23 hours ago in Articles
Christina Lam went from the sidelines to full-on track enthusiast in 8 simple steps.
I know this subject line has come up a thousand times across hundreds of forums, but I haven't found any that're current or with similar goals. A bit of history; years ago I worked as a mechanic & fabricator building PCA racecars, then I went back to school and got my engineering degree. I've still got all my tools and a small CNC machine shop. I can make almost anything, but I'd like to stick with fabbing easy/fun stuff so this project doesn't feel like work. I'd like to build up a little convertible for track days and general fun. I'm not looking to be competitive, I just want a car that'll pass safety and handle well when it's being pushed to the limits on the track or traversing some crappy, concrete freeway.
It seems like I can purchase mid-late 70's MGBs, Spitfires, and Fiat Spiders all around the same price. They all seem to have a pretty good selection of parts availability. Regardless of which route I go, I'll add an ECU, ITBs and some modern electrics (and lose the 5mph bumpers).
The MGBs look to have some pretty crappy suspension standard, but there's lots of IFS kits to replace the king-pin setup and 4 link rear end kits to get rid of the leaf-springs. I've never had a car with a solid rear axle, so I'm a bit apprehensive of going this route. I've only found 1 company (Hoyle Suspension) that has a independent rear suspension kit and it's pretty dear. I'm no fan of the rubber bumpers, so I expect to do a lot of bodywork to get an MGB to where I want it.
With the Spitfire there's the body-on-frame that makes working on the chassis and doing an engine swap relatively fun. I love the flip front-end and the front suspension, but that rear suspension and it's tendency to jack itself up in the corners doesn't look so fun. I'd love to know if there's a good coil-over conversion available; It seems like there ought to be a lot more options, so I'm wondering if there's some body parts in the way of me building something. Of the 3 cars, the Spitfire is also the first one I'd feel the need to swap the engine on right away. I'm also not sure how much room there is for a real roll-bar
Then there's the Fiat Spider with what looks like fairly modern suspension. Like the MGB, it's got a solid rear axle, but it's already equipped with a 4 link rear. It's the biggest and heaviest of the 3 and I've heard the shock-mounts might not be able to handle stiffer shocks. I also don't have any idea how the engine/trans/axle hold up to track abuse.
I'd really love some insight from you that've modified some of these the old cars... and if there's any other options I'm missing.
I know a fair bit about Spitfires (own one, plus a GT6; had a Spit-6 and ex owns a Spit) and am familiar with MGB's. Know little about Spiders, so no comments on those.
A Spitfire as a track-day car... Hmm... The chassis isn't very stiff, although with a factory (steel) hardtop, it's a little better. The rear suspension jacking is more of an issue with earlier cars, less so with later cars. Engine swaps are not all that easy without a good bit of cutting and re-engineering. A lot of engine swaps are attempted; few are actually completed; even fewer actually look good. Probably the biggest caveat with a Spitfire is you can dump a bucket of $$$ into one and still end up with a car that will get beaten by a Prius in pretty much every category other than being fun to drive.
A MGB is not really a comparable car. It's bigger and the unit-body construction gives it a more solid feel. The first time I drove one, I was struck at how much closer it felt to my Volvo 1800 than to my Spitfire. The engine bay is much more accommodating for engine swaps - V6 and V8 conversions are fairly common. Still don't know if I'd want a convertible as a track car, but a MGB-GT with a SBF or SBC could be a lot of fun. Personally, I actually don't mind the rubber bumper on these cars - especially if the bumpers are painted to match the body, which gives the car a more modern look and less klunky than chrome. Unfortunately, I also know from personal recent experience the rubber bumpers are quite effective at their intended purpose. If I ever get a B, it'll definitely be a rubber bumper version.
IMHO, if you want one of these for track-use, I'd seek out a currently logged vintage race car, although it probably would be difficult to back-prep it for street use.
What kind of budget are you spending on this?
I can speak to the MGB world as I have been playing with them for 40 plus years.
You are most likely familiar witht he MGexperiences engine swap forum?
To me, the height of the breed is Dan Masters MGB GT conversion
This is my GT. It has the 4 link rear suspension from Classic Conversions. Makes a huge difference in the ride. Ironically, I tracked the car before the conversion and never since, so I cant tell you what it is like on the track
There is relly nothing wrong with the front suspension on an MGB. IF it is in good condition and a lot of them are not. Better brakes are available for track use.
For a swap where I wanted max power to weight, I would do the LFX out of the Camaro; tidy little 6 cylinder with about 300 hp out of the box. Should fit with room to spare if you are handy at fabricating stuff.
The easy button with the MGB is a 3.4 GM 60 degree V6 and a T5 gearbox. Pretty much a bolt in using the Classic Cars kit.
I would suggest to avoid logic in this, and get the car you like the best. Any one of them can be made to go quickly, none of them will lead the pack in numbers or grid.
The key is which one pushes the right buttons.
This is more an emotional decision- let it rule for once.
Well if you keep the original engine, the Fiat has a better starting point. Twin cam engine, with a very small carb, install a twin carb set-up and now you have something to work with. If you do a search for Fiat stuff, bayless and vicks, you will find lots of interesting stuff. If you are planning a motor swap, then either the MG or the Fiat. The Spitfire would be a fun car to drive, but might be the most limited on the track. Now if you can find a 124 coupe that would be better than a convertible.
I have owned a couple Spitfires and they are great fun. Super easy to work on as well. But when it comes to engine swap you really need to do something about the rear differential as it doesn't stand up well to big power. Then of course the brakes will need sorted too ... leading to a huge project as all components are spec'd for stock level power.
You mention you are a fabricator and you mention that you want better suspension. If you want the ultimate MGB, just make it a Miata with a V8 conversion and a body swap. Do what I did, only use an MGB shell. The wheelbases are almost the same. Keep the Miata engine if you want the whole thing to be a dead simple job.
The original plan was to cut up my MGB and do this rather than the Volvo P1800ES. But then I decided I wanted a practical family car.
I lean towards MGB. Stiffer and more room for bigger engines. And we all know that a bigger engine is always more fun.
Do you want s project or do you want to drive? Getting into engine swaps gets into a lot of garage time instead of seat time. Nothing wrong with it. Just a know what your getting in to. Personally I'd lean toward the fiat on looks. I've done a v8 mgb gt. It's a solid chassis. The front crossmember is ridiculously heavy. The fast cars tube crossmember is spendy, but a bolt-in or fab your own crossmember and suspension points. I like spits, but the chassis is kinda floppy Don't overthink the stick axle. Thousands of racers have been able to live with them just fine. Or there's always "the answer"
You could just buy my V-8 MGB and be most of the way done!!!!
That's a nice MGB.
People will have different opinions. For a fun street car, I'd lean towards a Spitfire. Not so much for the track, although they can be made into fast cars (for the vintage). The thing is, everyone has a bias towards certain cars and/or marques. I'd own any of the cars you mentioned. But you really need to drive a good example of each and see which one you like the best. Then make it as good as you want, or sell it and move on when the itch is scratched.
Wow, that's a lot of great info. I know a convertible isn't a practical track car, but it's my compromise for parking my motorcycle.
I'll probably try driving them all before I make a final decision, but I don't want to rush into a new project with unrealistic expectations. The Spitfire is probably out because I think you guys are right about engine swaps not fitting and everything needing to be upgraded to handle extra power. Re. the rubber bumpers looking more modern.. I'd probably just get a miata. @Nohome, that miata/mgb mashup looks incredibly clever. @TED_fiestaHP, thanks for the feedback on the Fiat and the tip about Bayless, I wasn't aware of that parts source yet. I was pretty surprised when I started digging into suppliers, just how much is available for the Fiat (and the MGB). If the right MGB pops up I might go that route as it certainly has the greatest potential for engine swaps, but I'm definitely leaning towards the Fiat as being more of a series of small projects with some driving in between.
I am curious if anyone has some details/pictures of reinforcing the Fiat 124/2000 spider's suspension points or if the stories of them being flimsy is really a thing.
Actually, its not an MGB GT, its a Volvo P1800 ES. This is where it stands after the chassis were merged and the V8 conversion done. Like I said, I decided to go for a sensible family car and what says "Family" more than a station wagon!
build thread: https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/forum/build-projects-and-project-cars/volvo-p1800eskinda/72311/page37/
just to be a PITA.....
you say you want a convertible... an MGB isn't a convertible... it is a hatchback.....
and if you consider a hatchback... that opens the field to a large number of cars as rwd chassis with swap capabilities....
What about a 1a generation Celica hatchback...
Or a bit more muscle-y
As to swaps... you can go modern 2 liter with VVT, or stuff a V8 (Toyota UZ)
An MGB is a convertible, the MGB GT is their hatchback.
In reply to lotusseven7:
You know... posting a picture of your MGB, saying it has a V8 and it's for sale and then not posting anything else about it (it's not even in your profile "garage"), is rather evil of you.
NOHOME wrote: Actually, its not an MGB GT, its a Volvo P1800 ES. This is where it stands after the chassis were merged and the V8 conversion done. Like I said, I decided to go for a sensible family car and what says "Family" more than a station wagon!
I always thought that back seat was an insurance technicality, but you could have the first 4-seater miata technicality or not. Thanks for pointing your build thread out, that's a great project.
There's a four seater Miata already.
In reply to n1tr0:
I know from personal experience (I own one), the back seat of an 1800ES is there in name only. Unless someone in the front seat is very short. Fortunately, it folds down nicely to add to the cargo area.
Amusingly, there was a domestic option for a back seat in the Triumph GT6, which I suppose could also be made to work in a Spitfire. But again - actually using it is a different matter. I believe the MGB GT also has a "token" back seat.
The Molvo is now a dedicated two seater. Works fine cause the "Family" is only the two of us now!
I seem to have a thing for vestigial rear seats: The MGB GT, the FRS and now the P1800ES.
The MGB GT rear seat is hilarious. It also folds down for more cargo room, and somehow the act of folding down a 10" tall rear cushion really emphasizes how tiny it all is.
Fragile, well keep in mind how old these cars are. None of these had good rust prevention.
But good ones can still be found, and you might look at what is being done with SCCA production class, for some typical modifications.
If the rust in the fender edge or arch, for a track car, the repair would not have to be perfect. A less than perfect MGB or Fiat should be fairly cheap and either could make a fair track type car. If keeping the original engine, I would prefer the Fiat. Fiats have been modified forever....
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