On The Road Again
1966 Triumph spitfire mk2
I’ve always dreamed about a restoration of a classic car, but I’ve never had the time and opportunity until November 2015, when I was given the chance to use my work place as my own shop after hours. Immediately found an ad for a Spitfire in Port Colborne. Restored 20
years ago and never driven since, but not in running condition. The price was affordable and I had nothing more holding me back. I rented a trailer and drove to Port Colborne with the intention of buying and bringing the car home the same day.The car was in a really rough shape. The paintwork was in horrible condition. There were large areas with surface rust, big cracks in the bondo, showing some very thick layers of body filler. The door gaps were huge - up to three quarters of an inch! The sills were sitting half inch further in from the bottom of the doors. The boot floor was completely rotten. The engine was turning over by hand, which was a good sign, but both master cylinders were missing (I found them later in the trunk). The interior was all ripped and needed to be replaced completely.
So, in a few words, I loved the car! It was exactly what I needed. I didn’t even check the floors and frame. That’s how experienced I was, but they weren’t that bad after all.
The owner told me his brother purchased it new and drove it until 1976 when unfortunately he passed away. So he inherited and kept it in a barn until 1996 when he decided to restore it. He changed the floors, the sills, patched the wheel arches and rebuilt the engine. However, he never drove it after and kept it in the barn for another 20 years, when he decided to sell it as he was moving to BC. I wanted to buy it, but it turned out he had misplaced the ownership. What a disappointment! We went to Service Ontario to try and get a new one, but it turned out the car had been taken off the system, so they needed the original ownership and an appraisal to register it again. Unfortunately I had to drive back with an empty trailer. On the next day though the owner called me with good news. He found the ownership papers and agreed to reduce the price to compensate me for the second trip.
I took the body off and stood it on it’s side to work on the floors. It was an ugly picture - they were “replaced” by cutting the whole floor off, leaving an inch at each side forming a “frame” and a very thick plate dropped in - very solid, but very ugly. I didn’t want to cut them off, so I just cleaned up the edges of the “frame” and made my own ribs to mock up the original look of the floor. That worked really well and the floors looked more like original. I also patched the boot floor and rear end of the sills.
Next I moved onto the frame. I removed the engine, disassembled the suspension, I cleaned up the frame, I ground some ugly (but solid) patches and made some small modifications, since the rear axles were touching the frame. Later I realized the car had the wrong shocks at the back, so the modification wasn’t really needed, but too late. I sandblasted all the suspension bits and I was ready to order parts and start putting the car back together.
I finally got my Rusty Beauty onto the trailer and she successfully arrived at the shop on November 11th 2015.
At that time I decided to start posting videos of the restoration on YouTube, just for fun. I didn’t expect the interest that the channel attracted, which was a nice surprise.
As I had no experience with restoration, I had no plan. I had no idea if I was going to do a complete restoration or just bodywork and paint. I only knew I had a small budget and I had to try and refurbish as many parts as I could and do everything myself so as to avoid the labor costs. I wasn’t aiming for a show car, I just wanted a car to drive in the summer and have fun.
To start, I decided to re-align the doors, but shortly figured they would never fit, since the sills were so poorly fitted. At that time, I realized I would have to re-do everything, since whoever had done the restoration 20 years ago clearly had no idea of metal work. A frame off restoration was clearly needed! I decided to split the sills across the length and pull them out to match the bottom of the doors. I added ½” strips of metal in the gaps and surprisingly they aligned perfectly! Wow, did I do that! OK, give me more. What to do with the gaps at the front of the doors, where the sills curve up around the door! That was easy; I added metal to the sills to narrow the gaps. I ground here, cut and welded there and soon a plan stated forming in my head. There was no rust on the doors, sills or quarter panels, but I had to work on proper fitment. I realigned everything, making sure the gaps were perfect, welded supports along the door openings and pulled the body off to work on the frame, the suspension and floors - they were patched badly. It took me a while, but at the end the gaps were perfect and I was already brave enough and inspired to go deeper.
At that point I knew that I won’t be driving the car next summer, but I set a goal – British Car Day in Spetember 2016.
Before taking the body off I wanted to start and drive the car to make sure the engine and transmission were in good shape. I cleaned up the spark plugs, adjusted the points, fixed a broken wire and the spark was there. Then I cleaned the carbs, checked the oil and coolant and turned the key. After couple of attempts it started and I was the happiest man ever! Next I installed the clutch master cylinder and fixed the e-brake (no time for regular brakes) and on November 28th I took the car for a first drive in the back yard of the shop. It was misfiring (later it turned out the firing order was wrong), the suspension was really bad, but the transmission was OK, so I decided to leave the engine and transmission alone and focus on the rest of the car.
While waiting for the parts to arrive, I painted the frame and suspension pieces. I partially took the engine and transmission apart to paint and change gaskets (it was a mistake I didn’t rebuild) and when the parts arrived I started putting everything together. I assembled the engine and transmission, after that the suspension. I dropped the body on the frame and started the bodywork. That was something really new for me and I was very slow and the work wasn’t going well. At that point I met Carlos, a guy who came to work for us and right away he suggested helping me with the bodywork, prepping and painting the car. I suggested to give him my old motorcycle and help him with his car (he was restoring a Porsche 944) in return and everything came together. Carlos had to re-do all my bodywork LOL and after many hours we were ready for paint. We rented a boot for a day and we painted the car, but the boot wasn’t really good and there were many issues. So we had to wet sand the clear coat and buff it and that worked well.
Next I worked on the interior. I sewed new seat covers. I had to rebuild the foam, since it was all eaten by the mice and slipped the covers on. I bought red carpet and I cut it to the shape, sewing black binding on the sides of the pieces and installed them on the floor, which I had previously insulated. I made new door panels out of Masonite and sewed my own covers. The rest of the interior covers were pretty solid so some of them I just re-wrapped and some of them I cleaned and painted with vinyl spray. The dash I wrapped in black vinyl and that worked very well. The instrument panel I wrapped in red vinyl. The chrome was in a good shape except for the bumpers.
I decided to take the car to the 2016 British Car Day without bumpers. September was almost there and I had to make it for the show. A few days before the show I was able to test drive the car between the shop and my home. Sure enough the head gasket blew after 20 kilometers. I had to flatbed the car back to the shop and almost gave up, but decided to keep trying - there was still time. So the day before the show the new head gasket was installed and in the morning I drove straight to the show. The drive there was OK and I was extremely happy I have made it. It was a great show and I met many people and saw many beautiful cars. On the way back though the car started running very rough and I had to readjust the valves at the side of the road. That fixed the problem, but in the next few days it happened 2 or 3 more times and every time I had to re-gap the valves. So I knew I had to work on the engine, but I parked the car for the winter and left it alone until the spring time.
Meanwhile I came across a 1968 Spitfire MK3 and I bought it with the idea to restore it next, but since my already restored Spitfire was stored away for the winter I decided to take out the engine from the MK3, rebuild it, and install it temporarily in the MK2 in the spring time. And so I did.
Currently I am driving the MK2 with the MK3 engine. I finished some things just recently: I polished and I installed the bumpers even though they are rough. I carpeted the boot and installed new alloy wheels (my wires almost got me into an accident – bad splines), installed dash support and stereo. There are more things to be done, but the car is 99% done, which took me roughly 800 hours including the 100 hours Carlos put in.