark, insuring the "B" was extremely reasonable.  Fully comprehensive insurance for any driver over 25, limited to no more than 10,000 km annually was approximately NZ$250.

So that's the journey so far - plenty to keep occupied after a lifetime of motorcycling.  I also hope it's been of interest to anyone who might be considering a classic car purchase at some stage.


  1. Dear Geoff, I certainly won't read your classic car musings to Roland... as an engineer he might get ideas I am not ready for (just yet)... ;-) Just recently he mentioned something about some Mercedes convertible/roadster he'd like to play with. Enjoy your driving and your tinkering (if you must). Cheers, SonjaM

    1. Hi Sonja, haha - it's the same all over the world, isn't it? 😁. A friend of mine has a 70's Mercedes convertible to play with. Perhaps one for Roland's next birthday? 👍

    2. No way! Maybe ten years from now...

  2. I’m glad that classic MG ownership hasn’t been negative. I’ve known quite a few that purchased them when they were new and continually complained about reliability.

    1. I owned a Mini like that Richard. Weekends were spent working on it to get me through the next week!

  3. Sounds like you are having fun with the MG.....and you even bought a colour coordinated jack! ;-)

    It looks lovely.


    1. Thanks Ian, it is a heap of fun (as long as it remains reliable) 😊. It's a cool jack but the downside is that it's as heavy as heck. Good job I don't have to carry it! Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

  4. All is good here Geoff. The Burgman is gone and I have had no bikes on the road since the first year of lockdown, which represents my longest time without one (on the road) since I was 16. The roads here were getting so busy that the bike really wasn't enjoyable anymore unless I took a day off when everyone else was at work, and I was getting pretty fed up with the whole 'biker culture' scene too (so for years I was pretty anti social and rode on my own). That, an environmental conscience, and not liking the Burgman for anything other than transport have killed the whole bike thing for me. I may recover some interest when I eventually get my old Triumph back on the road, but a house extension looms, so that may be some time away.

    1. I fully understand those sentiments Ian. I'm happy with my own company on two wheels, although I have some IAM friends that I trust implicitly. Fortunately, we live in a low traffic density area, otherwise I wouldn't enjoy riding or driving either. All the best with the extensions - a big undertaking!

  5. Hi Geoff, a good read. My journey into a B took some similar paths as yours had. I too required a clean, non project vehicle because, in my case, it was to be a bucket list item due to pancreatic cancer. I’d had a B roadster, briefly, in the UK when I was 21 in the mid 70s but couldn’t keep it as the insurance was £120 p.a. ( I paid £100 for it!) and too much for me to consider. I had a work car with private use so didn’t need my own car.
    In November 2021 after a few hiccups with unsuitable examples I was put onto a very nice looking one in Ashburton ( so many good classic British cars in the South Island) and bought it “sight unseen” having decided the vendor was a straight and honest chap plus good photos. It being a long way from Northland, across the straight, Covid lockdown and being unwell it was transported up.
    I wasn’t disappointed is was/is a very tidy 52/3 year old. Pretty original in Flame Red. The hood in good condition and,apparently, the original.
    I got a so called classic British car experienced local garage to go over it, do a full service and generally appraise it. $1200 later it was returned to me with accolades as to the quality of my purchase. I thought it lacked power and took back. They said they’d tuned the carbs and accused of playing with the settings. All I’d done is increase the idle speed to stop it stalling.
    Go forward six months or so. I decided to do an oil change etc. firstly gear box oil low( I made a filler tube like yours), the diff oil was very low. No detectable leaks. The new spark plugs they had fitted hadn’t been gapped and were at the out of the box 100thou!, what a change in performance once they were set correctly. Quite a few other issues too but you get the gist. When confronted I was told they’d sold up.
    I’ve done quite a bit to the B mainly for reliability. Alloy rad, auxiliary electric fan, new distributor and coil and new fuel pump.
    Such a fun car to drive and to listen to the exhaust note.
    Since buying the B I’ve acquired a 1999 Jaguar XJ8, LWB 4L V8 in black(ex government house) and a 1998 MGF pocket rocket in BRG. I’d love a Austin 3L but I think there would be a loss of sympathy for condition from my beloved of 43 years.

  6. Hi Tim,
    So sorry to hear about your health issue and all the very best to you. We seem to have followed a similar path (came to NZ in 1975). Finding someone who actually knows about classic car maintenance is indeed a trial and I have friends with an experience similar to yours. My trials were limited to NZTA incompetence! You've done very well with your collection! My CEO of 50 years wouldn't be quite that accommodating although I tested her patience on occasions with the purchase of motorcycles 😁. Take good care of yourself.


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