Dorothy - Chris Fisher's 1966 Triumph Spitfire
Hey Guys, I am not going to talk too much here. I will just open a beer and enjoy the story of Chris Fisher and his project - Dorothy. I already mentioned him and his YouTube channel in one of my videos, but I haven't mentioned his website - www.rountailrestoration.com If you are interested in his work (like I am) you might find more in his site, blog and YouTube channel. I respect him for the fact he does not hesitate to jump into the deep even if he never swam before. But enough of me talking. Let's see what he wrote. Cheers...
Where should I start? My earliest memories involved automobiles. You see, my Grandpop was an auto mechanic and bodywork guy. All self-taught, of course, this man could take a rusted out, mostly gone panel and make it like new. Born in 1911 (we think), he learned cars when they were a relatively new invention and painting was still done with paint brushes and shellac. I spent many, many hours as a child exploring his garage (he was 60 years older than me) and I cut my teeth holding the crucially important flashlight in just the right spot on many occasions.
My Uncle Mike, Grandpop’s son, was a car guy, too, though it was not his profession. He had a very eclectic taste in automobiles and I remember a Jaguar XKE (betcha he wishes he held on to that one), a Chevy El Camino, a Ford Thunderbird (one from the 80’s) and a 1973 Porsche 911T, which I watched him restore and he still owns to this day.
In Grandpop’s garage were two relics that I would sit in and pretend to drive, but which I never saw move. One was a 1959 AC Aceca Bristol Coupe (if I could go back in time and understand what that really was) and the other a 1959 Triumph TR3. Outside behind the garage, in the elements, a completely rusted hulk of a TR2. It may have been a small mouth TR3, but Grandpop always said it was a TR2, meant as a parts car for the TR3. He and I cut that TR2 up one day for those parts with a oxy-acetylene cutting torch. It was the first time I had used the torch and it was a blast!
Catching the car bug, I couldn’t wait to get my first and I did so at the age of 15 with the help of Uncle Mike, purchasing a non-running, red 1969 VW Beetle for a whopping $100. This was the car I learned on, pulling and dismantling the seized motor and figuring out how it all worked. I did put it all back together but could never get it to run and I eventually scrapped it.
The Little British Car blood was still in my veins, however, and I purchased a 1976 MG Midget just a bit before my 16th birthday, in time for my driver’s license. It didn’t run when I bought it, but I got it going within a few days, thinking I made a great deal for $300. I don’t remember how solid the car was body-wise, but I don’t remember any major rust areas and it had a side-draft Weber carb on it. I restored the interior and Grandpop and I painted it Corvette yellow. What a great car to have in high school!
After about a year, I sold that to a friend of mine and bought a 1978 280Z. That was a fun, if very different, car that I wish I held on to. Fuel injected, 5-speed, and factory air (that worked)! Again, I don’t remember any significant body cancer and it ran well from the day I bought it until I sold it. Of all the car’s I’ve owned, that was the one that got away.
I wish I had taken pictures of all of these cars but the mid- to late-80’s were a different time when you didn’t carry your camera in your back pocket and you had to wait at least 24-hours <gasp!> to see if the picture actually came out.
Late in my sophomore year of high school, I decided that I wanted to follow in Grandpop’s footsteps and become an auto mechanic. So, I enrolled in our county’s Vocational-Technical school for my junior and senior years of high school. I even went so far as to win the New Jersey Vo-Tech competition and got to go to the nationals in Tulsa, OK during my senior year. That didn’t go so well, but by then I had changed my mind again (my poor parents!) and decided that the Navy’s nuclear power program was for me and I enlisted (delayed) in October of my senior year and formally enlisted on July 23, 1990, about 1 month out of high school
For the next 24 years my life was devoted to the Navy and eventually a wife and two boys. There was no time (or room) for a car, though the LBC blood continued to run through my veins. In the interim, Grandpop passed away and my uncle sold both the AC and the TR3 (come to find out, they were both his anyway).
Finally, in the summer of 2014, I retired, and within 2 weeks (I may have been looking for a while), I had found and purchased Dorothy, my 1966 Triumph Spitfire. She would need a lot of work (more than I thought originally) and I am going on month 18 of a 12 month restoration (ahem).
This is how I found her behind the PO’s house in Niantic, CT...
And this is once I got her home, just a few short days later…
Little did I know just how much work it would take. My initial plan was to do what it took to get her road worthy. Of course, the important stuff...brakes...
And a bunch of other things, like the clutch and fuel delivery. In the end, from the time I got her home until the time I got her running and able to get around the block was just shy of two weeks.
Around the block is one thing...road worthy is quite another and, as time went on and I poked and prodded and consider the safety inspection that I would need to go through...complete restoration was the best way to go.
Fortunately, I was able to split a garage rental with a work colleague (who is, coincidentally, a big Datsun Z guy) and Dorothy had a new home for what I originally thought was about a year. Little did I know...
I started with the chassis and running gear. This included a complete tear-down and refurbishment of absolutely everything. Quite literally, if it could be taken apart, I took it apart. I’ve never known a car so well..
Slowly but surely, it all eventually came back together and I did my run-in of the completely rebuilt motor on about June 3, 2017.
After that, I turned to the body, the area in which I had the least experience. Needless to say it has been a challenge, but I haven’t screwed up catastrophically yet. As of now, I’ve replaced both floor boards, both inner sills and strengtheners. There have been minor patches here and there and now I’m concentrating on the boot area.
I figure I have another 6 months of work. So, that will be 24 months into a 12 month restoration. While I set goals for my work, they were never really that important. There have been only two things that I’ve focused on.
First, I wanted to keep it as original as possible. With a chassis number of 70,000+ and a motor number of about 4000, I knew this was going to be impossible. However, I converted my Mk1 motor to a Mk2 motor as much as possible (intake/exhaust). Everywhere else, I’ve tried to stay true to the factory as much as possible. I will not put an alternator in place of the generator nor will I put in electronic ignition in place of points. This is not my primary driver...reliability is not important.
Second, we had a saying in the Navy that there was “never enough time to do it right the first time, but always enough time to do it again.” In other words, if you screwed it up the first time by trying to cut corners, you would end up doing it again anyway. Just do it right the first time. So, while I don’t always have clear guidance on what’s “right”, I’m trying to do my restoration, especially the body repairs, well enough that I don’t have to re-do them five years from now.
When all is said and done, this is a hobby after all. An expensive one, sure, but a hobby. I try to be true to Triumph as well as I can. But, others do as they see fit and that’s fine, too. Some have dropped Miata engines and seats and Ford 5-speeds and all sorts of stuff into Spitfires. They are great cars to modify. At the end of the day, the car is yours and the possibilities are endless.