Neil Fletcher Racing

HAVOC Article No 12.

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Rebuilding my Mexico - JIJ9975

Part 2 - A Real Mess.

 

In the previous article I had just finished repairing the driverís side front wing of the Mexico, or should I say finished making an RS one from a standard one.  Next I offered up both the wing and the front panel to the shell and held them in place with both vice grips and lots of self tappers.  It was during this trial fit that I hit another snag.  When I tried to fit the wing where it looked like it should go in comparison with the inner wing, bonnet and scuttle panel etc, I ended up with no door gaps at all.  If I left reasonable door gaps then the wing was further forward than the bonnet would go, even using all the movement in the elongated bonnet hinge holes.  The front panel would then end up about 8 or 10 millimetres further forward than the slam panel and inner wings.  The basic problem was previous accident damage - the inner wings along with the chassis rails had been pushed back a little, the front end of them had been pushed up a little and the chassis legs were also bent a little towards the navigatorís side of the car.  Each of these may be only a few millimetres but it all adds up to a well out of shape front end.

 

The car has been on a car bench twice after previous accidents to get the front end pulled.  When I had got this done the first time, the operator of the bench told me about the problems he had.  He explained that when he first saw me coming with what was at that time a 22 year old car, he thought to himself, ďIf I put this car on the bench Iíll pull it to piecesĒ, but he discovered that because of all my seam welding and strengthening the car would only come so far back into shape, no matter how hard he tried.  At the time I was happy enough with that because all I wanted was a cheap job done to get the car back into some sort of useable shape.  This all meant that I was now having problems with panel fitment round the front end of the car and, in truth, even now there was no way that I was going to try to remove and repair or replace the inner wings, slam panel and front chassis rails etc, so I would just have to work round these problems.

 

 At the same time, and partly because of the above problems and the fact that it also needed some repairs, I removed the navigatorís side wing.  In one of my minor ďoffsĒ, or should that be many ďoffsĒ, this wing had got pushed back very slightly, damaging both the rear edge of the wing and to a lesser extent the leading edge of the door.  With the wing removed I was able to drill out the spot welds holding the filler piece to the rear edge of the wing; this allowed me to straighten out both the filler piece and the twisted metal down the rear edge of the wing.  The wing was also twisted at the lower front corner, this had happened in the same minor off, and this area was also pulled back into shape.

 

Once I had made these repairs I went back to trial fitting the whole lot back on the car, only this time I kept the wings and front panel that bit further forward.  I also elongated the mounting holes for the bonnet to allow it to come forward and line up with the wings etc.  This also meant that I had to add little filler pieces to the front edge of the slam panel to allow the grille to mount the same amount further forward.  The front end of the car ended up being moved forward about 8 mm.  Before finally refitting the navigatorís wing, I blasted the whole area underneath this inner wing and one or two other areas round the front of the car to see if any more repairs were needed.

 

Meanwhile I started to do some repairs to the various fittings of the car, the first thing I tackled was the driverís seat.  The driverís seat, or should I say ďmy seatĒ, is a Sparco Monte Carlo from the mid 1980ís, it is a rather tight fitting seat with bits that extend forward in the chest and shoulder area.  The fibreglass of one of these lugs was badly cracked, the covering was also worn, both were caused by other people trying to squeeze in between the seat and the steering wheel.  Since it is firmly bolted to the floor in the position that suits me and because there are no sliding runners most other people find it very hard to get into.  I pulled the covering back from the damaged area of the seat and started in with the fibreglass.  While I was fixing it I also put a few strengthening ribs in this area which should hold it together better in future.  Once I had this done, the seamstress of the family promised to fix up the covering of the seat for me.

 

After some more blasting I continued on with fitting the rest of the front end.  The driverís door gaps were fairly reasonable but those on the navigatorís side were really bad.  No amount of work could get the gaps to be anywhere near equal down the length of the door - wide at the top, narrow at the bottom, or was it vice versa?  The door aperture was no longer the same shape as the door.  I just had to accept that it was never going to be a good fit but at least it all fitted together and the doors would open and close without catching on the wings.  Once I was happy that it all looked OK, I went ahead and welded all the panels in place.  I put a few small filler pieces along the leading edge of the inner wings where they met the front panel, partly because the leading edges of the inner wings had got slightly crumpled in various accidents and also because the front panel was now slightly further forward.  There were also a few minor patches required round the engine bay.  The area below the heater bulge and the hole where the fuse box originally sat both needed beefed up.  I know all this work around the front end of the car sounds a real cobbled-together job but with these panels all repaired or replaced it was starting to look like a proper car again.

 

Next I checked out the sills, both the inner and outer sills had been replaced when I first rebuilt the car in 1987;  the driverís sill had even been repaired more recently after catching a tree stump in undergrowth.  Yes, you might well ask what I was doing in the undergrowth.  Unfortunately both outer sills had a few minor holes, I thought of patching them but on further investigation I decided they would now need to be replaced, luckily the inner sills just needed one localised patch each.  Around about the time that I was doing the sills I bought myself a new toy in the form of an air joddler, it has a double sided head, one side forms a lip on the panel etc, and the other side has a punch which makes a hole suitable for spot welding.  I had already fitted the driverís sill when I got this tool, but I spent quite a bit of time messing about joddling and punching the other sill to see how it all worked.  I keep telling myself that the work on the rally car is really only practising my techniques for restoring my road-going Daytona Yellow Mexico, FIA 6386, but that story will keep for another time.  At the same time as I was working on the navigatorís sill I also replaced the navigatorís front floor pan, this had been patched with 2 or 3 small patches during the last rebuild in 1987.   Unfortunately in those days I didnít realize that one should remove all the rusty metal and the areas around the patches were almost rusted away.  This time I cut away the whole front floor pan right back to good metal, and put in a replacement floor pan.  One problem I find with these repro floor pans is that they are never quite big enough.  You usually end up having to put in the odd small patch especially around the front edge where they meet the bulkhead.

 

I knew the centre chassis leg under this floor pan needed some repairs, in fact I decided to replace the complete ďSĒ shaped section entirely.  I had one of those really old repair panels for this area which just sits over the old panel!  Rather than leave the old rusty bits there, I removed the S section completely and then put this panel in place at the same time as the floor pan.  As Iíve mentioned above I had to put two small filler pieces in at the two front corners of this floor pan as well as beefing up the seat crossmember.  I donít actually use the seat crossmember as both my seats are bolted directly to the floor immediately behind it but I thought it would be as well to strengthen it anyway.

 

There was also an area of this chassis rail just in front of the leaf spring hanger, about 6 inches long which had got flattened in a big off that I had into a field, the level of which was about 5 feet below the road.  I crashed through a very low hedge and dropped into the field, clipping one of the posts of a five strand barbed wire fence as we flew over it, the top of the fence post flattening a little bit of chassis rail and pushing the floor up slightly.  Other than that the car was undamaged and was still driving, but on the way out of the field we got bogged down and had to get a farmer with a tractor to tow us out onto the road before we could continue with the rally.  To this day, if you look behind the navigatorís seat you can see where the floor got pushed up very slightly.  I decided to tackle this next but in so doing I discovered a real disaster area.

 

When I first rebuilt this car I had converted the rear suspension to a 5-link set-up, making all my own body boxes etc from 16 gauge sheet steel and some skid plates to go from the bottom end of the body boxes over to the chassis rail around the front part of the spring hanger. Well all this was OK but the original part of the spring hanger where there are about 4 different small panels overlapping was a real rusty mess.  To ascertain how bad the rot was I started to tap with a small hammer, none too lightly I must add, further along the chassis rail.  From the spring hanger area right up over the axle and back down to where I had welded on the panhard rod tower was all a mess of rusty and weakened metal, I knew the only solution would be to replace this whole area.  On discovering this in the navigatorís rear chassis rail, I had a look at the driverís side.  It wasnít just as bad, the spring hanger was OK but the section from there up over the back axle to the turret tower would need to be replaced.  Other sections that needed replacing or repairing were where the driverís front chassis leg met and overlapped the centre section and also the very back piece of both rear chassis legs from the rear spring mount back to the rear panel.

 

These discoveries were a real bummer and I lost heart in the project for a while.  For the next few weeks  all sorts of thoughts went through my head.  Was the shell really fixable?  Was now the time to consider a re-shell into one of the spare shells I had.  How much time and money had I wasted on this one.  Up until this point I had spent the best part of two years working at the car.  There were long periods of time when I hadnít been able to get near the garage because of other family commitments and there were other times when I had spent a few hours every day working at the car.

 

There had been all sorts of ups and downs but this was without doubt the moment when I reached the real all time low point of the rebuild, I was asking myself the question that Iím sure many people doing a major rebuild have asked themselves, ďIs this car really worth the effort?Ē.  Check out next issue for the answer to that one.

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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