Further Prototype Developments The Automatic saloon
Douglas Bader: "A disabled person who fights back is not handicapped… he is
Having physical problems operating the clutch on a normal gearshift car it became more and more difficult to drive my beloved protype saloon.
Several people tried to talk me into an "easy shift"system which actually operates the clutch through a switch on the gearlever. It would amongst other modifications mean fitting an alternator . Also the hole set up is "computer" operated and quite sensitive. Slow manouvring is not always possible.
After some further talks with Peter Ratcliffe he could remember driving an MG VA in the past which had a BMC B series engine fitted. Maybe not a bad option as they were also optionally fitted with Borg Warner automatic gearboxes. The hole idea was further investigated and a survey of available engine/gearbox combinations was evaluated. It turned out that the later type engine with the shorter gearbox would probably be the best option.
Early September 2003 Peter phoned that he had located a 1976 Marina with not many miles on the clock. It was close to Eastbourne so we asked Keith Bush if he could go and have a look. So he did. "To good to break" was Keith's verdict. A deal was quickly made and Keith not only took the Marina home, but also dismantled all the vital bits from the Morris. This was all just minutes before the September Beaulieu autojumble. After the autojumble Peter picked up all the heavy bits to transport them to his workshop near Hull. Next day already Peters staff cleaned the engine and gearbox and started a trial fit on a spare VA chassis. Wonderfull way of preparing the final fitting in the protype.
In the meantime I was approached by Rene Pas who had a bad knock in the engine of his VA 1872 and he would be very happy with a spare engine. As the engine currently fitted in 0251 was not the genuine protype unit anyway I was prepared to part with my engine in the understanding that Rene had to do the removal from my car himself.
Early October, only two days after Rene had removed my engine, I was on the ferry to Hull with a car and trailer on which the now powerless VA.
The actual trial fit in the spare chassis had already revealed that there was going to be a conflict in between the startermotor and the steeringbox. Peter said I had to choose in between a startermotor or a steeringbox. I could not have both ! In the end the problem was solved by an ingenious comibination using a Morris Marina bendix and a late MG B pre engaged starter. Final adjustment of the bendix proofed to be a challenging job as it was either spinning to early giving all sorts of nervewrecking noises or not at all.
To make more room the steeringbox was moved to the outside of the chassis using the same holes. The right hand chassis bracket which is bolted and no rivitted to 0251 had to be moved a bit forward to clear the oil filter but again using mostly existing holes. To make a neat job of the radiator connections the top and bottem reservoirs of the radiator had to have new holes made and others blanked off. Fairly easy but time consuming (Peter's staff had the engine in and out 17 times) was now the making up of new metalwork for the front engine support.
The back of the gearbox needed a bit grinding off but otherwise fitted simply to the existing VA gearbox crossmember. The propshaft was modified using the front part of the Morris shaft. Same story goes for the exhaust: front pipe is Marina, the rest standard VA. As the gearbox is much wider then the original VA gearbox it was clear from the beginning the the existing tunnel would not fit. Instead of modifying the genuine prototype tunnel a new one was made to measure.
To operate the gearbox an MG B automatic gearshift lever found a place on top of the new tunnel. I must say it looks as if it has always been there ! The clutch pedal was removed and a wider brake pedal introduced. The engine was painted an appropriate early VA engine green and complimented with a polished alloy rocker cover with MG logo. You have to be an expert te notice its not an original engine !
Further improvements made while at Peter's place was the fitting of a high ratio rear axle gearset as well as modern telescopic shock absorbers. Also a good occasion to fit the genuine prototype headlights back on the VA. The hole set up with the engine and gearbox is reversable to original if required. The original prototype engine (6303/1)and gearbox are still in my possesion.
Early December Peter rang to say that the car was nearing completion and that a first testdrive had been made. It was all going well and when could I pick up ?
Arrangements with the ferry people were quickly made and just before Christmas I went down with a friend to pick up the Automatic VA. Once at Peter's I was thrilled to bits to make my first test drive in the automatic VA. After some fiddling on the brakelight switch it was ready for spin off. Gorgious I can tell you. The prototype has not lost a bit of its character. Its only got better and smoother. That day some wonderfull testdrives were made together with AMO 602, another ex factory demo, freshly restored by Peter. For the occasion I fitted the ex factory ABL 999 number. The pictures made that day look very Abingdon like ! At the end of that day it was quite special being able to drive 0251 home myself after two years of non VA driving.
"period picture" taken by Rutger Booij during the final test drive in the Hedon area, together with another important saloon AMO 602 (The Press Car)
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