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Restoring A TR7 SPIDER
Five Easy Pieces By Joe Pawlak
 
Part 1 of the "Get a Wedgie" TR7 restoration series
 

The easiest part of any restoration is the dismantling of the car. The hardest can be remembering how everything goes back together. It is truly amazing how many parts go into making an automobile. In order to do a proper ground-up restoration it is important to get the project down to its most basic form. In the case of a unibody TR7, it is the tub itself.

Before undertaking a project of this magnitude, you must be committed to take it to completion. Try to adhere to a schedule and target a completion date. If you do not do this, I will guarantee that you will give up and you'll have a pile of parts and a dismantled car that you'd be lucky to get a nickel for. Even with a schedule, I guarantee you will get disgusted, demotivated and delusional several times during the project. This is normal since there are moments when many hours have been spent and you see no tangible change in the look of the car. Keep plugging away, be determined and you will be delighted with the results (given you own skill quotient and other tangibles I can't help you with).

It is important during the process to mark many of the wires, hoses and other oddities with a small note as to where they may have been hooked up or placed. No need to get fancy, I use some masking tape and a marker to write the notes on the required bits. If you need to mark the left side driver door as a reminder to where that goes, stop here. Use the marker to make a sign and the masking tape to attach the sign. Write in big letters, FOR SALE, too stupid to own. For those not needing to mark where the boot lid goes, read on. The dismantling process also produces many nuts and bolts. Some folks put them in baggies/zip lock bags and mark those. I usually put the nuts and bolts back onto the part and deal with them during the clean up/fix-repair-recondition/reassemble stage. Many times taping them to the parts works as well. This way they won't get lost. Do what you feel comfortable with.

Everything gets pulled, lights, doors, boot and bonnet, interior panels, seats and the list goes on. Did I mention how amazing it is on how many parts go into making an automobile? Don't throw anything out, unless it's a classic styrofoam McDonalds Bic Mac container from 1982. You may find that you may not be able to get that particular part and may need to fabricate or substitute something else. At least you'll have the part no matter how bad it is. Then you throw it out!

Unless you've done it a million times before, restrain yourself from dismantling the engine and drivetrain. Leave it alone! You'll have enough pieces of car all over the place without needing to complicate matters by having a piston here and a camshaft there. If you really want to see the inside of an engine at this point, take your lawnmower apart. You can't do anything with the mechanicals until you have the body of the car completed to put the motor back into.

As you can see from the photos, the TR7 engine and drivetrain are removed from the bottom of the car. Once mounts, suspension, driveshaft etc. have been disconnected, the front of the body can be easily lifted away from the engine and drivetrain. I already constructed a roll around cart to hold the engine and such. This is different than an engine stand. The cart allows you to keep the engine and transmission together. It serves two purposes. First, during your restoration of the body tub, it allows you to easily move the engine around and keep it out of the way. When the time comes to separate the two, you can move it to a convenient spot to unbolt the tranny and place the engine block into your truck or trunk, whichever you have to transport it to your favorite machine shop. The second time it's used is when you have everything rebuilt; the renewed engine and trans find themselves back on this cart to be able to move it around easily and reposition it for mating back to the body tub.

One more homemade cart is used to hold the body tub. This can be seen in one of the photos. This is invaluable! Go ahead and laugh but this particular cart is simply made of several 2x6 boards and 4x4 blocks along with four casters. This cart is currently on it's fourth restoration (a Spitfire, a Stag, a Mustang and now a TR7)! You can push the tub around wherever you want. Need to move it out to pressure wash some grime, sandblast or whatever, just push it wherever. Have the neighbor kids push you around in it if you feel compelled to go for a ride.

The goal was to get the TR7 down to the tub. This single component is the FIRST thing to be reconditioned. It is this component that is the basis of your entire restoration. This is the item you will spend the most time on restoring. Do it right, and everything will fall into place. Do it wrong and skip steps, no matter what else you do it'll look like crap. You can always pull a part off to fix or replace, but this is the only chance you got to fix the tub with the car dismantled to this point.

Project Totals
Current Phase
Hours: 19.5

Totals to Date
Hours: 19.5
Striptease
 
Part 2 of the "Get a Wedgie" TR7 restoration series

The mechanism for removing old paint depends on several factors. First and foremost is the overall condition of the body. The amount of rust or the lack thereof sets the stage in the direction you want to go. There are probably numerous ways people have removed paint, but I'm just going to talk about the different ways that I have had experience with and tricks associated with them.

Removal can be broken down to a couple of processes, chemical and mechanical (abrasives). Now each of these categories can be broken down even more. For example, the chemical process can include standard paint remover application that involves brushing/spraying remover on, up to and including "dipping" the entire body tub into a paint removal solution. Mechanical categories include sand/media blasting and sanders, particularly air powered DA's (that's dual action rotary sanders).

There are several different "dipping" services that you can use. The rust factor will determine which way you want to go. The basic "dipping" features a chemical process that removes paint and that's it, rust remains. The rust remains in the seams, remains in the rockers, it just looks at you - laughing. A more expensive service performs a similar paint removal process but has the added benefit of a second step. Once the paint is removed, the tub is neutralized of any paint remover. The second part is where the tub is placed into another tank in which "reverse electroplating" is applied. This process is set up to where the oxidized metal (rust) is pulled from the metal and deposited onto collection plates in the tank. This is pretty cool, think of it as a way to provide a rust surface to those collection plates but your tub is the source of the rust! Now the advantage here is two fold. Not only is all your paint removed but the rust as well. This includes rust in the seams, rust in the rockers and now you can be the one laughing. As mentioned this is more costly but depending on the extent of the rust, this maybe your only choice. In my humble opinion if you are going after a perfect ground up restore, this is the way to go.

Media blasting uses plastic or other similar materials to strip the paint. Under no circumstances should you use sand to blast any outside metal work of your car! Blasting in this way causes several problems. First it has a tendency to warp sheet metal during the stripping action. Second, when you strip in this manner, you tend to move in "waves" as you strip the paint. Guess what, those "waves" are translated into the same look and feel when you paint. So unless you are looking for that Lake Michigan effect, don't sandblast the outside of the car. Wheel arches, floor pans, trunks, whatever, knock yourself out. Sand works great for those extra rusty areas. Media blasting works fine, but if you have excessive rust in body seams, inside rockers and such, no matter how hard you try, it won't get the bad stuff out of those areas.

The other "mechanical" category involves sanding the paint off. Unless you have an excessive amount of time on your hands this process alone takes awhile. Now you can certainly cut that time by using lower grit sandpaper but you risk damaging the surface of the bodywork that even the best primer solids have a hard time overcoming. It just takes a long time to convert that paint into fine particles. I use a hybrid approach combining both paint remover (chemical) and sanding. First I use paint remover to strip the majority of paint and primer down to bare metal. It doesn't have to be perfectly clean, just so you get the majority off. I then follow up with a 6" DA using 120 grit Aluminum Oxide PSA sandpaper. Wow, what the heck is all that? Ok we already know that DA is a dual action sander, 6" means the diameter of the disk. Knowing about grit is a given (no it isn't that stupid newspaper you found advertised to sell in the back of comic books - they still have that?). You should look for aluminum oxide type paper to use. Another type is silica oxide, well this contains silicates, duh. Problem with that type is that silicates is one of the causes for a condition called "fish-eye" in paint finishes. You have to do some extra metal prep washdowns before applying paint. PSA is pressure sensitive adhesive, that means you peel and stick the sanding disks to the DA pad.

The decision point for this TR7 was easy since there was minimal rust as the only major problem was in the front arches. There was no need to go to the expense of a full body tub dip as I was able to use standard paint remover products and the DA to do what I needed. The arches were going to be cut out and new ones welded in, giving me easy access to fix any inner arch rust.... Hey wait that's Part 3: Body Heat!!!

Project Totals
Current Phase
Hours: 85

Totals to Date
Hours: 104.5
Body Heat
 
Part 3 of the "Get a Wedgie" TR7 restoration series

We continue Get a Wedgie with Part 3 covering the bodywork that has taken place on the TR7. As mentioned previously, the overall condition of this 1980 TR7 was excellent. It is by my own quest for doing things right that some of the ensuing repairs were made. Much if any of the body repairs took place in the bow section of the car as the aft was virtually rust free, dent free and free from any monetary investment.

Repairs to the front valance were required because of too many encounters by the previous owner with those nasty concrete stops that seem to grow out of the asphalt in many parking lots across the US. The valance was bent twisted and in such contortions that repair was futile. A new valance along with several other sheet metal components began what is now serious capital being put into the car. Removal of the old valance is straightforward in that the spot welds are drilled out or in my case were vaporized by the tool of mass destruction called a plasma cutter. Very effective and very quick. Although I found out that there is an attachment for these things specifically for spot welds. That will certainly get entered on my holiday tool list. Anyway, most of the support brackets while not twisted beyond recognition, did require reforming and placement. Tool Man and Hammer’s TR8 helped a lot by providing some measurements to get some proper datum points for these brackets. Once these brackets were positioned, it was a matter of clamping and welding the new valance in place. The previous and following photos show before and after.

Next on the agenda was the major sheet metal repair of the project. This involved the front wheel arches. Unlike many of the previous TRs, the 7, the 8 have inner and outer arches that are welded together at the wheel opening. This seam is a great spot for the rust worm to do its nasty work. Bulging seams (and not the ones caused by eating too much) are a telltale sign that serious problems will be forthcoming. Depending on the level of your restoration desire, I feel its false economy to not address this area properly. You may be able to hide it with filler but eventually it’s going to look like crap again. You spend a lot of time and money painting a car, why have it look nice for a few years only to see rust rearing its ugly head through your paint.

Arch repair takes a bit of work to get it right. Ahh, that’s where this experience thing comes into play. First sourcing repair panels and then fixing or repairing them is required before they even get put on the car. Now wait a second, they are new! Unless you buy complete quarters, most repair panels come with a fine print message of "some fitting required". Most of the work I needed to do was to match the inner sections to the outer arch. If you were to clamp them together "as-is" you would see that the seams won’t even closely match up. This required me to cut the inner arch at specific intervals to allow me to better match the outer arch. The arches are formed using presses and you can’t exactly bend a formed arch without causing some kinks. Leave the kinky stuff for the bedroom, not for wheel arches. Once cut, you are able to clamp the inner to the outer and have the seam match up perfectly. You ain’t done yet. With the two arches clamped, I carefully weld the inner in the places where I had cut it. Now you have a foundation that can be welded into the repair section that the outer will sit nicely on.

Now we are off to start slicing and dicing the old stuff off. In order to properly dismantle a inner and outer arch on a car you sort of have to take it apart the same way it went on, well at least the arch area. This means that all of those spot welds along the archway need to be drilled or plasma blasted out. But before you do any cutting or splitting, make measurements first! At strategic points along the arch, I measured and marked specific distances to various edges on the quarter panel and along the arch itself. This way when you position the repair pieces, you match those measurements. Too late if you chopped and lopped. Makes sense right? You can see some of the lines and notes I made on the following picture.

Next I used some "high-tech" to separate the old sheet metal. The good ol' plasma cutter makes short order of this and the thin dark line you see is not rom my marker but the cut I made with that tool. What you don’t see is the entire arch coming off in one piece. Can you use metal shears (scissors)? Yes, but it is a bit more difficult since they work on pushing one part of the metal in one direction and the other the opposite way. This is a problem with long formed cuts. Consider the purchase of an air powered metal shear. This is another cool toy since it essentially makes two slices and cuts a 1/4" swath through the metal. I have one of those as well, but when in Rome use more plasma. The inner arch section is removed in much the same way. Obviously you are not removing more of the old metal that the patches are intended to cover. Measure twice, cut once. If you do remove more than needed, consider a different hobby.

From there, final fitting of the repair sections can commence. I made a tool that will basically allow me to put a lap joint in along the entire cut. I don’t do the inner as it is not necessary to be that perfect. The outer yes, since that is the one that will receive the most attention as that’s the one everyone will see. The inner repair arch is attached and welded into place. The outer get a little prep done by drilling holes along the archway. These holes are used to weld the inner and outer together and simulate the work you would do with a spot welder. For those who attended a previous welding clinic, I showed you that trick. With the lap joint and all, I placed the outer in position, verified the measurements and welded it in. Just remember to be patient by only welding small sections at a time. If you try to do the whole thing at once you’ll have a warp-o-rama on your hands.

Grind off excess welding material and your ready for some filler and paint. Now any body guy that says he doesn’t use any filler is a friggin’ liar (this is a quote from a professional body repair guy). The trick is to prepare your sheet metal work to use it sparingly and only where it is needed. It should not be used to compensate for bad sheet metal or to compensate for 2-inch deep dents. We have great tools for that, but that is for our next installment of Get a Wedgie, Part 4 - Paint Your Wagon.

Project Totals
Current Phase
Hours: 32.5

Totals to Date
Hours: 137
Paint Your Wagon
 
Part 4 of the "Get a Wedgie" TR7 restoration series

Well we have now entered Part 4 of Get a Wedgie with the overview of the painting stage. The actual painting process becomes secondary to all of the preparation work. For this project, there wasn't a whole lot of "mud" work (also called filler or "Bondo" but I use much higher quality fillers than that). Other than the arch replacements, you saw about all there was for dents and such which left little else to document in this area. We may cover "mud" work in a later article or clinic.

There are numerous stages to painting a car, especially when it has received a bare metal strip like I did with this car. Several types of primers and paints are used, each requiring their own reducers, activators catalysts, etc. What? All that means is that you switch into being an amateur chemist for a while as you mix the various potions together to get your primer and paint correct. When painting a car, you almost have to work backwards in selecting the proper paints and primers. This is because they all need to be compatible with each other. If they are not, then nasty things occur such as peeling and lifting of the underlying surfaces. Not fun considering all the time you spent preparing the car. In the case of this TR7, I am using all PPG paint products and the names in this document refer to their product line. I've been very happy with the ease of use and the compatibility ranges the PPG product line has. The final top coat was going to be an Acrylic Enamel, so all of the previous primers will need to compatible with the enamel.

All primers and paint were applied using a special HVLP paint system, or High Volume Low Pressure. This is a very desirable way to paint since there is very little overspray, almost all of the material you spray hits the body work, no worries about oil or water in the air supply. You tend to use less paint since you are not suspending or "bouncing" the paint in the air like a conventional gun at 45 psi. A HVLP sits around 3-4 psi but at 60-80 cfm! If your going to HVLP, get a whole system. There are guns that are advertised to work with your standard compressor; well they don't work well and you still have to deal with water and oil traps.

Step One: Once all of the filler and sanding of the bare metal is complete, the first primer coat I shoot is an epoxy based primer called DP402. DP402 is mixed with its matching catalyst to activate it. I use this product since it has a double use. First it provides a bare metal base coat for your sandable primers. Second when reduced it can be used as a sealer coat, but more on this in a moment. This primer is not intended to be sanded as it is a relatively "hard" coat. Before you spray liberally wipe the surfaces with DX330 grease/wax remover. Grease? Yes, the oils from your hands are enough to cause problems. Generally you spray 1-2 coats as is it only intended to provide a base for the next primer. Unless you are painting metal that has never been sanded or painted before, there is no need for an etching primer (as told to me by a auto painting professional).

Step Two: The next type of primer can be called by several names. Sometimes it referred to as sandable primer, primer surfacer, and filler/builder primer. I use K36 and it come's in several colors depending on preferences and subsequent topcoats. I'm using a light gray for this project. K36 also comes with a catalyst/activator and can be reduced depending on the thickness of the coverage you want. Oh by the way, the reducer for K36 is the same for DP402 which helps reduce your materials cost. This type of paint is sprayed on with several coats as its intent is for you to start to fill in sanding scratches and is soft enough to start the first block sanding of the car. Again, before you spray, liberally wipe the surfaces with DX330. The reason you lay down the DP epoxy primer is that sandable primer, while it does adhere to metal, it does not really "dig" in. However it does "dig" in nicely to the epoxy. What you want these layers to do is to bond to each other and that's why its important to make sure they are compatible with each other. "Block" sanding is the process of sanding out ripples, "assholes" (these are the round areas around filler repairs) and other imperfections. You will be wet sanding with nothing coarser than 400 grit. How well you did with your filler repairs, reflects on how much sanding you will do here. Block out the entire car. Sounds strange to paint and then sand it off, but you will find yourself doing this several times. You may have additional minor filler repairs. If you find yourself mixing up batches of filler again, you may have been a little premature with the primer. Once you get the knack of this, repairs are handled using "spot putty". This is a soft very sandable "filler" that comes in a tube. Finding imperfections are equal in terms of seeing and feeling them. It's all experience here, you'll be going through several paint jobs before you are really good at it.

Step 3: Getting close, assuming you are reasonably assured that all of your imperfections are "blocked" out. You will once again mix up a batch of DP402 but this time adding about 1 part of reducer. This mixture acts as a sealer coat over your primer surfacer. This serves two purposes, first as a barrier from any "bleed through" of the primer surfacer into you topcoat. Second, remember that the primer surfacer is a bit "soft". We need a more solid surface for your topcoat to adhere to and the sealer coat provides that. Again, before you spray liberally wipe the surfaces with DX330. Once at this point, you should not be doing any additional sanding or repairs.

Step 4: Paint time! As mentioned earlier, I selected an Acrylic Enamel system called DAR. The cool thing about DAR is that PPG also has a clear coat for this surface of which will be applied. Why is this cool? Well as you know most of our Triumphs were painted using solid colors. The problem with many base coat/clear coats is that many base coats are metallics (that's the shiny stuff in the paint). Not desirable if you want originality. Anyway paint is mixed using the base color, a temperature based reducer and a activator. There are temperature ranges built into reducers that control the drying rate. Too fast, you get orange peel, too slow you drip. This is a big experience thing here and we will discuss details about this during an upcoming clinic or meeting presentation. Because this TR7 was being painted black (the hardest color in the world to paint!), figure doing at least 3 paint/sand cycles. Yes I painted the car, wet sanded it, painted another coat, wet sanded it, painted another coat, and wet sanded it with a final 1500 grit.

Step 5: The final material on the car is the Acrylic Urethane clear coat. I applied 2 coats of clear. This uses the same activator as DAR. The nice thing about clear coat is that the dull surface caused by sanding (or base coats for that matter) is nice and bright once the clear is applied. The other nice thing is that clear flows very nice over the paint.

Step 6: This is for next spring. As amateur painters, we don't have the luxury of 100% dust free environments. So the final step is to take 1500 or 2000 grit sandpaper and wet sand the dust and any bugs that landed in the clear coat. You then buff her out and hopefully the fruits of your labor will be worth it. A nicely painted Triumph that still leaks oil in your driveway.

Project Totals
Current Phase
Hours: 75.5

Totals to Date
Hours: 212.5
Shock Treatment
 
Part 5 of the "Get a Wedgie" TR7 restoration series

This stage of the restoration is the significant turning point of the entire project. Why? Well for starters, this is actually the time you start putting significant parts back on the car.

This is also the time when a portion of the garage is really committed to the project. I say this because the body tub up to this point was on a rolling cart that I have used for my previous restorations. Here the car was rolled about the Hampshire Triumph farm at will and could be moved out of the way easily. But now the tub is off the cart and placed on jack stands which aren't conducive to be pushing a bunch of black steel around on.

Prior to the transfer of the tub to the stands, I was busy doing mostly cleanup on all the metal suspension components. This involved a lot of sand blasting to remove 20 plus years of road grime and rust. The suspension was broken down to it's individual components, such as trailing arms, radius arms, strut mounts, tie rod levers, sway bars etc.

Once all of the components were sufficiently degreased and blasted clean, they received fresh coats of paint. Springs and all got proper "satin black" finishes that match the original tone of the black. Yes you can have different variations of black. You can have flat black or gloss black, but neither is proper for the suspension pieces. It's sort of in between and for the sake of a better word, I just call it a satin black.

All of the "consumable" suspension components were being replaced and were the major expense during this phase. All of the rubber bushings were being replaced with polyurethane. I went back and forth between putting new rubber ones in but settled on the uprated poly bushes. The car handled superbly with the rubber bushes so we'll see how it goes with these. New struts up front and shocks in the rear are new. New tie rod ends and lower ball joints were done as well. Finally all of the rubber spring pads were renewed.

I am including the rear end in this part of the project and it received a few new items. There were two oil leaks (of the 5 main oil leaks on the car) coming from the rear end. A new front pinion seal and a rear cover seal were installed. One thing to look for on drive flanges is wear along the surface that the seal touches. Over time a slight groove can develop in this area. You can usually get away with not seating the seal all the way down thereby having a non-grooved surface to mate with the new seal.

As with any restoration, it's always easier to take things apart than putting back together. You will need several specialized tools. The TR7 definitely needs to have the front springs compressed to assemble the strut to the top mount assembly. Don't bother to assemble the front struts without it, your wasting your time and the potential for serious head banging injuries is high. I do own a set of spring compressors and had to try to find the things at a neighbors house since he was the last one who borrowed them. Once found, a secondary tool is needed. This would be the left handed Elwood wrench. This tool was used for front suspension stabilizing as well as rear end hoisting and bolt insertion. Is it wrong? Photos of both these tools are shown. As is typical for these projects, you can spend hours trying to do something without the right tools or do it for a fraction of the time with the correct ones. When in need, that's what makes ISOA the best.

All in all the suspension sprang right in and went in without any shocking problems.
Project Totals
Current Phase
Hours: 28.25

Totals to Date
Hours: 240.75

Current Phase
Costs: $505.55

Total to Date: $1565.27