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TRIBUTE TO THE BRITISH SPORTS CARS.

This page is in tribute to the British Sports Cars of the 1950's and 1960's including the MGA, MGB, Triumph TR3, TR4, TR250, TR6, TR7, Spitfire, Austin Healey 3000 and the MG Midget and Austin Healey Sprite.  These cars were never advanced, but they provided fun, good gas mileage, speed, good handling for the time, and a feeling of freedom as a result of the unique sound and the wind of the open convertible.

My first was a 1967 Austin Healey Sprite.  It had a 1098cc engine putting out 60 horsepower with duel side draft SU carburators.  It would do zero to 60 in 10 seconds and run a top speed of about 95.  The cost was only $1700 or about the same as VW bug.  It turned 4200 rpm at 70 mph and made approximately 38 mpg.  If I was running an economy run I would pump up the tires to 45 lbs/in, accelerate slowly and coast when possible for 47 mpg.  On one economy run I got lost going 75 miles out of the way on a 100 mile rally and then driving 90 mph to make the required time I won my class with 38 mpg average.  The last 75 miles was driving as fast as it would go and getting airborne over the bridges and tops of hills.  I felt like I could pick it up and run with it.  When I was driving I could slide it into a turn 90 degrees to the direction of travel at 60 mph and then make a square turn of it.  I loved doing handbrake turns where I could be traveling at 70, pull the handbrake (we all taped down the button so it would release when we released the handle), pop it into first and then slide backwards at exactly 180 degrees from the direction of travel until the spinning rear tires managed to change the direction back the way I had come.  Normal U-turns were forgotten.  The Sprite was like a second skin.  I could drive it on a 24 trip and arrive wanting to go for a drive.  I have never had a car with more comfortable seats.  Once on a road rally my navigator and I were timed, unbeknownst to us, while changing a tire.  I stopped from 70 mph with a flat tire, changed the tire and got back up to 70 in 38 seconds.  My navigator and I had a system worked out where we shared the work of changing a flat.  That poor car.  I used 6700 rpm for a red line instead of the 6000 it was designed for.

I loved my 1959 Triumph TR3.  I bought it used for $600 with 170,000 miles on it.  I had to restitch the red leather seats and buy it new side curtains (after replacing the duct tape about 6 times).  I drove that clunker for 70,000 miles.  I had been driving it for about 6 months including a few slalom races (now they are called Solo II) when I decided to check the brake wear.  I discovered that I was metal on metal at all four wheels.  I put on new brake pads and shoes at the back and could not really tell that much difference, but I felt better knowing that I had real brakes.  I drove that car on many Jeep trails where I had to spin the tires to get over the rocks and then scrape the frame along until the rear wheels got there.  My battery went dead when the temperature in Utah got to 15 below so I used the hand crank.  One slow turn, then one fast one always started it.  Without the engine running the battery was so dead that the dash lights did not work at night, but once started with the two turns of the hand crank I would get out my jumper cables and jump start the new American cars.    I drove it that was for a year.  When I traded off the Sprite above for a faster two seater, I took its battery for the TR3 so I would not have to use the crank.  The red line on the tac was only 5000 rpm, but the owners manual said to not cruise for long distances at over 110 mph, which was at 5500 rpm so I used 6000 as a red line.  The old TR3 only had 95 lbs of engine compression when I bought it and leaked a quart of oil every 1500 miles.  After 70,000 miles of additional driving it still had 95 lbs and still leaked a quart every 1500 miles. At idle you could see it dripping at both ends of the crankshaft.  Once under power, it did not leak so the bottom of the car stayed clean.  I sold it to buy another car and the new owner got hit in the side by a pickup which did not hurt the driver of the TR3, but ended the cars life with a bent frame.  Things I loved most were sitting at a drive in theater with my cola on the ground in easy reach over the low doors.  The owners manual told me to shift slowly to keep from grinding the gears with the explanation that the gears were made of heavy duty metal that could not be shifted fast without grinding, but to not worry about the grinding noise as it would do no harm.

I had a Datsun 2000 (really fast) and a Porsche 911 before coming back to the British sports cars again.  My next was a Triumph TR4.  I had hoped for a more sophisticated TR3, but it was well worn when I got it.  Not that it used much oil, but the rear seal was so bad that every few thousand miles the clutch would slip terribly.  When it got too bad, I would park against a guard rail and slip the clutch to burn off the oil and then drive for a few thousand more.  It had lots of rust and I gave it up.

My next was a Triumph Spitfire.  I've had 3 and will probably get one more.  The beauty of the car is the ease of maintenance when you can tilt up the entire front of the car, pull up a seat on a tire and fiddle with the engine.  The transmission hump is removable to pull the transmission out from between the seats.  When I broke the clutch splines and had to replace the clutch without a clutch alignment tool, I stood in the passenger seat and used the transmission to align the clutch before tightening the pressure plate.  One was mistaken for something else by most people.  It was only recognizable from the rear.  All I did was to take chrome mud flaps and place one on both the front and back of each wheel well and then fill in the gap to the body with Bondo so it looked like integral fender flares.  I added a flat piece of sheet metal to the front as a spoiler, repainted the car Ferrari red, added some chrome spoked wheels and people constantly asked how I could afford such a car until I told them it was a 15 year old Spitfire with a stock engine.  It was the later model with a 1500cc engine.

My current car is a 1977 MGB.  It has zero rust although it needs paint again.  The engine was just redone with hardened valve seats all new everything that moves in the engine and a new clutch.  I will probably drive it for a few more years before getting that next Spitfire.  I want to trick up the body like I did above.  However, the MG is too good to sell for the price I would get out of it.  The MG has caused me more trouble than any of the other British sports cars.  Once the ground wire to the engine broke out of sight inside the insulation.  I had two gas peddle cables break before I discovered it was acting as the ground wire when using the starter-melted it twice.  The electric fans wore out and the stock ones cost as much as a modern fan that covers the entire radiator...so. The fuel pump was replaced by a wimpy after market fuel pump that is quite loud until the exhaust drowns it out at anything over 5 mph.  The gauges and the tach are all interconnected.  Something strange keeps happening where the voltage drops, the tach stops the fuel gauge and temperature gauge all read too low and the signal and brake lights quite lighting up.  If I slow down or just keep driving everything goes back to normal in 2-3 miles.  I've been trying to figure out how to get under the hood at 75 to check out the wiring with a volt ohmmeter to see if I can find the cause of the temporary low voltage.  I had a brake line plug up and lock a brake.  The brake pedal is too low, but I have tried disconnecting the power brakes and changed all the lines, calipers, wheel cylinders and master cylinder with no luck.  Oh well, it stops with 2 inches of pedal left.  The carb is a side draft Hitachi from a Datsun 240Z to replace the single Zenith that came on it.  I changed the electronic ignition for an older type with points. They don't make points like they used to.  I used to leave them in for 80,000 miles all pitted and eaten up.  I've had trouble with the new ones coming apart where a point actually comes off the arm or the spring arm breaks.  At least the MGB is made out of real steel.  They tried a barrier crash at 35 mph with one in government testing and where the Japanese cars would have crushed the driver, the MGB was driveable except that the bolts holding the radiator broke leaving the radiator loose.  (The front was smashed, but they actually found it easier to wire the radiator in place and drive it away instead of towing it off.)

The British sports car is unique.  It has a sound and a character that are un-mistakable. The Japanese copies are just cheap thin metal sedans in sports car clothing.  How can you call anything a sports car that comes with an automatic, air conditioning, and power steering.  Why would you need power steering on a sports car.  The MGB is the only one that even had power brakes and I am thinking of changing them out to manual.  My MG came used with an aftermarket air conditioner that worked, but I took it off to keep the MGB easy to work on.  

Special tools required.  7/16, 1/2, 9/16, 5/8 inch wrenches, a flat tip and a phillips screwdriver will dismantle the car.  I can overhaul the engine while it is in the car.  I can change the head in 45 minutes of very leisurely work.  Tune-up?  15 minutes including the distributor points.  

Parts sources.  Try Victoria British in Topeka Kansas or Moss Motors in California.  Two-three days shipping and the parts are as cheap as old Chevy parts...in fact I have a Chevy alternator.  I had the starter rebuilt for $23 at a starter shop.  They said the starter is what International diesel trucks use.  Clutch...about $30.  

LINKS:

http://www.vtr.org#Vintage Triumph Register

All About British CarsThis link has MGB jokes buried that you can't miss if you have an MGB.  Did you know they all list to the left.

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