Friday, April 27, 2012

Picking Your Knows

What’s going on? I see you’re restoring a mighty fine TR. And it looks like you’re ready to get that body fixed up and painted, right?

If you’re going to do the bodywork yourself, get to work and wait for the next post. Go on, git!

For the rest of us, we’ll need someone else to do the grunt work. If you already know where your car is headed, you can leave too. See ya.

Now, for those who need to find a shop: You should be able to find a good compromise between quality and price if you narrow your decision making process down to just a few aspects; things that you know are important to you. Make a list, prioritize that list, and revise that list as you interview would-be bodymen (or bodywomen. Bodypersons?). Revise that list as you interview would-be body shops.

I didn’t really have a tight timeline and price was more of a differentiator than a budgeted number because I really wasn’t sure what ballpark to expect. Call me a greenhorn on that front – I’ve worked on just about everything except bodywork and paint (professional quality that is). So my going-in list was:
  - Ability for soda blasting
  - Quality of past work
  - Nearby-ness

After some investigation and talking to a few shops, my final list wound up to be:
  - Ability for soda blasting
  - Quality of past work
  - Quality of materials used
  - Metalworking expertise
  - Nearby-ness

Soda blasting
There are many ways to skin this cat, but I wanted something that would take off all the paint quickly and easily. I read about chemical dipping, which sounded nice, but I didn’t like the idea of removing paint/primer everywhere. I wanted to keep 40+ year old gunk (not rust) inside frame rails and in the crevices that would otherwise remain undisturbed. I didn’t want to remove anything that would encourage new rust in places I knew would be neglected by the new paint job. So the idea of blasting seemed more promising, but with another set of options. Al-oxides, glass beads, walnut shells, plastics, baking soda – lots of different media for lots of different uses. Out of the many, one rang supreme: Baking Soda. Apparently, the uses for this stuff just keep adding up. The weight, texture, hardness, and low heat transfer all add up to a high quality abrasive when you blast painted metal with large quantities at high velocities. Who would have figured?

Quality of past work
Judged primarily from websites and secondarily in person at the prospective shops. If you’re getting this deep into a restoration yourself, you should already possess the keen eye it takes to judge good work from bad just by lookin’ at it. Trust the peepers.

Quality of materials
When it comes to paint, most of the costs are associated with number of coats and time it takes the painter to lay it on. (I’m only talking about the actual painting, not prepping, etc.) So, using higher-quality paints is not going to be the bank breaker in this equation, but a candy coat would due to layering and skill it takes to do so. So I think I’m just saying not to skimp on materials here and that a shop that uses the best paint is likely to know how to use it very well.

Metalworking expertise
Although I had limited experience with bodypersons’ body shops, I did know that replacement panels weren’t readily available nor were they cheap. So a cut-and-replace-with-panel-pieces situation was not a highly desirable option for me. I was looking for expertise to hand-craft a few bruised panels – with metal.

I targeted shops that were up to 30 miles away so I could regularly pop in for a visit and check up on things.

So you have what you know (your list), now let’s delve into what you don’t: Who’s going to do the work.

First, you should constantly remind yourself that it’s your money, your car. If you’re not pleased with the work being done, you have every right to let them know and you have every right to issue a halt work order and take your car elsewhere (assuming fiduciary responsibilities have been addressed). Luckily, I didn’t need to invoke my Braveheart speech, but there were definitely some decisions I made solely to ensure my shop knew that I had no problems packing up the circus, if needed.

Now unpuff your chest, tuck you balls back in, and proceed civilly…

Here’s a good method to choose your shop:
0. Know your preferences, as above.
1. Compile a list of potential shops. Just make a list. Use the Internet, drive around, ask friends, inquire at club events. Do what you need to get a good list of potential shops that somewhat adhere to your some of your wants.
2. Interview candidates. Contact the shops and ask some basic questions about the top 1-2 interests you have. Some you can cross off the list immediately after the first minute of a phone call; others you can inquire further and go meet the guys personally. Have them sell themselves to you, not the other way.
3. Narrow down your list. Have no more than 2-3 shops in mind before you make you final decision.
4. Weigh and choose. Don’t feel bashful about calling back or dropping in if you need further information. You may need to re-align your needs and adjust budgets or expectations. If a few shops are neck-and-neck, let them know about the competition and ask for competitive pricing.

The shop I chose, Resurrection Rods in Orange, CA actually came to my house to look at the car. I wrote them a check for a downpayment that day. As for my punch list, they scored well:
  - Ability for soda blasting (Check)
  - Quality of past work (Nice work, mostly woodies and custom fab)
  - Quality of materials used (House of Kolor reseller)
  - Metalworking expertise (Spin is the man)
  - Nearby-ness (Yep)

Another consideration that I didn't include above is willingness to work with your timeline. I had limited space in my garage and I didn't want a shiny new body delivered when I had 2 more months of dirty work to get done on my roller. Strike a balance between lower priority and higher quality with the shop early if you require added time. I also asked if they charged for storage time - they didn't. They picked up my TR on 4/25/2009 and gave it back on 10/19/2009.

As for costs, I will keep that info to myself. I will say that I’m happy with what I got for what I paid.

We'll get into breaking that rolling chassis down to a pile of parts next, so get some 2x4s, jack stands, and a floor jack ready.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I Have the Body of a 45-Year Old in My Garage

By now, you should be in the ‘showing all of your friends pictures of what your car looked like when you bought it and comparing those pictures to that partially dismantled roadster in your garage’ phase. Good for you, it is important to look back at your accomplishments occasionally – gives a sense of progress and it just feels nice.

To keep the momentum going from the ‘(Re)moving Forward’ post, this episode will be devoted to stripping the remaining parts off, culminating in one of the most important milestones of this restoration process: removing the body from the frame. So if you’ve got friends or kids, their assistance is needed; if not, go make some.

Before you get too excited, let’s check out our to-do list for today:
• Remove trim from fenders/doors
• Remove front and rear bumpers
• Remove grille
• Remove front and rear fenders
• Remove body from frame

Let’s pull the trigger on that brightwork – the stainless steel trim on your doors and front fenders, doors first:

Remember when I had you tap and gap the trim on both doors in preparation for today? Well, get on over to those doors and lay ‘em on the ground (with the trim side facing up). Depending on how much crap has worked itself into the trim channels or how damaged your rails are, removal gets progressively tougher.

Easy: Using your foot to anchor the door (and I don’t mean stepping on the door), grab the tapered end of the trim piece and lift it just enough so the pin clears its hole and see if you can push the trim forward (toward the hinged side of the door, where your foot should be). If it moves, continue to slide it off the buttons until it’s free and clear, being careful not to bend the trim past the point of common sense.

Sleazy: If your trim doesn’t move easily, try jarring it by pushing/pulling to slacken things up a bit – you may need to slide it back and forth occasionally as the trim gets hung up on the buttons. Also, you could try standing the door up on the hinged end and squirting some penetrating oil down into the trim channel. Wait and try bumbling with it again after the oil has time to work. If nothing slackens after 10 minutes...

Disease-y: If your trim is/gets jammed enough that it cannot be moved by hand or if you have significant dents/bends in your trim that prevent it from sliding off the buttons, do not resort to excessive force and do not try prying it off – you’ll need to remove the rivets from behind. From inside the door cavity, see if you’re able to use a pair of cutters to snip off the tag end of each rivet or carefully grind/cut each one off (Dremel, perhaps?). Once the tag is sheared, lightly tap the remains with a small punch until it pops free and keep working down the line until you can fully remove the whole trim piece.

The fender trim is basically the same story only longer and without an anchor pin. The end furthest forward shows the open channel and your trim will be sliding off toward the rear of the car. (Lightbulb Moment: You should now see why the doors were removed before tackling the trim – otherwise one trim piece blocks the other – good to know, eh?) Since you don’t need to hold one end up like you did for the doors, it’s a little easier, but because there are more rivet/buttons, more force is needed to get the momentum going. Once you’re able to get about 6 inches off the fender, it’s a lot easier to grab hold of the free end (where the door was) and yank. If your fender trim gets stuck, options are slightly different than above: You can use a light hammer and something less-hard-than-metal to nudge the trim from the open/front end (I used the plastic handle of a small screwdriver and tapped lightly with a hammer). You don’t want to damage the trim’s end - even though that end is hidden from view by the side light, it could get caught on the buttons if it gets chewed up at all. If the trim puts up a fight and you start working up a sweat, just forget about it and wait until the fenders have been removed to pop the rivets from behind as above. Ya dig? Cool.

So we’re left with the grille, the bumpers, and the fenders. At first, it seems pretty straightforward – just continue where we’re at and remove the fenders, right? Wait a sec. What b-hole got paid to design that rear bumper? Does it really go through the fender? How do I get to that bolt? Who the hell welded this? Is that a spider? were some of the questions I asked – please feel free to add your own colorful inquiries about British automotive engineering choices. The secret to the puzzle: go bumpers, grille, fenders.

The front bumper is the easier one and should be fairly painless to remove. Grab a ratchet and a wrench and crawl up under the front end. You can leave the overriders (bumperttes) and mounting braces on and take the whole thing off by removing the two mounting bolts at the front fascia/cowl. Once the bumper is out of the way, the two mounting brackets can be removed from the frame behind the cowl.

The rear bumper is mounted a little different and the mounting brackets go through the body in several places, making disassembly more compelling. There are a total of four brackets that go through the rear cowl and two bolts that go through the rear fenders to support that cool wrap-around bumper. I’m sure there are many ways to skin this cat, but I found the easiest way is to loosen the two side flare bolts first – don’t remove them, just loosen them up a little. Then move to the overriders; they unbolt from behind through one set of braces. Then remove the chromed bolts on each corner brace. The rear face should now just be resting on the mounting brackets. Now remove the side bolts that you loosened earlier and lift the bumper right outta there. You can then remove the rear and side brackets from the frame. Done and done.

Moving on to the front grille…the grille is secured by way of obvious, not-so-obvious, and just plain unintentional fasteners. The bolts on the top should have been removed when all of the wiring was disconnected. If not, they’ve got the ‘obvious’ label here – I trust you know what do with them. There are also two screws at the bottom of the grille in the middle there, accessible from behind via the airflow passageway (even with the hood removed, it’s easier to go from underneath the car). If your grille comes off easily now, be proud – you have a very decent grille and front end. For the rest of us, time or previous owners have conjured mysterious bonds that have unconventionally jammed that grille in there somehow. Releasing the grille from the front end’s evil clutches may take some additional investigating and manhandling. Look for any additional screws, bolts, rivets, or even damage that’s preventing its removal. If there’s nothing obvious, the grille itself could be distorted/bent, so see if you can just yank that sucka off. Then go grab a beer. Or two.

Although there’s no particular order needed to remove the fenders, you might as well start with the front ones since you’re already there. From underneath the front end, along the valence-fender fenceline, there should be a few bolts holding things together. They might be covered with muck, dirt, undercoating, rust, etc. but if you start with the bottom-most bolt, you should see progressively-increasing slack between fender and body. Work them up until you have some play on the front fender up to where the hood line is. Stop.

Sidenote: The 'beading' between the fender and body was a convenient and dressy way to hide the body seams back then. It can be secured in any number of ways so you don't need to worry about it until your fenders come off.

Now, go where your door hinges secure to the A-pillar and peek your head inside the car where the kickpanel used to be. There are three coves, each housing a bolt – remove those and relocate yourself to under the fender, just forward of the rocker panel. Three more bolts! Now follow the trailing edge of the fender up to the top – it curves out, up, and around to reveal another bolt that may have been removed when you took the windshield frame off. Inspect that area for any remaining bolts and when the coast is clear, move to the top rail of the fender. Here, you’ll find a number of screws holding the last bit of the fender to the engine compartment. Remove them all, leaving one of the middle ones for last so your fender doesn’t just fall off. Once you’re convinced that the last screw is the last screw holding the fender on, hold onto the fender and remove the screw. You should be able to wiggle the fender off. Fun, huh? Do the same for the other side.

The rear fenders are secured in a similar fashion except the top edge is concealed within the trunk spaces. Start under the rear of the car and remove the few rear cowl-to-fender bolts. That should loosen the fender up to around where it meets the tail light housing. Next, there are three bolts inside the forward part of rear wheel well, securing the fender to the B-pillar. These bolts might be covered and/or smothered, but should be fairly easy to remove. There’s also one bolt underneath, just aft of the rocker panel. You should now be left with just the top row of 8 bolts along the inside of the body. The first few can be removed easily from the interior of the car; they get progressively difficult to remove as they proceed back. The hardest bolt is in the corner above the tail light housing. Like the front fenders, leave one of the middle bolts until last – preferably one of the easier ones to get to from the outside. Again, once you are certain that the last bolt is the last bolt, loosen it while supporting the fender - it should break free with relative ease. Repeat.

Intermission Time! The fender rails are notorious for rust issues because they are not sealed, they offer a place for water to stagnate, and they’re exposed inside the wheel wells. For these reasons, you should be extra vigilant while inspecting TRs before purchasing. Look all around the wheel wells as well as inside the trunk.

This is what you should have by now
Well, that and a pile of parts.

Are you ready? I said, “Are You Ready?” Let’s get this body off that frame. All of the prepwork you’ve done leading up to this moment should make this an easy effort, but don’t call your posse just yet – there are bolts to be unbolted and nuts to be unnutted.

Going from front to back, there are quite a few…
Engine Compartment:
• At the front wheel wells, near the radiator mounts.
• Along the frame rails and along the wheel wells.
• Either side of the transmission in the footwells.
• Along the door rail (a group of four and a group of three).
• Either side of the handbrake.
• And – seatbelt eye-bolts.
Trunk (from underneath):
• Center bolt that doubles as your spare tire hook thing.
• At the rear of the frame rails (need to go through the frame to find the bolt – there’s a nutbox above the frame there).

Once you think you have all of the bolts removed, you can test lift the body at each corner to ensure it’ll part from the frame. Any amount of give will indicate it’s ready. If your e-brake cables are still hanging out in the cab, push then through and out of the way.

Now – Are YOU ready? Call the cavalry and at least four people to grab hold of each corner, ensuring they have enough strength and height to lift the body high enough to clear the engine. Heave ho! It’s surprisingly easy to lift with four people, huh?

Now – where to put it? Whether you’re doing the metal/paint yourself or sending it out, you’ll need somewhere to stash the body for some amount of time. Luckily, the TR4 bodies are fairly rigid and they can support their own weight, so there’s no need to brace the door frames like you might on other restoration projects. A couple pallets, railroad ties, or stacked 2x4’s on the ground will suffice as a temporary base until you find a more permanent resting place.

So there you have it.

My body out for shopwork
My rolling chassis, ready for homework

Congratulations – this is a major step in the resto process. Your first qualifier that this project is a true frame-off restoration.

More good things to come…

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Coventry Iron Calling?

Well, hello all. If you recall from the last post, I kiddingly posed the absurd notion of contacting Keith Martin of Sports Car Market magazine to encourage the ‘Collectability Rating’ of the 1967 TR4A to be raised. Well, I kinda did that but not really.

What I did do was submit pictures and a short description of this beautiful TR4A to Keith Martin’s TV program, What’s My Car Worth to be appraised. Their response: “Keith was quite impressed with it, he really enjoyed seeing the photos.” Although probably part of a form letter, this was good news.

The better news was that they chose the car to appear in the Mailbag section of Episode 309, Detroit Iron Calling that aired on November 9, 2011.

Although the Collectability Rating was still a ‘C’, Mr. Martin praised the quality of the restoration describing the car as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘better-than-new’ and finished the appraisal with, “your car is special; if you were to sell it I’d ask $35,000 and I’d hold firm.” A great sign of where the market is getting up to on these, huh? And a story that we’ll revisit later.

A somewhat crappy picture from the TV
Stay tuned for more restoration blog posts…