The MG Y Type Buyer's Guide
All of these articles are available elsewhere within the website, however for ease of access for someone contemplating their first MG Y Type we have grouped them all together here. There is are also some articles written by Neil Cairns which can either be viewed on this page, or downloaded as a PDF file, and four reprinted articles from the motoring press. All files are in PDF Format for which you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you have not got this installed on your PC you can download it free here .
By inclusion of the article on this site, the International MG Y Type Register does not necessarily agree with, nor endorse any of the contents of an article as to correctness or accuracy. All views are those of the original author and original publisher only and not necessarily those of the International MG Y Type Register. They are reproduced here without correction or alteration.
A further twenty two articles can be found in the book Y-Type & Magnette ZA/ZB by Brooklands, also reviewed on the Book Review Page. This edition of the book is currently out of print.
However, Brooklands have released a new edition too (see right). The new edition has twenty nine articles in it on the MG Y Type. A library of other articles reprinted from original magazines can also be found on our Reprinted Articles page.
The Running Gear.
So you have decided to buy a M.G. 'Y' series. You have read up on all the road tests available, and the excellent books 'Let there be Ys' by David Lawrence and 'MG Y-Types Saloons and Tourers' John Lawson (both available from the MG Car Club Y Type Register website www.mgytypes.org). You sent off or downloaded the reprints of the Practical Classics back-copy on Buying A 'Y', of November 1993, the MG Enthusiast Magazine 'Y' Type article of Feb/March 1985 and Popular Classics Magazine 'The Y Type of November 1993, (now available from Practical Classics) and you have read the reprint of the article from Practical Classics December 1984 reprinted in Brookland's book MG Y Types and Magnettes ZA/ZB (also available from the MG Car Club Y Type Register website www.mgytypes.org). You have been to a few M.G. shows, and have spoken to 'Y' owners. The car is what you want, and you have a good idea of its abilities, running costs, spares availability, insurance, etc. Now it is time to look at the cars for sale to find your ideal version. Always, always do your homework before you buy a car, impulse buying will only lead to tears and an overdraft.
In this article we are going to look at the running gear, this includes the engine, gearbox, rear axle,
steering and suspension. The car has many grease nipples that will require attention every 1,000 miles, and oil changes at every 3,000 miles. Servicing an older car is quite an expense if you cannot do it yourself. Fail to service it properly and things will seize up and break. Service it properly and most of it will last for ages and ages, well beyond that of the equivalent sealed-for-life modern car part.
The M.G. 'One and a Quarter Litre' sports saloon is "of its age". That simply means the car is not a 1990's sports hatch, and cannot hope to keep up with modern motorway traffic. Under its bonnet is an engine the origins of which date its design back to the 1920's, while at the same time having some very modern engineering inside it. It is an overhead-valve (ohv) unit of 1,250cc giving out 46 brake-horse-power. That is only 1,250cc pulling a car weighing over a tonne, so today the performance may seem very pedestrian. In 1937, when the car was conceived (to be ready for the 1940 motor show), its 70mph max speed was very good, its specification excellent, and its road holding superb. This was in comparison with other four door family saloons, of the late 1930's. Many had elderly, long stroke, asthmatic side valve engines of very low power. The little M.G. sports saloon was the VW Golf GTi of its day, (or even a BMW 2002 of the 60's for you older enthusiasts). Note this was the late 1930's, so to drive a YA, YT, or YB today requires very careful road reading, as most modern motorists will not understand your cars lower performance.
If you are going to look at a restoration job, the engine is going to need a full rebuild, as is the gearbox, brakes, suspension, steering and rear axle. For the engine alone, you should budget for £1,500 plus. Gearboxes often only require new bearings and oil seals, rear axles the same, though note that the one fitted to the YB is the later hypoid type and longer available. (The YA has the older spiral-bevel axle, whereas the YB has the later Nuffield axle.) As you will have read all about the cars, you will also know the braking system's differ, twin leading shoe on the YB, and single leading shoe on the YA/YT. While the 'Y' series look as if they come from the 1930's with their upright styling, the independent front suspension (designed by a young Alec Issigonis), rack and pinion steering, ohv engine, three synchromesh gearbox and hydraulic brakes set the standard for cars of the late 1950's. The steering and suspension were used on the TD, TF, MGA, MGB undergoing only slight modifications before finishing up on the MG RV8 1993!
If the car you are going to see is a runner, and advertised with an MOT, tax, and driveable, then you can do quite
a bit to check out the running gear.
- When you arrive have a long chat with its owner. An enthusiast will tell you a great deal about the car, any work done, and possibly anything that will need work. Check the engine is not hot, as you will want to see how the car starts from cold.
- Walk about the car, does it sit level, what are the door gaps like, tyre condition, how clean is the engine, battery condition, (take its cover off), what is the wiring like? You are getting a general feel for the car, its condition, how it has been kept and serviced.
- Look underneath at the kingpins (front suspension main vertical piece about which the wheel turns), is there clean grease coming out of them? Or are they dry and rusty looking?
- Take out the engine dip stick, look at the oil, is it clean or thick black muck?
- Take off the engine oil filler cap, is it clean inside or is there lots of white 'mayonnaise'? This white foamy looking stuff tells of a cold running engine, possibly with an internal water leak. Grey oil is an indication of oil mixed with water.
- Look underneath at the engine sump. If it is all dry and clean that is very suspect, as these old engines all weep at the timing cover seal, and the rear crankshaft seal after a few miles. The front seal is a bit of asbestos rope, the rear seal a reverse-scroll type (unless a new seal has been expertly fitted — ask to see the invoices for this work and the parts). These engines were being built a long time before neoprene spring loaded lip-seals.
- Look where the car is usually parked, that will tell you how much the engine/gearbox/rear axle leaks. The gearbox should not leak, but the speedometer drive may seep a little. The rear axle again should not leak. These two units have leather lip-seals.
- Check the steering rack boots for splits and leaks whilst you are underneath, (MGA ones fit). So far, you are just looking at things, we have not actually tried the engine yet.
So, now get into the drivers seat, pull out the choke if it's a cold day, turn on the ignition, and pull (or push on some very early side battery box YAs) the starter button. All 'Y's fire up instantly so long as you let the fuel pump tick away till the carburettor float chamber is full. When you started the engine, a glance in the rear view mirror would have shown you a puff of blue smoke. This will be oil that drained down the inlet valve guides.
- These engines DO USE OIL, it is quite normal, it is how much that is important. Blue smoke on starting up is nothing to worry about.
- The engine should idle over a little fast with the choke out, but look at the ammeter, it should be charging a little after the use of the starter motor.
- Glance at the oil pressure gauge which should be creeping up to about 50psi. Once the engine is hot, the oil pressure will be between 15 to 60 psi depending upon the condition of the engine, at idle rpm. But at 30mph it should be firm on 50psi when the engine is hot. People worry a lot over oil pressure, and it is one of the easiest 'pressures' to boost by adding washers to the pressure relief valve. As long as it is over 40psi at 30mph, and at least 10psi at idle, there will not be a great deal wrong.
- It is the sounds the engine makes that is important. It will 'tick' a little from under the rocker cover, as these engines are very 'tappety'. Now leave the engine running whilst you listen to it.
- Wait until the radiator cap is hot, ( there is no water temperature gauge on these cars, and the system is not pressurized.) This will take a good ten minutes.
Blue smoke all the time that the engine is running though, is a hint of serious wear. To check this out we need
to go for a drive. But before this, open the bonnet and look under the water pump at the front of the engine. Any water dripping from here shows the water pump is worn out.
- Look down at the engine breather, the pipe that runs down behind the distributor. There should not be any smoke coming out of this, though a small amount of oil vapour may stain the chassis. Remember, these old engines do not have enclosed breather systems as on modern cars. Many of them leave a little 'fingerprint' of their oil drips when parked, not something people with posh driveways relish. Only a new XPAG engine does not leak, or else one with an empty sump! Leakage includes that oil mist that escapes via the breathers. A very oily rocker cover may indicate the engine has worn pistons and rings, as the oil is blown out of the oil filler cap and from the vent pipe to the air silencer/filter mounted above the engine.
- Take a look at all the core plugs you can see. There are five of these on the inlet side of the engine and none of them should be weeping. Any with signs of rust may be about to burst, loosing all the coolant. Replacement is more fiddly than expensive though.
- Listen to the front of the engine. A rattle at the front of the engine may be a worn timing chain. This will require the sump to be removed to change it, not an easy task.
Now, having done all of the above, take the car for a run.
- The clutch should be firm and easy to operate. Glance down at the pedals as you push in the clutch, the brake pedal should NOT move. They run on the same shaft and if not lubricated can become very stiff and interact. This is an MoT failure point.
- The first gear will need firm engagement as it uses direct cogs, (as does reverse) and all the gears will seem to have low ratios.
- Unless you are an expert at double-de-clutching never engage first with the car moving. Drive off and change gear as required. Second, third and top will be easy as these have synchromesh. Now go back down the box, but NOT into first. Do this a few times to check the synchromesh is good. If the gears crunch a little, try double-de-clutching as this may improve the change. The gearbox should not be noisy, but sometimes the rear axle can whine. This is more noticeable as you get nearer 60mph. The gear lever may 'zzizzz' at speed, this can be bearing wear inside the box, or just the rear axle sending its whine up the propeller shaft. There should not be any loud clonks from the transmission. If there are the propeller shaft universal joints may be worn, or the flanges may not be tightly done up to the gear box / rear axle.
- The steering should be very good and positive, the rack and pinion and independent front suspension make the car feel very modern.
- If cross ply tyres are fitted, they will scrub on fast corners, If radial ply tyres are fitted the car will run quieter but the steering will be much heavier. That is why the steering wheel is so big, - to give you the leverage.
The brakes on the YA are good, but those on the YB far better. Both cars need a very firm foot on the brake pedal,
as there is no servo assistance. Basically the harder you can push, the better they are. The pedal should be firm and only go down half way. Again it should not move the clutch pedal, or hit it by sideways movement.
The car is pleasant to drive, and in its element between 20 and 55 mph. It will love secondary roads and winding
lanes, but fast trunk roads will be hard work, and motorways far too fast. You must learn to use the rear view mirror often, and give plenty of time to pull out of T-junctions.
Upon returning from the run, leave the engine idling over for about ten minutes, and then blip the throttle.
- Only a small amount of blue smoke should come out of the exhaust. If there is a lot, the engine may need a rebore, and probably new valve guides. This is expensive. Ask the vendor is the engine is converted for lead-free petrol. If not, then the valve guides fault will be cured once new valves and guides are fitted. Worn pistons are another story, and will mean an expensive engine rebuild.
- On the drive there should not have been any rattling from the engine, and the oil pressure should have
remained about 50psi when on the move. Now, after the run, with the hot engine idling, look at the oil pressure gauge. If there is virtually no pressure, this will confirm the engine is worn out if there is blue smoke from the exhaust pipe.
- Check the carburettor now, there should not be any fuel leaks.
- Look under the car to see if any oil has magically re-appeared where all was dry before the run. People have been known to clean the sump off with carburettor cleaner, this makes it look oil free. Small drips are not too serious and can be lived with.
- Undo the radiator cap with a cloth, (it is not pressurised) and see where the water level is. It should be at the bottom of the filler neck., If it is out of sight, where has it gone? Look underneath for drips. Inspect the radiator matrix carefully, as this is expensive to rebuild. Do this with the engine stopped, or the cooling fan will take your finger off.
What is your impression? If you like the car now is the time to give other items a firm check over.
- Jack up each wheel in turn and check for worn wheel bearings and tyre condition.
- Spin the steering from lock to lock, checking for play in the king pins with a tyre lever under the wheel, lifting the lever gently from below as the MoT examiner does to see if there is play in the kingpin.
- Look at brake hose condition, there should be no cracks.
- Check brake pipes for corrosion.
- Look hard at suspension fixings and rear spring hangers for rust.
- From underneath, grasp the very rear end of the gearbox and shove it up towards the floor hard. It should not move, unless the rear eye-bolt is broken. This eye-bolt holds the gearbox down onto the cross member, and sometimes the casting cracks if the car has been 'jumped' over bridges, etc. The action of the car landing forces the prop-shaft forward, and this can hit the gearbox breaking this mounting.
- Check the universal joints on the propeller shaft, do they look dry and rusty? Grasp the shaft each side of a joint and try twisting in opposite directions. Any play is bad news.
- On the YA/YT look at the chassis to rear axle Panhard rod, are the end fixings in good condition.
- On the YB look hard at the front anti-roll-bar. This differs from the MGA/MGB fixing, and can crack at the lower spring pan mounting points
The front damper is part of the upper suspension arm. If the trunion does not get greased regularly, the bolt
seizes in the trunion, and twists in the damper arms. Eventually it will break, and you crash! The guide is fine rust dust around the bolt ends, and an awful squeak when depressing the front wings.
Grasp the car at each bumper corner and bounce it up and down to see if the damper on that corner works. Any leaks
from the damper mean fitting a reconditioned unit, more expense, and an MOT failure if you do not.
The Jackall system may not work, though many do but on the front end only. You can try it out, but the rear axle
hose has often burst, and the rear jacks have seized up. Use ordinary motorcycle fork oil in the reservoir. Never trust the Jackall system to go under the car, without axle stands. Many MOT examiners mistake this tank for the brake master cylinder reservoir. The master cylinder is under a little steel cap under the floor of driver's seat. The floors are wooden, so be very suspicious of cars fitted with seat belts, as they may not have sufficient anchoring strength. Remember, if you lower the Jackall rams, you must ensure that the rams are fully retracted before moving off in the car, otherwise substantial damage will be caused to the rams.
Looking under the car again, at the back of the brake backplates, look for damp areas where brake fluid has seeped
out. If there is any doubt over brake cylinder leaking, take off that wheel and brake drum to check. YA and YT will need the cylinders re-lining, though the YB uses the later TD items. Maybe just a seal kit is needed.
The XPAG engine used in the 'Y' series is based on a design first fitted to the Morris Ten/4 of 1938. This engine was also fitted to the M.G. TA. It proved to not be very tuneable, so it was updated and had a certain amount of redesign to become the 'Short Stroke Morris Ten 'M' engine of 1,140cc in 1939. This was opened out to 1,250cc and fitted to the M.G. TB as the XPAG. The TC, TD and TF also used the 1,250cc engine up to 1955, as did the Wolseley 4/44 from 1952 to 1956. It is a tough unit, but suffers the common faults of early overhead valve types. That is a high wear rate of the camshaft, followers, rocker arms, rocker shaft and valve guides. The timing chain also rattles if the oil pressure gets low, as it has an oil-pressurised tensioner. The long stroke also means rpm is limited, so long runs at high speeds leads to bore and piston ring wear. It has shell bearings fitted on the crankshaft, so these can be renewed. The oil pump is an excellent one, and will be more than capable of feeding any quantity required. It has a pressure relief valve that operates all the time once 50psi is reached. This is why putting a couple of washers behind the valves spring will 'artificially' boost the oil pressure. The Morris Ten/4 series 3 and Wolseley Ten/40 used the 1,140cc engine, up to 1947. This can be bored out to 1,250cc if required. For more information is available on this engine as a free download,click here for a copy.
Other points to consider maybe:
- Where will you get the spares you need?
- How much will it cost to insure, and do you need agreed-value insurance?
- Where will you store the car?
- And more to the point what space will you need if you are to strip and rebuild it?
Owning and driving a classic car of the 'Y's vintage means a lot of Tender Loving Care is needed, constant servicing and watching for signs of faults. The M.G. Car Club offers lots of technical advice to Y owners via its website at www.mgytypes.org, and the 'Y' Register has people with many years of experience to help you. You only have to ask!
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It is not hard to pick up a copy of a motoring article on the 'New' M.G. One and a Quarter Litre Saloon. The press have always printed full road tests and technically detailed articles on new models. So if you want to find out about your 'YA', today you can buy booklets from Brooklands Books entitled & "MG 'Y' Types & Magnette ZA/ZB", (ISBN 1-85520-347-2). YAs, YTs and ZAs abound in its 92 pages of old article reprints, but very little on the YB or even ZB. By the time MG came to update these cars, the news was not so important, especially if very little external differences could be seen on the 'updated', or 'face-lifted' model. For we enthusiasts, this leads to many people not even knowing there was an updated 'Y' series, the 'YB', and even fewer who know how to tell them apart from the 'YA'. Worse is the fact M.G. themselves did not 'add' the relevant update till quite a few 'YB's had been built. The press would rather show a face-lift as news, bits you cannot see being updated are not as interesting, or newsworthy.
Strange as it may seem, the YA carried over some rather ancient engineering from pre-war Morris models. Though the 'YA' (I call it the YA, though it was only the 'Y' until the inception of the 'YB') had rack and pinion steering with independent front suspension, (ifs) it still had single-leading-shoe (sls) front brakes. The ifs and steering put the car miles ahead of contemporary efforts by others, such as Austin and Ford, but the YA brakes were not known for their efficiency. It was only when the TD was developed on the Y's excellent thin-walled 14swg boxed-in chassis, that all-new Lockheed twin-leading-shoe, (tls) front brakes arrived. According to MG literature, these tls brakes were fitted from YB number 286, so from the first car at 251, YA parts were still used! Rear brakes remained with a 'single-leading' shoe, and one 'trailing' shoe, or the car would have become virtually brake-less in reverse. For the uninitiated, 'leading-shoes' are those that come on and are actually 'dragged' on more in a 'self-servo' action by the rotation of the brake drum, giving far better braking if travelling forwards. A leading shoe has its leading edge touch the drum first. A 'trailing-shoe' is one that the rotation of the brake drum tries to 'push-away' the shoe, hindering the brake's action, (but in reverse this 'trailing-shoe' becomes a 'leading shoe'). Lo and behold, BMC re-introduced the sls front brakes on the 1959 Mini, to keep costs low. Those who drove these early Mini's will remember those brakes. BMC were soon forced to fit tls brakes, then discs, then servo-discs.
So the YB gained the later 'Nuffield' twin leading shoe front brakes from the TD, though such a system requires two front brake cylinders to each side, as each shoe is individually operated. It has been known for amateur restorers to fit the brake back-plates onto the wrong side of the car, continuing to assemble the brakes in such a fashion they have ended up with a full set of 'trailing' shoes. As the car will have awful forward brakes, the MoT examiner soon picks this error up. Not only did the 'YB' braking system gain modern drum brake technology, the system itself was different from that fitted to the previous YB. The YB drums were also once piece- wheel bearing hubs, the drums could not be removed separately as on the 'YA'.
Well into YB production at car number 286 again, the rear axle was changed from the 'Morris banjo' spiral-bevel type to the 'Nuffield' split variety, with hypoid-gears. This was much stronger, quieter, and longer lived than the pre-war Morris unit fitted to the 'YA'. The 'YB' axle gained the one-piece five-stud brake drums as well, fitting onto a locating taper, and splined drive shaft end with a very large nut. Hiding all this brake technology were 5.50 by 15 inch
wheels, one inch smaller than those on the YA of 5.00 by 16 inch. To improve the looks of the model, YB rear wings were given a deeper skirt than the YA, this being the most obvious visual difference between the two versions. Deeper rear wings must have been a current styling fad, as the 803cc Morris Minor S2 also lost its slimmer rear wings to deeper versions on the 948cc Minor 1000 shortly after. Chromed steel hubcaps on the YB were smaller, and had an unpainted 'M.G.'' motif, cast in Mazak, in the centre. These hubcaps are identical to those on the TD, TF, ZA, ZB, ZBV, and Farina Magnettes, though after 1960 they are stainless steel pressings. Well hidden from view was a more modern brake master-cylinder mounted aft of the pedal-box. Not only the type of rear axle, but also rear axle ratios differed between the YA and YB, but only because of the wheel sizes; the YA was 5.143:1 and the YB was 5.125:1, (the same ratio used in the Wolseley 4/44 and Morris MO series. These cars only had standard BMC four stud wheel fixings though).
The spare wheel cover was enlarged on the YB to take the larger section 5.50 tyre, but this is hard to see with the eye. Other supposed updates of the electrical system were fed in piecemeal, current books say the YB had a later Lucas RB106 control box with separate fuse box, though early YB owners such as myself will tell you these were not fitted for quite some months into production, at car number 326 to be exact. A bit like saying the 'YB'' has the SC2 version of the XPAG engine, when in fact a number of the last 'YA''s had this engine with the integral oil filter cast onto the side of the oil pump.
I recently read that the YA did not handle as well as was expected. It roll-over-steered a little to readily, and considering it had a rear panhard rod to control rear axle side-movement this surprised me. Anyway, M.G. decided the panhard rod was expensive and not required so deleted it from the 'YB'. At the same time M.G. modified the ifs geometry by lowering the bottom wishbone fulcrum point on the chassis cross member. You can see the "welded on" bracket the lower arms now bolted to, between the arms and the cross member. This lowered the roll centre, and to ensure the car sat better on corners, a front anti-roll bar was fitted. As the MGA and MGB use a virtually identical ifs system, it is again interesting to see how these sports cars anti-roll bars link to the suspension, when compared to the YB's arrangement. On the YB the link bolts to the upper flat face of the spring seat. These crack after many years use around the bolt heads. On the other cars, the link bolts to holes drilled in the front wishbone arm; a much stronger position. Nice to know that MGA lower arms and seat pans fit a 'Y' type, (as do MGB items, especially the longer life MGB V8 inner bushes). The sports car king pins are very different though look similar externally.
Dampers were improved at the rear on the YB, though their basic 'lever-arm' design was similar. The YB has heavy-duty rear dampers. Road tests spoke of the better twin-tone horns of the YB, but these were not fitted to production models until car number 460. Headlamp shells were smaller on the YB to take the standard seven-inch Lucas pre-focus lamp unit, but again this was not easily seen by the eye.
So really it is hard to decide exactly where the YB began. What with late YAs getting the later engine, and other parts taking ages to arrive, or was it just a case of using up current production items, and feeding in the new parts when old items ran out? M.G. must have taken the decision at a point in production to say, "YBs start here".
It is a little worrying when you realise that the last YA was number Y 7285, and the first YB was YB 0251 leaving Abingdon on 21 November 1951, when the only real difference between the two was the wheel size, anti-roll bar, lower bottom wishbone, and rear wing valance depth. The YA already had the SC2 XPAG engine, and the other 'updated' items would arrive some months later Improved tls brakes and better rear axle on car YB 0286, control box on car YB 0326, and finally twin tone horns on car YB 0460.
What would Trading Standards make of that today? The adverts had promised all the updates. Perhaps that is why the motoring press was reluctant in those days to feature 'updated cars'. They knew only too well the problems of supply and demand. If you need an in-depth look at what I have touched on light heartedly, you need David Lawrence's book "Let There Be 'Y's" (ISBN 0-620-21832-0), and John Lawson's, "M.G. Y Type Saloons and Tourers." (ISBN 978-185520-86-29).
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