The story of my first Rusty Beauty
I keep updating the different sections of my website with the history of each car and since I told you everything about the 73 TR6 so far and John Malone a.k.a. The Customer will write the story of his 70 TR6 I think it is time to put together something about my first love - my 66 Spitfire.
Actually I don't need to write the story as I already did and it was published in the last issue of the RAGTOP - the magazine of The Toronto Triumph Club.
Yep, my car was in the magazine, yay! This is a big privilege for me and I was very pleased when I was asked if I could write something about the car and get it published in the club magazine, which was included in the goodies bag given to each exhibitor in the British Car Day. Big honor! Many thanks to Terrence McKillen - the magazine editor.
So here is the article as it was published in the RAGTOP. Grab a beer and... Cheers!
I’ve always dreamed about a restoration of a classic car, but I’ve never had the time and opportunity when I was living in Bulgaria. I was always busy at work, I never had my own garage and it was just a dream in the back of my head which I never expected to come true. My mechanical skills were pretty good, but not professional. I was always repairing my own cars no matter what the problem. Every time there was an issue with my car I would take it apart, try to figure out how the component worked and I usually succeeded in fixing the problem. One major failure I had was in the early 90’s, when I “rebuilt” the engine of my 1976 Renault 5, without having a workshop manual or any idea about measurements, oversized pistons etc. I just found a running engine and decided to swap the blocks, since mine had the serial number and the law didn't permit engine swaps at that time. The engine ran for full 30 minutes - and then seized forever! Only then did I start reading books and instructions and I realized there are tolerances, clearances, oversized pistons and bearings. Like many others, I learned that the hard way. I kept that car for 10 years, hoping that one day I would restore it properly, but it rotted out and I scrapped it and with it ended my dream of restoring a classic car. At least that was what I thought.
In December 2012 I moved to Canada and initially I worked in a sewing company. However by the end of 2013 I found a job in the shop for which I still work and completely changed my profession. I started building limousines and that is the biggest fun ever. I started as a trimmer – sewing seat covers, wrapping parts in vinyl etc. but soon moved into woodworking, electrical and everything involved in the building of a limousine, including cutting and stretching.
My passion about British sports cars and particularly Triumphs started when I noticed a little yellow 1964 TR4 sitting in a back corner of the shop. It belonged to Jake, the shop’s owner and it was in a perfect condition (a recently completed ground up restoration) with just some small details to be finished, which Jake let me complete. When Jake noticed how obsessed I was with that car he let me drive it home couple of times and even suggested I take it to British Car Day, which fortuitously was just around the corner. I happily agreed and when I attended the show with the car a little spark turned into a big fire!
I loved all the cars on display and I wanted one badly. I couldn’t afford a car in a good condition nor had I anywhere to work on a cheap one in need of restoration. So what should I do? Well, Jake came to the rescue. As soon as I told him I had the passion to restore my own car he generously suggested that I use the shop and equipment after hours and on weekends. That was it, nothing could stop me now. I started looking for a TR4, but soon I realized that even one in a very bad shape was way above my financial possibilities. I almost gave up, but eventually 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 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 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.
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.
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.
Since I started working on the Spitfire I came across some interesting ads. One was a 1973 TR6 shortly after I purchased the Spitfire and Jake suggested buying it as a common project. The car came in boxes, but it is almost completed now and I have a separate playlist about it in my YouTube channel. Early this year we bought another one – 1974 TR6, which is lined up and waiting for it’s time to be restored as well. A customer brought a 1970 TR6 for a frame repair, but it turned into a full restoration including engine rebuild, body repair etc. I am posting videos about it as well, and of course my 1968 Spitfire is at the end of the line and it looks like it will be pushed even further back, because I was nicely surprised by one of my YouTube followers – Keith Edginton. He is generously donating a 1972 GT6, which was taken apart 30 years ago, but it is complete and rust free. So this is getting picked up from New Jersey in the next few months and will join the team of Rust Beauties!