I bought FEV 235B, a 1964 MkII Midget, from a friend who had bought the car for his son to restore. His son, having stripped it down to a shell, lost interest and the project ground to a halt remaining in this state until I bought it in 2002 (photo 1)
Thankfully when the car was originally stripped everything had been carefully labelled and boxed up. This was to help later. Having collected the shell and its boxes of bits I was able to fully establish what had to be done to restore the car. I was no stranger to extensive Spridget restorations as I had owned a number of MG’s and particularly loved Spridgets. As many of you will know, Midgets can rot quite badly and this one was no exception (photo 2).
The door gaps had already been braced to prevent the car from folding. I started with replacing the inner and outer heelboards followed by the floors. I then moved on to the inner and outer sills and inner wings, the A posts and lower hinges. Next came the repairs to the front and back, of both rear wings followed by repairs to the bottoms of both front wings. The front valance also required replacing as did the bonnet. Lastly I re-skinned the doors. All relevant areas were seam sealed (photo 3)
Whilst I was doing this I also began my research into previous owners of the vehicle. This didn’t take long as I quickly established that there was only one previous owner registered with DVLA as my friend had not notified change of ownership when he purchased the vehicle as a restoration project. With the help of BT enquiries I soon made contact with Esmond the original owner of the Midget. Although living in West Wales when I contacted him, he was living in Essex at the time he bought the car new and then owned it for the next 30 plus years until it failed its MOT and it was basically abandoned. He was not aware that the car had survived and was very pleased to hear that it was being restored and kindly provided me with the original service book, MOT’s invoices etc. It was at this point that I decided to restore the car to its original condition as a standard 1098cc MkII.
The next stage of the restoration involved me taking the car to my friend’s body workshop. I took a week’s annual leave and spent some 60-70 hours preparing the bodywork for spraying. With the shell upside down I painted the underside, first with rust prevention paint followed by a stone guard application. The underside of the car was then sprayed in the finished colour of tartan red. With the car back upright countless rounds of priming and rubbing back took place until I was happy with the finish (photo 4). The car was sprayed first as a shell ensuring all the door shuts were painted, insides of the wings, bonnet, boot lid and doors and then after all the panels were replaced, the whole car was painted in 2 pack Tartan Red and then baked. The final finish was stunning (photo 5).
The restoration then halted for a while as I became preoccupied with the purchase and restoration of a MkI Sprite. With this finished, I returned to the Midget. However my original plan of restoring the car to original specification took a turn when I was presented with the opportunity to buy a new but old stock Rover 1.8k series engine. Already being aware of the MG Enthusiasts BBS site which catered for 16v twin cam Midgets, I began to research the feasibility of using this engine in my MKII. Would this be sacrilege? No, it would after all provide me with an opportunity to have a car with outstanding performance yet still retaining the old style charm of a classic 60’s sports car.
My mind was made up. I would go for it. I spoke with Tim Fenna at Frontline who was extremely helpful in providing advice albeit I had made it clear that I would be undertaking the conversion myself. I began sourcing the various bits and pieces required for the conversion but not forgetting that I still had lots to do to complete the other aspects of the restoration. This would not be a quick job.
My first task was to acquire a gearbox and bellhousing to mate to the k series engine. New, these items can be expensive however whilst browsing the Lotus owners website I saw a Caterham bellhousing and a Ford type 9 close ratio gearbox advertised for sale. This had been joined to a 1.4 k series that had been used in a Caterham but which was no longer required. Having contacted the seller, who was from Oxford, we arranged to meet at the Spares Day in Stoneleigh and the deal was done.
With engine, bellhousing and gearbox now attached I could work out how to make it fit the engine bay. This was the hard part as I had to take the angle grinder to my shiny restored Midget shell. What was I doing? Having removed the front wings and front nosecone assembly I first cut the heater tray back. I was determined not to lose the heater and demister function and so re-fabricated the ducting to allow its continued use but at the same time it would allow me to move the engine back so that it fitted within the front cross member (photo 6). The next piece to go was the cross member in the tunnel that originally supported the A series gearbox. As this plays an integral part of the strength of the shell this would have to be strengthened in other ways later. Anti crush tubes were fixed into the ends of the remaining cross members before being closed off.
As the engine was to be mounted on the engine bay chassis rails I strengthened those rails with steel plate (photo 7).
Once these initial stages had been completed I began to trial fit the engine and gearbox to the car. Having worked out where the engine was eventually going to be positioned I cut a hole in the gearbox tunnel from the cockpit which would allow the gear lever to be fitted. This is because the type 9 gearbox is longer than the A series one With engine held in situ I calculated how to make my engine mountings bearing in mind the fact that the K series engine has to be fitted on a slant to ensure that the gear lever is upright. Whilst ideally the engine mounts would be made to attach to the suspension turrets I did not think I would have enough room and so decided to make a cradle which would be attached to the chassis rails and to these would be fitted a silent block mounting. Having obtained two circular bushes through which a bolt could be passed, I located some thick tubular steel and had the bushes pressed into this tube. This then enabled me to weld 25mm box section steel to the tube to form my mountings. Total cost of this was £15 for both (photo 8 & 9).
I then set about making my gearbox mounting (photo 10). I knew this had to be strong as it would have to provide the strength that was taken away by cutting the cross members. My rubber mounting for this came from a type 9 gearbox which bolted to the mounting plate. The whole mounting plate was then bolted to the Midget floor utilising the anti crush tubes in the cross members. The engine and gearbox fitted a treat (photo 11).
With the engine back out of the car I then set about relocating the battery. As the heater tray had been cut back the battery had to be placed elsewhere. Some place them in the boot but I wanted to keep that space for luggage and so I chose to cut a hole in the passenger side top footwell panel, fabricate a plinth and place the battery in there. I also cut another section out in the same panel but closer to the firewall to allow the 1500 heater box I was using to sit comfortably in its position on the heater tray. I fabricated another plinth for this (photo 12). Happy with the changes to the engine bay I masked the affected areas off, primed them up and sprayed the area with two pack Tartan Red. The engine bay looked good as new again (photo 13).
One of the issues I had identified earlier on was that the flywheel that came with my engine was too big to fit inside the Caterham Bellhousing and instead a flywheel from a 1.6 was sourced. These are smaller in diameter and would fit. My next step was to obtain a suitable clutch plate and cover. Whilst I considered utilising an off the shelf Ford clutch and cover, the Rover flywheel would need to be re-drilled to accept the clutch cover. I decided not to do this and instead purchased the clutch kit from Frontline. This made life easier. I already had a clutch arm and bought a new clutch bearing. One other issue that needed addressing was that the first motion shaft on my gearbox was too long and so I shortened it by 12mm so that the gearbox and bellhousing would mate to the engine. It was also necessary to install a spigot bush in the end of the crank shaft. This was relatively easy to do although I had to use a shim to make the spigot bearing fit correctly. On earlier engines it is sometimes necessary to drill the end of the crank which can present additional work and usually involves removing the crank and have the machining done professionally to accomplish this. I was also fortunate to have supplied with the gearbox a speedo angle drive which later made it much easier to route the speedo cable to the speedometer.
My car had the early master cylinder fitted with the combined reservoir for both brakes and clutch. I decided that I would use a cable clutch arrangement for my set up as cables are much easier to change although a hydraulic concentric clutch system could have been utilised. With the cable set up I removed the piston rod from the clutch side of the master cylinder and made a link to connect the end of the clutch cable to the clutch pedal and utilised a return spring. I then blocked off the pipe outlet on the clutch side of the master cylinder. Adjustment of the clutch cable was accomplished by making a bracket and attaching it to the inner offside wing. The cable could be adjusted at this point by loosening or tightening adjuster nuts.
I then fitted the engine into the car again and calculated the length of the prop shaft I would need. Having taken the necessary measurements I contacted Bar Prop in Neath, S.Wales and by the next day the prop shaft was ready. Trial fitting however revealed that there was insufficient clearance in the gearbox tunnel to allow the universal joint on the propshaft to turn freely as it was catching on the reinforcing triangles adjacent to the handbrake lever inside the tunnel. This was quickly sorted with a little redesigning of the reinforcing triangles (photo 14).
Whilst I already had a Rover alternator I didn’t have a starter motor. Enquiries with a local auto electrical engineers led me to buy a starter that would be suitable for a Sierra 1.6/1.8 made by Magnetron and had the equivalent Lucas part number of LRS743. To fit a starter motor with this conversion requires some of the aluminium engine casting to be ground off thereby allowing the starter motor to line up properly with the bellhousing. Also required is a spacer that fits between the face of the starter motor and the bellhousing. Frontline sell these or if you have the equipment and skill you could make one. Some just use washers as spacers.
The engine bay chassis rails on a Midget do not allow the oil filter on the k series engine sufficient clearance and so a remote oil filter has to be used. This involves fitting an adaptor plate to the side of the engine and from this pipes go to a remote oil filter head which I placed on the nearside inner wing. Care needs to be taken here to ensure the direction of oil flow is correct or damage could be caused to the engine when started (photo 15)
The exhaust system was next on the agenda. Whilst I know there are companies that can supply ready made systems for these types of conversions, I took my car to a local exhaust builder and he custom built my exhaust and manifold. I wanted my manifold to be in two pieces that could be easily removed and this was achieved. The exhaust pipe is made of 2” diameter pipe with a repackable silencer (photo 16).
With the main mechanicals now sorted I turned my attention to the first stage of the electrics. I had chosen to buy an Emerald ECU to control the running of the engine as opposed to using the original MEMS unit that came with the Rover. Now electrics aren’t my strongest point however I was determined to work this out myself (photo 17).
Whilst I bought the ECU from Frontline, Karl at Emerald was absolutely superb in providing advice on how to wire it in. My k series engine was the later type and as such the plugs that fitted to the MEMS unit consisted of one plug with 28 pins and another plug with 52 pins. The Emerald plug had just 36 pins. Therefore I stripped the engine loom, identified which sensors I needed to retain and removed the wires I didn’t need (photo 18). I had decided that my Emerald was going to be placed in the cockpit of the car rather than the engine bay. Most of the wires would reach and those that didn’t I extended. For all my joints I used solder rather than rely on crimping and used heatshrink to cover them. I also used a number of relays for items such as the coils and injectors, the fuel pump and the cooling fan. I also used a separate fuse block so that electrical items could be fused separately. I covered the wiring in plastic sheafing for protection.
Connecting the original wiring loom to the K series engine loom was straightforward as the Midget fusebox effectively provided the interface between the two. Of course I did away with the regulator altogether as I was now using an alternator and had to bear in mind that my MKII Midget was originally positive earth. I converted to negative earth. I drew wiring diagrams for my installation for future reference in case, in time, I forgot how I had done it!
With the Emerald wired in I turned my attention to the cooling system. For this I followed the layout for the Rover 200. I had been told that a standard Midget radiator was up to the job for ordinary road use and so utilised a 1500 radiator I had albeit I had the outlets changed slightly so that they would line up with the new pipework. The header tank I acquired from the scrap yard which came from a Rover 200. The local autospares shop provided the pipe and MAFCO joiners. I bought the coolant rail with the tappings for the original Midget water temperature sensor and the Rover electrical temperature sensor from Frontline. Some had made their own but it was convenient for me to purchase one ready made.
With water sorted out I turned my attention to petrol. Aware that injection systems can suffer from fuel delivery problems if the fuel is swishing around in the tank under sharp cornering I bought a swirlpot off ebay and fitted this up under the rear heelboard. My original Midget SU pump would supply petrol to the swirlpot. From the swirlpot fuel would be pumped through a high pressure fuel pump, a filter and then to the injector rails. At the injection rail the petrol would go through the injectors and a fuel pressure regulator before the unused petrol would be returned to the swirlpot. From here an overflow returns to the filler tube of the fuel tank. My high pressure fuel pump, by the way, was from a local scrapyard and cost £10.
The car was now ready to be started and this was a very exciting day. After a few hiccups with the injection rail and getting a spark, the problem was soon sorted, thanks to lots of help from the BBS community. They were great. When that engine started it was wonderful. A real achievement (photo 19).
Having now fitted the engine and got it running it was back to completing the rest of the restoration. This project was more than a simple engine conversion.
The following few months saw me fitting a Panhard Rod and big brake conversion from Peter May Engineering. As well as bigger discs and callipers, Goodridge brake hoses were fitted all round together with Mintex front pads. Silicone brake fluid was used for the braking system. I also acquired a second hand set of 175x70x13 centre lock minilites. I had been given the impression that these wheels would not fit a square wheel arch car however they did fit very well and with clearance. I put this down to the fact that I was using a wire wheel axle which are narrower than the bolt on type. The diff is the standard 4.2 fitted to the Mk II at the time. Other enhancements I made included the fitting of an electric window washer with two speed wipers, airhorns, a 12v accessory socket and a traditional Lucas spotlight on the rear valance to act as a reversing light. The interior on the car was renewed albeit keeping the original door cards but fitting new carpets, cobra classic sports seats with white piping to match the door cards and four point harnesses. I also fitted a roll bar. Not particularly liking the black crinkle finish of the original dashboard I had earlier painted that the same colour as the car (photos 20, 21, 22, 23)
Jobs still to do include getting a new hood, at some stage fitting the Frontline front suspension kit, fitting an LSD with fine spline halfshafts and the list goes on!!
My intention all along was to keep the car looking as original as possible from the outside with its traditional chrome mouldings albeit I have left the bumpers off.
I have found building this project a thoroughly satisfying experience and now am looking forward to the enjoyment that comes from using the car. Help for doing this came from all quarters, the list too long to mention, but they know who they are and I am very thankful to them.
Neil (K Series) Thomas
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