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A SPIDER REBORN

By
Ken Boss – Triumph Sports Car Club of South Africa

My previous article, “Along came a Spider” dealt with the differences between the Triumph TR7 Spider and the TR7 DHC. It also dealt with the processes I followed to establish what the differences were, and how I overcame the difficulties in obtaining the necessary items to restore our car to as original as possible. The purpose of this article is to explain the methods and products used during the Transformation of our TR7 Spider.

Over a period of 18 years I had rebuilt a Triumph Spitfire MkIII, a TR5, two TR7 DHC’s and a Chicane PI. Each of these projects had involved a complete rebuild covering all mechanical, electrical and body components. The rebuild of this car was to be quite different as it was in excellent mechanical condition, and the bodywork and interior were also of a high standard. I had not refitted the air-conditioning system when rebuilding this car some 7 or 8 years before (who needs an aircon in an open sports car?). In any case, it was not in a working condition. I now had the challenge of fitting all sorts of bits and pieces of airconditioning equipment (weighing 70 to 80 pounds!), and getting it all to work!

The project would be a Transformation rather than a rebuild, because I would be taking a good car back to as original as I could get it. Being a reasonably rare car, detailed information is not readily available, despite pursuing every opportunity that came my way. Here the Internet was most helpful, but very time consuming! Strangely enough, I did not get information from some people who had promised to assist me ……

Armed with a reasonable idea of what had to be done, I started stripping the car. Having just completed a year-long full rebuild of my daughter’s TR7 DHC after working on it every night and every weekend, I decided that this time I was not going to work according to a laid down time schedule. I expected the paint job to be the most challenging task for me. Although I am fairly comfortable with spraying ordinary cellulose paint, I decided to use BASF Glasurit twin pack acrylic on this car because it is more resistant to fading (the colour is guaranteed for 10 years) and scratching. Twin pack acrylic paint is also the correct type of paint for the Spider. This paint requires a different technique when spraying, and black paint is very unforgiving, so your preparation needs to be of a very high standard – and this boils down to a lot of hard work. I was particularly concerned about dust in my garage and resorted to using a staple gun and drawing paper to create a temporary ceiling. I also fitted a large fan to one of the windows so that I could blow in filtered air, thereby creating a small positive pressure to keep dust from coming in. Fresh air is also essential while spraying because the paint products contain rather nasty chemicals.

THE DOORS

I decided to take one door off at a time and to strip it completely. Each door was sanded with an orbital sander using 60 grit paper to remove most of the red paint. This sounds like rather drastic measures, but works very well and does not result in a very rough surface as would be expected. I resisted going right down to metal, and then used 600 grit water paper to achieve a smooth finish by hand. I was taught that you must not use your bare hands while doing this. Wrap the water paper around a rubber sanding block and then “block” the surface. If this is not done, you stand a good chance of making grooves with your fingers! Be very careful how you block so as to retain correct curvatures and not to create “flat” areas as a result of incorrect blocking. Use as long a stroke as possible to assist in adhering to the curvatures or shapes. By this time, any minor chips or scratches had disappeared. Both doors had seven holes where various mirrors had been fitted over the years. The RHS door did not have original factory-made holes for a mirror, but I decided to fit one because it is very useful when driving a LHD car on roads designed for RHD cars. All “extra” holes were filled in. Here I resisted welding or brazing, (I am not good at welding!) which would have burnt off the existing primers/undercoats, as well as the electro-galvanising. I would also have risked some deformation of the door skins. I rather bonded strips of electro-galvanised steel to the inside of the skins and filled the holes with a good body filler. This is not a stressed area, so in my opinion is quite adequate. The doors were then given a light coat of etch primer and water-papered with 600 grit, and put aside until the black paint became available. (I was still researching the black paint at this stage). Just before spraying the black paint, the doors were given a light rubbing down with 800 grit water paper. The insides of the doors showed no signs of rust. They had been well cleaned, primed and painted during the previous rebuild.

BOOTLID AND BONNET

Then followed the bootlid and bonnet, and both received the same treatment as the doors. As there was no damage to these panels, they were also just sanded, given a light coat of two-pack etch primer-filler and water-papered. The bonnet took ages to flat because of the louvers and all the internal strengthening.

THE BODY

I had hoped to finish the four loose panels completely before moving onto the body itself, but the black paint was not yet available. I therefore stripped the boot area, removed the seats and the soft top. When I had originally rebuilt the car, I had carpeted the whole boot area, including the rear light covers. I did not like the original boot lining kit, or rather what had remained of it. Not only does the carpeting look nicer and more luxurious, it helps with noise suppression and gives better protection to the metal panels should anything roll around in the boot. I decided to retain the carpets in my boot. I wanted our car to look exactly like a Spider should, and therefore felt the exterior bodywork, interior and engine compartment should be correct. Very few people are interested in looking inside boots, so I felt justified in bending the rules a little bit in this respect! When I had purchased the car, it had just been sprayed an orange colour, and had been reupholstered. The carpets were a charcoal colour and the seats were in brown cloth and black vinyl. Under the orange paint I found yellow paint, blue paint and the original black paint! During the first rebuild of this car it took me three months to flat the body down by hand to the black paint. I did not want to go further as it was not necessary, and the body appeared to have been electro-galvanised or zinc plated – there was no rust at all anywhere on the bodywork! I had even flatted the inside of the doors and under the floor pan, and spray-painted them with primer and red finishing colour. After I had used the orbital sander and 60 grit sanding paper, I blocked the whole body with 320 grit paper and then finished it off with 600 grit. I was unhappy with the shaping around the archways on the front fenders. Here some red body filler had been applied and then covered with pink primer. The primer had parted from the body filler and ripples and dimples had therefore appeared in the topcoats. The body filler had been thinly applied, probably the legacy of a “mishap” sometime in the past. I went down to metal in these areas and applied a small amount of modern light body filler. Many hours of sanding and shaping followed and when I was reasonably satisfied, I blew these areas over with a light primer. The imperfections could then be clearly seen. At this point I bumped into Randal, the spray-painting technician who had applied the final coats to my daughter’s TR7 DHC. This car had gone on to not only win its class at the South African Bi-Annual National Gathering in 2000, but won the overall trophy as well in the d’Elegance class. Randal wanted to know what I was up to, and I told him of my Spider project. He came to inspect my progress and the upshot was that he contracted to “finish” the paintwork with my help. Randal was very satisfied with the bootlid and bonnet, just giving them a blocking over with 800 grit water paper before taking them away to spray and then bake in a spray booth. Next, he tackled the doors and spent an hour or two on each, blocking away until he was satisfied. Then they were also taken away for final coats. Randal was quite happy with the boot and engine compartments, which I had stripped and sprayed with red-brown twin pack primer-filler produced by Spies Hecker. This product is an excellent rust inhibitor, and advisable to use in these areas. It dries very hard and will easily resist scratches down to metal. I then gave these compartments 2 coats of Marashino black. Spies Hecker also produce another red-brown single-pack primer – Priomat Haftgrund 3255 Rotbraun – and this is excellent to use on all other surfaces. Randal spent many hours blocking away at the front fenders until he was quite satisfied with the shaping – improving on my attempts. During the blocking process he would use a clean soft cloth to wipe the panel with silicon cleaner. Before drying, this cleaner gives a high gloss to the surface and any imperfections stand out like a sore thumb. This cleaner is another Spies Hecker product and is well worth the cost. Many hours were then spent blocking the rest of the body that was then given a coat of primer-filler. This was flatted down with 800 grit dry paper and a “scare-coat” applied. A “scare-coat” is a light coat of black paint. When dry, it is blocked with 1000 grit paper. This “scare-coat” would show up any imperfections that may still be present at this stage. I flatted the boot and engine compartments and then the body was taken to a spray booth for final coats and baking at 60 degrees centigrade for 30 minutes and cooling down for another 30 minutes. On return of the body to my garage at home, the paintwork was left for 3 weeks to cure properly. The car was then given a light polish, using a polishing machine fitted with a foam mop. Final polishing would be done after the car has been completely assembled. The polishing compound used was Farécla Extra Fine Grade G10 liquid compound, and although expensive, goes a long way and gives a superb result. I also found that cheaper products tend to leave “stain” marks on the paintwork if allowed to remain for more than 10 minutes or so. I suspect that they contain a certain amount of thinners. This compound was applied using a polishing machine fitted with a Farécla G-Mop advanced polishing foam head. The striping and badges kit was applied a few weeks after the car had been painted to ensure that the paint was well and truly dry and hard. The kit was supplied by the Roadster Factory and the enclosed instructions were very easy to follow.

THE SEATS

Removal of the seats was a pleasure due to the fact that I had cleaned and electroplated every single nut, bolt and washer on the car during the original rebuild. Also, I had applied “Copperslip” anti-seize grease to every thread as well. I now benefited because during this Transformation I did not have to battle with bits and pieces corroded together. The two seats and the six panels that had been screen-printed were taken to a reliable car upholsterer. I also took some photographs I had of original seats and explained that it was very important that the stitching be duplicated accurately. He selected the “best’ four panels from the six and presented me with a very professional job.

CARPETS

Fortunately I was able to remove the complete original carpet from the car. The centre section was a single moulded piece and separate pieces were used on the inside sills and up the sides of the car. I was able to use these as templates to cut out panels from my new carpeting. I am satisfied with my efforts, but had to resist the temptation of edging the various sections to give a “better” finish. I obtained a set of black footwell mats from Rimmer Bros. and painted the TR& logo red. I usually leave these in the car – they look very good and help keep the pewter-colour carpets clean.

DASHBOARD ASSEMBLY

Removal and refitting of the dashboard assembly is not a task for the faint-hearted! It is made up of many pieces and some of the fasteners are not easily visible. I was fortunate in that the plastic components were not damaged or broken. I scrubbed them with a brush and dishwashing liquid in hot water before wiping them down with lacquer thinners and silicon remover to remove all traces of dirt, grease and silicone. The parts were then sprayed using Pyrmo Kunststoff – Lackspray – grau, Art. Nr: 113316 available in aerosol cans. The colour was an exact match with the section containing the ventilation controls and switches, which I did not repaint. Fortunately this section was in good condition, and if I had painted it, all the legends would have disappeared. Once the dashboard has been removed from the vehicle, you have access to the fuse box, many electrical connectors and to the heater unit. Taking the bull by the horns, I loaded my paraffin gun with dishwashing liquid and boiling water and blasted as much dirt out as possible. Using an airgun, I blew everything dry and repeated the operation, but using lacquer thinners in the paraffin gun. I then cleaned every wire and connector, tested continuities, tested each relay and removed the Electronic Control Unit (Computer) for inspection and cleaning. I found that the multipin plug was badly corroded in a small area and that one of the electrical sockets had been completely corroded away. Reference to the wiring diagram showed that the computer was not receiving an input from one of the sensors because of this. Bosch were unable to supply me with a new plug – referring me to the car’s agents as it was considered to be part of the wiring harness. A visit to a few scrapyards resulted in me obtaining the correct plug from a 3 series BMW. This was cleaned and carefully incorporated into the wiring harness. I cleaned up the heater unit and checked all the adjustments. This unit differs from the other TR7’s because of the inclusion of the airconditioning components.

AIR CONDITIONING

As previously mentioned, I had removed all the airconditioning-related equipment from the car during a previous rebuild because it was faulty and I had no idea how it operated. Faced with the challenge of refitting everything 8 years later and getting it all to work – I had to come up with a plan of action. Firstly, although it is easy to have a car airconditioner re-gassed, it is not so easy to find a specialist who is able to test all the individual components before they are assembled as a complete system. I eventually found a specialist and he placed the various components under very high pressure testing spanning several days. The findings were that everything was in order with the exception of the compressor that had a cracked crankcase and a faulty clutch. Fortunately the specialist had an identical faulty compressor, but the crankcase was sound and the clutch in working order. He built me a compressor from the two units and I explained that I would be bringing the car to him in about a year’s time for the system to be gassed and brought into operation. The condenser is of similar dimensions as the radiator and is mounted immediately in front of the radiator. In front of the condenser is a metal fan housing containing two fans to force air through both the condenser and the radiator. My fan housing was in poor condition, and I was fortunate in being able to source a new one from Robsport, as well as two new sets of fan blades. Many hours were spent straightening the aluminium cooling fins on the condenser with a pair of tweezers. The condenser and new fan housing were then prepared for painting. I stripped and serviced the two motors and tested them before assembling the fans, fan housing and condenser unit. I drew out the electrical circuit for the airconditioning on a large piece of paper and analysed exactly how it worked. I then traced out the whole circuit and tested each component so that I could be sure that the system would be electrically correct when I took the car for gassing. Eventually when the car was taken for gassing, the whole system worked without a hitch, and I must say that it is very effective – even when driving with the top down in the South African sunshine! This concludes the extent of the transformation as far as “Spider-related” aspects are concerned. The remainder of the work followed normal practices applicable to rebuilds.

TR7 Spider - Photographs for article “A Spider Reborn” by Ken Boss of the TSCC of SA.

A       TR7 Spider      Seats, carpets and dash removed. The ECU can be seen under the fuse panel.

B      TR7 Spider      Stripping the red paint has commenced.

C      TR7 Spider       Signs of the factory-applied Marachino black paint on the back panel.

D      TR7 Spider       The original Pewter-colour carpet – Note lack of edge trimming.

E      TR7 Spider       Randal polishing the final coat with a polishing machine fitted with a foam mop.

F      TR7 Spider      Original carpet as fitted to the inside sills.

G      TR7 Spider       The two fans and condenser unit mounted onto the fan housing. This is a view as seen from the front of the car.