my Triumph TR3A was my introduction to body work. I did what I
could but farmed most of the work out to a body shop. I learned
a lot the hard way that could make the next restoration go much
This assumes that I live long enough to forget how much time
and money is needed to actually do a restoration. Personally,
it is an experience I hope I never repeat.
The most important lesson I have learned is to purchase the best
example of a car that I can find. It is way less expensive that
restoring a car. This lesson, of course does not apply to those
of you who find working on cars a relaxing fun way to spend your
Before you start
The large majority of cars that get disassembled for a complete
restoration never get reassembled. Of the cars that do get reassembled,
many get sold before the restoration work is complete. This is
usually because of lost interest or conflicts. Incomplete assembly
projects are usually sold at a tremendous loss of money for the
work done and new parts purchased.
Before you start a restoration project think VERY CAREFULLY about
what you are committing yourself to. If you have a family, you
are committing them to your project as well. Be sure to get their
support and agreement to the time and funds that will go to the
project BEFORE you start.
The project will take a lot more money than you think it will
and it will take a lot longer than you think it will. You will
need to invest constant chunks of your time. Time that will
take away from everything else. Once the car is apart if you
stop devoting regular time and money you will loose everything.
You will need:
- A place to work that does not get used for anything else.
It is important that this place be well lighted and dry. The
more pleasant that you can make it, the quicker you will get
the project done.
- A minimum of four full days each month and several evenings
reserved for the project. Be sure to get your family buy-in
before you start. This can be a multiple year commitment.
- A constant flow of cash that will not cause undue hardships
or resentment from other family members. I frequently found
myself spending around US$ 300 per month. Ideally, you want
to have cash saved up before you start the project to handle
those periods where you need to spend larger chunks of money.
Have a cash reserve saved before you take a car to a body shop.
Quality work is expensive. A lot of cars have been sold for
labour cost by shops when the owner fails to pay for the work
within thirty or sixty days.
- Lots of patience and the kind of personality that derives
pleasure from working with your hands to make something. Or
tenacity by the ton.
Think long and hard before you start. You may be better off selling
your car and replacing it with one in better condition. It would
certainly be cheaper.
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Working practices that I have learned
My working habits changed a lot over the length of this project.
Early in the project, I often spent more time looking for a tool
than using it. I have also had a number of parts hide in an alternate
universe until I gave up looking for it and purchased a replacement.
I also learned that if you drop parts through the car they will
often escape and hide unless you plan for the recovery of dropped
parts. A tarp or large sheet of cardboard placed below the area
you are working on will accomplish two things. It will cushion
the fall so the part is unlikely to bounce away and it makes the
part easier to see and recover.
I have established locations. By locations, I mean places to
put different things. I make use of the lids from white plastic
five gallon containers. They have a rim around the edge to keep
things inside. I keep one or two beside me while I work. The lid
is where I place a tool that I am using when I temporarily put
it down. A lid is where I place a part that ether just came off
the car or is just about to go on the car. Searching for that
tool or bolt that you just put down gets old quickly.
A professional mechanic once told me you could judge a mechanic
by how dirty he/she is and how clean his/her tools are when
he/she starts to use them. I have learned to have lots of clean
rags on hand. When ever possible, I will clean the car before
working on it to get rid of the grease. Since greasy hands not
only affect your grip, but allows dirt to get on parts that
I am assembling, I wash my hands when they get grungy. I also
wipe off each tool before I put it away. I have found that staying
cleanish during a project is a moral booster.
A project this size can become overwhelming and never ending.
One thing that I did that saved me from becoming overwhelmed and
abandoning the project was to break it down into lots of little
sub projects. Each little sub project was designed to be easy
to accomplish in a reasonable time frame. I focused on the sub
projects, one at a time and achieved a sense of completion when
each sub project was completed. When I reached the stage of assembling
the car, I set myself a goal of a certain number of parts installed
a week. I made it an easy number to obtain to allow me to deal
with difficult parts and still meet my goal. Sometimes little
tricks of the mind can make all the difference between a completed
project and an abandoned one.
I have learned to document any disassembly that will not be reassembled
within a few hours. Things that look simple before disassembly
often become puzzles when it is time to reassemble them.
I have found the factory parts manual to be a great help. Before
starting, I photocopy the relevant page(s) of the parts manual
showing the assembly to be disassembled and make notes about assembly
order and similar stuff on the photocopies.
Before parts of a wiring harness gets disconnected, I note where
each wire goes. I found that this was a BIG time saver. When
replacing a harness with a premade replacement harness, cut
off the old one leaving a couple inches of wire at each connection. This
speeds thing up by allowing you to match insulation colours.
- I have learned to wipe a tool off with a rag and put it away
as soon as I am finished with one.
- When I put down a tool that I am working with it goes into
a designated location. Before I started doing this I found myself
frequently spending more time looking for a tool that it took
to use it.
- When I am turning a wrench I look to see where my hand would
go if the wrench slipped. If the answer is someplace hard or
sharp, I hold the tool so that the metal will strike the surface
first and not my body. If the answer is someplace that will
get damaged, I assume that the tool will slip and protect the
surface with something that will absorb the impact before I
use the tool.
- I establish several places to keep parts. When I am working
with one and set it down, it goes into a designated location.
I have a bin for parts that I expect to be installing soon.
I also have bins for parts that are waiting to be installed
but not soon. I also have a designated bin I call "a safe
This is for those things that don't really have a place to
go but you do not want to loose. I find that I loose parts
easily without designated places. This may sound overly
obsessive but I developed this system from spending hours
unsuccessfully looking for parts, giving up and replacing
them only to have the part reappear later when I'm not looking
- It is easier to keep subassemblies together if you partially
reassemble them after removing them. This is especially true
of bolts, washers and nuts. This also helps me remember how
things go together.
- Where moisture is a problem I make sure small parts are dry
and seal them in zip lock bags before they are placed into storage.
- Do not throw out an old serviceable part that you plan to
replace until after you have it's replacement in hand and
have determined that it is as or more suitable for use then
the old part if it is refurbished. Sometimes a new replacement
part is unexpectedly unavailable. Other times, new replacement
parts can be poorly made or have poor fit. You could be better
off returning the new part and having the old one refinished.
- Wherever possible, use new fixings such as nuts bolt and washers.
It makes reassembly go a lot easier, the new fixings have fresh
plating, and old fittings may have been over stressed. I use
grade 5 or grade 8 bolts for everything. I do not use ungraded
bolts. Also, used threads should be cleaned with a thread chaser
or tap/die before reuse. This makes reassembly easier and prevents
damage to the parts.
- Do not automatically replace old parts with new ones. Most
reproduction parts are made with inferior material with a poor
finish. Often fit is poor. Examine old parts for fitness for
reuse if it was refinished. By all means replace worn parts
where good quality replacements are available. But do not assume
replacement parts will fit properly or will last as long.
The quality of chrome on replacement parts is almost universally
dismal. Wherever possible have your old chrome parts rechromed
by a quality chrome shop. When in doubt find a company that
deals with custom motorcycles and ask about the best chrome
Reproduction TR3A grills have smaller openings and wider cross
slats. The space between the TR3A grille bars is about
24% smaller on reproduction grilles. This results in
less air flow to the radiator which can make the difference
in warm weather. So wherever possible reuse or obtain a good
used original TR3A grill.
The fit of reproduction stone guards to the front of the rear
wings has been abysmal. Try to polish out any scratches if you
can and reuse the originals. If you need to use new ones, be
prepared to need some reforming to get a proper fit.
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Disassembling the car and prepping it
The best way to start a restoration is by having the engine bay
and underside steam cleaned. It will make the job go a lot easier
and faster. If the underside of the car is undercoated have the
undercoating removed at that time. It's a nasty job to do yourself
and it should come off just to see what is underneath. If there
is a pinhole in the undercoating, moisture can get up between
the body and the undercoating and start large areas of rust under
If the original paint is in decent condition and still adhering
properly leave it on. It sounds neat to be able to say "I took
it down to the bare metal to make sure that everything was perfect".
But your new primer and paint will not adhere quite as well as
the original did to new sheet metal. Unless you are in the Arizona
desert during the middle of summer, you will probably introduce
some moisture to the sheet metal and actually get a slow rusting
started. If you remove original factory paint that is adhering
properly you will dramatically increase the possibility of future
rust coming up from under the paint.
The solution used for dipping cars to strip paint is very caustic
and will start the body rusting if every trace of the dipping
solution is not removed. This stuff is VERY difficult to get out
of seams. It is not unusual to see rust bubbles on a dipped car
around the seams within a few years of the restoration just because
some of the dip solution was left in seams.
My advice is leave as much of the original paint on as possible
only going down to bare metal at rust areas.
Most of the time there is no real good reason to remove the
car's body from it's frame. It is nice to say that you did a "frame
off restoration" but it is a lot of work that you seldom really
need to do and it increases the risk of body panel damage.
Floor and sill replacement is easier done with the body attached
to the frame. The frame positions the body. You can see everything
you need to see with the body on the frame. Also suspending
a body at each end tends to take it out of alignment and decreases
the chance that the doors, wings & lids will refit properly.
If you end up replacing an inner sill, trial fit the door with
it's hinges in place before welding it in place. The shop that
did mine did a trial fit minus the hinges. The door opening was
about one quarter inch too narrow when they completed the job.
Note any captive nuts or nut cages that need replacing and have
them replaced before final prep is done. Run a tap through all
the captive nuts soon after disassembly to check their condition
in the cage. When in doubt replace the nut and cage.
Make a trial fit of any panel that is new to the car before it
is painted. Chances are that it will not fit smoothly and will
need to be tweaked to get a good fit. Let an experienced body
person do this.
Prepping a car for painting takes a lot of low tech time consuming
work. I found that I could sand just as fast as a pro who is getting
sixty dollars an hour to sand your car. This is a place where
some real money can be saved.
I have tried several types of chemical paint stripper and have
had problems with everyone.
Particle blasting sheet metal is risky. The material tends to
stretch the sheet metal causing it to bend. I have heard of
entire bodies being destroyed by someone doing high pressure
particle blasting on the entire body. The best place to particle
blast is corners, edges, ribs and other reinforced areas that
may be hard to sand. Even there, you should use as low a pressure
Power sanding can destroy panels too. You want to use an orbital
sander to minimize gouging caused by the edge of a sander. If
you sand in one spot, you can scrape out a lot of sheet metal.
The sander can also warp parts of unsupported sheet metal if the
metal gets too hot. Use an orbital sander in as large of strokes
that you have space for to avoid overheating a spot of the panel.
Do not wet sand primer or body fillers. Primer and most body
fillers are porous to water. This allows water to sink down to
the metal and start rust under the primer or body filler.
I repaired deep rust craters in my car's boot floor...twice.
The first time I wet sanded the filler to get everything as smooth
as possible. After painting, it looked like a new panel until
the rust popped back up. I got to take it back down to bare metal
and do it over again. Dry this time.
Rust through pinholes can be patched up easily by welding. Larger
rust through holes can be repaired by cutting the uneven hole
out of the panel and welding a new patch of metal in its place.
Rust craters can just be filled
with body filler once you have removed every spec of rust.
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Dealing with the body shop
Body shops are in business to make a profit. They charge a certain
rate to cover time and overhead. Anything you can do well yourself
instead of farming it out is money saved. Any work that you
did that the body shop needs to redo is time wasted. Final sanding
and cleaning must be done just before applying the primer. Primer
applied longer than a day or three before final coating needs
to be resprayed before a final coat is applied.
Do not use multiple heavy layers of high fill primer. The thick
primer base will allow the paint to chip easier. If you have thin
scratches or uneven surfaces use a body filler or "mud"
to fill it in and not a high fill primer. This provides a stronger
base for your final paint coat. Also keep your layer of "mud"
as thin as possible to accomplish the job.
Body shops can not be held responsible for fillers or primers
that you have added to the body. They have no idea of what is
underneath or if you applied the stuff properly. Do not expect
them to warranty ANYTHING they add over your work.
If you want any fillers or paint that they add guaranteed, let
them have the car when you have finished sanding off everything
you think needs removing.
Before you go out and get an estimate for a job, carefully define
the work that you want done in writing and make sure the estimate
covers each step. This is VERY IMPORTANT. The cheap bid is often
cutting a lot of corners and the expensive bid is often covering
all the details to do the job right.
When creating a description of the work to be completed spell
out every step. This is the document that will define the work
that they will do. It provides a basis for comparing estimates.
If you want panels aligned, state it. If you want the car undercoated,
state what you want done under the undercoating. Some garages
will provide a cheap estimate by not doing anything under an
undercoat, or even shoot undercoat directly to bare metal.
If you want a thin skin of mud applied to the body to remove
any little dents or waves in a panel state it. Go over every part
of the car and describe what you want done to each rust spot and
Remember this is the document that they estimate to. You should
expect them to do whatever is in the document. Expect to pay extra
for anything not covered in the estimate.
It is cheaper to have a shop estimate and complete the entire
job than to bring it to them one step at a time. They have to
add a little fudge time for each job they bid in case of problems.
Also you are more apt to get a slight price break on a large job
than in having each step estimated and completed separately. Having
everything done at once will cost a lot more in a short time but
will save you a significant amount of money by the time everything
Prepay as little as possible. A hungry body shop will back burner
a prepaid project in favour of a job that is not prepaid to
maximize their money intake.
If the company insists on a partial prepay try to arrange payments
based upon reaching stages of completion. When they say a stage
is completed go in and inspect the work completed prior to paying.
Some shops may cut corners if they can without your notice. Some
employees may work slow and cut corners that their boss doesn't
notice. And sometimes, there may be a miscommunication. You want
to catch these things when it is simple to correct problems.
I insist on inspecting any body work before it is covered. This
means before primer or undercoating is applied. I want to see
doors and panels trial mounted after body work has been completed.
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Getting the project painted
I get a lot of people emailing me for the formula for signal
red. Here is a formula that came directly from the BASF
technical dept for #21 Glassodur Urethane Acrylic paint This
is off the label:
61 Triumph code 32
I had my car painted in several steps. They used s primer that
was also a sealer so that I could do some work between steps.
On the first step, I brought the stripped down body tub into
the shop on the frame. I had them prime and seal the entire body
tub. They put a color coat on the underside, inner wheel wells,
engine compartment, interior and boot. Any surface that would
be covered during the body assembly was painted. I had the undercoating
applied after the paint was dry. When this was completed, I brought
the body back home then let it sit for a week while the paint
The paint shop primed and sealed all the other body panels off
the car. The insides of wings, doors, bonnet, boot lid, front
valance and and sections that would be inaccessible after assembly
were painted with final color.
Next I installed the engine, transmission, steering column, all
the hydraulic tubing, the radiator and other parts that are best
assembled with parts of the body apart or are likely to scratch
the paint during assembly.
The body panels were replaced on the car. They wings were held
in place with a minimum number of screws.
The assembled body was returned to the paint shop for final prep
and exterior spraying. The colour match of every exterior part
as guaranteed by having all the exterior sprayed at one time.
Any assembly scratches were repaired at this time.
I brought the car home to install the interior and all the other
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I used new fixings wherever possible to make reassembly go easier.
When I had to reuse a bolt I ran a die over the threads first.
Whenever I had to reuse a nut, I did the same with a tap to make
sure that the threads were clean and to ease assembly.
I noticed that a lot of used parts that looked good when they
came off suddenly looked shabby against new paint. A number
of parts were replaced with new ones or sent out for rechroming
at this time.
This is where those diagrams that I made during disassembly became
worth their weight in gold. They made reassembly a lot easier.
I tested each system or subsystem as soon as it was installed.
It gave me a sense of accomplishment then the hooter hooted, the
turn signals flashed and the overdrive solenoid clicked at the
right times when the gears were switched. It seemed a lot easier
to ring out each subsystem when its instillation was fresh in
my mind than wait and try to do it all at once.
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Companies that provide parts for your classic need to remain
price competitive with each other and tend to source parts as
cheaply as possible. This often means that the chrome on new parts
is very poorly done and will start rusting or pealing within a
If you want good quality chrome that will last, you are much
better off having your old chrome part rechromed than purchasing
a new replacement part. The new part may be cheaper than having
a quality chrome job done. That in itself should tell you something
about the quality of chrome on the replacement part. Also your
original part may be made of better material than the modern
replacement. If it is not worn or damaged strongly consider getting
it replated instead or replaced.
Chrome should be protected as quickly as possible. Use a high
quality chrome polish on the part as soon as you get it then follow
it up with a good wax. Remember to polish then wax your chrome
frequently. You went through a lot of expense and effort to purchase
and install those parts. Protect your investment.
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