Building a race car never moves as quickly as you hope, especially when this is strictly a hobby and you have very limited means to bring it all together. The time to prepare this car for its racing debut took about four years. During that time the car moved from Jack’s garage in South Carolina to storage in Georgia for awhile, moved up to PA, down to VA, back to PA and ultimately settled in Virginia when we physically relocated there. So, this car probably has more miles being hauled around the country on a trailer than it did as a “runner”.

But the time spent building the GT was well worth it. The plan to develop the car to a “factory-works” look alike strayed somewhat but the end results is pleasing just the same. And with the 1800cc plus displacement it really turns up the dial on the old fun-factor gauge! And, in the end, this is what it’s all about, right?

But, I digress. Let me step back and walk you through some of the build process. I do this knowing that you die-hard motor heads relish the details. And for the non-motor heads reading this? Well, don’t leave me just yet. Remember, Mike is the detail guy; I’m the dreamer. I don’t do real well when it comes down to the minutia! (A.D.D. you know?) Like, I know the engine is an 1800 series, but the calculations of over-boring to compression ratios, etc, etc, etc? Give me a break! I’ll turn wrenches with the best of them all day long, but I need written directions to do it!

The process for building up the GT was not remarkably different than the Sprite in many respects. True, we had the advantage of almost ten years in the hobby plus lots of hours on the track to fall back on. Plus we had the support of the SVRA and our vintage racer network. But we still needed to go back to the basics, researching the lineage of the car, asking lots of questions at the tracks, reading everything we could get our hands on. We started buying technical manuals all over again, but for MG’s this time. Lessons learned from building the Sprite were incorporated, mistakes of the past are avoided and we adopt the “plan before you execute” culture. These decisions not only help in cost savings but ramp us up the learning curve much faster.

So, now the car goes back to Pennsylvania where the body and suspension become the thrust of my early contribution to the build…because I can; I have written instructions now. Bear in mind; this was hardly a “car” at all. It was a shell with no running gear when I bought it. It did have the beginnings of a rear suspension but no front suspension, zip….zero. There were no front fenders or “bonnet” and the interior had been stripped clean. But you know what? That’s a good thing! When you start out to build a race car generally you begin by the stripping the car down to its basic components anyhow. It’s been my experience that a master plan always works better when drawn up on a clean slate.

First thing I did was to put out feelers to my usual “parts finder” network looking for suspension and body panels. This netted a bunch of good “stuff” including fenders, hood, suspension parts plus some goodies to swap or sell! The search also yielded a donor car that was virtually complete but rough. I took off all of the parts that I needed and scrapped the rest. About this time my good friend Al Liporini, in downstate PA, found some key parts that I could not seem to locate. Hey, what are friends for if not scavenging parts! (Al and I go way back and our relationship could make a whole other chapter to this story! And maybe it will.)

At some time during this phase Mike starts thinking seriously about the drive train. Then we get a call from Bob Woodman who has a race tire and car prep shop in Charleston, SC. Bob says he has a MG race engine and lots of performance parts he wants gone. He‘s “going to move over to Porsche” he says. Whoa…..what is wrong with this picture? But never mind, you never look a gift horse in the engine bay, right? So we jump on it; the price is right and we know the shop because Mike worked with Bob for awhile when they lived in Charleston.

Mike’s skills as an engine builder and his knowledge of performance engines have grown exponentially since that time and especially since we have been in this sport. He continues to boggle my mind with his knowledge and comfort level working with these small bore engines. He is now fine tuning where once he would be experimenting or adjusting. We are reacting to the results of positive or negative feed back from the track and working in a corrective action mindset. So it’s no surprise that the new engine comes together quickly on the first pass. Given that it was mostly built up and Mike had a hand in the original effort also plays a contributing factor in the quick turn around.

Oh yeah, that is an interesting note to inject here….while Mike is evaluating the engine we acquired from Bob he realizes that he built a lot of this engine while working for Bob in the Charleston shop! And because of his involvement he knows much of what went into the build. He is feeling pretty good about this revelation. Maybe it’s fate and not just luck that has played into our hands this time. Re-connecting with this engine is seen as a very good thing.

The engine may have come to us “done”, but it did not have Mike’s personal signature on it yet. We made several changes and adjustments with the original build up, but none the less this configuration was slated to take us through the debut outing pretty much as-is. However, in one of our initial race sessions we spun a main bearing in the engine. After that minor set back we returned to the drawing board and made more improvements, like adding roller-rockers and such! We toyed with other performance upgrade ideas, especially with induction and electrical but we ultimately decide to stay with much of the original SU fuel delivery and Lucas electrical systems… worked in the Sprite, why mess with success? Retaining the “original” MG/B configuration also insured that we would be slotted in with similar Group 3 cars as an E-Production car. This is seen as a distinct advantage during this new learning process on the track.

Somewhere in the process of the build-up a straight-cut gear box becomes available and through one of Mike’s contacts we pick up the lead. Shortly after linking up with the seller we own a real race bred gearbox and our transmission issues are resolved. The rear end and final drive is rebuilt from the original cars components plus another donor MG rear acquired from a friend of a friend. My brother-in-law Wayne (a successful Stockcar driver in his own right) offers his help to modify the rear hubs giving us a later MG/B set-up improving the rear braking and axel system. This modification also allowed us to retain the changeable rear differential center section. In the long range plan this was considered to be a positive benefit, because we would be able to swap out gear ratios to suit the track configuration or specific race type. Pretty high-tech stuff, huh? We haven’t taken advantage of this feature yet but we can, and that’s what counts.

The rest is pretty usual in the world of final preparations. The bodywork gets finished and painted….Team 51 blue, of course. A dry-sump system for pre-lubrication of the engine is opted for. We install a fire bottle system because it’s a closed car. A new dash panel with better gauges and a race seat with five point harnesses are next. A fuel cell is selected and installed…..and on it goes! These are but a few of the final details that are decided on and executed. Our good friend Tony Dix dips his fingers in the water during these final assembly stages and he sorts out an electrical scheme, plus helping with many other final details. And then it’s done! (Well, it’s never really done-done!)

We get our first real race laps in the car at the Virginia International Raceway, which is now our home track. We use this time to shake down the car and the internal race systems. This initial track time gives Mike the time to play with the timing, carburetion, valve settings and a dozen other things he plays with to maximize performance. The next race event is in June of 2004 and I start to get the feel of the car, adjusting to the increased power, weight and handling characteristics. Understand; this part of the preparation never really ends. Staying on top of the game is important to remain competitive. After all, we are not “back marker” racers anymore. We have a reputation to live up to……we are Team 51 Racing for heavens sake!

We have about a dozen races in the MG/B now and it is still a rush to climb into the seat of this car and crank it up. It is a lot more brute-ish than the Sprite and is absolutely deafening inside of the drivers compartment. The handling is a little less forgiving but not uncomfortable. It is still a fun drive and can run with the best of the E-production cars. Mike and Tony think it may have a lot more potential in the hands of a real driver! Hmmmm…what do they mean? Come on, I did get Best in Class in the Collier Cup at Watkins Glen, didn’t I?