A Bit of a Brute !?.

Some years ago, while watching my brother pushing his Innocenti Mini hard up the Wiscombe Park Hillclimb, I determined that speed hill-climbs and sprints were a form of motor sport that I should like to try and have a go at, and feeling that it was better to stick with a Marque with which you are familiar, and having owned several MGBs over the years I thought that perhaps a Midget would be the best place to start for speed events, after all they are relatively low cost, are easily modified and with spares being plentiful, it ought to be easy to run and work on...

I had looked at several Sprites and Midgets and had found nothing available at all that fitted the bill when a friend alerted me to an advert for an abandoned MGC project, which was local, and surprisingly cheap. Now an MGC is a motor car I had always dreamed of owning - you know, that fantasy garage we all long for, and the prospect of acquiring one at the right price was too good to miss. So I went and had a look only to find out exactly why the price was so keen! Even though I was looking at the car on a rainy day and in the dark this could not hide the car's more obvious faults. Despite this the car was being offered with a current MOT certificate and 5 months' road tax. After some negotiations with the vendor, and having pointed out some of the major defects of which he seemed oblivious, I steeled myself to the prospect of the car not being too pretty on the inside and a deal was done. The car, UTE 480H, which later turned out to be an ex Lancashire Police patrol car, had been secured.

 

I decided to drive the car around carefully until the TAX and MOT expired, probably a stupid thing to do, but done in the hope that if the car didn't expire first, and as it was basically a runner I thought that some of the more obvious mechanical maladies could be identified while on the road, for later rectification, once it had been stripped down. Immediate problems were brakes that didn't work properly, a clutch that was very, very poor and the most curious of handling traits that made right hand corners something of a nightmare at any speed, although the reasons for this were not immediately obvious. At the end of the MOT and about 500 miles the car was taken off the road and a complete strip to a bare shell commenced. The strip down revealed all the usual MGB/C problems with sills and inner wings, together with some less obvious and well-hidden patches with aluminium and pop rivets in major structural areas. No wonder the handling was so odd, but this was compounded by the different spec springs fitted to the rear of the car, neither of which was an MGC GT unit!.

 

Once stripped and all the underseal had been removed the full extent of the rust in the structure of the car was revealed and I went into that mildly despondent state visited upon many classic car owners at some, time wondering why I had ever entered into this venture!. Very luckily for me my good friends Keith, Ian and TJ are made of sterner stuff, and a plan was hatched to begin a twice-weekly campaign to work on the car. They knew just how much I wanted an MGC, and after two years of collective hard graft, and the fitting of sills, floor-pans, boot floor, both A-posts and inner wing sections, one rear chassis leg and both rear wheelarches (not to mention the myriad obsolete parts that were manufactured and fitted), the basic shell was completed, and the team moved on to Ian's father's ZA Magnette which was also completed some little time later….
Even at this late stage I was still intending to build this car up as a standard road car, and was still contemplating a Midget for sprints and hill climbs, but gradually the feeling emerged that perhaps the C would make a good car to use for competition. It would probably be ok for the sprints, and the more I thought about it and the more conversations that I had with various people who all said that a C could never be made to get around the corners of the hills quickly, the more I determined that I would like to try to prove them wrong! Pig headed or what?! So one full roll cage was ordered from Rollcentre, and fitted to the car (it fitted first time with no mods!), and I then despatched the bare monocoque shell to Brown and Gammons for the fitting and alignment of outer body panels and for painting. This was completed in Ferrari Giallo Fly (bright yellow) to their usual superb standard, (despite Ron Gammons having to invest in a new pair of sunglasses), and the painted bodyshell returned to me for building up into a car again.

 

The build specification for the Road Going Modified class of the MGCC Speed championship included up-rated torsion bars from MG Motorsport, the rear axle was rebuilt with an MGB 3.9:1 differential, polyurethane bushes for all of the suspension, Spax adjustable shocks for the front suspension and lowered MGC springs for the rear. I tried adjustable telescopic shocks on the rear but these were a disaster, as even on their softest settings the car was undriveable on anything but the smoothest of smooth roads, so these were swapped for standard lever arms, which have proved to be very effective in use!.

 

A chance encounter at the MGOC Leatherhead event brought forth a set of three 45DCOE Weber carburettors and another chance call brought a pair of Ridguard Rally seats locally. All was set. I determined a basic spec for the engine and local specialists Clifford Cox Engineering built the engine up to this mild state of tune.

After another six months of evening assembly work the car was ready. This was in June 1999, and it was with some trepidation I set out to my first MGCC sprint event at Curborough. I was most grateful to have my brother along to help me with all the formalities, scrutineering and so on all being very very new to me, and he seemed more worried that I felt, but the car passed OK and we were off.

This first event was a real eye opener, proving just how different sprinting is to driving on the road, and showing me that you do have to try in order to be competitive in the Car Club Speed Championship - the drivers are of a high standard with well-sorted cars. I found this first event though to be great, great fun, and although it was obvious to me that the car was not handling at all well, comparatively, and that it was driving me rather than the other way round, I determined to enter a couple more events that season and try to get the feel of the car, to try to familiarise myself with it, and to try and sort it and myself out, with a view to having a bit more of a go in 2000.
For the 2000 season I decided to try and enter as many events as I could, and to just get the feel of the car and practice my 'technique', and then to apply this gained knowledge to additional modifications to the car as necessary to make it suit me and my emerging driving style. Events in 2000 were going quite well and I was amazed to land a class win at Colerne, surprising even the commentator, who was explaining to the crowds (!) the 'poor handling' and 'under-steering' characteristics of the MGC as I set the class fastest time!!

The 2000 season was progressing ok and with minor adjustments the car was beginning to handle more predictably, and investing in a set of MSA list 1B Yokohama tyres on some Beautiful Jaguar 'Dunlop' replica alloy wheels from Realm Engineering, and these together with a larger diameter anti-roll bar on the front seemed to me to work wonders. My event times were now becoming more consistent and more equivalent to the established drivers in the Road Going Modified Class. As the 2000 season was coming to a close it gradually dawned on me that I was in with a shout at the Class title, something I had not dreamed possible at the beginning of the season. All it needed was a fast time at the final two events of the year, the Oddicombe Hillclimb at Torquay and The Pegasus Sprint at Castle Combe. Oddicombe went well and I managed the class win, so it was down to Castle Combe, the final event of the season, where a class record would see me the class winner. No pressure then…

As we arrived at Combe it was raining, and it continued to drizzle all through the morning, the marshals being kept busy with a record 17 red flags at quarry corner during practice, so I put my thoughts of a record and the class right to the back of my mind. For the afternoon timed runs the drizzle cleared and the track began slowly to dry out.

It wasn't at all dry for the first of the timed runs, but as I rolled out for the second, one of the MGB drivers shouted through my window, crash helmet and concentration that it looked as if the track was now dry. Venturing onto the track I found it amazing to see a pair of dry, car width, tracks heading off from the start where the previous cars had been, so I gave it a bit of a go, following these two dry tracks, and managed to set a new class record time by 2/10ths of a second! The RGM MGA/B/C class was mine! I just could not believe it. I had even managed to take the class win for the event, my first, so had a pot to collect too. Wow!

Flushed with my success in the 2000 season, and having determined what I thought was not quite right with myself and the car, I acquired a set of anti-tramp bars for the rear suspension, to try to gain a little extra traction off the start line instead of the series of small axle hops that the car had been prone to, and I also wanted to try to extract a little more grunt from the MGC engine. I spoke to Piper Cams who provided a 'Hybrid' camshaft, which they advised should provide the engine characteristics that I was looking for, (they didn't say that this was the right way to go though) and having removed the engine off it went to Clifford Cox for strip down and inspection. Oh dear oh dear. The inspection revealed that the engine was not in as good a condition as we might have anticipated, even though I had tried to be careful (?) with it, that it had suffered from oil starvation at some point, and some stretching of the pistons above the small ends, probably through my enthusiasm and inexperience having over-revved it at some stage. Oops.

In an effort to counteract this, and make the engine more reliable, seeing as I was giving it quite a lot of hard use now, a set of Austin Healey 3000 forged Cosworth pistons, from Dennis Welch engineering were fitted, these apparently being the bees' knees. They are certainly beautiful pieces of engineering. A baffle was fitted to the sump to try to prevent the oil surge, and then the revised camshaft. The engine was reinstalled into the car together with a competition clutch plate from MG Motorsport. On reinstallation the car was fitted up with a replacement glass-fibre bonnet and tailgate, and the running in process begun prior to the first MGCC event at Oddicombe in Devon. Curiously, at 500 miles the head gasket began leaking, for no apparent reason, and after inspection and measuring a new one was fitted. Oddicombe went well, and I beat my 2000 time by a couple of seconds, only to be beaten into class second place. At least the car was running and the winter modifications seemed to have made the right kind of progress. Second event of the year for me was Northern Series one at Harewood in Yorkshire, and again the car performed as I had hoped and a class win was secured, although the target time for the class was some way off. A demon driver must have set this! Championship competitors had now begun referring to the car as the world's fastest banana, so a call to Fyffes produced some suitable stickers and other pit goodies.

Third event of 2001 was the Southsea Sprint at the Goodwood circuit, and here the car performed just a I had hoped, beating the class record time in practice, and lowering it on the timed runs, but a small misfire of the second run should have alerted me to impending problems. However, still I ventured out for the third 'fun run'; and BANG, coming out of Levant corner, no power. No horrible noises, just no power. Suspecting the head gasket had let go again I trundled back to the paddock, where a kindly fellow competitor offered to trailer the car back to Slough for me. That's one of the aspects that I really like about the MGCC Speed Championship. Not only are the events good fun, and the competition keen, but your fellow competitors are the friendly, helpful and enthusiastic kind, where nothing is too much trouble and their assistance is freely offered. This continuation into extra runs where offered by event organisers, once you have the time 'in the bag', only to blow up or fall off, has become known as 'Doing a Chris' and has been copied by several competitors at events subsequently…

The next day I took the head off to find that the head gasket had indeed blown, but so had two of those gorgeous Cosworth pistons. So it was out with the engine again, off to the engineers, who were really helpful, and after a hone and a new pair of pistons the engine was reinstalled in time for the MGCC main event at Silverstone, which I really did not want to miss. It's also a good job that I live close to Summit Motors in Maidenhead, as I have found them to be knowledgeable, sympathetic and keen to help, and to cap it off they've usually got the required parts on the shelf, even for a C, meaning I can get my maintenance done within sensible timescales.

For the MGCC Silverstone I was still running in the car after the 'Goodwood experience', but was pleased to be leading the class after three timed runs, only to metaphorically 'take it easy' on the final run and be beaten into second place by a fine drive by an MGB. Drat. The next weekend I was sorting the car out in readiness for a Northern Series MGCC event at Ty Croes on Anglesey only for the head gasket to start leaking again during a short run near to home. As we had eliminated everything else, and a strip down revealed no other faulty parts, we determined that there must be some other fault, as yet unseen, with the securing of the cylinder head itself against the raised compression that the Cosworth pistons now gave. So a brand new set of head studs, washers and nuts was ordered, and Anglesey was unfortunately missed. The new studs arrived two days later, were fitted and the head torqued down again (I was getting good at this now) and the car run as hard as I dared for the next couple of nights to see if the fault developed again. I could not make it fail on the road, so I set off in some trepidation the next Saturday morning for the next Southern series event at Lydden Hill. Here the car performed faultlessly, and I managed to knock some seconds off the existing class record time. Hooray. Following the fitting of the new head studs the engine has performed fantastically, and a Rolling Road session with Peter Lander at Sigma Engineering showed serious Bhp at the rear wheels and significantly he increased the output at 3000 rpm by some 20Bhp through his careful attention to the jetting of the Weber carburettors. The car was now really driveable, and has become for me a stunning road car as well as a good performer in the championship.

 

The rest of the 2001 season went very well, with good times set at Shelsley Walsh, Anglesey (I got there for the second MGCC run event of the year, and am really pleased that I made the effort as it's a super track, and the MGCC event is great fun), Prescott, Wethersfield, Wiscombe Park, (where the bumps through the esses did put paid to my overworked differential, and it let go the next day at Thoresby Park, requiring the intervention of the RAC and more gratefully received assistance from fellow competitors, one of whom even lent me their car in order that I could establish a time, the diff having expired during practice), and finally Castle Combe, where I managed to be the fastest MG on the day.
My 2001 season finished with 1st place in the Road Going Modified Class for MGA/B/C the MGCC Speed Championship for both the Northern and Southern series, 3rd overall in the Northern Series and 4th overall in the Southern, also securing the MG Motorsport MGC Register Trophy for the second year. Not too bad for a car with the 'poor handling' reputation of the MGC, which I hope by now I have gone some small way to showing can be unfounded, as indeed the knowledgeable MGC specialists will all tell you if only you care to listen!.

 

Hopefully this account of the enjoyment I have had from sprints and hillclimbs and the MGC's successes may also encourage other MGC owners to consider entering the MGCC Speed Championship, where you will find good friendly competition, for which the entry fees are modest, and you will enjoy the great thrill that are speed hillclimbs and sprints.

The MGCC Speed championship is Co-ordinated by Jean Entwistle, who can be contacted for the Championship Regulations at 55 Hilton Grove, Prestwich, Manchester, Or by looking at the Motorsport links on the MG web pages. www,mgcars.org . where there is also an excellent beginner's guide written by Graham Bishko.