Sunday, March 12, 2023

Front Suspension Rebuild

The last remaining 'rebuild' job on Alice was the front suspension.  She drove well enough, but felt a bit loose and bobbed and weaved more than I'd like going around corners and when braking.

I decided to take a peek at the front dampers to see if there was anything I could do in the interim.  It turns out the front right damper was empty!  Well, that's an easy fix, I thought... I filled it up and the situation improved quite a bit.  Until I saw the stream of oil finding its way down the front subframe, that is... at that point, I knew why the damper was empty.

That is also a relatively easy fix.  Worldwide Auto Parts in Madison, WI is a premier rebuilder of many British car front Armstrong (lever) dampers, and I've used their stuff on Gidget.  I rang them up and soon had newly rebuilt dampers zinging their way across the country to my front door.  But that just meant I had to follow through, and rather than just replace the dampers I decided it was time to get the rebuild off my to-do list.  The challenge was that I had just one day to finish the job... or I'd have to wait a month for another free weekend.

So, here we go!  I'll describe the driver's side rebuild and let your imagination fill in the details for the passenger's side.

Here's where I started.  This doesn't look too bad, right?  There's a ton of old grease and crud hidden behind that rotor.  Those rotors and pads are almost new and the brakes work very well, so at least I didn't have to worry about that...

Disassembly was the name of the game here.  With 47 years on the clock (figuring this hadn't been done before), I was nervous but hopeful that Lady Luck would continue to smile upon me. Most things have come apart on this car with relative ease, even after being an Illinois and Virginia resident.

To start, I supported the car on a frame rail with a jack stand as I would need my jack to safely lower and decompress the spring.  I removed the tie rod end followed by the brake caliper, and suspended the caliper so it wouldn't yank on the brake hose.  Once I dismounted the hub and rotor, I then jacked up the stub axle underneath the lower trunnion (being careful not to shear off the grease fitting) and freed the upper trunnion from the damper arm.  I then lowered the unit carefully and removed the now-decompressed front spring.

That actually went pretty well.  Mmmm, look at that old grease and crud!

Once the spring was released, it was a pretty easy job to remove the lower A arm by heating up, then undoing the four bolts that hold the arm to the subframe.  My luck held and everything came loose.

Finally, I unbolted the rebound buffer and the damper.  I was less fortunate with the rebound buffer, as one bolt was chemically welded to the spacer - but who cares?  I had a replacement buffer and spacer.

Then I cleaned everything I could.  I did not do a full restoration on this, but at least it's free of grime and looks like someone cared.

Look at that lovely damper next to its fresh replacement...

I decided that in the interests of time, I would not drop the subframe.  I looked at the body mounts that join the subframe to the shell and decided they looked okay.  It would be a major effort to unbolt the steering rack and drain and remove the front brakes, and I just wasn't able to tackle that.  I have the urethane body mount pads and if I find in the future it needs doing, I'll plan accordingly.

But enough of that... on to more disassembly!

Now I had the driver's side front suspension as a unit on my workbench (which I cleaned just for this job).


I removed the dust shroud and stared at the kingpin for a bit.  I crossed my fingers and put the assembly in my trusty vise, and a miracle occurred.  The trunnion nut came loose!  I removed the nut, tapped the bolt through and removed the stub axle.  Then I removed the spring pan by undoing the four bolts that hold it to the A arms, followed by the arms themselves.  And I noticed something. 

Do you see what I see?  Those look like polyurethane bushings!

So maybe I had good reason to believe the subframe body mounts were in good shape.  Someone's been here before.  I looked again and the body mount pads look like they're urethane too.  I did note that the lower trunnion bolt and assembly did not look like they had been touched, so I suspect that to be the source of the looseness and noise I was hearing.

Well, I'm here now, so everything's getting replaced anyway.

Once I had everything apart, it was time to clean.  This is a filthy job!  But it could be worse... it could be raining.  I also had to deal with the fact that the pins on which the A arm bushings rode were not in the best shape.  I cleaned them up as best I could and they'll do, though they aren't perfect.

I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned for at least an hour.  I used a couple of different scrapers to pick the decades of grease and gunk off the stub axles and A arms, followed by brake cleaner to remove the last of the gunk.  Once clean, I hit the A arms and spring with a light coat of black semi-gloss paint.  I was going for that 'cared for' look without it being perfect.  These items would all have to be replaced to achieve a restoration quality job.  The difference is impressive.

I also did not disassemble the stub axle.  There was no appreciable play in the kingpin and my initial attempt to remove the upper trunnion nut convinced me I should leave it well enough alone.

While the parts dried in the sun, I took a trip to my favorite hardware store (Ace) and picked up a mess of replacement hardware for both sides.  I only made one trip this time.

Once painted and dry, I loosely reassembled the lower A arm with its new bushings.  Loose reassembly is important as you have to be able to jockey things around a bit for proper alignment during reassembly.

Now, the fun began!  it's always fun to put clean and new parts back together.  And good thing, too.  I had been at work for about 6 hours (minus that half hour at the hardware store).

First, I bolted the new damper and rebound buffer in place with a new spacer.  I have found that the rebound buffers need a bit of 'adjustment' (tweaking in a vise) to get them to fit properly to the subframe.

Next, the A arm went in with four new bolts to attach it to the subframe, followed by attaching the stub axle to the A arm with new kit.  (I had previously installed the new trunnion bushings and greased the stub axle.)  I inserted the spring and carefully jacked the axle up until I could attach the upper trunnion to the damper.  This was a bit of a struggle, though it was eased by the fact that you can loosen a bolt that holds the damper's arms together to give just enough clearance to insert the trunnion.  Once the lower trunnion bolt was in place, I tightened the spring pan bolts and attached the tie rod end.  I then lowered the jack and admired the view.  But not for too long - I had miles to go before I could sleep!

Finally, I installed the dust shroud and remounted the hub and rotor.  I took the opportunity to repack the front wheel bearing too.  I reinstalled the caliper, and the job was done!

Boy, that looks better.  It looks like it has some age, but was taken care of.  That's all I was after.

That was a 7-hour job.  The passenger's side went about the same, but a bit quicker as things tend to do when you have done them before.  The one thing I did fight with on the passenger's side was that lower trunnion bolt.  The nut stubbornly refused to come loose, so I cut it off and drove the pin out with a punch.  Aside from that, it was a straightforward but very messy job.

All in all, I spent 12 hours on this job from start to finish.

But was it worth it?  Oh, you betcha!

After I cleaned myself up and changed, I went for a short test drive.  The difference is remarkable!  Before, corners were a chore and it felt like I was fighting to get around a turn.  Now, Alice is happy to take them.  I won't say it's "go-kart-like handling," but it's miles better than before and is very predictable.  Stopping doesn't exhibit more than minimal brake dive.  Everything is quiet, and the annoying steering wheel shake I was getting at 60-65 MPH is gone.  Even going over heavy bumps doesn't get her unsettled.

Alice now rides and handles like the sporty car she is meant to be.  

I would have preferred to have taken the whole weekend for the job, but it was probably best to have gotten it all done at once as I was incredibly worn out the following day.  This is not a job for the faint of heart, though it is not terribly difficult given proper tools and patience.  MGB front suspensions are simple affairs and will last for years if serviced regularly.

My last major task is to swap transmissions.  But that's going to have to wait a while... 

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Friday, February 17, 2023

Boosting Brakes

I was winging my way home from work one fine February day, and life was grand.  That is, it was until I stepped on the brake pedal and didn't get the Whoa I was expecting.  The pedal was hard, and the car didn't stop well.  I got off the highway and found the engine running rough.

Hoo boy.

I made it home safely.  The brakes still worked, but it was not easy.  Alice wanted to stall at every light.  But when I got near the house, I noticed something.  The engine only ran roughly when I had my foot on the brake pedal.  If I just used the parking brake, she ran great.  I knew what this meant - the vacuum booster had failed.

These are the things that happen when you have a nearly 50 year old car and don't replace every single component.  The booster just aged out and lost its ability to hold a vacuum.

Ah well... I did a little looking around, and I found that I had the unobtainable unit fitted only to the 1975 MGB.  Which is Alice.  This was no longer a fine February day.

I did some more research and learned that the later units for a '76 - '80 would work.  Dimensions are almost the same with about a 1/4" difference in length.  I decided I'd take a chance and ordered one from Moss Europe.  Why the UK?  Because the unit was only $100 USD, and even with $60 shipping it was cheaper than the same unit from Moss USA ($220).  And, I got it in a week.

While I waited, I removed the old unit.  This is not an easy task in any case, and on the '75 it's even harder because the pedal box is just-ever-so-slightly different, which makes it almost impossible to get the retaining nuts off from the inside.

But I did it.

I ended up cheating a little.  I removed the cover from the pedal box to find four nuts holding the booster to the box.  The top two nuts came off straight away.  The bottom nut behind the clutch pedal was easily accessible from underneath.  That last nut, though... I couldn't get a socket on it from underneath (between the pedals), I couldn't get a ratchet and socket on it from above, and I couldn't get enough swing on a ratcheting box wrench.  So like I said, I cheated... and I cut a little notch in the box to give the ratcheting wrench enough swing to loosen the nut.  I was then able to spin it off with a finger from underneath.

Once those nuts were loose, I removed the pin that attaches the booster to the brake pedal.  It was a tight fit but a needle nose pliers did the trick.

Finally, I removed the brake master cylinder's two nuts... and then I loosened the clamp holding the rear brake line to the inner wing... then the one holding the lines to the firewall, at the bonnet hinge... then the air cleaner... and then with a deep breath and trepidation, I was able to move the master cylinder backward enough to let me swivel the booster out of the way.  And it came out.

Believe it or not, fitting the replacement is almost as easy.  The '76 unit does match up well, aside from being a bit shorter in length.  It slid into place with little effort, and three of the four nuts went on with little fuss.  That fourth nut, though... the one behind the brake pedal... is not so easy.  I have ordered a flexible extension to see if that will be sufficient to get that nut into place.  For now, there are only three.

Before the master cylinder can be refitted, the pushrod that links the booster to the master cylinder must be adjusted.  There are tools designed for this purpose, but I don't have one.  The intent is to get the pushrod when in place to exactly, barely touch the cup in the master cylinder so there is almost no play.  There is a multiplier in distance here - I don't exactly know what it is - but a little play makes a large difference in the feel at the pedal.  Too much play will result in a low pedal with a hard feel when it does engage.  Too little will cause the brakes to bind.  So I cheated again, and carefully measured the distance the old pushrod protruded from the old unit.  I adjusted the new unit's pushrod to match.

Then, I put it all back together.

When I started the car, the pedal sank a bit like it is supposed to.  Actually, it sank a bit too much.  I wanted a little bit higher pedal, so I unbolted the master from the power booster and adjusted the linkage to be a millimeter longer.  This time, I was satisfied with the feel and height of the pedal.

After reinstalling the air cleaner and refitting the retaining clamps for the brake lines, I went for a little jaunt.  The brakes felt solid and easy to modulate.  I was able to lock up the brakes with a hard stomp on the brake pedal.

Once I get that flexible extension, I'll get that last nut installed (I don't think it is wise to leave it as is).  Then, this job will be done!  It was not pleasant but very satisfying, and I can rest easy knowing the braking system is in safe and sound condition.

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Friday, February 3, 2023

Hood II

Alice has her hat on.

Installing the top was a lot less stressful than I thought it would be.  It helps that the top I bought from Prestige Auto Trim is a perfect fit and came with good instructions, though I modified them a touch.

First things first - raise the frame and lay the top on the car to see how close the fit is, attaching it to the fasteners.  It happens to be ideal.  In fact, Prestige even had a mark indicating roughly where the header rail would attach - and it happened to be spot on.  I left the protective paper in place until the end so I wouldn't screw it up and drip stuff on it.

Next, stretch the fabric to see how well it will line up with the header rail.  As I mentioned before, the top fit extremely well and matched the marks from Prestige.  The instructions say to mark the center of the material and the header rail so you can align those marks.  However, I skipped this as the top is not exactly large and it is pretty easy to see how it will fit by looking at the edges to ensure it covers the header rail.

The step beyond is the one that requires courage: attaching the top to the header rail with contact cement.  The instructions say to make a chalk line outlining where the header rail meets the fabric.  However, I already had it!  I used Weldwood contact cement, which comes in small bottles and are the perfect amount for this job.

I carefully applied contact cement to the header rail (which I cleaned well first) and the fabric up to the mark.  I let it dry for about 5 minutes, and then stretched the fabric and tacked it down in the center.  I then pulled fabric into alignment on each side.  You get a little working time and a couple of tries, but that's it.  I practiced this a half dozen times before applying the cement.

The result was nearly ideal!

Once dry, the next step is to attach the seal to the header rail.  The seal and its retainer come as a kit from Moss, which also includes the proper rivets to attach the retainer.  This also acts to hold the fabric in place to the header rail.  The seal fits into the retainer pretty easily as it is soft.

The top from Prestige also came with a nice extra strip of fabric on each side that helps relieve stress on the edges of the fabric.  I glued this fabric down with a little contact cement, then attached the seal retainer.  I had to punch holes with an awl through the fabric before attaching the retainer.  I used the rivets, and I modified my rivet gun to help it fit into the small gap available without bending the lip of the retaining rail (too much).  Lots of people use screws instead.

I then fitted the seal and attached the header rail to the windshield frame.  This is where your efforts really pay off - the top should be tight, but not drum-tight as it will shrink a bit in colder weather.

On my frame, there is a strip of fabric attached to the top around the back rail on the frame (the part that sticks up the most).  I applied contact cement and glued this together to encapsulate the rail.  This was not 100% successful, and I'll have to go back and use some thread to make it stronger.  But that's okay.

Finally, I attached the snaps to the fabric where it meets the windshield frame.  This is what provides teh seal against the window when it's up.

I am extremely pleased with the result!

The hood fits perfectly and the car is actually quite quiet when it's raised.  There is only a little wind noise even at highway speeds.  The rear window zips out as well.  I also bought a new boot cover for when the hood is lowered, and that also fits perfectly.

This was the last step to having a complete car.  Now, I can focus on improvements - and driving!

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Monday, January 2, 2023

Hood I

Now that Alice is running and driving well, it's time to make her more weather-capable.  That means it's time for the hood!  (That's 'top' to us colonists.)

The first step is to fit the frame to the car.  Actually the first step is to make sure the frame is in reasonably good condition.  Mine was not, but all the pieces were there and I was able to make repairs to one of the top bows and to tighten up the hinges that attach the header rail to the frame.  A lick or two of paint in the right spots and I was happy with the result.

Fitting the frame is not terribly difficult with a little luck.  In fact, it can be done by one person.  Juliette helped me, though.  The first time.  I shall explain later.

The frame is affixed to the car with six rather substantial screws.  If you are lucky, the nuts that those screws screw into will be in good shape.  I was not so lucky... or so I thought.  The frame has three attachment points on each side.  You can see one in the upper right corner of this photo.

Fitting the frame is as simple as hosting it into place and having someone on each side thread and tighten the screws, ensuring the attachment plate for the tonneau bows is in place between the car and the frame.  You have to open the frame a bit to get all three screws installed, but you can do one, then open the frame a little, then the second, open it more, then the third.

So I thought I was in good shape.  Juliette fitted one side and I did the other.  My side tightened down just fine.  But hers did not... and here I was thinking those lousy nuts were stripped out.

So we removed the frame.

Fortunately, Moss sells a repair kit for those nuts as they take a lot of abuse over the years. I ordered one, then I put a couple of screws in to hold the tonneau retaining plate and... they tightened down tightly.  No stripped nuts!

I'll have to cancel that Moss order, but in the meantime it was off to the hardware store!  I bought some alloy steel screws (blackened, even) and headed home.  Unfortunately, Juliette was not around.  So I made a big decision and did it myself.

It really isn't that hard if your lower back is in good shape.  I wrapped one side in a heavy towel and lowered the frame into the car.  I got one screw in on one side, then a second.  I worked my way over to the other side, removed the towel, and installed all three screws.  Then I put the last screw in place on the other-other side, and they all tightened up!

The result is a smoothly working frame that goes up and down properly.

Next time, I'll install the actual hood.  That might take a couple of shots of liquid courage.

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