Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Bonnet, to Boot

Continuing from the ‘Body of Evidence’ post, we had a level of indication that the body is in decent shape, let’s move on…

…The hood (bonnet, if you’re British) was out of alignment and showed signs of damage from a stuck hinge. To reduce further damage, it was just about the first thing that was removed from the car. Not having the luxury of friends around to help, I made my own. I looped a rope over a rafter in the garage above one side of the hood, making a big circuit from rafter around the hood and back - the headlamp arch in the hood itself acted as a nice catch for the rope and prevented it from moving too much. Removing the prop rod assured me that the rope would hold and I proceeded to unbolt the hinge on the roped side first. (Be sure to unbolt them from the hood-side connection rather than the inner-fender-wall side, it may be a little more difficult to loosen the bolts this way, but the hood will be far easier to remove without the hinges dangling about.) After removing the bolts on the other side while supporting the hood with my free hand, it was just a matter of repositioning to get a hold of the entire thing and then sliding it out of its crude cradle. Have an idea of where you are going to put the hood beforehand – it’s more awkward than it is heavy, but preplanning here could save some amount of improvisation and indecision later. Getting the hood out of the way early will really open the engine compartment, allowing unfettered access to inspect and/or repair a lot of them car parts.

And for those of you wondering about that stuck hinge – I soaked it in CRC (similar to WD-40, but way better) overnight and pounded the spit out it with a convincing hammer, only to wind up with an oily, bent, stuck hinge. I was able to find a used one on eBay that worked.

Waaaait a minute: That hinge’s resilience to budge could have easily been blamed on corrosion – and it was, until just now. Writing about it made me think more about it and question, on a virtually rust-free car, how it could have gotten to the point of seizure through oxidation? Moreover, I remembered that some of bolts on the left hinge (driver's side) were loosened to act as a pivot point so the hood could still open and close, but - the hinge was stuck in the OPEN position, cocking the hood upward on the driver's side when closed.  See...

There wasn’t rust in the surrounding area, the hinge was stuck open, there was visible evidence of a half-assed repair; the synapses started firing. Those of you who know how arc welders work (the actual equipment, not the people), know that the business end is just a node that completes an electrical circuit and that the welding machine works by delivering a large amount of current through a spark (or arc), which heats up the metal and the welding material into a molten stew that, when cool, binds everything together in what’s called a weld. The welder is also supplied with a clamp that must be electrically connected to the metal you are welding, acting as a ground in the circuit. Now, here’s my theory: Someone unwittingly welded that hood hinge in the open position. Since the hood doesn’t really have much exposed metal to provide a good electrical path for the clamp, it was probably secured to the frame or other part of the body while doing the repair work (with the hood up). Since the current had to travel through the hinge, which has gaps between moving parts, these gaps caused their own weld sites and, Viola! mystery solved. I’ve heard of this happening with car door hinges, so it’s really less mysterious that you may think.

Back to it: After the hood was off, I looked at the hood. Rather, after the bonnet was off, I looked at the hood. In Britain, the car’s top is referred to as the ‘hood’, the windshield ‘windscreen’, and trunk equals ‘boot’. So, from front to rear, you have the bonnet, windscreen, hood, boot. To avoid confusion and to minimize pompousness, the good ol’ American terms will be used from now on: ‘hood’ shall be forever read to mean ‘engine cover’, the rest I leave up to your interpretation.

Back to it, again: Looking at this raggedy mess that was once a convertible top, I decided that it was next to go. Before getting rid of the top material, I did a survey of the bows: this is the assembly that supports the rag top and does the moving from up to down, down to up. Sitting for such a long time, the joints were a bit arthritic and resisted my attempts to unsettle them. My old friend, CRC, worked in this case because it was just some rusty/dry hinges and connections that needed oiling. And, just like the Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man, I had them joints back to what they once were in no time. Once ‘up’, removing the worn-out vinyl top was pretty straightforward because I knew none of the material was salvageable: rip, cut, pull, tear. There are two strips of material, known as ‘webbing’, that are connected to the top assembly (bows) from front to back. If yours are not in bad shape, try to keep them because they are typically not included when you order a new top (they’re also available new for less than $10 each, so - your choice). Once the bulk of the material was gone, I moved on to the more-delicate task of removing the bow assemblage. First, there was a retainer bar that holds the back of the top material to the car itself – just a matter of peeling back the remnants of the top and unbolting some, well…bolts. The next part of the operation was to unscrew some, well…screws (yes, screws) that hold the bow assembly to the chassis. 42-year-old screws are not a welcomed site. 42-year-old screws tend to strip easily. 42-year-old screws are a pain the ass. Pushing negativity aside, I dove right in with an impact driver and, to my surprise and delight, all six of those retaining screws came right off with little to no coercing. The bane of the 42-year-old screws would really only present itself once, later. Finding a nice, quiet corner of the garage, I set the bows and associated hardware down to be forgotten until this Phoenix of a car rises from the ashes in a Triumph-ant display of fortitude, beauty, and dollar signs.

A word to the wise, or at least to those listening, they say that experience is what you get by not having it when you needed it. With this in mind, rather than tearing into the car like so many flying monkeys on a scarecrow (I hope this is the last Oz reference), take your time to look at parts that can be repaired/restored. Although many new parts are available for these old cars, some are relatively expensive ($1100 for a quarter panel??) and some are just plain unavailable, as described below.

Next up: the windshield and frame. The windshield glass on my particular ’67 TR4A was in very nice shape - the glazing (the black gasket that holds the glass in place) wasn’t. The once-pliable glazing gasket had better days, I imagine. It was dry and cracked with remnants of yellowed glue here and there and some sort of sealer (caulk) smeared in where chunks had gone missing. What appeared to be a valiant effort by a previous owner decades ago was now a disheveled mess, undermined by California sunlight, dry weather conditions, and ultimately, time. Lucky for us, new retaining gaskets are available and are less expensive and easier to replace than most people think. Removing the glass is a matter of running a utility knife around the perimeter of the glass, about midway on the gasket (ideally, right at the edge of the glass), cutting into the glazing as you go (#2 in the diagram below). It will take a little bit of work, but once the glass is free, the gasket should separate from the frame with ease. Putting it all back together will be another topic at another time. We’re getting to the ‘unavailable parts’ mentioned earlier so hold on. Now that the frame is free of the glass, we can start removing it. Triumph's original idea was to make the windshield frame a removable piece so that you could legally drive your TR4 to the race track, take off your windshield to get some laps in, and drive back home with your windshield re-attached. Oh, the ‘60s. I cannot claim to remember them on account I wasn’t born yet, but from what I’ve heard, this windshield scenario fits right in. Adding on to its design, removal of the windshield frame is necessary if you’re planning on replacing your dash pad and is a good way to make some room for doing just about any type of work in that general area. Aside from the three chromed bolts visible on the inside lower edge (#7 in the diagram below), there are brackets just under the dash on each side above the kick panels in line with the angle of the windshield (unnumbered). The windshield post is threaded and is secured to these brackets two ways: a nut on the end of the post (#21) and a retaining bolt that clamps down on the post (#17). Once all the nuts and bolts have been removed, a swift rap on the end of each post along with working the frame back and forth will dislodge it from the bracket and break any hold the #5 gasket has left in it. The brackets are bolted to the body and can remain there if the remaining bolts are left unmolested.

Now. The windshield frame has a thin plastic trim around it on the interior side that almost looks like a thick paint, but it's plastic (not pictured). I assumed that this finishing trim would be something relatively simple to find and would have probably just been included with an interior kit. Nope. Can't find it. This may come as a disappointment after the literal build up on parts availability, but it serves as reminder every time I think of it to take my own advice and look before you leap, know what parts you can scrap and which ones to be careful with. I have no doubt there will be more stories, but let's get back to business.

The trunk lid removal was uneventful and, aside from closing out this post, there’s not too much to talk about. The design is a little curious, in that there’s a tubular support thingy in there making you wonder about the original blueprints and what must have transpired to endorse this afterthought. Oh, and I like the ratcheting stay rod, which should be disconnected prior to undoing the nuts on the backside of the trunk hinges, thereby detaching your trunk lid completely.

Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure while I come up with my next topic (taken on 3/17/09):

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Diversion

In an effort to keep these postings interesting, some blogs will stray from the task at hand and offer some level of general insight into the automotive field. Refraining from ‘Science Content’ warnings or Nerd Alerts, I will try to present technically-riddled subjects in contextual format with my own brand of whimsical nonsense. I don’t think the physics behind air/fuel mixture vortices would provide much value unless reflecting upon a certain Honda’s ancestral roots and the Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) engine that it sported. But, I digress with purpose.

You’ve heard of the Honda Civic and you’ve also heard terms like V8, Straight Six, Cubic Inches, Liters, 4-Stroke/2-Stroke, etc. when referring to automotive engines. Aside from sounding neato, these are all useful in determining what you’ve got under the hood (bonnet, if you’re British).

V8 refers to two things: 8 cylinders in a V formation – that is 2 rows of 4 cylinders set at an angle to each other (a V6 has two rows of 3 cylinders and so forth). Straight/Inline is an arrangement of 1 row with all cylinders lined up: I8, I6, I5, I4. Since the ‘70s, American manufacturers wandered from the standard straight six to pursue V6s and never looked back. The choice was made for economical reasons, rather than performance reasons and many auto makers have followed. I6s are still out there, though - BMW has built quite a reputation on theirs (the “i” following most of their model numbers means inline). Engine configurations are not limited to Vs and Is - there are many more including (but no limited to) Slant, Flat, Opposed, W, and H, but I’ll let The Internet answer your questions on those. All of these types of engines have their benefits and drawbacks and are very useful in certain applications.

Intermission: The Parts of an Engine
Depicted below is an exploded view of an Inline 4, similar to the TR4A’s engine. The cylinders are merely guides for the pistons to move up and down in. The pistons go through strokes to achieve power:
1. Intake Stroke: Down, sucking air/fuel mixture in.
2. Compression Stroke: Up, creating compression – the spark plug causes detonation at the top.
3. Combustion/Power Stroke: Down, pushed from the ignition/explosion.
4. Exhaust Stroke: Up, pushing out spent gasses; and back to 1.
Each piston is connected to the crankshaft, which translates the up-and-down to rotation. The crankshaft is also connected to the camshaft, which controls the timing of intake and exhaust valves. This is all shown in the second graphic, which I obtained from howstuffworks.com.

Engine displacement is measured in cubic inches (CI) or liters (L) and represents the volume of all cylinders added up - it’s a measure of the amount of total space available for internal combustions or, simply, how much explosive force can be transformed into motion. Forgetting about many other aspects that factor into torque and horsepower, the size of an engine is the most basic gauge to how ballsy it is. By numbers alone, it seems logical that a Chevy 350 (that’s 350 CI) would be more powerful than Toyota 2.0L, but what about a Buick 215 versus a Ford 5.0L? A 1-liter engine would equate to about 61 cubic inches and each 100 CI equals roughly 1.639L, so you’d need to level the playing field for comparisons. Also, ad men get into the mix sometimes and screw up the math: the Ford 5.0L is closer to a 4.9L since it’s just a re-badged 302, but 5.0 sounds so much better than 4.9. A more-precise habit of manufacturers and automotive enthusiasts is to use the cubic centimeter (cc) to refer to an engine’s volume: 1L = 1000cc’s. This curious method is what Triumph used, so I will talk about the TR4A’s engine as a 2138 cc instead of a 2.1L or a 130 CI.

Strokes were brought up earlier and they will be the last item of discussion for this journal entry. If you notice, the verbiage describes four diff’rent strokes. What I’m talking about, Willis, is a 4-stroke engine. The neat and orderly separation between these strokes is good for emissions, but not so good for power. Thinking more about this, a complete cycle requires the crankshaft to rotate two times - during which, there is only one power stroke per cylinder. The four-cylinder engine pictured above would have four explosions for every two revolutions of the crankshaft so you’re getting two explosions per revolution. Now, here’s the interesting part: a 2.5L Inline 4 produces as much power, per cylinder as a 5.0L V8. Since only one cylinder fires at a time and individual cylinders are the same size for both engines – the V8 just has more cylinders, which means more explosions per revolution and, therefore, more total power. The 2-stroke engine is similar to this comparison because there are only two strokes per cycle rather than four - so, you’re getting more explosions per cylinder per revolution - all cylinders have their power stroke every revolution of the crankshaft. Taking it all in, a 2-stroke, 4-cylinder would potentially match the total power of a 4-stroke V8 twice its size. But, because of the nature of mixing exhaust with fresh air/fuel and the need for oil to be mixed in with the fuel, 2-stroke engines are dirtier and produce more harmful emissions than comparable 4-strokes. A visual aid for this comparison:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Body of Evidence

After the initial test drive and photo shoot circa March 8th, 2009, the car was quarantined to the garage to begin the restoration process: Take it apart, Fix it, Put it back together – simple enough, right? (Insert your own foreshadowing now.) Where to begin?

Before taking the car apart, you need to decide what kind of car you want: Show Car? Everyday Driver? V8 Conversion? I wanted something that would look nice with some modern convenience; I wanted to be able to drive the car AND be able to make some money if I decided to sell it. So (drum roll, please)…this will be a mostly stock, original-ish frame-off restoration. So let’s get started.

Assessing the condition of my new toy car:

This particular 1967 TR4A IRS spent most (if not all) of its life in the high desert of Southern California. It was, therefore, in pretty good condition rust-wise – it was not, however, in as great condition when it came to the interior, paint, seals, gaskets, top, seats, dashboard, etc. since it basically sat in a shed for 14 years. The engine had some new parts and came with the possibly spurious promise that ‘the previous owner rebuilt it’. It didn’t smoke, knock, ping, or otherwise sound bad so I took it at face value, knowing most of the motor needed to be taken apart anyway to replace leaky seals/gaskets – but we’ll get more into that later. It had 71,577 original miles and, based on the condition, I didn’t (and still don’t) doubt it. Right now, I’ll focus on the body and get to other parts in subsequent posts.

A visual inspection only revealed one small rust hole in the bottom of the right front fender that carried through to the rocker panel. Seriously? Just one, small bit of rust? Tapping around and feeling behind panels was just as promising. How much rust and filler was hiding under paint or otherwise not seen?

Tip #1: A little magnet will uncover more about a car’s history than anything else. Since a magnet will not stick (or at least not stick as well) to filler/Bondo, it’s a great tool to check the condition of your body panels. You can easily roll one of those little, round magnets around wheel wells, across rocker panels, or in any other suspicious-looking areas on the vehicle. And, since it rolls, you won’t leave scratches on the paint (good for not angering owners when you’re checking out a car for purchase).

The magnet revealed some filler in the hood (bonnet, if you’re British) and around the right front wheel well, both of which were attributable to dent/ding/repairs rather than rust.

All in all, the total body damage assessed was:
- Right Front Fender/Rocker Rust
- Right Front Fender Body Filler (assumably from a dent)
- Hood Damage/Repair/Filler from Weld Fracture (due to frozen hood hinge)
- Surface Rust and Filler on Hood around Headlamp Arches
- Floor Dents from Misplacement of Jack
- Slight Trunk (Boot, if you’re British) and Rear Valance Damage (presumably from a minor rear end collision)
- Surface Rust in Trunk
- Various Dents and Dings

The consensus for the body: I couldn’t believe it was a ‘67. 42 years old with only about 4 square inches of rust? I hated to admit it, but this car’s body was in better shape than mine. This theme continued as I disassembled the car.

These pictures, taken on March 31st, show the condition of the body. It had been repainted a few times and much of the poor-quality black paint was peeling away under the hood and in the trunk.

Lonely Rust on F/R Fender
(Black is Primer)

Solid L/F Fender

Filler on R/F Wheel Arch

Damage & Shoddy Repair on Hood

Solid, Denty Floorboard

Rear Trunk/Valence Damage

Slight Surface Rust in Trunk Floor (and bad paint job)

Just a Shot Showing Alignment of Left Door/Fender

Friday, May 1, 2009

That Ain't No Bronco

Those who know me, know that I've been in the market for an Early Bronco (1966 - 1977) to restore and have fun with for a while now.  I almost had my mind made up when a question of logistics was curiously raised while looking at my garage space.  My 1940's-era 1 1/2 car garage was not going to accommodate 36-inch tires and a 5-inch body lift on an already-rather-tall truck.  Oh crap.

With the desire to get my hands dirty, I started looking at Camaros, GTOs, Chevy IIs, and other muscle cars.  Knowing full well that my budget would not go very far, the results were ominous.  With prices for a rusted-out heap sans drivetrain averaging $10k, I was going to need another plan: foreigns.  

Porsche?  Yeah, right.  
Datsun?  Not cool.  
VW?  Not interested.  
Sunbeam?  More expensive than I thought.  
MG?  Perhaps.  
Triumph?  Possibly.

Looking on eBay, my mind was made up.  The old Triumph TRs were still relatively inexpensive and, doing more research, replacement parts were available and reasonable.  I looked at a few TR6s, but the TR4s really caught my eye.  What's more, there was one for sale about an hour away that claimed to be rust-free.  All signs were good.

Since I purchased my 1967 TR4A IRS, I have a new-found respect for these old British cars.  Being borne from wartime surplus parts and, eventually, finding a niche in sportscar racing, the TR's evolution is an interesting course.  But more on that in a later post.

Courtesy of http://www.vtr.org/models.shtml, the TR Line: 

TR2 (1952-55)

TR3/3A/3B (1955-62)

TR4 (1961-65)

TR4A (1965-67)

TR5/250 (1967-68)

TR6 (1969-76)

TR7 (1975-81)

TR8 (1978-81)