It’s a sunny Saturday morning and, from behind the wheel of my 1971 MGB Mk II, the storefronts of Detroit’s M-1 Woodward Avenue peel past my periphery.
With my head cocked back and a big grin on my face, I am fully engaged in the buttery smoothness of the roadster’s boisterous four-cylinder, the enthrallingly tight and click-y gearbox shifter, and copious amounts of wind in my hair.
Although I am reveling in my momentary motoring splendor, such moments are few and far between. I’m pretty much relegated to major highways like Woodward for my weekend strolls in the MG. Curvy roads simply don’t exist here.
Before I moved to Detroit, I assumed the cliché that “American cars can’t corner” was due to the shiftlessness of the Big Three’s malaise-era engineers. After having lived here for seven months, I realize now that the bloated floatiness of American cars is a symptom of eastern Michigan roadway infrastructure rather than laziness.
Every road here is straight, with wide lanes of crumbling concrete. Short of a hovercraft, fat-and-wide sedans with squishy suspensions are best suited for coping with a daily Detroit commute. In stark contrast, my twee MG was designed for rolling country roads. So, although I am able to find momentary driving pleasure, generally, I am left wanting.
Lucky for me, I’ve not been missing out on many opportunities for long or serious drives in search of motoring nirvana. Since buying the ‘B, I’ve been struggling to sort out one brake issue after another. And that’s what I am doing this fine Saturday morning — giving my all-new rear brake drum components a shakedown.
Shakedown turned meltdown
Thirty minutes into my Saturday jaunt, with no twisty roads to carve, I stop for coffee. Sauntering past the rear of the ‘B, I smell something hot. My infrared digital thermometer reveals the right-rear drum is 180 degrees Fahrenheit — 100 degrees hotter than the left.
Out of fear of cooking my new brake bits, I make a beeline for home. Back in my garage, I turn to the MG online forum for help.
It’s amusing that my ownership of an analog car like my MGB hinges entirely upon the existence of the Internet. I have no idea how laymen owners maintained half-century-old foreign cars like this before the advent of the information superhighway.
I detail my hot-drum conundrum in a new post and ask for guidance, concluding, “They’re adjusted correctly… I’m left scratching my head here. Ideas?”
This is what I love about the Internet: Minutes after posting my query, MG enthusiasts from around the globe virtually rush to offer their two cents — most were quite helpful, if not slightly misguided.
Eventually, commenters, specifically a Dutch follow, lead me to investigate the emergency brake compensator. Mine is frozen and requires several swift thwacks with a rubber mallet and a healthy helping of penetrating catalyst to get it to budge.
Disassembling it fully slackens the ‘B’s right-hand emergency brake cable, allowing the drum to spin more freely. With the compensator removed, I take the ‘B on another shakedown.
Twenty minutes into round two of my Saturday cruise, the right-rear drum is a paltry 80 degrees and the left is 96. Satisfied, I pull a U-turn and head home.
Cruising through my neighborhood, I take stock in the condition of the ‘B. Mere weeks into ownership, I feel like I’ve solved all of the roadster’s niggling mechanical issues. The ‘B is, as far as I can tell, sorted.
This realization, however, leaves me hollow. Due to the aforementioned lack of fun driving roads in and around Detroit, I derive most of my ownership pleasure from wrenching on — and worrying about — the MG.
Upon return home, I crawl back underneath the ‘B to adjust the right-rear brake shoes once again, completing my to-do list.
As I lie there looking up at the now-slackened right-hand emergency brake cable, I wonder what I’ll do with my weekends going forward. As I survey the grimy orange underbody, something catches my eye. The front right top of the fuel tank is slightly damp.
I reach up and drag my finger along the tank’s leading edge and gasoline begins to drip onto my chest. There must have been a perfect stasis of grime preventing the slight gas-seepage from becoming a full-blown leak. And my poking at it disrupted the balance.
Sliding out of the way of the gasoline drip and jumping to my feet, a wave of excitement overcomes me; I have a new gas tank to order… and something else to worry about.