My 5,791 Day Restoration of an MGA 1600
Owner and Photographer: David Lake
They say the restoration of an automobile will either take longer than first expected, run over budget, or if you’re unlucky, both. Like anything worthwhile, it has to be worth the wait.
After 5,791 days, I can say the result was definitely worth the wait. 5,791 days, though–when you say it quickly it’s really not as long as it sounds, but if you had to live through the nearly 16 years, like I did, it’s a while: nearly half of my life.
is a story about a man, a wife, four boys…and project car: a 1960 MGA 1600. It was just like the one my dad owned when he was a younger man. Growing up, we’d all seen the photos of it: a British Racing Green sports car finished with a fibreglass hardtop, custom tail lights and a Weber carburetor. In 1962, the MGA was still in production and was marketed as an accessible sports car. It was very desirable, built with reliability and performance in mind. By modern standards, its zero-to-100 km/h (62mph) time of 15.2 seconds and its massive 78 horsepower are nothing to write home about, but in period it allowed my parents-to-be to enjoy feelings of freedom and fun.
I say “parents-to-be” because at this point in time, kids were way off the radar. But as it happens, sacrifices were required. Soon after their wedding, the much-loved MGA was sold and replaced with a far more practical Renault R8. Dad always said he should have kept the MGA and just bought a trailer…because soon after he bought the Renault R8, he bought a trailer.
Fast forward to 1990. In a moment of madness and/or nostalgia, my father decided to relive his pre-children “easy years” and began the quest to find the right MGA to restore. He looked at a number of different examples only to turn them down as they were not “exactly as he wanted it or too expensive.” Finally, an advertisement was found describing the perfect car: “Half completed restoration, only finishing touches required.”
Wow, too good to be true. Could this be the one? Well, yes. The price was negotiated, the papers signed and the money transferred. Following the transaction, the car was rolled onto the trailer. Next, its body panels were safely loaded and secured, then all the boxes of parts, the jars of nuts, the tins of screws, bags of bolts, the collection of washers, loose switches, standalone springs, and other bits and pieces.
I remember thinking at the time: “How could such a small British sports car completely fill a car trailer and a Volvo wagon?”
Day 1 of 5,791: As soon as the car arrived home, it was all hands on deck and the car was unloaded. Work progressed on the MGA during periods when dad didn’t have much else to do. I personally spent a great deal of time stripping, sanding, preparing and painting all the small parts that make up an MGA.
But then the time came. Like all good children, at some point you have to leave home. I’m not sure if me leaving home was the reason or not, but the progression of the MGA slowed down and finally stopped. Over a period of time it began to look like a mobile shelving unit with bits and pieces of shed and farming equipment stacked on top and underneath the poor old girl. Then one day, it simply disappeared…not to be seen for a long time.
Time slowly rolled on. A few years later, my parents became grandparents, and they slowed down a bit to enjoy their retirement in Tallebudgera Valley, a small rural retreat behind the Gold Coast, Australia. The MGA was dutifully uncovered, packed, shipped to the new shed, unpacked…then re-buried. Day 5,547. The time had come: strike now and convince my father to finish the MGA or resign myself to the fact that it would never be finished.
My wife and I produced a restoration proposal of 32 pages, which listed items requiring attention, a program of work required, and, of course, a realistic budget. The proposed restoration period was six months (182 days…but who’s counting?), the program of work endless with the budget to finish the work at $5,000.
After many long, draw- out negotiation meetings and proposal amendments, an agreement was struck: I was to sign up to labour every weekend for the duration of the restoration until it was completed. We were off.
As the restoration had begun 5,565 days ago, a great deal of work had previously been performed on the chassis, stripping of 30 years of paint, road grime and dirt. The major panel work had been completed with replacement panels welded in.
As the weeks went by we soon discovered that there were fewer items on the “what is not required” checklist and many more on the “what is required” checklist. Soon, new and freshly-restored MGA parts were being spread throughout the shed and into my mothers’ guest room. We were frequently referring to the parts catalogue, looking for that particular part we hadn’t noticed…which constantly held up the restoration. Parts were being painted (and re-painted), and then very carefully shelved or stored for later installation.
Now, all we really had to do was to put all the little bits together. Over the previous 5,559 days, unfortunately, all of the parts tags had either faded or fallen off.
Day 5,791: The day had finally come to test all of the work we had completed. Soon, all the problems were ironed out and the MGA was deemed ready for its road worthy and registration.
“R Day” had arrived: Restoration, Registration and Rest day.
The MGA was finally completed, and the story is nearly told. But what else, you might ask, had happened to the Lake family over this time period? The family had enjoyed three weddings, not to mention welcomed five grandchildren!
Years ago, we said, “An hour a day gets the A on its way,” and so it did…all we did was collect all of those hours and used them in the last couple of months!
If you do see my father out and about enjoying his MGA, please give him a wave and say hello—he has endured a long but very rewarding MGA restoration in just 5,791 days.
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