Body Work

This section encompasses way more than just the installation of the fiberglass ‘wings’, ‘boot’ and ‘bonnet’ (those crazy English). While all that stuff is definitely in the gallery, I also included the fabrication of the splitter, new door jambs, and a few other bits of interest. For now, I’m just going to briefly chronicle what went on and, later, I’ll grab all of the material I have on BritishV8 and transfer it over so there’s a time record of the work.

Beginning—To start with, the ‘B’ had to be stripped down to the tub. That meant no doors, no hood, no deck lid, no dash, no wiring…no nothing. This part went relatively quick although finding places to stash all of the take-offs became quite challenging. Stripping everything down gave me a chance to see how bad the rust was (not terrible) as well as give some thought to what I wanted everything to look like when it was all said and done.

Sheet metal repairs were fairly limited—front floor boards and both rocker panels were the only bad places. Almost a miracle for a 40-year old British car not to mention one that has lived most of its life in the northeast. Removing the front fenders is a bit more involved than just unbolting them (although that had to be done) as the seams between the fender and the cowl are filled. Rear fenders came off courtesy of my trust Sawz-all and a cut off wheel (and more than a small amount of courage). You can check out the photo gallery for the details on reconstructing the rear wheel wells as well as the installation of the body kit. Suffice to say, that the first kit I bought was simply not very good quality. Eventually I found my way to Dave Craddock at Preform Resources, an MGB race parts supplier, and his really nice fiberglass parts.

The fenders fit perfectly. The only real work was blending in the Sebring rear valance and reconstructing the rocker panels. The front fenders fit pretty much right out of the box.

Sebring Valance and Splitter—This part took some creativity as the Preform fenders added 10″ to the width of the car and the Sebring front valance was intended for a stock width MGB. That actually worked out for me as the openings in the valance weren’t really even close to what the originals looked like. To create the part I wanted, I cut the valance in half, spliced in a 10″ section then filled all of the stock openings with fiberglass, Once I had the basic shape, I cut the new openings for the oil cooler and the driving lamps, then glassed the whole thing in and finished it with plastic filler.

Now that the shape and openings were correct, I added the ‘lips’ to the brake duct openings and created the correct style screen for the oil cooler opening. The real work was the development of the front splitter and the associated tin work to blend the valance and the splitter together. Suffice to say, that patience is indeed a virtue.

Details on “How It Was Done” are over on the Sebring Valance page in this section of the site.

Hood and Deck Lid—The ‘bonnet’ (hood) installed as if it were the original part. The ‘boot’ (deck lid) was another matter. Dave Craddock supplied the deck lid—a race only part that doesn’t have any provision for hinges or reinforcement. It took a bit to get it to fit but man, is it ever light. I don’t think it weighs 5 pounds. The most challenging part was fabricating the fuel filler and cutting the deck lid opening for the gas cap. Nerve racking.

The MGC hood required its own special treatment in order to 1) clear the intake and air cleaner and 2) to remove the hood bulge originally intended to clear the straight six motor that cam in the “C” model. Again, you can read the details over on the “Hood” page in this section of the Garage.

Getting Ready for Paint – As my friend Rick Neville (aka “Healey Rick”) has counseled me, there’s a reason why they don’t call it “body fun”. Sand, prime, fill, sand prime, fill…and repeat. I have new found respect for people who do bodywork professionally. Not just for their considerable skills but for their endurance and willingness for hard work. Anyone who thinks this is easy has, obviously, never done it. Body work is hard and not especially all that captivating. But it needs to be done.

The first step was to to block sand the entire car with 240 grit paper using both a long board and a couple of hand blocks when the board wouldn’t work. Goal is/was to find any low spots, voids, etc. and to take care of them. All I can say is, “Wow!” What a process. Here are a couple of shots of the ‘B’east after the first round of blocking. For the most part, it was pretty straight. There were a few voids and pinholes where I burned through the gel coat on the fiberglass and some small waves (from previous bodywork) at the bottoms of the doors but, other than that, it wasn’t bad, except for the deck lid.

The race deck lid is 1) very light and 2) more or less an accurate rendition of the original. Emphasis on “less”. Accurate if you discount the huge dip dead center in the lid. And therein lies the challenge. Race “glass” is very thin (on purpose) to save weight. That makes it very flexible..not exactly an asset when you’re trying to spread and sand body filler.

Once I took care of all of the faults I could find, I gave the body a wipe down with wax and grease remover, a dust with a tack rag and then re-shot primer and guide coat prior to a second block sand with 240 grit. This allowed me to spot additional imperfections and fill them before moving on to a final coat with a high solids primer then a coat of sealer before the color goes on. These primer coats are very thin and their only real purpose is to provide a consistent surface to help find irregularities.

The Big Day – Well, Friday came and I was actually ready to go, although I did take it down to the last hour. Getting the car on the hauler was a bit of chore as the steering gear is still not fitted. In the end, the two guys from the garage and I pushed the ‘B’east into the driveway and used the tow hook to drag the front end around so they could winch it up on the flat bed. Not pretty, but it worked. Once to the paint shop, we off-loaded and I went at re-taping all of the openings and waiting for Rex to show up and start the priming operation.

After  A quick wipe down with wax and grease remover and a once over with the tack cloth, Rex shot a coat of high-solids primer. By the time we wrapped up it was nearly 6:30 in the evening so we packed it in, grabbed some dinner, and headed off to a good night’s sleep before taking off for the Lime Rock historic races on Saturday. Hey, it can’t be all work and no play.

Sunday – Enough fun (and it was really fun), time to get back to work! After sanding the primer coat, we discovered some additional areas that had escaped my previous efforts and needed to be addressed. Most were just little things but we had a major issue on the driver’s headlight nacelle where the primer had compatibility issues with previous materials resulting in some serious lifting. Rex tried some adhesion promoter to see if we could salvage things but, sadly, no success. The only thing left to do was to take it down to the gel coat layer and re=prime the area. None of this stuff was a deal killer but it all took time, continuing to push the paint schedule back with each new thing that needed to be fixed. It was well into the early afternoon before the sealer could go down.

The sealer coat went down without incident and by about 3PM Rex was getting ready to shoot the first coat of color. The DuPont material has a fairy fast working time—less than 10 minutes of flash time between coats—which meant, once Rex started shooting, it was a more or less constant activity of mixing, filling the paint gun, and shooting the paint. After three coats of ’67 Ford Brittany Blue, we stepped back to see how it looked. Wow! Both of us had the same thought—sure looked incredible as a matte finish. That said, I think I would have tired of the matter after a while sp on to the clear coat we went. Other than a few small pieces of lint that escaped the ventilation system found their way into a few conspicuous laces on the hood and deck lid, the rest of the paint went on flawlessly.

We waited to shoot the clear per the manufacturer’s directions and busied ourselves with cleaning the gun and pre-mixing the clear materials. Once ready to shoot, the clear went down very quickly…not that anyone could actually see anything inside the booth. It was like a fog in there. Once them mist lifted…wow! The color was fantastic and looked like a deep pool of water. Certainly not a traditional MG color but more a spin on the color used on the early factory “lightweight” cars.

By 6:30PM the deed was done and we were both totally spent. Because of the Labor Day holiday, the newly painted ‘B’east sat in the booth until Wednesday when I was able to align a hole in the weather (it rained for two days following the shoot) and the tow drivers’ availability to help return the MG to my garage. I have to say, I did sneak over to the shop on Monday just to gaze. Made me warm all over. While there, I took the opportunity to strip all of the paper and tape off and lower it back down from the jack stands.  The drivers met me at around noon and it was a few minutes to load it up and haul the MGB the scant 2 miles back to my house. Have to say, one of the more satisfying moments in all of this was seeing the “B’east back in its garage bay, albeit in new livery.

Finishing the Finish – Before anything could go back on the car, the entire vehicle needed to be “color” sanded with progressively finer sand papers, then ‘cut’ with rubbing compound and polished with swirl remover. After spending the best part of the previous week at the business end of a sanding block, it seemed almost cruel to be in the position of having to do it all over again. Sisyphus came to mind. But the work needed to be done so I gave myself a few days rest (to gain strength) and started in earnest on Friday—first with #800 grit to knock down any of the orange peel and to remove any flaws, then with #1200, and finally, #1500 grit papers to provide as smooth as surface possible for the compound step. Many painters also recommend sanding with #3000 as a final step, but this isn’t a show car and I didn’t think much would be gained by the additional step. I finished the final wet sand about mid-day on Saturday.

I used 3M materials and my machine buffer for the ‘cut and buff’ stage—3M #1 rubbing compound with a wool pad first and then #3 swirl remover with a foam pad to finish— and would highly recommend both of these finishing compounds for anyone who wants to try this for themselves. Compared to the sanding, this stage of finish went comparatively quickly…although the 10 pound buffer started feeling like a hundred pounds after a few hours. The time was well spent as the result was near glass smooth finish largely free of imperfections and ready for reassembly.

Reassembly – One of the first things to be done was to lay down the red and white stripes, similar to many of the original factory race cars. Back in the day, these were typically painted on after the base color was on, leaving a small ridge where the two finishes met. Rather than risking painting the stripes on to my meager skills, I elected to go with vinyl. I’ve applied vinyl graphics before and have much greater confidence in my ability to put them down correctly than I have in my painting talent. After the stripes came the number roundels. On this point, there was a fair amount of discontent in my household, fashioned something along the lines of, “I’m not going to ride around in a race car!”. Who knew?

Even though the entire car had been assembled prior to paint, putting things back together involved far more than merely returning all of the bits and pieces to their correct locations. In most instances, none of the needed gaskets had been installed, most of which are unavailable, necessitating taking time to cut my own from bulk material. Not difficult, but one more thing in an already long list of things to do. Both door handles needed to have the original mounting studs replaced, all of the holes for the emblems needed to be re-drilled where they had been covered with body filler, lamps need to be pre-wired, bulbs sourced. and the like. Probably the most aggravating part of what was an otherwise joyous occasion was just trying to find things that had been off the car for so long…even though I had carefully put them in places that must have made perfect sense at the time but made absolutely no sense in the moment. Sigh…

As of 9/12/2012 I’m about 80% there on the reassembly with a few smallish projects like the tag plate standoffs and lamp mountings, front park lamps, tonneau hardware (yes, I’m going to run a tonneau for around town motoring) to go. The new front tires also came in and I’m going to get them mounted up so I can do a final check on the front suspension height as well as clearance the front wheel wells. Having the fronts done also means I can set the height of the rear suspension. The rear steer rack is also due in later in the week, meaning i can start the development of the steering gear. There’s still quite a laundry list of things that need to be done but, with the ‘B’east in paint and the shiny bits back on, it’s looking like a car again and makes finishing it seem less a world away and more near term than ever before. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step.” I think at about the 40,000th step.