Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Joys in a Scrapyard

The adventure began innocently enough with a text from my brother Alan telling me that a couple of MGBs appeared in the You-Pull-It scrapyard not far off the path he travels to work. Both cars were rubber bumper models - one a '75 the other was a '77 and the '77 had a shift lever indicating that it had an overdrive gearbox. He sent a photo of the engine serial number and the number confirmed that the engine was originally installed in an overdrive car. Since he was on his way to an appointment Alan didn't slide under the car to verify the OD being in residence.

A chance conversation with ace British car restorer Mike Darby about the existence of the MGs and possible overdrive gearbox lead me to question the wisdom of buying a gearbox without knowledge of its condition. "Anything can be put right", Mike said, "But it can get expensive." With my work schedule and lack of a partner to help in the removal of the 'box I put it out of mind as another one that got away.

As my work week wound down, friend and traveling companion Richard Cunningham called to see if I had heard any more about the OD 'box that I had mentioned to Mike because they were ready to head out to the scrappers to help me snatch it out if I still wanted it. 

The Scrap MGB -Thoroughly Rotten
Stunned by the generous offer, I could only stammer out a "Thanks", and we made plans to tackle it the next day.

Mike, Richard and I met up and brought hand tools, mover's pads (to spread over the gravel while we worked under the car) and a cooler of bottled water. We stopped for full Southern breakfast on the way out and over biscuits and sausage decided to recon the cars first to confirm the OD's presence prior to hauling tools in to remove it.   

We paid our $1.00 admission to the scrapyard (a car guy's Disneyland, I suppose) and walked to furthest corner of the yard to the "foreign" section.There it was: a '77 MGB roadster in Chartreuse - the same color as your faithful blogger's car. Mike knelt down and spotted the Laycock LH overdrive instantly. Time to carry in the tools.

Our ride for the day was Richard's SUV and it was parked at the gate - over a quarter of a mile away from the MG. The yard rules stipulated that no vehicles could be driven in and no power tools were allowed. They did have an A-frame hoist made of 4" steel pipe mounted on car tires that had to be pushed along the rough gravel by hand. No, they wouldn't use their nifty fork lift to haul the several-hundred pound behemoth across the yard either. 

The View From Under the Driver's Side - Floors Completely Rotted Away
While I got under the car to remove the prop shaft, Mike and Richard began the process of removing the tubing, wiring and hoses from the engine so we could lift it out of the car. The lack of power tools meant that the going was slow indeed. 

The sun rose higher and temperature and humidity soared. Our section of the Gulf Coast enjoyed a few days of mild weather, but this day was going to be a scorcher in the 90s. The heat took its toll as we had to stop to rest often on an old car seat under an oak tree. Progress was hampered by making return trips to the car to retrieve drinking water and odd tools that we brought "just in case". 

After a couple of hours of hard work we finally lifted the engine and gearbox out of the badly rusted hulk. We smiled in the knowledge that the job was coming to an end. Until we tried to separate the gearbox from the engine. We couldn't get them separated. No amount of cunning, prying, cursing or pounding would get them apart. We had to have spent the better part of an hour working on the problem when Mike decided to let gravity help us reach our goal. He slung the tailpiece of the gearbox on the chainfall hoist and picked up the assembly. The weight of the engine helped in the separation process and we had them apart in minutes. 

Engine and Gearbox Out - Richard Cunningham (L) and Mike Darby (R)
In keeping with their strict "not our problem" policy, the scrap yard did not provide any kind of transport of heavy bits to the pay window. We loaded the gearbox, tools and blankets in the yard-issued wheelbarrow and struggled up the hill to the gate. The three of us took turns pushing the load in the early afternoon heat, with  cramping muscles telling us that we were getting seriously dehydrated. 

We made it to the pay window where the twenty-something there looked in the wheelbarrow and asked "What is it?". He had obviously never seen a transmission for a rear wheel drive car. To his credit, he did know what the drive shaft was.

The three of us stumbled on to the car to load the gearbox up and head out. We were absolutely drained of energy. The effort and heat certainly took its toll but the air conditioned car and cool water revived us greatly. 
Job Done - An Exhausted Richard Cunningham Takes a Breather

The next day Richard and I began looking over the new 'box and saw that instead of just oil, the fluid was a gray, milky mixture of water and oil. Not terminal but not good, either. We consulted the Haynes manual and began to disassemble the unit to get a look at the internals. Side cover off and the gearset looks pretty good. We try to remove the overdrive section it is well and truly stuck. A thrust bearing tumbles out in three pieces - it should be only one. 

Yep, my new overdrive gearbox is going to be a project and not a straight installation, but I am deeply indebted to Mike and Richard for their generous help and friendship.       

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