With the 1958 MGA paid for, safely in my shop, titled in California and a first-cut done on inventorying the parts needs – came the big question. Did the car actually run and drive? I bought the car on the basis of an exceptional body and chassis. I knew it rolled in neutral – so the brakes were not seized. However, I had no idea if the engine was free, if it would run, and if the drive train was in working order. In other words – I have no idea if the car would start or drive. For the faint or heart such a purchase would be insane. I like a challenge, know my way around cars, and the price I paid would have been fine with just knowing how good the body and chassis were. Besides, I have bought barn-finds in the past, and get a kick out of seeing what I actually have – and at the end of the day I have never been too sorry.
So, how did I tackle determining the driveability of the MGA? I try to follow the medical dictum “Do no harm.”. By that I mean – Don’t burn the car and shop down. Don’t destroy the mechanicals. Don’t smash-up the car or yourself. So –
- Check the electrical and fuel systems for shorts and leaks.
- Make sure the engine is well-lubricated, has coolant, is free to turn by hand.
- Make sure you have a working clutch and brakes – and the tires are ok for a slow test run.
Looking at the very messy engine compartment and the new wiring harness largely laying there unattached to much – I had my doubts about the MGA doing much of anything. I persevered none the less. The first thing I did was remove the spark plugs and sprayed PB Blaster in all the cylinders and let it sit and soak for a few days. I looked at the oil and it was full and surprisingly light and clean looking. Clearly the car had not been driven much after an oil service done who knows when. I pulled the valve cover and poured Marvel Mystery Oil over the valve train and down into the tappets. I let this all sit for a few days. I checked the transmission and it had oil in it.
Turning my attention to fuel system and the carbs – I topped up the dash pots with 20W oil and liberally sprayed cab cleaner into the intakes. I pulled the tops off the float chambers and made sure the floats were not varnished to the bottoms. If this is the case, when the fuel pump starts going the floats will stay at the bottom of the bowls, the carb fuel intakes will remain open and you will start dumping fuel all over your garage floor. A real fire hazard. The floats were indeed stuck, so I loosened them with carb cleaner and gently freed them. I made sure the throttle and choke linkages – and the carb pistons – were free. Then I got a real surprise – the choke cable had been hooked up to the heater air intake flap instead of the choke… Further back along the fuel system I knew from my prepurchase inspection and parts inventory that there was an inexpensive aftermarket pump patched in – but the connections looked sound. There was a brand new fuel tank installed and that looked good of course.
I was happy to see the radiator had coolant in it and topped this up. The brake and clutch reservoir – there is only one reservoir for both on the 1958 MGA – was a bit over half full. I suspected a leak somewhere – but likely slow. It seemed like normal resistance from the brake pedal and also from the clutch peddle when I pushed them. I did not spot puddles of fluid on the wheels or under the clutch slave cylinder.
The electrical system was a good news, bad news story. There were two long dead 6 volt batteries in the cradles at the rear. One looked absolutely ancient. I had a small 12 volt to patch in for testing. I usually look very closely at the wiring as the insulation on older wires deteriorates over time and this can cause shorts and fires. The wiring harness was brand new – but largely unattached to much of anything. I taped up anything positive and might short and then I made sure the ignition system wiring was hooked up correctly using a wiring diagram.
Finally I looked at the tires. As is typically the case in an abandoned restoration the tires had no wear on them – as the car had not been driven. They did hold air without any problem.
So, I was getting close to being ready to see if the engine spun freely by hand – and then to see if it ran.