When a mate rings you up and offers you a fully working and driving car for 300 quid, regardless of what it is, it’s very hard to say no…..even if it is purple…and an MG F. But, sure an MG F is just the same as a Lotus Elise isn’t it?! – Light weight, convertible, mid engined, rear drive, it even has the same 1.8 litre K series engine! OK so maybe that’s where the similarities end. Never the less, I took it.
I spent a week or 2 pondering what to do with the car now I had it. It’s a ’96 model which makes it eligible for classic insurance this year so I considered keeping it standard and using it as a weekend toy, the Tax would still be steep enough though…and it would still be purple. So i figured the best route would be to turn it into a track car and build it with the Future Classics Championship regulations in mind so if I did want to do a bit of racing in it I could. The purple could also be covered up with a cheap and cheerful paint job or some creative wrapping.
So with a rough plan in mind I set about seeing what was wrong with it. The car was a bit smokey and it smelled like it was burning oil. There was bit of rust on the wheel arches but nothing structural, other than that it actually looked surprisingly ok. The k series engine is notorious for head gasket failure so I assumed this was most likely the cause of the smoke. But before I took the plunge and committed to doing the head gasket (not so easy in a mid engined car) I thought i’d investigate a bit further. I removed the roof and engine access panel and pulled the spark plugs for a look.
Sure enough one of the plugs was wet with engine oil. Valve stem oil seals were the first thing that sprung to mind but after a quick chat with local K series expert Robbie Parks he said they rarely cause issues on this engine (Robbie is heavily involved with Formula Sheane single seater racing cars which run the same engine) More likely was either the head gasket or a broken piston skirt or lower piston ring which are prone to break if over revved on aggressive down shifts. So I removed the exhaust silencer, drained and strained the oil and removed the sump to look for any small bits of metal – a sure sign of the broken rings/skirt.
The oil looked fine and the sump was free from metallic chunks so everything was pointing towards the head gasket. Whatever the issue, the engine was going to have to come out. On most normal front engined cars you can replace a head gasket with the engine in situ, not so with the MG F, access is just diabolical.
Before taking the plunge on the engine removal I decided to start stripping out the interior, partly just to keep the project ticking over and the enthusiasm going. It can sometimes be tough to force yourself off the warm sofa and into the garage on a cold February evening! If you can see progress, it can help with the motivation I find!
After another week of procrastination and Googling I decided the way to go was to drop the whole rear subframe including engine, gearbox and suspension. To make matters more complicated the MG F runs Hydra-Gas suspension instead of traditional coil springs. It’s basically a compressed mixture of liquid (possibly Predator blood?) and gas, interlinked at all 4 corners. This is one of the Hydra-Gas spheres pictured below. The fluid has to be drained and the hoses disconnected before the subframe can be lowered. I had great intentions of neatly draining this into an environmentally friendly drain pan but what actually happened is I got a massive face full of the stuff and it went everywhere!
I found a really handy step-by-step guide to removing the engine and subframe which listed all the little connectors and pipes you need to remove/undo. With a decent array of hand tools in the garage I was fairly confident I’d be able to do the job, i’d just need to borrow an engine crane to lift the body of the car up over the engine once i had everything undone. So I got that organised (thanks Elvis’s Dad) booked a day off work and set to it!
I won’t go into detail about every nut and bolt you need to remove, the guide above does that. But once you methodically go through all the fuel, coolant, clutch, gear linkage, suspension, brake and electrical connectors there’s actually only 10 bolts holding the whole subframe on. A few of the subframe bolts sheared so i’m going to have some drilling to do and the clutch line was badly corroded and that snapped, apart from that everything came undone with relative ease and I was at the stage where I could start raising the back of the car with 3 or 4 hours.
With the body fully raised I supported it with axle stands and simply rolled the subframe out from under the car! Later that evening the lads were coming to help me get the engine out finally rocked up and we set straight to stripping the engine! Cheers fellas!
So this is where we’re at right now, with the car in many different pieces. Taking it apart was the easy bit, the trickier stuff starts now, getting the head skimmed, re-seating the valves, fitting a new timing belt, fitting a new clutch and then putting it all back together again…in the right order