Esholt, a suburb of Bradford, is developing another claim to fame besides the sewage works which annually provide a spectacular stage in the RAC Rally. In an old mill just off the main Shipley to Guiseley road, Alastair Naylor has created almost a miniature of the MG car factory, Abingdon, as it might have been in the late 1940s and eprly 1950s. His firm, Naylor Brothers, claims to be the largest restorer of T-type MGs in the country, but not only the proliferation of MG chassis and spares smacks of Abingdon: even the smell is in character. The MG factory sits next door to the Pavlova leather company and an unforgettable memory of the period I spent with the MG Car Company is of the smell on the days when the wind was in the wrong direction. Naylor Brothers face a similar aroma in the premises they share with a firm treating sheepskins.
Airedale Garage, Hollins Hill, Esholt, Shipley, where today MGs are rebuilt completely from the chassis upwards, is not unaccustomed to car production. In the 1920s Airedale cars were originated and produced under the same roof by Mr. Griffiths, who until his retirement recently was a director of Sharpe and Griffiths, Chrysler dealers, half-a-mile down the road from Naylor Brothers.
Alastair Naylor provides a service for MG TA, TB, TC, TD and TF owners similarly comprehensive to that provided by Oldham and Crowther (featured in the January issue of Motor Sport) for Jaguar XK owners. He is, of course, by no means alone in offering MG restoration in Britain; several smaller firms throughout the country can offer a similar, if not quite so comprehensive, service on a less extensive scale. Naylor Brothers could be said, perhaps, to lead the league in MG restorers in the way that Toulmins are said to be the largest dealers in spares for old MGs.
Like Jaguar XKs, old MGs of any type have become an appreciating asset, quite staggering prices being. fetched by better examples of the marque. They will doubtless continue to appreciate, too, which is just as well for a full Naylor T-type restoration can cost anywhere between £2,000 and £3,000 in addition to the initial purchase price. If that sounds silly money to expend on what were originally cheap 70 to 80 m.p.h. sports cars which even the younger end of our readership will be able to remember as an everyday sight on the roads when in their mechanical and bodily prime, then it is easy enough to justify it in terms of Naylor costings, even if some of us would find it easier to justify spending the same amount on restoring more exciting machinery. Every full restoration takes at least 1,500 hours, on top of which is the cost of materials and as Naylor says, if every hour was charged for, restoration would not be a viable proposition for the customer. Nevertheless, there are at this moment 22 MGs undergoing or awaiting complete or partial restoration at Airedale Garage and in the few years which Naylor Brothers has been running, 18 full rebuilds and approximately 40 partial rebuilds have been completed.
Of course the majority of T-type owners are real enthusiasts whose delight in ownership is as much in undertaking their own restoration and maintenance as in driving the cars and a large part of the Esholt business is in catering for their needs, in body parts particularly. Unlike XKs, T-type MGs rely on a wooden body frame, held together and mounted to the chassis by a steel frame, to support their body panels. These are the bugbear of T-type restorations, almost always needing replacement in whole or in part, difficult to make as one-offs, practically impossible to buy until recently, yet the critical backbone of the cars. Naylor Brothers has come to the rescue by putting brand-new body frames into production, built in English ash to the identical specification produced originally by Abingdon and available to the restorer either in parts to be built up by him like a sort of jig-saw puzzle, or readyassembled as a basic frame, or fully built complete with new body panels ready to drop straight on to the customer’s chassis. It has been a remarkable achievement to implement the re-production of no less than five body frames, the last of which went out of production in 1955. Each frame contains at least thirty parts and hardly any of them are interchangeable between the different models; for example, while the TC was derived almost directly from the TA, only about four parts of their frames are interchangeable; additionally there are two types of TA, the early one having wider rear wheel-arches and consequently a narrower rear frame than the later model with wider fuel tank; and the TD and TF are totally different again. The frame of the rare TB, however, is identical to the wide TA version.
Naylor’s carpentry is undertaken at a separate establishment elsewhere in Bradford run by Philip W. Robinson and Donald Stainburn, craftsmen whose meticulousness is revealed as magnificent on close examination of the new frames, or “carcasses”, as Robinson calls them. They work from accurate, full-scale drawings and templates prepared by Robinson, .himself the owner of a superbly restored TF, from original parts. Seasoned ash is purchased in two-inch-thick planks, marked out with the templates, roughed to shape with a band-saw and finally shaped and finished on a “wheel and bobbin” machine, a sort of overgrown sander which has made the spokeshave redundant for achieving curved shapes. All wooden panels, including the floorboards, rear dashboard panel and the facia itself, are cut from exterior grade mahogany plywood. The multifarious bits and pieces, if they’re to be sold as complete body frames rather than as jigsaws, are put together as sub-assemblies, bolted to the new steel frames made in wooden jigs by Stainburn and fully assembled on old slave chassis kept in the workshop. Completed frames are taken to Esholt, where if required they are panelled by hand by Peter Swift, though it is the intention that Robinson, an expert pattern maker, will make formers so that the body skins can be produced and fitted in his workshop.
As completed skeletons these MG frames look relatively simple and it is only when the thirty or forty pieces are seen separately that the amount of work which goes into them makes an impact. Then the £278.60 which an assembled, unpanelled, timber, wide TA frame costs seems reasonable, for the individual parts are moderately priced from 70p upwards. However, a customer could make quite a saving by assembling the frame himself. Similar unpanelled frames for the other models range down to £241 for the TF, while panelled bodies range from £380 for the narrow TA to £355 for the TF, ironically probably the most valuable model when restored. On top of this, most customers are almost certain to need new doors, available in ready panelled form around new ash frames for approximately £45 each, in which case the customer might try advantageously to save his old door panels, for the frames are a more modest £15 each.
Alastair Naylor refuses to contemplate restoring old body frames on his customers’ cars—”They’d be back in three years to have the rest repaired”—an expensive, false economy. On the other hand an enthusiast renovating his own car on a limited budget can buy individual wooden parts from Naylors, suitable for mating up with the original Abingdon frame, so that only the most decrepit parts need be replaced. Likewise Naylor does not welcome the job of stripping the old body panels off the old frame in order to retain the old skin: it would be sensible for a do-it-yourself restorer to do so should the panels be restorable, but to pay somebody else to do this difficult and timeconsuming job (the metal is lapped over the wooden frame) would cost practically as much as buying a repanelled body. Incidentally, the standard Naylor panelling is 18 gauge aluminium, mainly because most customers seem to prefer this as an aid against corrosion in the future. In the places where aluminium accosts metal, Naylor uses a special rubber sealer to prevent a reaction. I don’t know how purists regard this change of material—the rest of Naylor-restored cars retain original materials and this panelling too can be carried out in steel should the customer Request it. All strengtheners and brackets within the frame, inner wheel-arches, those neat little pockets for sidescreens in the back of the car and running-boards (in aluminium either) remain in steel and recent additions to steel panels include louvred engine side panels for TFs and the shapely, louvred front apron for J2s, the only nonT-type part Naylor Brothers list in their current catalogue. In the past most types of MGs have passed through Airedale Garage and an M-type Midget is having its engine rebuilt and an ND a full restoration right now, but in future Naylor has decided to stick as strictly as possible to T-types. Spares for earlier models often take months to obtain, the cars in the meantime take up valuable space and it is impossible to maintain a viable turnover, while because of low demand, body frames and other parts have to be made uneconomically as one-offs. T-types, on the other hand, are reasonably plentiful, most spares are fairly readily obtainable and turnover often justifies the manufacture of others. Not that individual T-types move in and out very quickly, eight months being a fairly normal time, a far cry, however, from the two years the ND has been there, the last twelve months waiting for a radiator shell so that new panelling can be shaped to it.
Naylor charges restoration customers on a progress method, each stage of work being charged for separately both to give the company working capital (eight months means considerable expenditure in wages and materials) and to make payment a little easier for the customer. When the car arrives, along with £200 to £300 deposit, which is used also to pay for stripping the car, in the case of a full restoration, the vehicle is disassembled to the last nut and bolt. Chassis used to be simply shot-blasted and primed; now they are also metal sprayed, primed with red oxide and finished with two coats of enamel. All brake pipes and wheel cylinders are replaced, pedals rebushed and work beyond that depends upon customer requests. Leaf springs are usua’lly rebuilt, shock-absorbers, no longer available new, are reconditioned, the suspension and steering rehushed and so on. Apparently brake spares are no real problem, suspension parts for the TC onwards are still available (one spacer tube on the TD and TF is available as an MG-B part), but TA suspension spares are difficult, though not impossible. Fortunately, demand for T-type spares has been sufficiently adequate for many of the spares dealers to be able to justify the manufacture of new parts, rubber suspension bushes being a case in point. A full rebuild would include the engine and gearbox, most spares again being available if one knows the source; Naylor has heard that gearbox spares are even being made in japan! Again orders for vast quantities must usually be placed with a manufacturer to make the final price viable. Naylor himself had to order no less than 7,000 cam followers for the XPAG engine before he could have them made, which could have left him with several thousand pounds worth of stock tied up for years had he not found a sale in the USA for 5,000 . . Indeed the States is one of Naylor’s major markets, twenty bodies having been shipped out to Abingdon Spares over there in the last two years.
No-one to Naylor’s knowledge has yet to manufacture new steel wings for theie cars and so it is that panel beater John Waterworth is invaluable, repairing those longflowing wings so skilfully with hammers, welding torch, new steel and abrasive tools that even before painting it would be difficult to distinguish them from new. Front bulkheads and the cowled scuttles too are irreplaceable with new steel components, so are also revived. Rechroming, reupholstery and hood manufacture are carried out by outside firms and instruments are returned to Smiths for reconditioning of faces and internals, but in all other respects Naylor Brothers is practically self-sufficient. Naylor wishes that many other new parts could be manufactured at sensible prices, however. Recently he had an estimate for manufacturing new TC and TF chrome radiator shells, but when he was told that tooling costs alone in each case would be £5,000 and there were only 10,000 of each model manufactured new, he decided that perhaps it wasn’t worthwhile after all! He has had new splined hubs machined and suitable brake drums cast so that he can supply the demand for TF wirewheel conversion kits, but is forced to charge £20 each for the hubs alone. Gasket sets are bought from Payen and again have to be ordered in relatively large quantities. An ambitious project is for Robinson to make up patterns to have new 1.500 c.c. TF blocks cast if only the original drawings can be obtained from BMC.
For the amount of work facing them, Naylor Brothers seem to have a particularly small staff, besides the aforementioned only two others, Philip Richmond and Carol Parker, the secretary, being employed. Richmond joined Naylor six years ago and is responsible for most of the mechanical work, including engine rebuilding. It seems that what they lack in numbers of hands they make up for working till all hours of the night.
Naylor was selling toiletries and rebuilding MGs as a hobby until 1965, but he was trained originally as an engineer with the intention of joining his father’s engineering business, until his father died. With his brother, David, he acquired and restored an MG J2, the results being so successful that they found themselves restoring cars for other people, including American airmen at Menwith Hill. It was a story and photograph about those Menwith Hill MGs appearing in the Daily Mirror, written by the originator of the Terrapin-Min, the Leeds hill-climber Staniforth, the paper’s Northern correspondent, which led to the Manager suggesting forcibly that if Naylor could find time enough to rebuild those MGs, how could he be selling toiletries properly and perhaps he might like to rebuild MGs full-time. Naylor thus started the business with £60 in his pocket and help from his brother, who in fact did not enter the business full time, and for the first couple of years was joined by Richard Sutherland who I remember from that period as a well-known Northern hill-climb exponent with Midgets.
Alastair Naylor’s own pride and joy is a most beautiful metallic bronze coloured racing TC with which last season he won the MG Car Club Yorkshire Sprint Championship and finished runner-up in the national MGCC T-Register Championship. Built entirely by himself from a bare chassis it is constructed completely of aluminium around the normal Naylor Brothers ash frame, at the moment has a 1,350 c.c. power unit with Laystall-Lucas aluminium cylinder head, full racing engine internals including a full-race XPAG camshaft for which Naylor holds the master copy, has radius rods and a Panhard rod on the front suspension, which is modified to take Koni telescopic shock-absorbers, has Konis at the rear too, is lowered all round, runs on 15-inch AC Cobra wire wheels and with 75 b.h.p. at the wheels, as against 52 b.h.p. at the flywheel for the original car, is said to be capable of almost 120 m.p.h. It reveals another side of Naylor’s work which is competition preparation of customers’ T-types, for which his own is the perfect advertisement.—C.R.