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Rick Burke
Seattle, WA
(4 posts)

10/01/2010 11:31PM

Main British Car:
1957 MGA 350 SBC

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Rick Burke's 1957 MGA with Chev 350
Posted by: rickbseattle
Date: October 02, 2010 02:32AM

Owner: Rick Burke
City: Seattle, WA
Car Model: 1957 MGA Roadster
Engine: Chevy 350 Small Block

Well, I caught the bug last year, and there is no cure in sight. A random search of Craigslist brought this little gem home to my garage. It's clearly been butchered and orphaned by several well-meaning owners, and now it has gotten inside my head and my wallet hoping for a better future.





I'll fill out the specs as they currently are, along with the current plans/progress in each area. Wish me luck. The progress diary will be appended to the bottom of the posting.

Supposedly, this is a 350 small clock crate motor. Upon removal, it looks like a greasy pig which was steam cleaned and spray painted. I still need to check the numbers on the motor to know for sure. It does run pretty well, so I plan to clean it up a bit and reinstall, unless I find something ugly.

Eeek. The radiator which was installed originally was held in by 2 screws, and although it was missing a large number of fins, it still held water somehow. It's going to the recycler, likely to be replaced by an aluminum custom number with electric fan(s)

When I got the car, it had none. I put on some basic turbo mufflers from NAPA to make it drivable.

Muncie 4-speed with a mainshaft whine. Pending a rebuild.

Rear Axle:
I was told it had a ford 9", which on further research was actually a 55,6,7 Chev rear with 4.11 gears. From the photos you can see that it is stock width, causing the rear tires to hang out the sides. MGA spring perches had been welded in place to allow fitup. I've got a Ford 9" with 3:50 gears which I'm measuring up for a cut and plan to swap with the Chev rear.

It's a mess. The prior work to install the motor and related fitment completely compromised the structural integrity. I'll need to fix the missing crossmembers where possible, add enough structural bracing that the chassis doesn't pretzel on application of throttle, and build in a decent transmission tunnel.

Front Susp.:
When I bought the car, it came with stock MGA, I plan on replacing with MGB kingpins, shocks, and upper control-arms

Rear Susp.:
Stock MGA, but just for fun, the side plates were missing from both rear spring shackles.

Planning to use MGB front discs and rear disc from Volvo S40 to keep the 4 on 4.5 bolt pattern. Currently planning to use MGB master cylinder with proportioning valve on rears.

Just bought some minilite 8-spoke replicas, P205-60-15 tires

Body Mods:
None planned - I want to keep it as original as possible on the outside.

Interior & Electrical
Not even on the radar yet.

The Diary:
Fall 2009: This car found it's new home, and I squeezed it into my full-concrete bunker-style garage. With the car in the garage, pushed up against one wall I had about 2 feet of clearance front/back, and one side, making for a difficult working environment. My short-term goal was to DRIVE the car and assess what to do next. This required getting a battery, finding a steering wheel, hooking up the shifter linkage, installing a quickie exhaust system, rebuilding the front drum brakes, and after bleeding the brakes far too many times, finally disconnecting and capping the line to the rears to get sufficient pedal pressure.

My short drives around my residential Seattle neighborhood were terrifying. The pedals had been moved rearward to accomodate the motor, making it extremely awkward to get my 6'2" body in place. I sat on the floor to test-drive. The clutch slave cylinder pushed up on the bottom of the gas pedal each time you depressed the clutch pedal. The steering wheel had been moved to the side to clear the exhaust system and poorly anchored, resulting in an almost impossible steering experience. To top things off, the car would overheat within about 5 minutes of run time. It was clear that an aggressive makeover was in order.


August 2010: Let the teardown begin. My shop facilities were completely unworkable, but fortunately I had the opportunity to use a nearby garage, along with the wisdom of my step-father who has wealth of experience with projects of all makes and vintages. Everything came out, but the body will stay on the frame for a while.

Picture 010.jpg

It was a pleasure to cut out some of the UGLY welded-in structure, which combined oversize steel bar stock with poor quality welds and too much time with a cutting torch. Take a look at the pictures. Do you see any missing crossmembers? Rather, do you see anything structural REMAINING? I removed both battery boxes, since one was corroded beyond repair, and the other was mechanically mangled. A new box will go back in to hold the Optima battery, probably behind the passenger.

Picture 040.jpg

Picture 042.jpg

Picture 043.jpg

Now the new construction can begin.

I started with a front suspension rebuild and upgrade to MGB disc brakes. I got the major parts from a donor car for and bought new kingpin assys and brakes. Reading the forums about how to do this, I was not thrilled at the idea of running upside-down MGB control arms on MGA shocks, and since the MGB shocks mount mirrored from the MGA, going with a direct MGB everything conversion would get me more space in the engine compartment where I really needed it.

You can see the progression in the following pictures - it seemed to work pretty well, with a few caveats:
This is the before picture. The MGA shock mounts on 4 studs with the body towards the engine compartment, and the bump-stop picks up the threaded boss in the end of the crossmember.
Front shock1.jpg

After the transplant. Two of the studs remain, since they are identical locations, but the other two were welded closed, drilled, and re-tapped to allow the MGB shocks to bolt up in the MGB orientation. Thie is where the nuances were discovered:
1) The existing studs are hardened. It is not recommended to cut them off and weld them in place, and then expect that you can drill and tap an offset hole in their place. (Just a guess). A better approach is to remove the stud, put your own non-hardened sacrificial bolt/stud in place, cut that off and weld it all up tight.
2) You need to use the shocks as a marking/drilling guide or make a drill guide to keep the holes from walking. Access is a bit tight so a compact or right angle drill helps a lot, but the shock mounting doesn't have much slop - these holes need to be right on.
3) That threaded boss on the center of the MGA crossmember is actually welded on the outside of the crossmember, and will come right off after some strong persuasion from a disc grinder.
4) The brake hose support and bump stop upper mounting plate can be cut off the MGB donor and welded nicely onto the MGA parts. I used an old bump stop assy to fixture the mounting plate for welding.
Front shock2.jpg

Once painted, it looks pretty decent
Front shock3.jpg

Once assembled, it looks like it should. Time will tell if it works like it should. I plan to use Grade 8 bolts for the other 2 shock mounts. Don't want anything to go wrong there!
Front shock4.jpg

With the front suspension reworked, it was time to properly mount the engine/transmission. A spare SBC block was used to mock things back up. The motor mounts lower and slightly farther forward then the previous installation to make a bit more room under the hood and in the cockpit. The front crossmember had to be notched to clear the crankshaft main pulley, allowing the motor to be as far forward as possible. Take a look at all the room between those MGB shocks, eh?

The big pieces are in, so now I'm fitting in the brake/cluch cylinders (Wilwood) and steering linkage. The shaft from the rack & pinion was shortened, and an intermediate stub-shaft was added to allow the steering to pass around the engine. All MG steering shafts (shortened) and U-joints there.

Progress, but slow. Working on narrowed Ford 9" diff, rear suspension and driver seating now. It's a tight fit.

February 2012 - Between last fall, and a mild winter in Seattle this year, I've made some progress. Got the Ford 9" differential narrowed and installed. Considering how many things could have gone wrong here, I'm thrilled with the outcome. The wheel fit in the fenders is perfect, the suspension travel looks good using the existing bump-stops. Shock attachment TBD. the rear axles are new 28 spline from Dutchman. They machined them to fit my Volvo rear discs and installed the 5mm wheel studs on a 4 x 4.5" pattern. I know, mixing metric and SAE is bad karma - I suffered mightily before deciding that keeping the Volvo rotors stock was more important than standardizing my lug nuts.

Isn't it beautiful? You can also see the newly constructed battery box, located behind the passenger.

The next project was rear brakes. I got donor parts from a 2003 Volvo S40, which has the same bolt pattern as the MGA. After dusting off my rusty CAD skills, I came up with a bracket design to mount the Volvo calipers and backing plate to the wheel bearing bolt pattern on the Ford 9". I machined up a "practice part" in aluminum to check the fit, and as a template for driling new holes inthe Volvo backing plates (see pic). In my case, I had the bearings pre-installed on my axles, so the bracket needed to be notched to allow it to fit on the axle post-bearing. (Glad I made a practice part).

The bracket worked great, and is symmetrical so it works on both sides. The installed caliper and rotor look like they were meant to be be there. Now off to the machine shop to have somebody qualified make real brackets in steel.

Back to the engine compartment now - before I had the motor located, and motor mounts installed, but no other structure or peripheral components. Lots of work to mock up and fabricate a new upper crossmember to tie the frame towers back together, but now I have rigidity around the transmission tunnel. Once the crossmember was located and welded in place, the firewall could be reconstructed to fit. Not much space around the engine, but I tried to use all of it.
MGApic 001.jpg
MGApic 012.jpg

In the front, it was time to install the radiator. To keep costs reasonable, I got a universal aluminum radiator from Speedway to have enough cooling capacity for the V8, but needed to mount it an an angle to fit under the hood. It seemed like a good plan until the initial fitup where the outlet tube disagreed with the steering rack. The only viable option was to customize the radiator by cutting off the outlet tube and rewelding at an angle. That did the trick.

Onward to the interior. I got some seats from a Mazda Miata, since I read a few posts that they were good donor seats. Nope, they don't fit. To make them work, I disassembled the seat back from the pan, stripped the cushion off, and made some aggressive shett-metal mods to the seat pan. The seat pan now mounts to my floor rails in a single position. Oh well, I'm building this for me, right? Who needs seat adjustment? I need to do some similar modifications to the seat back, and then it will also probably be fixed-mounted. Not bad to sit in - better than sitting on the floor. I have a seat, steering wheel, shifter... Now how about a pedal cluster.

I'm using the pedal system from a donor MGB, heavily modified to actually fit in these close quarters. It bolts to the new crossmember, and also picks up the firewall for rigidity. Universal 2-circuit brake cylinder and clutch slave cylinder fit the existing bolt pattern, but I had to bend the pedal arms to put them in the correct places. The gas pedal was pulled from a random vehicle at Pull-A-Part, which looked like it might fit. With some linkage bending, it all fits in there just fine. I'll need to wear skinny shoes to drive this, since the space between the bellhousing and frame upright is tight, and not easy to change.

As a parting shot, have a look at ride height. With just the block installed, the front rides about 2 inches too high. I thought I had the spring rates all figured out for this, but something is still amiss. I'll wait until I have the actual engine and trans in place before worrying about that. Note the Miata headrest looks OK - not too unnatural.

Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 02/20/2012 10:42PM by rickbseattle.

Curtis Jacobson
Portland Oregon
(4578 posts)

10/12/2007 02:16AM

Main British Car:
71 MGBGT, Buick 215

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Re: Rick Burke's 1957 MGA with Chev 350
Posted by: Moderator
Date: August 22, 2012 05:21PM


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