My very good friend Brian Archer, who passed away quite suddenly in September 2008 at the age of only 67, had wanted to build a replica of the "Jacobs Midget". I got to know him when he first advertised his intention to produce a replica of the Sebring Sprite back around 1988. It was many years later that he let me into his 'little secret' that one day soon he planned to follow it with a copy of the MG Midget Coupé or 'Jacobs' as we tend to call it. He would have been about 20 when the Mk 1 Midget was announced and a year later he saw a 'Jacobs' for the first time and immediately wanted one. He kept his eye out for news that BMC were going to mass-produce it, but that news never came. Instead they decided the MGB was a more suitable vehicle to make into a coupé. In 1964 he ordered himself a new Midget Mark 2, and had to come home early from his honeymoon to take delivery of it. He entered it for a number of hill-climbs and sprints ~ the local hill at Shelsley Walsh being his favourite. It was many years later, after a career change to garage proprietor, that the seed of an idea to build a 'Jacobs' began to germinate. He and I discussed how he was going to achieve this aim ~ where the windscreen was coming from, etc. He thought the cars might have used a Mini screen (incorrect as it turned out), and he planned to up-date the car by including the wind-up windows, exterior handles and door locks of the later Midget models. While Brian was fighting for his life in hospital, and we were all anticipating his early return to the garage, his partner Andrew Forster started putting together a 'Jacobs' front end as a surprise for his boss when he returned. Sadly that was not to be.
In 2009 I discovered that one of the five aluminium fabricators who put the original three coupé bodies together was Bob Smith, (seen right with his son), now running his own spendid business, R.S.Panels, re-creating exotic motor cars in Nuneaton. Jonathan Whitehouse-Bird and I visited their amazing factory to see if they could help with a replica but this plan came to nought.
Despite Brian's absence both Andrew and I retained a strong desire to continue with his plans, and I took on the job of sourcing the screen and working out how to modify the doors and make the side windows. I looked at various windscreens and Jonathan Whitehouse-Bird suggested that a Triumph TR4 one might be what the factory had used. Unfortunately, although the TR, Herald, Spitfire screens looked similar, closer inspection showed they were not the right one. It seemed logical that BMC would have chosen one of their own screens, but again a detailed search failed to locate one. Eventually a letter to Pilkington Glass resulted in news that they they had produced a couple of replacement screens for the ex-John Milne car a few years earlier. Unfortunately the car's owner, James Willis was far from keen on a replica being built and would not sanction the use of the tooling. However Peter Swann at Pilkington Glass on the Isle of Sheppey kindly supplied me with a marked out sheet of brown paper giving me the size and shape, and from that I was then able to fabricate an aluminium mock-up (shown below). Eventually this mock-up will be utilised to create new tooling and a short run of new laminated glass screens.
Original Pilkington screen tooling
My dummy screen
Braced and in position
This wasn't the end of our difficulties with the screen however as we now had to source the rubber seal which on the original cars lies very flat with the body and has a black insert. Rather unusually the glass is larger than the body opening and the profile of the rubber looks something like the one in the middle below which is available from Baines of Tunbridge Wells. I say available but they want a minimum order of 100 metres which makes it pretty expensive unless you plan to build quite a few cars. So I looked around for other possibilities and eventually bought sufficient for one car from Woollies, with a plastic-chrome insert ~ I expect we may be able to tint it black, or maybe the chrome will look good on the car.
Andrew and I agreed that,with me based in Kent and he, near Birmingham, he would develop the shape of the bonnet, wings and nose-cone while I would progress the main body shape and side windows. Brian's idea had been that BMC would never have mass-produced the car as-built for Dick Jacobs, with sliding side-screens as by that time the wind-up window model was already in the pipeline. He, Brian, intended to use the later style doors with the stainless steel quarterlights of the 1500 model, merely re-shaping the window glass to suit the coupé and forming them in scratch-resistant Perspex. I soon discovered when I started drawing up the body shape that this was not going to work, the Spridget windscreen being at a much more upright angle than that of the Coupé ~ see my 2 sketches on the left. I therefore decided that we would have to make up new aluminium window frames incorpor -ating fixed quarter-lights but using Perspex to the same curvature as the production Midget. So the first job was to make a former on which the Perspex could be formed - this done using aluminium sheet and angle, glued and bolted together (photo, right).
Creating the Buck
My brother-in-law, John Harrison, was disposing of his very tired '69 Midget so I bought it as a donor. Most of it was so rotten it went to the tip, but the engine and gearbox went into my Sebring Sprite for a time and I salvaged a wing and the front valance. Then Stephen Bowen offered me a body-shell which had been restored and fitted with round-arch rear wings. I had to then convert it back to square arches like the original coupés by riveting on a couple of repair panels. I spaced them out a few millimetres to give a little more room for removal of the wire wheels. The dummy windscreen was then attached to the scuttle. Next, I decided to erect a central spine to the shape of the original car. By enlarging sections of a side-on photo and enlarging them to full-size, then attaching them to a piece of MDF, I eventually got the shape. I checked it for height in various places and checked the relationship between the centre of the axle and the lip over the rear window. The MDF was then cut to shape. So I now had a basic profile.
The next job was to create the frames for the Perspex side windows and I ordered some Perspex which was shaped on my aluminium former. Following the basic design of the tooling made by Peter Seaman for the Archers' Sebring Sprite I had 3 steel shapes cut out using the water-jet cutting method by Sciss Ltd of Staplehurst. One was for the section forming the front slope and top of the door window, a second for the top of the rear quarterlight and the third to enable numerous pieces to be curved to suit the inward-sloping Perspex. On top of each one had to be created a platform and guide rails between which the alloy channel would sit while bending it in to the necessary shape.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
We are now in 2015 and I decided it was high time I made some significant progress on my project and set myself the target of completing the buck during this year. After up-dating the retention certificate on my registration number NVJ 6G (New Version Jacobs), I got a quote from Pilkington Glass for making new tooling and for a batch of three windscreens (one as a spare and the third in the hope that someone else might build a car). I decided at this point to tackle the front end of the car body as well as both the window tooling and the screen surround. Having stripped the paint off the old bonnet and repaired a hole in the centre I now made a cut across the front of the panel shortening it to match that of the original cars. I ordered the necessary steel to complete the window framing jigs, welded a part in place on each of them and then proceeded to drill a total of 58 holes to secure the guide rails. Last job was to make up a tool to roll across each jig to bend the channel. This tool was made up using 3 sealed bearings, 2 within a roller made for me by Paul Smith Precision Engineering, the other held in position between 2 spacers also made by PSPE. Now I was almost ready to bend the frames. At this point I decided I needed a good size work table for assembly so devised one which would sit over the bonnet of whichever car was resident in the workshop. It was during February that I made the "no turning back now" decision to order the windscreens - £2,500 odd including the tooling!
First window frame: My first attempt at forming an aluminium frame proved to be a 'steep learning curve'. I had failed to factor in that in bending metal it springs back, so that you always have to bend it further than your ultimate goal. Using my newly created tooling and having annealed the aluminium channel I proceeded to bend it to shape. I then found I had to put it around my knee to increase the curvature - not a very accurate method (so I am now making another set of tooling). However I was quite pleased with the result after I cut and fitted the Perspex front quarter light and attached it to a door. Next problem that emerged was that the inward curve of the window frame is not great enough for it to sit parallel with the side of the windscreen, necessitating a re-think on the curvature of the Perpex windows. The original glass windows had a radius of 1.65 metres and the new ones will now have one of 1.53m this bringing the top of the frame in by about 16mms.
Creating the prototype window frame for the driver's door - note in lower shots, right and left, the top of the frame hangs out too far. The next one should be right!
On 2nd July I collected a beautiful new laminated screen from Pilkington Glass on the Isle of Sheppey and added it to my collection of parts for the new car. A second set of tooling frames are currently being made up for another attempt at creating the car's side windows.
PROJECT GOES UP FOR SALE
Unfortunately this project has proved to be long and time-consuming work and at the age of 71, and having begun the renovation of a cottage 300 miles from our current home, this project has had to be set aside and I have decided to dispose of the partially completed buck if I can find someone interested in taking it over.
I am therefore now offering it for sale:
* The sound Midget bodyshell with modified rear arches, dummy windscreen (aluminium) fitted with a central spine profile (MDF) together with a shortened bonnet, tatty front wings, a pair of doors and a boot lid.
* Ready-bent aluminium extrusions and curved polycarbonate sheet to complete the wind-up windows with winding mechanisms and chrome handles.
* Chassis stand supports with castors.
* Assorted working drawings - and photos of the original cars.
* Aluminium former for production of further polycarbonate windows.
* Plywood former for working on door/window frames.
* 3 newly manufactured Pilkington Glass laminated windscreens and all rights to the tooling. (These alone cost £2,400)
* The original 1969 car's identity, V5 etc documents
* An alternative 5-digit 1969 registration on retention certificate: NVJ 6G (New Version Jacobs)
A SALE HAS NOW BEEN AGREED (14 March 2017)