MGB Tips – Winter Driving:

Even though we have very mild winters in South Australia, some MGBs will no doubt get less use at this time of year. I was going to offer suggestions for storage of Classic cars but decided against doing this simply because I don’t want to be seen as advocating the practise of leaving a Classic idle because it’s so detrimental to all cars. Tyres can get flat-spotted where they contact the ground, engines corrode internally from old oil which is filled with moisture and acidic contamination, brakes, clutch plates and overdrives can seize, condensation in the air above the petrol in the tank corrodes inside the tank, petrol loses its Octane rating and gums up fuel lines, pumps, filters and carburettors.

I once bought a second-hand MGB differential over the phone and when it was delivered I discovered rust on the top half of the internal metal parts but the lower half that was submerged in diff oil while it was in the car was fine.

In short, NOT driving a car is hazardous to its health.
A car should be driven every few weeks and for long enough run to allow the engine to reach its normal operating temperature and for brakes to be applied several times and, if fitted, the overdrive to be activated a few times. Just running the engine for a few minutes is nowhere near satisfactory, because none of the other systems in the car get any use. The many club members who have cars on Historic Registration should be using some of their allotted days of use to go for a drive during the winter months to assist with the preservation of their Classic cars.

So instead of “enabling” those MGB owners that won’t drive their cars until the weather forecast once again exceeds 30°C, I’m going to encourage them to prepare their Classic cars for regular use, even through the snow-drifts, black-ice and freezing climatic conditions that we DON’T experience here in South Australia.

If you’re very lucky to be driving an MGB GT in winter, then you enjoy the benefits of having a car that’s considerably more water-tight and draft-proof than an MGB Tourer. The heater is more effective in a car that’s better sealed from the elements. You have wipers that clear a greater area of the windscreen and you also have a heated rear window in the hatch, standard on later models and easily retro-fitted on earlier model MGBs.

I own an older, 3-Bearing MGB that wasn’t specified with the optional heater from the factory, so I don’t have the luxury of having warm air blowing onto the windscreen to demist it when it fogs up on cold mornings. To overcome this inconvenience I simply apply a coating of Rain-X brand Anti-Fog on the inside of the windscreen. I also use Original Rain-X on the outside of the windscreen and on the door mirrors which causes the fine droplets of condensation to bead and run down off the glass.

MGB heaters are generally disparaged for their poor performance but not having one fitted to my B, I haven’t experienced this for myself. I wonder if the complaints stem from one of the two usual causes; that is, either owners are comparing the old design MGB heater with their modern car, or it’s a fifty year old heater that’s never been rebuilt. Corrosion from using plain water in the radiator can block the heater tap fitted on the side of the cylinder head and also the foam packing inside the heater unit breaks down over time so that airflow bypasses the heat exchange matrix. (MGB heaters can be a future topic for discussion).

To help the heater produce warm air sooner, replace the summer rated (74°C) engine thermostat with a higher temperature (88°C) version and put the summer thermostat on the shelf until you need it later in the year. Making this switch allows the engine to reach a higher temperature before the thermostat opens to allow coolant circulation into the radiator. This means that you’ll have more toasty warm air on your toes.

Now is the time to thoroughly clean your MGB, inside and out, and to protect the paintwork with your favourite brand of polish or wax.

Replace the windscreen wiper blades after a long summer of UV ray degradation of the rubber.

Fill the windscreen washer bottle with a proprietary detergent solution to assist in cleaning road spray laced with oil, diesel and dirt from the road surface.

Change the oil and filter.

Check that all light bulbs are operational and as bright as they should be. (Poor Earthing?) This is especially important for a low height car like an MGB which will be less easily seen than a large modern car.

On overcast, rainy days it would help to drive with the “parking” lights on, just remember to switch them off when you leave the car.

I’ve swapped all of the incandescent filament bulbs in my MGB with LED bulbs which not only helps to make my car more visible to other road users, it reduces the current draw required from the alternator. The brighter brake lights in particular are noticeably improved. LED bulbs are available from numerous eBay sellers but I highly recommend that you speak to club member Anthony Pearson at “Classic and Vintage Bulbs” who can provide top quality, correct items for your MG.

Start the engine on the choke, if the weather is cold enough, but only idle the engine for about a minute. Idling the engine for extended periods is unnecessary and probably even harmful to the engine. After starting a cold engine and idling it for about a minute, begin your journey and drive only with part throttle openings so not too much load is placed on the engine, with its cold, thick engine oil. After driving gently for a while, and as the engine temperature rises, the choke control can start to be released.

It might be beneficial to give the car’s battery(s) a session on a battery charger. Even if they’re not flat, making sure that they’re fully charged will help greatly when all of the MGB’s admittedly minimal electrical equipment is operating, especially if your older model MGB is fitted with a generator and you’re driving with headlights, windscreen wipers, radio and heater fan.

If yours is an MGB Tourer, then garage your car with the hood fitted using all of the fasteners to keep the fabric taut, otherwise you might find it difficult to re-fit the hood if it’s been folded down in cold temperatures for a while. I’m sure it doesn’t get cold enough in SA but when I was in England, one winter I was removing the hood to go for a drive and the rear window broke in several places as I was folding it down because the plastic had become rigid in the cold temperature. Also be aware that if the hood fabric was installed onto the Header Rail of your car overly tight on a very hot day, the fabric will shrink and could split in very cold weather, usually at the sides of the Header Rail.

This is a good time to grease all of the lubrication points on your MGB, to ensure that clean grease forces out any moisture and dirt from the Kingpins, Handbrake cables and Universal Joints, etc.

Not that you’d knowingly use an Ethanol blend like E10 in a Classic car anyway, but just as a reminder to you, it’s corrosive to carburettor components made from Zinc and Aluminium it’s also harmful to rubber hoses, gaskets, floats and many other fuel system materials, and to make this product even worse, it attracts and absorbs moisture which has obvious consequences during a period of low usage.

The most important check to make is to determine the suitability of the car’s tyres for driving on wet roads. “If the tread has worn down to any of the tyre wear indicators, or there is less than 1.5mm of tread depth on the tyre, the tyre is then considered to be unroadworthy”. In addition to this, purchasing poor quality tyres, or driving on old tyres (even if they still have plenty of tread) just isn’t worth the risk to yourself or other road-users.
Consider this; when driving on a wet road at 80KPH, with still legal tyres of 1.5mm tread depth instead of the 8mm tread depth of new tyres, your car on 1.5mm tread tyres will still be travelling at 40KPH at the same point that your car would have stopped on 8mm tread tyres, and you’ll travel a further 18.6 metres before stopping!!!

I’m sure that there are other winter driving precautions that MGB owners could offer but these are the ones that I thought of.