In our previous issue of HERITAGE (55) we revealed to you the incredible challenge which was the London-Sydney Marathon. This took place more than 50 years ago at a diabolical pace over a distance of 10,000 miles, and across three continents on extremely difficult roads and tracks. On November 24, 1968, among the 98 vehicles at the start, there was an MGB whose exploits we related previously. This car, UMD 534F, was found 47 years later in a breaker’s yard and saved by the MG Car Club – an incredible second story…
All it took was an email
In April 2015, the MG Car Club received an anodyne email which could have easily ended up in the trash. Indeed, it seemed of little interest as a second-hand dealer reported having recently cleared a large house and that he had found an MGB convertible with a fair amount of rust… Just another MGB it seemed which reappears too late to be saved. This though did not stop the author of the e mail to asking for £1000. … Was this really of no interest?
However, fortunately the photo of the sorry-looking car was seen by a certain Bill Price. The latter is a member of the MGCC but not just any member, he is a former director of the BMC Competition Department. He clearly identified two accessories as being parts supplied at the time by his department: the half-roll bar, and the additional spare wheel support on the boot. The club’s archivist (Peter Neal) then researched the registration number of the car, the famous UMD 534F. Very quickly, the link was made with the MGB entered in the London-Sydney Marathon by the mixed crew of Jean Denton / Tom Boyce.
Given the historical interest of the car, the MGCC acquired it. The virtual complete reconstruction it needed represented a substantial budget and the MGCC launched a subscription fund in order to restore it. Superficial cleaning was carried out in order to present the car “in its juice” at the Historic Marathon Rally Show in Gaydon, May 31, 2015. Both amateurs and experts could discover the car and contribute financially to the project.
A few months later the reconstruction of the MGB began. But let’s take a look at the history of this car. The MGCC was fortunate to be able to collect some memories from Tom Boyce, which were very useful in carrying out the work. Unfortunately, he died shortly after the discovery of “his” car and could not follow this restoration.
UMD 534F, the MGB of the Marathon
When Jean Denton expressed her interest in participating in the marathon, the choice of an MGB quickly became obvious for the simple reasons that she did not have much of a budget available, and she had been rallying MGBs for 3 years.
Tom Boyce, a friend of her husband and a great connoisseur of MGs, was to be the backbone of the project for all the technical aspects. He was also to be Jean Denton’s co-driver and the main and only member of the on-board support team! Time was running out, they had to act quickly to find and prepare the car. Finally, the choice fell on Jean’s MGB.
This BRG B roadster had been delivered at the beginning of the year by “Abingdon Special Tuning” on special order from Syd Enever. The body had already been reinforced by the factory and Tom had prepared it further for European long distance road rallies. His assignment to the London-Sydney event necessitated a reorientation of his preparation.
Preparing UMD 534F
Given its limited resources, the team was quickly formed: Tom Boyce, Tony Denton, Jean’s husband, and a friend Pete Smith. The work was be carried out in a lock-up garage located near Tom’s home. Unfortunately, there are few photos showing the modifications made at the time to the Marathon, but a number are still clearly visible on UMD as found in the wreckage.
Additional strengthening of the body with generous weld beads, the addition of shields under the oil pan and the fuel tank. Elimination of weak points under the floor, with displacement inside the passenger compartment of all exposed circuits (braking, petrol, electricity). The fuel pump was positioned sheltered in the boot where it is more accessible.
Work included balancing the engine and adapting a slightly sharper camshaft and modification of the cylinder head to lower the volumetric ratio in order to accept poor quality gasolines. Also, the creation of two louvres on each side at the rear of the bonnet to limit the accumulation of heat in the engine compartment (picture 1) ; the elimination of one strip in two to increase the air intake through the grille ; the installation of a second coil ready to be connected.
The engine mounts proved to be a weak point. The rupture of one of them, piercing the radiator, almost put the car out of action in Australia.
The suspension had to be modified to support a heavy load while improving robustness and increasing ground clearance. Standard lever shock absorbers were replaced with adjustable models. Reinforcement of the front axle wishbones using welded plates strengthened the lower suspension. This way rigidity was greatly increased.
Reinforced rear suspension springs with 8 blades instead of the usual 6 may be seen below – supplemented by combined coil springs / telescopic shock absorbers, and the addition of robust rubber stops. Tom Boyce utilised an existing system, already implemented on police MGBs with particularly heavy radio equipment.
The installation of an imposing bull bar at the front may be seen. Also, large additional Cibié headlights, 4 in number: 2 fog lights and 2 long range. A co-pilot adjustable lighthouse completed the night equipment.
Fitting a hard-top and a safety hoop. Mounting particularly sturdy Dunlop tires. Jean and Tom had only two punctures throughout the course.
The addition of a second tank inside the boot with the spare wheel placed on it can be seen.
The cantilevered construction at the rear carried three 20 litre metal jerry cans. It would appear that one of them was reserved for supplying the crew with water by means of plastic tubes which joined the cockpit.
Second spare tire securely attached to the trunk lid.
A successful finish at this type of event depends upon the mechanics, but this is nothing without the endurance of the crews. Minimum comfort – everything is relative! – is a necessary condition for ensuring crew performance. The hellish pace imposed for 10,000 miles on often rough supposes that the crew can recover on the move. The solution chosen: a high-back bucket seat to ensure good support for the driver, and to facilitate the teammate’s rest – a light bed in the passenger seat amounting to some back support allowing the co-pilot to perform as best he/she could when was awake. Unfortunately, these specific seats have not been found.
Tools and spare parts were secured under the seats.
The specially designed console has a voltmeter, a Tripmaster, a clock and an external thermometer. A special antenna of 1.8 m. made it possible to receive the BBC’s Radio One music station almost everywhere.
The car was not finished until the morning of departure from London after 15 weeks of hard work by the small team. On the hard-top, Tom wrote on the right side: “designed by Tom Boyce”, and above the windshield: “hand built by Tom Boyce, Tony Denton, Pete Smith”. We must not forget Bill Nicholson, a great specialist in the preparation of MGBs, who had given Tom excellent advice for Jean’s first season of competition.
The achievement of this MGB and its crew crossing the finish line of the Marathon in a good position was praised by a number of participants, both individual and official teams… but excluding the BMC team which was totally focused on its heavily modified Austin – Morris 1800. They had to get to the podium in Sydney at all costs!
The preservation of this MG was wide-ranging, in every sense of the term. It required hours and hours of work which has amounted to a budget which has not been published, but which is clearly much higher than the market value of a “normal” MGB convertible. The goal of the MGCC was to keep the patina of a historic competition car as much as possible. However, for there to be a patina, there must still be a good base!
In this case the restorers had to look for the healthy parts. So, whether it was the structure or external body parts, there was much replacement. Consequently, new painting was essential, especially since this UMD 534F had lost its original gold and black livery which had made it possible to identify it at first glance, and which highlighted its main sponsor, the NOVA women’s magazine. On the mechanical level, the situation was just as bad after fifteen years of immobility.
A project team was set up at MGCC under the responsibility of John Watson, the Chairman of the MGB Register, to supervise and coordinate the work on the different parts of the car, while monitoring the budget.
The heavy work on the underside of the car was carried out by a professionals at Abingdon Restorations, a sponsor of the project. The necessary parts were supplied by the British Motor Heritage. The mechanical repairs were carried out by members of the club who shared also the work of the engine and the gearbox with its overdrive, with contributions from Moss Europe.
The car, in its almost final state, was to be presented at the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Marathon, which took place on July 29, 2018 at the British Motor Museum in Gaydon.
Apart from a few finishing touches, the exterior is finished. There is still work to make the wiring harness more reliable, and the upholstery still needs to be restored as we can see in the photo.
UMD 534F is on display at Kimber House on MGCC premises, and you can see it if you pass near Abingdon. Thank you to the MG Car Club for saving this “globetrotter” MGB and in particular to John Watson, the director of the project, who provided us with the details necessary for the writing of this article.
A big thank you also for the images that the MGB Register permitted us to publish.