Neil Fletcher Racing
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my Mexico - JIJ9975.
3 - A Bare Shell.
At the end of the last article, after discovering how bad the chassis rails were I was asking myself the question ďIs this car really worth all the effort and money that Iím pouring into itĒ? When I thought about it, the answer was quite simple, it was the sentimental value of the car as much as anything else which made me continue, after all it was quite special to me. I had won three Northern Ireland championships with this car, it had been my most successful rally car ever, also my cars are almost like family to me, I tend to get very attached to them and canít bear to part with any of them. Nevertheless I did realize that to do the job properly I would need to strip the car back to a bare shell, most of the running gear was still in the car. I also needed a better way of working at the car other than just lying under it. The answer came to me just by chance, a friend of mine who owns an Olympic Blue Mexico asked if I could replace the heater bubble in his car. Unfortunately I had to tell him that with my own long term project, I didnít really have the time but he did find another member of our local ownersí club who was willing to help. The drawback was he lived 25 miles away and my friendís Mexico was off the road so I offered to use my car transporter to deliver the Mexico. When we arrived at our destination I discovered that this guy who was going to do the work had a home made body roller, or as I call it ďa spitĒ. Back home I decided that this was what I really needed to help me with the work on the car, so a few days later I went back down for another look and to take a few measurements. After a few days of head scratching I decided that I could make an even better one. About £50 worth of steel and 10 days cutting and welding later I had my spit made, painted and ready to accept a bare shell. The spit ended up being so cheap, easy to make and useful that six months later I made another one with more improvements, now I have one at my motherís farm for use when I am blasting shells, and the second one at my own house for general body work etc.
I now started with renewed enthusiasm; once the shell was stripped I cut out the rusty bits of chassis rail and used the blaster on most of the underneath of the shell. A sheet of 16 gauge steel was purchased, this is a bit thicker than the actual metal of the chassis rails but I wanted to make sure I had enough strength in my repairs. The most time consuming pieces to make were the spring hanger and the bits up and over the rear axle. There was a great deal of fiddling about with pieces of cardboard as templates and lots of cutting, grinding, trial fitting, more grinding etc. Each length of chassis rail was made from three separate pieces of steel, one for each side and then a third piece for the bottom of the rail, then all three pieces were tacked to the shell before final welding. The floor above some of these areas of the chassis rails also needed repairing but I was really on a roll now. I knew all the work I was doing was going to make a really strong shell - at this stage all the rot had been cut out and with all of the underneath of the car being blasted, I knew there would be no more nasty surprises. I think the repairs to the chassis rail should help restore the handling of the rear of the car, on one of my last events with the car I had noticed a slight waywardness in the rear end which I couldnít really pin down, I now realise that this was probably due to the panhard rod tower flexing because the chassis was weakened in this area and that was allowing the axle to move ever so slightly sideways, or should I say ďallowing the body to move about when the axle wasnít!Ē.
It was around this time that my mate with the Olympic Blue Mexico told me he was going to get some of the bits of his car re-plated. This was something which I had never really thought about getting done, but I gave him a few bits off my car as well. I was so impressed with the results that I then went and got a whole batch of my own stuff done. The finished car certainly looks a lot brighter with these re-plated bits fitted, they just lift the car that extra little bit, so to speak. The decision was now made that any bit of the car that wasnít in tip top condition would be blasted and then painted or plated as required. Every time I went round to my motherís house I would take a few more small bits of the car with me and everything from suspension components, brackets to the smallest bolt, even the roll cage were all blasted, sanded down if need be and then plated or repainted.
One final area of the shell that needed quite a bit of repair was underneath the petrol tank. At the time I didnít know of anyone who made a repair section for this area so I had to make my own. This section underneath the tank, from the chassis rail right down to where it met the rear quarter and from the wheel well back to the rear panel all needed replaced. I made the repair section in two separate halves and spent a lot of time getting them to match the shape of the original panel as closely as possible, before welding them together and putting them in place. After much cutting, bending and welding etc I finally had a whole new section which, even if I do say so myself was a very good job indeed. Once this area was repaired and a few other minor bits fixed up the shell was now really starting to look the part and at long last I could now see that the end of the struggle was in sight.
The shell was now taken round to my motherís house for one final time to blast any remaining areas that hadnít been done before. In the last few months I had made myself a little towing frame for moving the shell about. Basically it is an A-frame type arrangement which bolts onto the front chassis legs using the holes for the anti-roll bar brackets, the other end of the A-frame has a towing hitch. Then all thatís needed is to have the rear axle fitted to the car and it can be towed behind a car just like a trailer. I just bolt the axle in place with the two bolts through the front eyes of the leaf springs, then just remove these two bolts and the four holding on the A-frame at the front and the whole thing is removed.
After this final session with the blaster, it was back to my own garage to start and put some paint other than just primer on the car. I am a great believer in Etch Primer, any time I did any blasting to the shell I would try to sand down the rough areas and get a coat of primer on that same day, after all you donít want the bare metal to start rusting all over again. With the shell back on the spit I gave the underneath of the car, the engine bay, the boot and the interior a few coats of high build primer. It really is a great feeling when you have the entire welding etc finished and you start to spray on some paint - the car starts to look like something again, even if it is only grey primer. Next up was to spray on some colour coat, in my case Sebring Red, the original colour. The last time I had done any spraying I had used Cellulose but that is now almost impossible for the non-professional to obtain so I had to use Two Pack instead. I soon discovered that painting with Two Pack is a completely different ball game from using old faithful cellulose, cellulose would have been touch dry within a few seconds but the Two Pack stayed wet for nearly 45 minutes, this meant that there was a much greater chance of any dust in the air sticking to the paint. Runs also seem to be a greater problem, especially in corners etc where you get a bit of an overlap. Itís a good job this is only a rally car as my first efforts at painting with the Two Pack were not all that fantastic, probably not helped by the fact that I was using relatively cheap truck paint, at around £50 per litre rather than the top quality car paint at nearer £75. On my next restoration job (my 72 Daytona Yellow Mexico) I shall try out the more expensive paint to see if itís the paint or just my poor technique. I was talking to a friend about the problems that showed up while I was painting the boot and engine bay etc. During our conversation he referred to two pack as a ďDust MagnetĒ, and suggested that I should try and make a polythene tent inside the garage and paint the car in this, he said it would help keep a lot of the dust out, which I duly did. When I had got my garage built I got the builder, my brother-in-law, to put in two big H-irons across the ceiling to use as engine hoists etc. I was now able to bolt a few pieces of light box iron to these to make a rectangular frame over the car. I then got a roll of polythene from my local buildersí suppliers for about £11, I draped this over the box iron frame and had myself a simple and cheap spray booth, I needed only about half of the roll of polythene so the rest is still there for the next time I spray a car.
It was at this stage of proceedings, late summer 2002, that some of my mates suggested taking the finished car to AVO Day in 2003. I didnít think I would have the car finished by then, but they reckoned that if I didnít make the effort and take it then, I never would, as by the time 2004 would come round I would have been out doing a few events and the car would be half wrecked again. I didnít think that anyone would be that interested in my car, but eventually they persuaded me that it would be something a little different from the usual type of car seen at shows. So an action plan was laid down to have the car ready in the spring of 03 and then spend a little time sorting out the trailer etc. At this stage I knew that it would require a few months steady work but it should be feasible as AVO Day was still 9 months away, plenty of time to get the car sorted. Oh how wrong I was!
While painting the boot, engine bay and underneath the shell, I must admit that I did get a few runs and other minor imperfections but it didnít really matter all that much in these areas. Once the underneath of the shell was painted I took it off the spit and put it on what I call my ďBuilderís TrestlesĒ, so called because that is what they look like - they are taller and sturdier than axle stands. Next up was the interior, the inside of the roof, the firewall and inner quarters etc, once again these were done in Sebring Red two pack. Meanwhile the floor and back seat area got some Matt Black (the last of an old tin of cellulose) and the dash etc was freshened up with a coat of Satin Black cellulose which I had managed to obtain. By the time I got round to painting the main exterior panels I was starting to get the hang of the technique needed for this two pack paint. There is no way my spraying will ever compare with even a poor semi-professional job but Iím quite happy with my own efforts, they can only improve with practice, after all it is a rally car and its going to get bashed and scraped again, sooner rather than later knowing my driving style. You will notice that at this stage I have made no mention of the boot lid, bonnet and doors, well thatís because I hadnít really done much about repairing them yet, details of the repairs to these items will keep until the next article in the series.
All the best.
377F - Twin Cam
FMX 800J - RS1600
JIJ 9975 Ė Mexico
FIA 6386 Ė Mexico
Membership No. 1472
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