Second Time Around (update 1)

[When I last reported on the second restoration of my 1952 Split ‘Val’ the body and chassis had been separated and completely stripped of all the ancillaries]
During the autumn I pressed ahead with work on the bodyshell. I removed every bit of paint from the underside, which included the bottoms of the sills, the compartment under the petrol tank and the area under the rear seat immediately over the gearbox. This was rather difficult, as most of the time I had to lay on the ground and work above my head. Using a wire brush or abrasive discs on an angle grinder to remove the paint was obviously not a safe option and was also largely ruled out by poor accessibility. Similarly, the use of paint stripper was a non-starter, so I had to revert to a technique employed by professional restorers on cars with bodies made of glass fibre or alloy i.e. using a blunt scraper to remove the paint. This was a very laborious task to say the least but very effective as all the paint layers were removed simultaneous, although the paint fragments got everywhere.

I was relieved to find virtually no corrosion under the paint that I removed and any rust that did reveal itself was easily eliminated with repeated applications of ‘Hammerite’ rust removing gel. When the gel had done its work the affected areas were then treated with the phosphoric acid based preparation ‘Jenolite’, which highlighted any remaining rust pits in need of further treatment. With the whole area rust free it was sanded with coarse emery cloth, degreased with white spirit and a strong industrial detergent and then painted with two thin coats of ‘Bondaprimer’ anti-rust primer. This was given two weeks to dry thoroughly before being covered with several coats of black cellulose enamel.

It was never my intention to strip the entire bodyshell to bear metal, as it had been grit blasted during the first restoration. Any new rust spots would most likely be caused by damage to the paintwork that had been ignored, so these areas were treated as described above. As a precaution though, I also removed the paint from all the various welded seams on the body and where the external panels had been attached, as these areas were also potential sites for any new problems. My efforts at rust prevention all those years ago (late 1980’s) had been very successful as, apart from around a few wing bolt attachment points and where the running boards were bolted to the sills, the dreaded rust bug was virtually absent. Any traces of rust that were discovered were eliminated and the affected areas spot primed with anti-rust primer.

The work on the body took several months to complete and it wasn’t until the end of May that I could turn my attention to getting the chassis sorted out. This had been languishing on the garage floor and by now was filthy due to an accumulation of dust, grime and what have you.

Apart from a few damaged areas on the underside, caused either by stones or the careless use of a jack, and where the front axle had been attached, the only other rust I discovered was on the topside of the floor immediately in front of the battery tray. At first I thought this might be due to acid spillage or a faulty or non-existent grommet surrounding the cables entering the car behind the battery, allowing water to enter the car, but later when I came to refit the body I was to discover the real reason.

I was also concerned about the four M10 studs, which are welded into the floor and hold the wing nuts securing the front seats. The metal around these had seen better days so I decided to have the affected areas cut out and new studs welded in place. The services of young Tom, my welder, were once more needed. He cut the affected areas out with an angle grinder and fashioned some repair sections out of 1.5mm thick galvanised plate, each complemented with a 2mm thick reinforcement plate. A hole was drilled through each and an M10 x 50mm setscrew welded neatly into place. After the four repair sections had been fitted the welds were ‘dressed’ with an angle grinder and the resultant joins in the chassis floor were virtually invisible. To make sure everything was aligned properly and that the seats would fit afterwards, I had carefully made a template to ensure the new studs were located in exactly the right places.

It was time for the chassis to go for grit blasting to remove every trace of the old paint, rust, grime and glue from where the carpets and sound deadening had been attached. All the various ‘holes’ in the chassis were sealed up, either with bolts in the various threaded holes or with rubber bungs, pieces of wood or thick pieces of rag. The grit is applied under considerable pressure, so I was trying to prevent it from doing any unwanted damage or getting where it wasn’t wanted, particularly the various metal conduits that run along the inside of the central ‘tunnel’, as these were full of grease. If they had got contaminated with grit I would have been in real trouble, as they would have been almost impossible to clean out again. I left the rear spring plates attached, as they are difficult to replace correctly afterwards, but the cover plates on the rear torsion bar tubes were removed. The spring plates were secured in place with bolts and enormous washers just to be on the safe side.

Now how was I going to get the chassis to blast cleaning facility? I didn’t have a suitable trailer, nor a car fitted with a tow bar for that matter, so I enlisted the help of the local landscape gardener (who happened to be Tom’s dad). He had such a trailer and a Range Rover to tow it with. Both the trips, to and from the girt blaster, where relatively uneventful and thankfully on both the days it did not rain. I must admit when we stopped at traffic lights we got some puzzled looks from a few of the other motorists. There are still those who believe that anyone who spends time trying to restore old cars must be certifiable.

Immediately after the grit blasting was completed at the workshop the whole chassis was sprayed with ‘Trimite’ red oxide etch primer. This paint dried very rapidly and is totally impervious to moisture thereafter, so any subsequent painting could be done at my leisure. The finished article looked magnificent.

When I had acquired the chassis during the first restoration, parts of both rear floor sections had been repaired and I was concerned that the welds might have be damaged by the grit or rust might have started under the various layers of paint and filler that had been subsequently applied. After blasting there were a few tiny holes that had appeared in places but all of the previous welding repairs had been unaffected and needed no further attention. The welder returned a few days later and made all the necessary minor repairs, which took him far less time to do than it did to set up his equipment.

The cost of this work on the chassis was about ₤330 i.e. ₤175 for the blast cleaning and etch priming, ₤10 for the metal plates and set screws, ₤20 for the etch primer, ₤50 for transportation and ₤75 for the welding repairs.

Image of the Chassis after grit blasting & etch priming

The chassis after grit blasting and etch priming

It was now time to paint the chassis. A tiny amount of plastic filler was necessary in a few places, purely for cosmetic purposes and then two thin coats of ‘Bondaprimer’ were applied and left at least a week to allow them to dry properly. I then sprayed on several coats of the same black cellulose enamel paint used on the underside of the body. When dry the paint finish looks like black glass, such is the shine.

After painting, the underside of the chassis looked great but disaster was to strike when I repeated the process on the topside. As the last coat of black cellulose was applied the paint began to wrinkle and craze (schear) in several places, not just the odd blemish, but very much like furrows in a ploughed field. The solvent in the paint must have re-activated the undercoat and I concluded that either I had used too much thinner in the paint mixture or had held the spray gun too close to the surface whilst spraying. When dry, the paint becomes so hard that trying to flat it by the conventional use of abrasive paper is just not possible, so the whole top surface would have to be completely stripped and painted all over again. The air was blue and that feeling of despair was with me once again!

After a few days, when I had calmed down and suicide no longer seemed a necessary option, I bought a 2.5 litre tin of Nitromors paint stripper and set to work. This was a hazardous and labourious task, which took the best part of three days to complete. By way of consolation I found that the grit blaster had done his work very thoroughly, as I didn’t find a single trace of rust on any of the areas I treated.

After the paint stripper and debris had been removed with a scraper the surface was scrubbed repeatedly with wire wool using hot detergent, and then clean water to remove every trace of the chemicals and so avoid any problems when applying new paint. The clean metal was treated with Jenolite and then left to dry overnight. The whole lengthy painting process then had to be repeated, with breath held I might add. This time I put the black topcoat on with a fine haired brush instead of using a spray gun and to my great relief all went well.

When all the paint is fully hardened, the next step will be to fit the body back on the chassis using the reverse of the procedure I adopted to separate them. Then it will be time to fit the gearbox/transmission, front axle, braking system, control rods and cables and the suspension. But that, as they say, is another story.

Mike Johnson