Wow, another year shot to hell. Why does it feel like time goes faster the older we get? At the end of last year, I became a card carrying member of Medicare. It doesn’t seem that it was that long ago I was working out at Jim Ealy’s junk yard. How many remember him? He was on Childers Road near Shallowford Road. If you remember him, offer a word of thanks to him as he was the one who taught me most about these cars and how to treat them and their owners.

OK, he wasn’t the best with customer relations but he kept them coming back time after time. Back then, it was either him, Atlanta Imported Auto parts or English Car Spares. Do yall remember them? Those were the good old days. Jim was the one who got me interested in racing; I ended up buying his junk yard just to get his TR4A race car. I had done so much work on it; I hated to see it go to someone else.

The first job I had that involved racing was as a gate guard at Road Atlanta in the mid-1970s. This was when the SCCA National Run-offs were held in November. It was freezing cold that week and there was snow and ice on the ground. My cousin and I were working the gate at the old Quack Hut (first aid station), the gate led to the pits. We were told that no one without a pass could go in, insurance regulations (we knew they just wanted to make sure they paid the entry fees).

As we stood guard, we were partaking of some warm egg-nog and Cognac to keep warm. Three men and a very pretty lady came up and wanted in. We asked for their passes and the men quickly showed theirs. The very pretty lady failed to present one. So, going by our orders, we refused to let her pass. They explained that her pass was with the car in the pits and she just forgot it. Sorry for her, she still did not pass. The three men went on in promising to return shortly with her pass. Why didn’t one of them wait in her place? Anyway, we chatted with her offering her some internal warmth, which she politely refused. Soon, after 15 minutes, they showed up with her pass and in she went. One of the medics at the Quack Hut came over and asked if we knew who she was and we answered, yes that was a lady without a pass and we were not going to let her in. It was then that we were informed that she was Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman’s wife. She never once tried to use her status to get in. She was as pleasant as she could be to us.

That was a great introduction to the racing crowd that we were becoming a part of. Now that I have racing on the mind, let’s talk about what you can do over the winter to improve your car, performance wise. There are numerous stages of performance tuning you can do. Let’s break it down into just three; streetable stock, mild upgrades and racing gas only.

For the street stock (my definition and not the SCCA’s), leave it mostly alone. Do not raise the compression over 9 to 1, this keeps it in the range for regular gas with no additives (not that I believe in additives). Some cars have a fine exhaust manifold for street modifications. The early MGB’s exhaust manifold is as efficient as a set of headers up to 4,500 rpm or so. So does most of the Triumphs. However, they are a lot heavier than the headers. The old guys used to say lose 10 pounds on your car and gain one horsepower!

This is why I like to remove all emission junk. The cars no longer need inspections and they aren’t driven enough to add much to the atmosphere so why not gain an extra horsepower? If you still have a smog pump turning, you gain a little more by removing that extra drag on the motor. So, for the weight loss and slight power gain in the upper rpm range, I like headers. And don’t forget a free flow exhaust. But not you TR6 owners, those free-flow exhaust systems have a very annoying resonance about them. Stick with the stock style muffler.

Do not believe the ads where they claim 25% increase in power from a header system, bull. Another easy upgrade is to remove an engine powered fan and go electric with an adjustable rheostat to set the start temperature. Mount the fan behind the radiator so its motor does not block the front. A motor driven fan can eat up a few horsepower, even the flexible ones. A good set of free flow air filters is worth a tad more power. I hate to recommend the K&N ones but they are the best. If your carbs have any emission stuff left on them plug it all up. You should get all the air going into your engine entering thru the throat of the carb. That way you can set your mixture a little more accurately. I do not like to leave the inlets where the valve cover or block vents go into the carb. I block that off and let the engine
vent to the atmosphere.

Speaking of venting the engine, increase this as much as possible. The NASCAR boys run vacuum pumps to pull the pressure out of the blocks and gain about 80 horsepower over the drag of the pump! If your engine has an un-used fuel pump plate, drill and tap it to fit another vent. TR3 thru 6s have a mechanical pump. If you replaced it with an electric one, then use the plate you made for a vent. Run a hose up then down so any oil that gets into the vent drains back into the engine.

MGs have a vented side cover plate so make sure it is not clogged. MG valve covers with the pipe on top can have the tip cut off (not by a Moyle) and have a piece of heater hose attached to let the vent go down the side of the engine. If you have a pretty cast aluminum cover, you can easily drill and tap the back end for a 90 degree fitting and hose.

The timing can add a little power. Most of these cars run best with maximum timing between 30 and 35 degrees BTDC (before top dead center, if you did not know this, take your car to someone who does). Set it as close to 35 as you can as long as you get no pinging, spark knock, or whatever you want to call it when the engine is under heavy load. If you get the pinging, back off the timing some. Make sure your distributor is in good condition. Make sure your plugs and wires are good quality and that your plugs are either Champion or NGK. These work best in old British cars.

Vacuum advance or retard units can be used if they are working well. I usually disconnect them and just set the timing at 3,000 rpm at 32 degrees BTDC. A vacuum advance unit should get no vacuum at idle and it should increase as the engine speed increases. Vacuum retard units get vacuum at idle and not when the engine is at speed. You can check which you have with a cheap vacuum gauge. Regardless of which you use, none, advance, or retard, set the timing at 3,000 rpm at 32 to 35 degrees BTDC.

One other item you can try to gain a little power is your valve adjustment. If your valves adjust at .010”, try tightening them to .008”, this will not hurt the cam with as few miles as the cars are driven today. Setting the valves a little tighter will make the engine think it has a slightly hotter cam. The valve will open earlier and close later increasing the duration. The lift will increase as well. It will also lower the compression a tad o do not think if .002” change is good then .005” is better. It ain’t!

MGs, where the valve clearance stock can be as much as .015”, tightening up .003” to .004” will be ok. You could experiment with adjusting only the intake or exhaust and not both. If you glue your valve cover gasket on; with yellow 3M weather-strip adhesive, the valve cover and coat the other side with a little grease, you can pull it off and on numerous times. While you are adjusting your valves, keep a look out for one that does not open as much as the others. This is an indication of a worn cam.

These simple, mostly inexpensive changes can add up to 10 to 15 horse power. And remember, remove your spare tire, jack, the gallon of anti-freeze you carry, the copper hammer, the spare fuel pump, etc from you trunk and you gain power, ten pounds equal one horsepower. Next month, I will go into the next stage, where the power gains are bigger but the cost is greater.

I hope each of y’all had a great Christmas and New Year and I look forward to seeing you somewhere soon. Watch for all the tech sessions we have planned next year.

Barry Rosenberg
British Car Service