A Series on Concours – Part IV

Are We That Crazy?

by Roger Moment

OK, so how do those “guys” do it – that is, come up with such accurate restorations. Well folks, it ain’t easy!! Think research, patience, and responding to opportunity when it comes along. But here are some tips I can offer to make the process a little easier.

Research Comes First

Before you start, you’ll need knowledge, or at least a plan for getting it. If you don’t know how the details were done, you won’t end up with an accurate restoration. Oh, you may have skilled craftsmen who can do excellent welding, perfect paint, or terrific seat upholstering, but unless they know how the little details were done, the car will only look great in Popularity or on the street. However, if you do your homework and have talented metal, trim, plating and paint folks who are willing to learn from you (while applying their expertise) you can obtain fantastic results, both in quality and accuracy, even if you aren’t able to do it all yourself.

Where does that knowledge come from? Well, if you have a very original car that has never been apart, though may have suffered the ravages of weather, time, and so forth, you have the basis for achieving a very accurate restoration. Just remember that you will be asking all sorts of “odd ball” questions when you come to reassembly, such as “Was this left in primer (and what color)?… How shiny was the black paint?… What finish was on this bolt or nut?… What kinds of washers were used?… What trim clips were used?… Is this the original trim fastener?” I could go on and on. And it is likely that your starting car (if truly original, even if abused, tired, or worn) had many if not all of the answers. You will need to save every little scrap of rubber, trim and metal to use as reference later on. And no matter how many photos you take of how the car looked before you took it apart, i.e. how things were put together, you will wish you took three times as many later on.

It’s like going to school and doing a graduate study project. And this means that not only should you pay attention to the most insignificant details, but you need to use many resources. And a good magnifying glass for studying photos! The Concours Committee Guidelines were created to fill in gaps of knowledge that aren’t shown in parts books, technical books, or vintage magazine articles. But they cannot cover every screw, nut and fastener on a car. Yes, we do update them each year, making corrections and adding new material. But still they should be considered a source for originality information only when your car can no longer provide it. Besides, it is well known that some cars were done differently from the majority of that model, so such variances may only be known from what is found and recorded when a specific car is first disassembled.

In the Guidelines, you will also find a listing of other important reference materials. And of course new books that come out each year won’t necessarily be covered, so you have to keep an eye out for these yourself.

Patience and Opportunity Come Next

Beyond the above-referenced sources for information that you might turn to, there are still a number of very original cars around the country which can be “tapped” for study, once you become acquainted with their owners. You learn about these cars from articles written about them in the club magazines, from other club members who live nearby, or from other enthusiasts elsewhere inside and outside of the country. There are Healey list discussion groups on the internet which also are great resources for finding people that can help you. You e-mail, make phone calls, and meet the car’s owners and eventually they will be willing to go out in the garage and look at an item to help you answer your question. That is, you “network” (gads, how I hate that word, but it is a good descriptor here) with others who share similar interests in accuracy of restoration and develop your own “resource” list.

I know of no single source that you could follow to the letter and end up with a perfect restoration. And if you pay a restoration shop to do all the legwork for you at their shop rates, you will have a $100,000 bill at the end and be a very disgruntled owner (over the cost).

But look at the bright side. Chasing down those elusive NOS parts, or finding that original car with gobs of untouched detail, is extremely satisfying. And in the process you’ll really learn Healeys (and your car in particular) very thoroughly, which will be invaluable to you later on should you have a problem and need to diagnose what to do.

Parts is Parts (or so they say)

Still, once you know what a part looks like that you’re trying to find, you may still discover that a) no one makes it or b) the available reproductions are not accurate or of poor durability and quality. One option then is to make reproduction bits yourself. Of course this requires an aptitude for doing such things, but maybe you can find someone else with the skills who would be willing to work on such projects with you.

Anyhow, applying the above suggestions, and being patient about getting finished, you will enter into an adventure that will be extremely rewarding at the end (well, there really never is an end, but you now what I mean).

Some Tips on Restoration

While preparing this series, and thinking over a number of recent phone calls I received asking for advice, it occurred to me that there are some approaches to restoration that I feel make the job easier to do and less of a headache when reassembly time comes months or years later.

I’ve listed a number of these here, but each person who has gone through the experience will develop his own, many of the “oh I wish I had done this, that, or it differently” variety.

  1. Keeping track of things. Ziploc bags are great, but don’t use the cheap sandwich ones. Get the freezer storage ones (quart and gallon sizes). They are less likely to tear.
  2. Keep good notes. Don’t just write something on the outside of the bag. Use an index card to write down what an item is (even if it is obvious, for when you take the part out of the bag to refurbish, leaving the fasteners behind, you’ll want to know what they go to), and put the card into the bag. Take the time to make small sketches showing direction of fastener insertion, use of flat and lock washers, orientation on the car, etc. I found making sketches of areas where I couldn’t get good photos (such as around the fuel pump on a BJ8 or firewall) made installing lines and wiring much easier. Keep this information and sketches in a notebook or on your computer along with digital pictures of the details. You might also want to put copies in the bags with the parts so all will be together when you’re ready to reassemble.
  3. When you clean up components, do the fasteners at the same time as well, and locate any missing bits (washers, nuts) then, not later. Otherwise, you’ll forget to do so and when its time to attach an item to the car you’ll discover not only that you have to round odd bits up, but you’ll want them plated to match the others which won’t necessarily be easy or cost effective to do. As a result you could a) become impatient and not get it right or b) end up with an unwelcome delay while you sort the problems out.
  4. When doing final assembly (whether of a component of putting one onto the car), always finish tightening fasteners and install cotter pins then. Don’t leave these detail jobs to come back to. You’ll forget! All too often cars get finished with loose bolts and something falls off during a test drive, sometimes with disastrous results.
  5. Do all chassis welding and metal work before painting. When fitting metal parts attach all adjoining ones as well, because the pieces are interrelated and you need to see how positioning will play out at final assembly. Drill all holes (such as for wing attachment) and fit the aluminum door opening trim pieces. Be sure to fit the edge piping before drilling the attachment screw holes in the shut face piece. Fit the windshield. Fit the door latches and strikers. Fit the bumper brackets, bumpers, and front gravel shield. Also, watch out for stress-riser points on the chassis. Jensen was not terribly careful in the way they finished their welds, and there are many sharp notches at the ends (where the weld bead stops), particularly where suspension brackets and engine mounts meet the frame. These notches often subsequently lead to cracks developing in the frame (not necessarily in the welds) later on as a result of cyclic stress loading. And you’d be surprised at how easily this can occur and how high the stresses become. The solution is to end welds with smooth, rounded fillets, free of sharp notches.
  6. Watch those chrome platers like a hawk!!!! They tend to polish away details and crisp edges and build up too-thick coatings, not to mention filling in screw threads. Talk with them carefully before hand to make sure they fully understand what you want. You may need to live with less-than-jewel-like results, but then these should not be “hot rod” restorations.
  7. Make a list of all parts you need to get. Keep an eye out for new original stock (NOS) parts. When a good original item or a correctly-made reproduction is available, buy it then. The source could well dry up later on when you actually get to the point of needing the part. Manufacturers drop product lines or change fabrication methods with sometimes very disappointing results.
  8. Think through the entire reassembly process before hand, and go over it in your mind at least 10 times. This way you will be sure to plan ahead as to what sequence of steps you want to follow in doing subassemblies as well as major assembly. In some instances the “build order” is very important.
  9. Many members of the concours committee are willing to offer advice. There are also others in your local club who are knowledgeable and can do the same. Take advantage of these resources. They represent one of the best benefits from club membership.
  10. Be patient. Yes, patience!! You’ll be thankful that you were later on. Remind yourself that even if the restoration takes two or three years, the finished product will likely last beyond your lifetime. Patience and care are the hardest parts of the process to learn, but pay significant dividends in the years to come. If you have that burning urge to get your car done quickly, because you want a car to drive at club events, or the restoration has dragged on for two or more years and still has a long ways to go, maybe you ought to consider buying a second “beater” so that you won’t feel rushed to finish. Or just live with your BJ9 and show off your car “in progress” in the meantime.