MG metamorphosis: From bar find (as in tavern) to show car

Bar owners are admittedly very creative types, always coming up with new ways to keep the customers coming and the libations flowing. In 1974, the Racer’s Pub in West Edmonton, Alberta, mounted a complete 1951 MG TD behind its mirrored bar, where it lorded over patrons and bottles of 12-year-old Scotch.

Built as a right-hand-drive model and originally delivered to Ireland, the TD made its way to Canada in the 1960s. It was obviously raced hard at some point before receiving a rattle-can-red paint job and coming to rest behind the bar. Facts are thin about the how or the why, but the TD was mounted with its drivetrain intact; the oil wasn’t even drained.

After a fire in the late ’80s, the Racer’s Pub closed its doors, and the (relatively) undamaged TD ended up in the hands of Jim Herbert, who had his eye on the car for some time. “During the ’70s, I was working in the oil fields up that way and would pop in to the Racer’s for a beer occasionally. I remember thinking, what a waste of a good car.”

Herbert eventually traded an MGB for it. “My wife, Linda, couldn’t understand why I’d trade a perfectly good car with roll-up windows and a heater for a rusty relic with poor brakes, side curtains, and no heater.”

Borrowing a friend’s lift at Sports Car Parts of Calgary, Herbert got to work on the bar find, and found plenty of racing damage. The chassis was four inches out of square and had been welded numerous times. Inch-thick Bondo covered its flanks in various spots. Adding insult to injury, steam from the bar’s dishwasher had badly rusted the TD’s chassis and rotted the ash body frame and wooden floorboards. The car reeked of cigarette smoke, and Herbert’s team had to literally scrape the nicotine residue off the car. “We managed to save the original hood, firewall and scuttle, and the drip pans on the front. That was it, other than the chassis and some of the running gear.”

As the restoration progressed, ideas for the finished product evolved over three winters. The first idea was to build a vintage racer. The car came with a Shorrock 75 supercharger, which Herbert had completely rebuilt. A hot-rodder at heart, Herbert commissioned D&W Custom Engine Specialties of Calgary to bore out the stock XPAG engine 0.040 inches over to 1298 cc, and install a chrome moly crank, Carillo rods, Crane high-lift camshaft, dished pistons, and bigger valves. “We ported and polished the head, and the intake and exhaust manifolds. We lightened the flywheel and installed taller 4.33:1 gears and a racing clutch. Compression was about 9.3:1. All of these modifications used period accessories available back in the day, and followed specifications used by the MG factory racing team back in the ’50s.”

It was about this time that Herbert decided the car was too good to race. Some NOS fenders were sourced from England, while the rest of the replacement sheet metal was fabricated by a friend who knew his way around an English Wheel. The work included making new doors from scratch. Fabrication of the ash frame required hours of trial fitting and rework. The weather gear and interior were custom made to original specifications.

When prepping for the repaint, Herbert discovered that the car was originally painted in MG Autumn Red. The idea for its unusual silver accents stemmed from some impromptu research. “I was digging around in an old bookstore and found an MG book featuring a 1953 TD with the burgundy and silver color scheme my car wears today.” Herbert figures the pictured TD was painted with Autumn Red and Silver Metallic, MTGD colors available in the early ’50s.

“We had a devil of the time getting the paint to adhere to the door hinges, which are made from brass. We ended up polishing the hinges and leaving them as they are,” he said. “One thing led to another and we did the same for the remaining brass visible on the car, including the radiator. The chrome bits were replated or replaced. We polished all of the aluminum.” The finishing touch was a set of whitewall tires from Coker Tire, which Herbert had to wait for while the company put together enough orders to support a minimum production run.

After more than three years and 2,600 hours of hard work, Herbert’s TD was ready for the show circuit. Herbert has since entered the car in several shows across Canada and the U.S., winning the World of Wheels International Show Car Circuit Antique Car of the Year in 2001. It has consistently won in-class honors at regional shows in the years since, averaging 92-plus points out of 100.

In 2012, Herbert began avidly driving the car, participating in the 1,800-mile Friendship Rally, and was one of nine finishers. Since her restoration, “Midge” has covered more than 9,000 miles of open road, and has raced on the Sonoma Speedway in California, rallied in the Napa Valley, and participated as “oldest car” in the Vintage on the Prairies Races in Calgary.

More than 20 years on, the restoration is holding up well. Herbert said the car pushes past 100 mph and has a quarter-mile time of 18.9 seconds. Dyno results show 57.6 SAE horsepower at 4,800 rpm with 67.8 ft-lbs of torque at 3800 rpm at the rear wheels. “I’ve (personally) had it under the gun at 95 mph over a mile-and-a-half on the racetrack,” Hebert said, pointing out that is just about the cruising speed of the 1951 Cessna L-19 that he also restored and flies.

Not bad for a car that used to be nicotine-covered wall art.

[Editors’ Note: Jim Herbert is president of the Specialty Vehicle Association of Alberta, dedicated to protecting the rights of Alberta’s auto enthusiasts. Find out more at www.svaalberta.com.]