MG TC Reborn Malcolm Thorne hears the story of pilot Paul Mellor’s well-travelled sports car. Paul Mellor spent decades dreaming about MG TC ownership but once he’d found ‘the one’, restoration took barely more than a year. Words Malcolm Thorne. Photography Tony Baker.
A little bit of TLC
Long-distance travel is very much a way of life for Paul Mellor, who as an airline pilot has spent much of the past three-and-a-half decades jetting around the globe. It is fitting, then, that the object of his automotive desires – a beautifully restored 1946 MG TC – should have travelled all the way to the Antipodes and back before finding a home in his affections. “It was despatched new to Australia,” he observes as he reverses the diminutive sports car out of his West Sussex garage on a cold February morning. “It arrived there in June ’1946, eventually returning to the UK 69 years later in mid-2015.”
“I’d wanted a TC since I was in my early teens,” he continues, “and had been looking for one on and off for quite some time. The plan had been to wait until my children had all finished university before beginning the search for one in earnest, but in 2015 I decided I didn’t want to hang on any longer so brought things forward by a few years. I began hunting for a suitable car, and in May 2016 heard of a potential candidate for sale in Blackbushe. I went to view it, taking along my friend John Smith, who at the time owned a garage a few minutes from my home.”
Unfortunately, upon inspection the TC turned out to be something of a let-down, and failed to live up to either Mellor or Smith’s expectations: “It clearly needed a lot of work. Some chrome bits were missing, the paintwork wasn’t very good and during the test drive the passenger door flew open, which may have been a sign!” It was a big disappointment, but parked alongside, lurking under a sheet, was another TC. “John and I asked the vendor if we could have a look at that instead.”
That second car, WXG 194, appeared to be a far more appealing prospect: “It really stood out as a much tidier example so we enquired whether it too was for sale, and the chap replied ‘Take whichever one you want’. Despite the price difference – WXG was about £4000 more than the first car – I knew which one I wanted.” After another test drive, during which both doors remained firmly closed, a deal was done and Mellor was finally the proud owner of the TC he’d spent so many years dreaming of.
“Although the MG was usable when I bought it, the engine was running very hot so I had it trailered home. I followed along behind, praying for no rain.” That would be the only time it was towed, however, because the very next day Mellor began using the TC for local journeys, and would continue to do so until mid November, racking up about 500 miles. “It seemed very good, and initially there was no plan to restore it.
I had no knowledge or experience in such matters, and just planned to tinker with things whenever they needed it.” That plan evolved, however, following a small rip in the seat back. “John suggested we could repair the hole,” says Mellor, “but after he got to work he called me to say that the leather was too fragile. We drove to Brooklands and purchased a hide for new covers, but then he said that the rest of the trim would look odd if we didn’t do that as well. “On top of that, we knew the engine leaked oil and that the paint was cracked, so it rapidly snowballed into a full restoration.”
The MG was soon stripped down to a bare chassis and the overall prognosis was good: “It became apparent that the wiring was in poor shape,” explains Mellor, “but there was virtually no corrosion to the bodywork apart from the bottom of the battery box. That is what had really attracted me to this particular car, so it was gratifying not to find any hidden rust. I was really happy with the state of the chassis and the springs. The gearbox was also fine but the brakes were in need of serious attention and some other areas were quite shocking – I don’t think any water was getting through the radiator thermostat; it was completely clogged up with sludge and corrosion. I’d also had a couple of electrical ‘smoke’ events behind the dashboard, and the fuel tank had more rust inside than I’d expected.”
Classic British sports cars are, of course, famous for marking their territory with the occasional drop of oil, so Mellor had initially been surprised to discover that only one of the leverarm dampers was leaking when he acquired the TC. “John suggested the other three were probably empty,” he recalls, “and closer inspection revealed that to be right. As soon as I put oil in them, they began to leak!”
“From the outset John had been keen to help out with the rebuild,” says Mellor, “and having him on board was a huge help because I was able to draw from his many years of experience and learn on the job. He’s one of those mechanics who has always believed in taking things apart and repairing them rather than simply replacing them, which is exactly what I needed. As a further advantage, no matter what the task in hand, he had every tool imaginable.”
“Paul was an excellent student,” says Smith. “He managed to do things that even I would have struggled with.” An example of one such job is the MG’s brass header tank – one of the few non-standard elements of the car, and a nod to improved cooling for today’s traffic-congested road conditions: “He fabricated that from scratch and brazed it all together himself. The standard really is impressive.”
With the MG in pieces, various components were dispatched to specialists to be repaired. “The chassis went off to Nottingham in the back of a horsebox,” recalls Mellor, while the instruments were sent to a firm in Ireland to be overhauled. “Unfortunately, the specialist in Ireland wasn’t able to complete the repair to the clock because I wanted to keep the original electro-mechanical workings rather than replace them with new quartz parts, but I eventually found out about a chap called Ray Webb, based in Norwich. He did a fantastic job and the clock now runs perfectly – although a mistake on my part meant that I ended up having to send it to him twice. The MG has positive-earth wiring, so connecting the black negative cable to earth didn’t do the clock any good! Fortunately, Ray was very patient and generous with his time.”
“The great advantage of the TC is that there are plenty of companies that understand them and most components are readily available,” continues Mellor, “so getting hold of parts isn’t generally a problem. Having said that, we did struggle to find a thermostat; in the end, we were forced to re-use the one that we had after repairing the cracked bellows and using nailvarnish remover to free the valve to open and close at the correct temperature.”
The switchgear, meanwhile, went to a company in Arizona because the waiting time to get it restored in the UK would have held things up for too long: “As it was, Doug Pelton of From the Frame Up proved to be very helpful on the phone and was able to get the work done to a great standard at a very reasonable price. If Christmas hadn’t got in the way, it would have been very quick, too.” Taking the horn apart revealed it to have been cobbled together from odds and ends, which presented its own problems: “I got in touch with a chap in Wales who is passionate about horns,” says Mellor. “At first he wasn’t interested in touching this one because it was such a mess, although persistence paid off and a few months later he agreed to supply the parts so I could repair it.”
While the various parts were away, Mellor and Smith tackled the MG’s overhead-valve 1250cc XPAG ‘four’. “The camshaft front bearing was a real headache,” the owner recalls. “It was really difficult to fit.” The rear bearing was little easier: “We got an upgraded seal, which was very well made but it was awfully difficult to get it oiltight.
And the rear axle was a pain – not least because we were sent the wrong bearings.” With the car coming back together, the question of paint came to the fore: “Abingdon never officially offered the TC with this two-tone finish,” says Mellor, “but at some stage during its lifetime WXG had been resprayed in maroon over black, and that’s how it was when I bought it. It’s not a standard colour scheme, but I decided that I wanted to keep it.”
However, by the time the panels were ready to be painted, Smith had retired from the motor trade, selling his garage business, which meant that Mellor no longer had access to a spray booth. Undeterred, the friends adapted one of the stables alongside Mellor’s home, converting it into a temporary workshop. “It was never going to be ideal,” he says, “and some of the work needed several attempts to get a good enough finish, but we got there in the end.”
This being Mellor’s first restoration project, it is difficult not to be impressed by the high standard of the work – not to mention the speed with which he completed it: “Some days I would spend up to four or five hours on the car, and it became a bit of an obsession, taking up perhaps 20 to 30 hours a week.” The original plan was to finish it in seven months, he reveals, but in the end it took 13 “because I had to figure out a way of completing the paintwork”.
“I don’t think it had been stripped to this level before, and as a result there were some great discoveries. John found some Australian coins from 1976, as well as a mouse’s nest in the seats. As components came off, I would research them and in almost every case it was an original part that needed restoring, replacing, fixing or just cleaning. I also found a flyer in the door pocket addressed to a lady in Queensland. It appears that the MG belonged to a gentleman there who had several TCs that he gave to his children.” What was the best aspect of the project?
“There were so many satisfying moments: each part being transformed to look new; the engine starting and running smoothly on the first attempt; the paint looking fantastic… but the best bit was when my long-suffering wife asked if we could go for a drive. Up until that moment, ‘Lady Penelope’ (as she calls the TC) was the other woman in our marriage!
“The end result is just fantastic. The car seems to have much more life in it and it no longer creaks, although the steering is just as bad as before. Apparently it’s the way it should be! Whenever the roads are dry and not salty, I try to go out for a short drive, even if it’s only to the local shops. With a family wedding coming up in the summer, Lady Penelope may take centre stage delivering my niece to church.”
Having dedicated so much effort to rebuilding the MG, Mellor has acquired not only an enviable set of skills, but also a taste for restoration. “I’ve got a late 1960s Ford 3000 tractor that I’ve owned for about 20 years that’s ripe for attention,” he enthuses. “I’d also love another car to join the TC – maybe an MGA.”
Thanks to Cottesmore School for our location: www.cottesmoreschool.com
Main: Mellor and Smith completed the restoration in an impressive 13 months. Right, top: once stripped down, the chassis was sent to Nottingham in a horsebox. West Sussex-based Mellor takes the TC out for drives on dry days, even in the depths of winter. Main: Smith took the lead, but Mellor was very hands-on, crafting the brass header tank Below: maroon over black paint scheme was kept.
“With a family wedding coming up in the summer, ‘Lady Penelope’ may take centre stage delivering my niece to the church”
“The wiring was in poor shape… prior to the restoration I’d had a couple of ‘smoke’ events behind the dashboard”