A New Coupe
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, 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.
The Late Brian Archer
Bob Smith with his son
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.
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.
Square-arch repair panel fitted
The Side Windows
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.
The three 10mm thick shapes cut with a water jet for the window tooling
The shortened bonnet panel
The completed window framing jigs