New owners of a Triple M car are soon made aware of the fact that they don't actually own it, but are merely allowed to look after it! There is a lot of debate within the Triple M community about how to preserve these cars, about their originality and restoration ethics. Some owners, when faced with the task of restoring bodywork in a hopelessly deteriorated state, have decided to fit new bodywork of a different, more desirable model car, which was originally fitted to the same basic chassis. As a result, the number of 4-seater and saloon cars is gradually declining, while more K3’s survive today than were ever built in the factory! On this page, I'd like to present my personal views on this topic and on how I intend deal with my J2.

A car that was built before your mother was born it is no longer the car it was when it left the factory... except, by definition, for the chassis number, which is widely recognised as being the car’s identy. Everything else is bound to have deteriorated to some extent, or repaired or restored to some degree, and many parts will have been replaced by items which may or may not resemble the parts fitted as it left the factory.

The car’s long history is one of its main attractions, so clearly you’ll want to preserve it and prevent it from falling apart. The best way of doing this is to keep it in a darkened, climate controlled cocoon, and to run the chassis on a test bench once or twice a year. This will, however, prevent you from enjoying your car.

If this is unacceptable and you do wish to enjoy the car, it is all important that its parts perform their function properly. Just how well the car has to perform is a matter of personal preference. However, if you are enjoying the car on some regular basis, inevitably one day the time will come that some part ceases to function properly and you will find that you’re not enjoying it as much as you used to. This is where you will want to start changing the car by repairing, replacing or adding some part. In fact, you will be adding to the car’s history... so be careful! Current owners appear to be less entitled to adding to a car’s history than owners from the past. This makes sense too, since part of the reason for buying an old car is its past history in the first place.

So how do you go about repairs or restoration work? If you want to preserve history, you’ll want to bring the car back as closely as possible to its original condition. Thanks to the extensive research of several expert enthusiasts, it is now quite well known in what specification these cars left the factory. However, bringing a car back to its new original state will not only revive its early history, but it will also destroy part of its later history. When it comes to restoring a particularly rare car or a car with a special early history, it would be good to restore it to the state in which it left the factory. However, if the car is one of a series of identical cars of which many examples survive in a beautiful original condition, then bringing it back to that same original state doesn’t add much to the history of the other examples of the same car. In such a case, it may be more preferrable to restore it to a state which is representative of a later period and which distinghuishes it more from the others. Clearly, there is a choice to be made here.

There are other choices to be made as well. We are assuming that the car is not meant to be treated as a museum piece, but is meant to be enjoyed on the road. Modern day traffic imposes some tough challenges on a 75 year old MG. Its cooling system cannot cope with traffic jams, and its dynamo is unable to generate the current needed to keep the head lights on for prolonged periods of time, meaning that the battery is slowly drained when driving in the dark. The cable operated brakes work quite well when perfectly maintained - by nineteen thirties standards. But when you’re surrounded by modern cars which may force themselves into the gap in front of you and then use their Anti-lock Brake System, it makes you feel as if you had no brakes at all. Finally, the original specification of the car does not meet modern regulations for (brake) lights and reflectors. To improve the car’s ability to cope with modern traffic, there is a number of modifications which can be considered, but of course these do compromise authenticity. Fortunately, some of these modifications were available in period (for example: bigger size brake drums on the J2), so obviously these should be considered first.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect in restoration ethics is simply that of modern day personal preferences. MG sports cars were built to please by performance but also by good looks. If you’re going to spend good cash buying a car, you will expect it to look good. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, you might want to buy the next best thing and modify it to suit your personal preferences. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided that none of the car’s history is destroyed. If an original coat of paint is faded and rust is becoming more prominent than paint, there is no reason why you shouldn’t paint it in a different colour, provided that some kind of record is made of the original paint job. If you don’t like the four-seater bodywork on your car, there is no reason why you shouldn’t fit a different style body, provided that the original body is retained and no further damage is done to the car’s history.

Having said that, the need to adapt historic cars to modern traffic, performance and appearance requirements results in certain trends which become apparent at club gatherings. MGs of the nineteen fifties and sixties left the factory in the most amazing varity of colours (some of them now considered rather awful), but are today often resprayed in a rather predictable green, red or white. Triple M cars are often upgraded to a more sporting specification in period style. As a result, the population of surviving cars is not quite representative of all the cars originally built at the factory. This is regrettable, but just as unavoidable as the fact that any bit of steel, after centuries, will eventually turn to rust no matter how well it is looked after.

To summarise, I’d like to close this subject with five steps that should ensure an ethical approach to restoring a car:

  1. 1.Analyse the history of the car and its components

  2. 2.Decide which period in the car’s history will be the focus of restoration work

  3. 3.Decide which components need to be restored or repaired to perform their original function

  4. 4.Decide what additional functionality the car needs

  5. 5.Minimise the destruction of history when upgrading the car

Elsewhere on these pages, I will go further into these steps as I’m going through the restoration work on J2 4138.

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Restoration ethics - a touchy subject.