Thoughts on Compulsive Restoration
Octagon Newsletter … October 1990
By David Von Epp
I'm wondering if, in years to come, I won't look back on this part of our relationship and think of it as being the best time of all. I mean that my car and I have a wonderful thing going here. Oh my wife and family are the important part of my daily life, but when I walk into the garage it really becomes a one on one type of thing. You see, I'm going through 'A RESTORATION' … which must sound like a compromise between a religious experience and an affair. 'Obsession' is probably the word that any of you who got through Psychology 101 would apply to these symptoms. But it's a thing I'm enjoying.
When I first started on this task, it was strictly with the idea of taking an old tired MGA MK II and making it into a driveable fun car. Then I took off the fenders to clean up some areas that look questionable … and the interior panels and seats came out very quickly 'cause it would be easier to install that new carpet kit. The windscreen came off to facilitate a neater paint job and a few bits came off the engine so that the engine compartment could be painted along with the exterior …
Next thing I knew, the frame was on one side of the garage and the body tub was on sawhorses. Tacked to the rafters, each neatly labelled (thank you, J. Twist) were 134 sealed baggies full of parts. Why is it that, in spite of all that organization, planning and order I've still got a Folgers's coffee can full of nuts and bolts that didn't make it into a baggie? Where did they come from? I sometimes wake up at night with a fear that the car will go back together and I'll still have a can of bits left over.
The enjoyable part of all this is hard to explain. Sometimes I will walk into the garage and just sit and marvel at what I've done. And it is very hard to explain to someone the sense of satisfaction that I got after restoring say, a master cylinder.
Perhaps this is the secret that all of those people who have done a total restoration never tell us about. I get a tremendous feeling of accomplishment on a Saturday afternoon taking one more component … resplendent in it's coat of new black paint or clear lacquer, all signs of rust removed, new rubber seals intact and putting it on the shelf with the other gleaming goodies. Satisfaction is a shiny silver starting solenoid? Surely. Pleasure in a pristine petrol pipe? Precisely.
But, you may ask, how can this measure up to driving the car, the joy of a top down ride in the country on a summer's day? That's a question I find a little harder to answer. But it is probably just as much fun. As the restoration progresses slowly to it's conclusion, the car that is assembled, both in the mind of the restorer and in the garage, is close to perfect. Each part and piece of the car has been cleaned, polished, and finished with care … refurbished with attention that even Abingdon didn't give it.
If you are anything like I am financially, this long process of rebuilding is fairly expensive and it takes time and all that time the car is off the road, undriveable. But even on a low budget, if your imagination is allowed to roam, the pleasure of owning that MG is present.
A visitor to your garage might walk away with a question or two in their mind about your choice of hobbies after viewing a dis-assembled sports car, but remember that the idea of this whole exercise is to have fun. If one's weekend task is to refinish the dashboard, then there is a lot of satisfaction in seeing it hang on the garage wall, all ready to install, cleaned and looking like new.
The whole process is made up of a hundred tasks, each one taken as an individual challenge, but each completion gives contentment. I'm convinced that next July, on it's 30th birthday I'm going to take my lady and my car and go for a drive. I know too that the drive will bring about some pride, knowing that I restored the car. But I'm prepared to accept, too, that the MG I drive will never be quite as perfect as the car that I visualize today, as I work on it. An old saying that, "it is better to travel in anticipation than to arrive", applies.
Travelling in anticipation is all I've done for a long time now and I'm having a few problems with diversions. One of the first Christmas presents I received after acquiring the car was an unfinished walnut dashboard. This was a challenge, as my family knew it would be, and, after twenty-five coats of rubbed varathane, it gleams with a Rolls-Royce finish … but now a problem arises 'cause, though I'm a stickler for the concours concept of originality, I am committed to installing this wonderful gift. I'm happy with the dash though, because I remember that for my original MGA coupe, back in '63, I spent a winter adapting a wooden dash from MG Mitten. (A California MG accessory company … does anybody remember those wonderful ads in the sportscar magazines? Where are you Marion Weber, now that I need you?) So, while it's not original factory stuff, it was an accessory available at the time. If I install the wooden dash I guess I can't qualify for a concours d'elegance ticket and, if that is the case, I might as well go the distance.
I'm one of those firm believers that one of the few mistakes made in Abingdon in the fifties was an oversight in colour choices. I know Mr. Thornley could never have chosen a colour like Alamo Beige. My original coupe was factory painted a bilious bile green (pea green?). Within a month of purchasing the car, I painted it BRG. Now, thirty years later, I'm thinking again that British Racing Green was really one of the most appropriate colours that an 'A' could be … even though it wasn't available from the factory. Besides, it's my car. If it won't qualify to take a prize 'cause it has a wooden dash, I think I'll paint it a colour I like. So there.
I'm looking forward to driving my MGA … maybe next year. I can see it now, in my mind, how great it will be … top down, open road, BRG paint spotless and gleaming, burled walnut dash flashing in the sun and there won't be any rain, no bugs and the fuel pump will have mended itself, and the speedo won't palsy …
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go out to the garage and sand down some Bondo. Maybe I can get it painted by Christmas.
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