Neil Fletcher Racing

HAVOC Article No 11.

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Rebuilding my Mexico - JIJ9975.

 Part 1- Getting Started. 

Anyone who has been a member of this club for the last fifteen years or so will probably know that from the summer of 1989 until late 1999 I wrote a series of articles which were published in Havoc.  These articles detailed a lot of my rallying exploits with my Mk1 Mexico JIJ9975.  Those of you with access to the internet will quite possibly have seen my website at and will know that I have spent the last four years rebuilding that Mexico.  I thought it was about time I put something in the magazine again for those members who donít have internet access and even for those who have seen my website, these following articles will fill in some of the gaps.


I first rebuilt this particular Mexico in 1987/88, I then used it for nearly twelve years doing all sorts of motorsport events, some years I did between 25 and 30 events.  There was even the odd occasion when I would have done a Navigation Rally on a Friday night and then have been off doing either a Stage Rally, Sprint, Hillclimb or something similar on a Saturday afternoon.  Because I was doing all my own work to the car, this meant that on many occasions there was very little time to fix the car between events particularly if there was any sort of major damage.  Any work that was done was usually just enough to get the car going again for the next event.  Quite often during an event I would have thought of some particular modification that could be done to the car, I kept a little book which detailed all these and any other jobs that from time to time I would discover needed doing.  The major jobs usually got done, though in many cases they were never quite finished off but many of the less important jobs never got done, in this case the list just got longer and longer.  It was getting so bad that even the scrutineers were starting to pass the odd remark about the state of the car.  This along with the fact that my long time navigator decided to retire, prompted me to take a year or so off from motorsport and fix the car properly.  ďA year or soĒ ended up being a four year rebuild but if I get another 12 years motorsport action out of the car before the next major rebuild it will have been time well spent.


In actual fact the Mexico sat outside in all weathers for nearly a year before I got round to making a start on the rebuild.  This had allowed some of the damaged panels to get a little rusty and at this stage the poor old girl did look a very sorry sight indeed, but I was still thinking that a replacement wing, front panel and a general tidy up would see her on the road again.  How wrong can one be, read on and youíll find out.  I guess many rebuilds have followed a similar pattern, a car is taken off the road for some minor repairs and these become more and more major repairs as time goes on and more damage is found.  Then there is a stage reached where the person either loses heart with the amount of work that needs doing and throws in the towel, or after reaching a bit of a low ebb they decide, that they have done so much work and spent so much money that they might as well finish the job off and at least they will have something good to show at the end for all their labours.  Every now and then during the next couple of years, Carmel, my wife would ask ďWhy are you spending so much time in the garage working at that old car when you are retired from rallying?Ē, whereupon I would tell her that as the car sat it was in such a bad state that I wouldnít even be able to sell it if I wanted to.  I think in all honesty she saw straight through that excuse, but at least with the girls in the garage helping me, Carmel had some peace and quiet in the house.


I started to tidy up the rear end of the car first.  A couple of years earlier I had fitted a new lower rear valance.  At the time this was only welded on, I didnít have time to Isopon in the joins and paint it.  So this was the first job, this was all tidied up as well as beating out and repairing a few dents in the rear quarters.  I always seem to get the odd prang in this area of the car, maybe its something to do with my sideways style of driving.  The rear quarters of my car have always had quite a few dents and ripples, some people would probably tidy them up with a lot of fillers, but I usually just beat them out as best I can with the panel hammers and dollies and use as little fillers as possible just to tidy them up.  I know that they will get hit again, sooner rather than later and if they are full of fillers this will probably get knocked out and will look a lot worse than the odd dent and ripple that are in my car.


 Next I moved to the front of the car, the drivers side front wing and that corner of the front panel were in particularly bad shape following some accident damage.  I removed both of these panels with an air chisel.  Itís a great tool, almost too good, as you can find yourself cutting out bad bits for all youíre worth until you suddenly realise how little good original metal is left.  I discovered that the under rad cross-member would need to be replaced and that I would need to repair the kick panel area as well as patch up around the strut tower.  I had a few under rad panels in my vast stock of spares, collected over 20 years of Mk1 ownership, but I didnít have, and couldnít get a kick panel repair section.  The only thing I could do was some patching with a sheet of steel that I bought in my local lorry coachworks. In the good old days I used to cut bits of old panels up to make repair sections but then I discovered that I could buy an 8 foot by 4 foot sheet of 20 gauge steel for about £10 and thatís what Iíve used ever since.  The 20 gauge is quite a bit thicker than the metal normally used in panels etc but I donít mind, the only problem is that itís so thick you can hardly cut it with tin snips, so a couple of years ago I bought myself a set of air shears which made it a lot easier to work with.  By the way, if you are cutting sheet steel always wear a good pair of heavy gloves as the sharp edges can cut like a razor.  It was only after I had welded a few patches into the kick panel area that a friend told me that you can still get this section as a repair panel for the Mk2 and that they were exactly the same, and yes they do look the same to me. I went ahead and ordered a couple of pairs for my next restoration job.  People who know me well will tell you that when I need something for my car, and if itís a hard to obtain part, I will usually order two or three, just in case I may need them sometime in future when they may well be impossible to obtain.


When I started to fit the under rad panel I had the same problem as I had with fitting one of these a few years ago, the captive nuts and their holes wouldnít line up with the anti roll bar brackets.  The captive nuts had to be removed, the holes elongated and the nuts re-welded before I could continue with the fitting.  I always used to think that I had this problem because my car had been hit so often in the front end, but Iíve spoken to a few other people who have had similar fitment problems with these repro under rad panels, maybe they are just not that well made?  Eventually I got it all sorted and the patches to the kick panel finished.


Around this same time I was thinking of buying myself one of the freestanding grit blasters you see advertised in the classic car mags.  While I was over at AVO Day I called with the manufacturer of one of these items.  Because I was able to give him cash, he was willing to give me one at a very keen price with none of the dreaded VAT and he threw in a couple of bags of the special blasting grit.  When I got back home to Northern Ireland I tried out my new blaster by blasting underneath the driverís inner wing etc and I was really pleased with the end results.  Iím quite lucky in that my family own a farm and even though I no longer live at home I still have the use of a big old barn that I used as a garage in my younger days.  I set my blaster up in it and Iím fit to blast away to my hearts content.  The great thing is, I am able to gather up all the used grit, sieve it and re-use it a number of times.  A 50kg bag of the proper grit costs about £6 and Iím able to use it 5 or 6 times before it gets just too dusty to be of any use.


Blasting under the inner wing did show up one or two other areas that needed minor repairs, but these were soon sorted, I then moved on to do something with the driverís front wing.  With this being a rally car and very likely to sustain more damage I decided that proper RS wings were too expensive or should I say too valuable to use.  At that time RS wings were changing hands for about £350 a pair whereas a repro standard wing was about £45 brand new.  I must admit I did think about using one of my second hand RS wings but even they were too good to put on an old rally car that might get bashed up again during its first event.  In the end I decided to cut the flare off the old wing and weld it onto a standard repro wing.  This involved more work, unfortunately I probably put too much weld on it and distorted it a little; next time Iíll use only a few small welds here and there.  Afterwards I put a little run of fillers over the outside edge, Rebecca and Laura did most of the rubbing down, they love sandpapering and keep asking, ďDaddy what can we do now?Ē  Looking at the wing after it got a coat of etch primer I think it turned out fairly well - all things considered. Something that I did notice during this operation was one minor difference between the repro wing and the genuine Ford item, there is a much sharper corner or turn along the top outside edge of the repro wing, ie the corner that runs from the door forward to above the headlight.  I noticed this only when I offered my modified wing up to the car and saw it in comparison with the wing on the navigatorís side which is still the genuine one.  The only good thing I can say is that now the car is finished and the bonnet and wing tops are painted matt black, the fact that itís along this edge that the Sebring red meets the matt black means that itís not just as noticeable now.  Itís just something to be aware of if you are fitting a repro wing, it would probably look OK if you were fitting a pair.


In the next article in this series, I shall finish off the repairs to the front end and then continue on with some work on the underneath of the car.  Until then, all the best,

All the best.

Neil Fletcher.

XTW 377F - Twin Cam
FMX 800J - RS1600
JIJ 9975 Ė Mexico
FIA 6386 Ė Mexico
Membership No. 1472

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