6 Appeal—Chapter 2

When digging into a restoration project, many home mechanics are full of enthusiasm but a little light on plans. As a result, they quickly disassemble their cars into a million little pieces and scatter them around the garage. We have all seen what follows: a project light on progress but full of broken dreams. This route usually ends in a classified ad.

Before we could restore our 1969 Triumph GT6+, a former SCCA national champion campaigned by the factory-backed Group 44 Inc. team, we had to disassemble the car and catalog our parts. The goal was to get everything into its correct pile: either original parts that needed to be saved or old junk that could be discarded. This step would demand a lot of patience and detective work, but it would keep us on the path to success.

Lesson One: Dispose of Nothing

Before we began the restoration process, we first like to get the car running. Staffer Gary Hunter and Triumph expert J.K. Jackson rebuilt our SU carbs.

We nearly learned a valuable lesson the hard way: Don’t throw away anything. While we were disassembling the GT6+, some “experts” labeled certain parts on our car as non-original. The pile of questionable items included the oil catch tank, ignition module and even the weird aluminum hubs that came with that car.

Pretty late in the restoration process, Group 44 Inc. team driver Mike Downs came through with some very good detail pictures from the car’s initial construction back in 1969. The oil catch tank and hubs—parts we were told weren’t original—had, in fact, been installed by Group 44 Inc. (We also found out that the radiator we spent $600 restoring wasn’t the original piece.)

Fortunately, we didn’t throw out those pieces. Through the years, we’ve learned to keep everything when restoring a car. We never know when we’ll need to look at something again or make a pattern using an old part.

Start With a Good Scrubbing

Like most old race cars, ours had collected a lot of dust and dirt. So, we first got the car up on four jack stands and cleaned away years of neglect and filth.

While you need to give any new project a good scrubbing, it’s important to be gentle. The last thing you want to do is blast away an old decal with a pressure washer or further damage long-neglected trim or upholstery. Be careful with that pressure washer; if used correctly, it’s great for cleaning the underside of a car. A steam cleaner is even more effective, though. After all, warm water cleans better than cold water.

Our Triumph had also become a depository for extra parts, some of which had nothing to do with the car—or so we thought. We removed all of these loose articles and stored them in boxes. We then vacuumed the entire interior and wiped down everything with a gentle household cleaner.

We also needed to sort through those loose parts. While we weren’t in a rush to toss anything, we were eager to know which parts would be going back on the car.

The wheels proved to be a tough case to crack. The car came with some scurvy, yet period-appropriate, Minilites that team crew chief Lanky Foushee insisted were correct. However, all of the photos we’d collected showed the car on American Racing Libre wheels.

We nearly ditched those Minilites since we couldn’t find a photo of the car wearing them. Finally, Bob Boig, a previous owner of our GT6+, sent us a photo of the car parked in front of the Group 44 trailer. It was sporting those same Minilites.

Only after thoroughly cleaning a car and sorting through the parts can you really see what you have. Along the way, always take notes and shoot lots of photos. Start your notes the moment the car lands at your shop.

Get the Car Running

Whenever we can, we first get an unrestored car running and driving. This car was seemingly all together when it came into our lives, so firing it up would theoretically be a matter of getting fresh fuel to the carbs, delivering spark to the cylinders, and introducing a modicum of brake and clutch action. Basically, we needed the car to be sound enough for a run around the neighborhood.

We rebuilt the clutch and brake hydraulics and then moved on to the engine. First, we spun the engine by hand to make sure that everything could move as intended. Then we changed the oil and filter before we even tried to start the car.

In less than a day we had the car running and driving—well, barely—and we were able to set off on our maiden voyage. Keep in mind that this was not just a joy ride. The idea was to better evaluate the mechanical components. Our trip around the block told us that everything was worn to a nub, but the car did survive that first test run.

You know, if the seller had taken a day and maybe a few hundred dollars to perform these steps, we would have probably paid more for the car. Think about that the next time you’re selling a vehicle that doesn’t drive.

Put It Together, Then Take It Apart

When disassembling an older car, work slowly and methodically. Notice how Gary is using rust penetrant on the front-end components to better disassemble them.

Now that we knew our car was complete and capable of running, we could dismantle everything. Here’s where we needed to be a bit methodical.

You may have the temptation to disassemble everything to the last nut and bolt, but we recommend keeping subassemblies together until it’s time to tackle that part of the project. For example, it’s okay to remove the suspension from the car, but you don’t need to break down everything to its prime components.

There are a few reasons to keep the major assemblies together. For one, this method makes it harder to lose nuts, bolts and other small parts. It’s fairly easy to lose a screw or a washer; it’s relatively difficult to misplace a rear axle or dashboard.

Keeping assemblies together also makes for a less intimidating project. The average car contains thousands of nuts, bolts, clips, pins, springs and so forth. We’d much rather face a dozen or so major subassemblies than something that resembles Home Depot’s fastener section.

We first yanked the drivetrain, followed by the four suspension corners. In just a few days, the GT6+ was in many pieces—but not so many that we felt overwhelmed.

Trail of Breadcrumbs

You’ll never remember which holes need to be filled and which don’t. This hole on the front valance panel came from a spoiler that had been mounted later in the car’s life. It needed to be filled.

While disassembling a car makes for good garage therapy, we also made sure to jot down notes, take pictures, and tag and bag each item every step of the way. Basically, we left ourselves a trail of breadcrumbs to follow during the reassembly phase.

Sometimes we simply marked the outsides of our bags with notes written on masking tape; other times we included drawings and photos in the bags of parts. (Later on, we’d find some of these photos—like the ones we took under the dashboard—to be lifesavers when putting things back together.)

A racing history adds another element to the restoration process in that you have to deal with changes made by the team. On our car, we found lots of extra holes. They came from a variety of sources, including the Triumph factory, Group 44 team members and subsequent owners. When disassembling the car, we noted which ones to save and which ones to fill. Some masking tape and a permanent marker handled the job.

We also worked slowly and studied the parts. For example, if you notice a quirk or spot evidence of rubbing, figure out why before disassembling everything. Perhaps there’s a problem that needs solving.

Likewise, if you come across a part that seems newer or fresher than expected, figure out whether it’s original or a later addition.Think and study before blindly throwing stuff onto shelves.

Early in the disassembly process, we could see that this wasn’t an ordinary GT6+. An engine mount was notched for header clearance and the backsides of the hinges were hogged out to save weight. Plus, the rear suspension wasn’t stock; the rear leaf spring was mounted in such a way that allowed for adjustable corner weights, something that the factory didn’t do.

Time for Metalwork and Paint

With our car almost totally disassembled, all that remained was to remove the body from the frame.

Now that the car was apart, planning could really begin. While we normally do all our own metalwork, time pressures to have the car restored for last year’s Amelia Island Concours dictated a different course.

Tom Prescott of The Body Werks would handle the body. We have been working with him and his shop for more than 25 years and knew that we could trust him.

The driveline bits would be sent elsewhere, as Vintage Racing Services came highly recommended. Co-owner Kent Bain races an indecently fast Triumph Spitfire. Their engine guy, Harvey Thompson, even bought a GT6 engine from Group 44 when they ended the program; he took that engine to the SCCA Runoffs the following year. Again, we felt that this part of the project was in good hands.

Now it was time to focus on the chassis, so we neatly stacked the rest of the parts on shelves. As we put away our components, we formed a list of needed replacements. These parts would come from Spit Bits, and the supplier wound up having nearly everything in stock.

So we now had a stripped car, a plan and a ton of notes. In the next installment we can begin the actual restoration of this amazing machine.

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