XK 140 Restoration – The End of a 25 Year Saga
by Don Westcott
Way back in history - about 1974 to be precise - my observant wife spotted TGH 143, an XK140 fhc, for sale behind a hedge in a village near to where we lived. The price being asked, £250, seemed too good to be true - even 25 years ago - as it was driveable and had an MOT for nine months.
Having decided to carry out a complete restoration, the dismantling took place in a garage scarcely 2 ft wider that the car (is this a record?) including removing the doors which the manual says cannot be done in a confined space.
My first thought was to remove the engine unit, but having released it – not difficult with one mounting bolt missing and two blocks sheared – I then decided that it would be easier to strip and lift the body first so that removing the engine would then be a straight lift.
Apart from the usual hinge problems (how do people manage to take the doors off if they are not stripping the complete car at the time?) most bolts and screws were able to be undone thanks to considerable quantities of Plus Gas. Only about a dozen or so nuts and bolts required drilling or gentle persuasion (cold chisel and a 7lb hammer) The body was completely stripped in 72 hours working single handed - unless you include the help of a 3 year old son (he’s 30 now).
Having decided that careful planning was the secret of avoiding too many problems during reassembly and not wanting to rely on my memory - although at the time I didn’t anticipate it being quite so far into the future - many rolls of film were exposed to record the correct method of assembly and a list compiled of missing parts ( about 40 items). In addition, each item was duly labelled as it was removed including every electrical connection from the dash board.
Lifting the bodyshell was quite interesting as the structure was so corroded I couldn’t find any thing strong enough to lift from. Eventually, a piece of angle iron with a rope attached to either end was passed under the rear wheel arches, two ropes attached the windscreen pillars and another iron bar passed under the front wheel arches. The greatest danger was creasing the roof as the door sills were virtually non-existent and so only the roof skin held the front and back halves together. This was solved by jamming two lengths of wood inside the body between the front and rear bulkheads.
The chassis and the engine were then rolled out from underneath the body and the engine/gearbox unit lifted onto a trolley made from old fence posts. This enabled the unit to be easily moved about as well as providing a working base for overhauling the engine.
Suspension, hydraulics, fuel system and steering were dismantled until I was left with a bare chassis. Fortunately, this was sound apart from some minor welding being required around the o/s forward rear spring attachment and the locking tabs for the torsion bar adjustment bolts.
Now The Work Really Begins
With stripping complete, the renovation could now begin in earnest. The first problem was to find a grit blasting company that had a cabinet large enough to accommodate the chassis, rear axle and suspension components.
After a series of phone calls I traced a company called Metalisation in North London (I don’t know if they are still around) who did a superb job which included zinc spraying immediately after blasting.
A suitable paint then had to be found. I decided on a three-layer rubberized paint, marketed by All Weather Evode Paints for use in high corrosion atmospheres such as dock installations. Being a flexible paint, with a final dry thickness of 15 thou, it effectively acts as an underseal as well in that it won’t chip or flake. Unfortunately, this paint is not suitable for bodywork as it reacts adversely if overlaid with other types of paint.
I then commenced reassembly using new suspension bushes, steering joints, etc, throughout. In those days these parts were not so readily available and it often meant buying one from one dealer, two from another and one from somewhere else to make up a set.
The car had reached rolling chassis stage when I had to move house. Work on the restoration then stopped for about 25 years despite the fact that I had gained a much larger garage facility with an inspection pit and an RSJ for lifting engines.
Finding A Good Bodyshop
Some 25 years on, in 1999, the restoration started again in earnest. The first job was to find a good bodyshop. I was advised how important it was to ‘get it right’. Get it wrong and all of the other good work in the mechanical areas will be wasted. I was also recommended to have all of the bodywork done at once – not piece meal – as this can cause problems later on in the restoration.
I quickly found that the phrase “buyer beware” was probably invented for the restoration business. Bearing in mind that the bodyshell had already been completely stripped and off the chassis, all I wanted was someone to cut out and replace all of the rusted panels, lead load and give me back a bare metal shell. Negotiations seemed to start at about £10,000, rapidly rising by about £1000 a time as I mentioned each anticipated problem.
There were two notable exceptions to this scenario. The first, M W Restorations, who made some enquiries and were honest enough to admit that their experience was with E-types and that, as XKs were a little different, they would suggest that I find a specialist.
As a result of all of this and much soul searching, the body ended up on a trailer going up the M1 to Coventry and Leaping Cats – ‘the bodyshop that the trade uses’ according to their advert. I must admit that John Brown, the owner, was most helpful and my visit to his workshop was most impressive. It helped to confirm that I was making the right decision when I saw some 12 or 15 XKs either being worked on or waiting for repair – and some of them were even in a worse condition than mine.
One of the big attractions to me was the fact that everything was made on the premises so no excuses that the replacement panel didn’t fit properly.
The work on my car took about six months, although this did include Leaping Cats moving to larger premises during that time. However, what’s another week or two after 25 years. The main thing was the quality of the finished job.
It was most interesting seeing the various stages – and a bit frightening at times. Basically, all that was left of the original car after shotblasting - apart from the bonnet and boot lid which are, of course, aluminium - were the upper horizontal surfaces of the front wings, some of the front bulkhead, the roof and a few areas like the top edges of the doors.
Then, one day, I got a phone call asking if I would like to make one more visit to check the final result before they put a protective coat of paint over it for the return journey back. Seeing it at this stage made me realise, more than anything, the skills necessary to successfully rebuild such a complex shape. Under the wings you could see the weld lines where sections of double curvature panels had been let in to the front wings and yet, externally, hardly a mark. The doors, bonnet, boot, etc, all had perfectly even gaps around them. All in all a first class job and it even came in under budget.
Now it had to be painted. Originally, I had intended to do this myself using cellulose paint but most people that I spoke to advised two pack which meant finding a suitable paintshop and going through the same procedure as for selecting a body shop. I visited about six shops recommended by various people and eventually short listed two. Again, initially I was surprised at the prices being quoted, but then with hindsight, I didn’t realise just what was involved to get a really good finish and, after all, it is the paintwork that influences people’s opinion. As this is not an ‘open cheque’ restoration, I decided to go for the price that seemed best ‘value for money’ which, on this occasion, was OSC at Chessington in Surrey who specialise in restoration paintwork.
The next decision was what colour. In the interest of originality I wanted it to be one available from Jaguar in the mid 50s, but I didn’t like the actual colour that it was sprayed when it left the factory. No one that I contacted had any colour swatches but I did manage to get the paint references from Phil Porter’s book ‘The original XK Jaguar’. Armed with this information and some help from ICI, Rob, at OSC, was able to mix samples of the three colours that I was considering so that I could make the final decision - Imperial Maroon.
First stage was to clean off the protective paint applied for its journey down from Coventry before applying a bare metal primer. This provides the key so that the filler coat adheres to the bare metal properly. The body was then covered with a polyester filler to seal the previous filler.
This, it was explained, was to stop the filler absorbing the primer at a different rate to the surrounding areas, which would result in a patch work effect showing through the final coat. I was beginning to realise why the initial quotes were so much higher than I had anticipated. Already the car had had three different types of paint and we weren’t even at the primer stage yet !
Effective underbody protection was a priority. All of the joints were sealed and the exposed areas were treated with anti-chip paint before a coat of body colour was applied.
Whilst all of the above was going on, I was researching information on original detail finishes, namely which of the associated bits and pieces should also be in body colour - like bonnet struts, bonnet lock mechanism, etc. There were even some parts, like the detachable section at the rear of the spare wheel compartment that was black not body colour. Once again, Phil Porter’s book was invaluable.
Finally, the body was sprayed with a two pack primer and the top colour coat was applied. The end result – a mirror finish that you can see your face in.
It was then delivered back to my garage where I promptly removed the body again so that I could begin to install the main services, such as brake and fuel lines and wiring harness, along the chassis while the engine/gearbox unit was away being overhauled.
A major factor in trying to programme the work is how long you are prepared to spend on it in any given period. In my case I didn’t intend to work every spare moment as I still wanted to enjoy a social life (or risk divorce), so time spent on the car was limited to about 10-12 hours a week. As always, I seriously under-estimated the time that rebuilding would take me.
My first priority was to overhaul the engine, gearbox, etc. Like the body work, I had intended to do most of this myself but, after taking lots of advice, I decided to enlist professional help.
The advantages of doing this, as I saw it, was that they would know what upgrades were available to improve the engine’s reliability. Another factor was getting it right first time as I didn’t want to carry out any major work on the power unit and transmission in the foreseeable future once it was back in the car. The main disadvantage – cost, although I would still have had to pay for various machining operations to be carried out and buy new parts.
Who should I trust with my pride and joy? Again, it was a case of asking around and considering all recommendations. The result – Chris Forbes Motors at Coventry. My initial visit most encouraging. Apart from inspecting his workshop, we talked through how I was going to use the car and what I wanted to end up with. Chris made several constructive recommendations that helped me to focus how far I should go with modifications and improvements. These included things like fitting a later design of rear crankshaft oil seal, large bore oil pump, hardened crankshaft, modified chain tensioner and, of course, hardened valves and seats suitable for lead free petrol.
The engine was duly collected from my house and transported to Coventry where it was stripped down to reveal whether any hidden horrors were present. Don’t forget that it hadn’t been even turned over for more than twenty five years although I had poured oil in the cylinders to stop them seizing.
Fortunately, everything was in reasonable condition bearing in mind the age of the car. As far as I can estimate, the engine had possibly covered about 110,000 miles. Potentially, the most serious fault was the original chain tensioner which had worn to the point where it was just about to drop out of its slot if the engine had been run for much longer.
It was suggested that the sump baffle should be cut out to allow the sump pan to be cleaned properly. Apparently, it is virtually impossible to remove the accumulated sludge from this area without taking this action. This baffle is then spot welded back into place.
Once everything had been checked the final requirements were for the cylinders to be bored out to 20 thou. oversize and main and big end bearings ground to 10 thou under. The flywheel was refaced and various new parts fitted including starter motor, dynamo, water pump, pistons, timing chain, clutch assembly, oil filter assembly, crank damper and cam sprockets.
The gearbox and overdrive units were similarly stripped and overhauled with new seals, bearings, etc being fitted as required.
While the engine and gearbox were away I had set to installing the hydraulics and electrics in the chassis so that it would be ready to receive the engine unit on its return.
The hydraulics and petrol pipe runs were fairly straightforward. Fortunate, I had the original pipes as patterns for checking routes and bend angles. The only two problems that I encountered were with the fuel pump connections and a missing twelve inches of hydraulic pipe running between the back axle and the brake master cylinder.
The first of these was due to the previous owner having cut off the original fittings and used plastic hose with banjo connections so that he could fit a non standard pump. Presumable, this was because the correct parts were not so readily available thirty years ago and so you made do. In my case I have now installed an electronic version of the original SU pump - so that I am less likely to have problems with the electrics if the car is not used for a while - and the new connections now fit OK.
The missing twelve inches is another story. I had obtained a set of Automec brake pipes for the car when I first started the restoration. By that I mean at the very beginning some twenty five years ago!! When I came to fit the two sections that join the flexible coupling at the back axle to the master cylinder there was a gap between the ends of the pipes that I couldn’t overcome however I tried to reroute the pipe run.
Eventually, on comparing the pipes to the original ones – lesson number whatever, never throw anything away until you have successfully fitted the replacement – I found that one of the new pipes was shorter than the original. By quoting the respective lengths of the pipes to Automec’s very helpful customer service unit I quickly established that there were two different lengths, one for a drop head and one for a fixed head, and I had the wrong shorter version. Would you believe that after all this time (twenty five plus years since I first acquired the set of pipes) Automec still promptly sent me a new pipe at no charge. How’s that for customer service!!
A new master cylinder and wheel cylinders and brake linings completed the installation.
Now For The Electrics
So much for hydraulics and fuel pipe runs – now I had to sort the jigsaw of electric looms. As I wanted to retain as much of the original specification as possible I bought a set of braided looms. Again, having the original looms to compare them with, and which had been carefully labelled as I removed them, was a great help in identifying which went where. The other useful information was a wiring article, published in the Feb 1996 JEC magazine, which explained the logistics of the system including colour codings not only of the individual wires but also how the colour flashes in the braiding itself differ from loom to loom.
The system is based on the Lucas wiring colour code. Brown is live with white being non-fused ignition and green going to the supply side of the fuse. Red represents the side light circuit and blue the headlights. Yellow denotes the charging circuit. Some looms also have a second (trace) colour to assist identification. Finally, a black lead means earth - which is, of course, positive on a standard XK system.
The first job is to lay out the old loom and the new loom and identify each section. Very good advice because as well as making you familiar with each section it also enables you to identify what is missing or incorrect for your model. Coventry Auto Components, my supplier, was very quick to change or replace any incorrect or missing sections.
I was also recommended to install as much as possible of the electrics under the bonnet area before fitting the body back on to the chassis. This turned out to be very good advice. With the body suspended from the roof of my garage it was so much easier to stand in the engine compartment while fitting all of the looms, relays, fuses and ancillaries like the windscreen wiper motor.
I started by rewiring the chassis. The loom serving the fuel system runs inside the o/s chassis member. The cables run from the fuel tank sensor on the near side, along the cross member forward of the fuel tank and into the off side chassis structure. It then connects to the fuel pump en route and exits from the outside of the chassis just before the brake reservoir.
The problem is how to get the loom through the chassis, in particular starting from underneath the rear o/s shock absorber attachment and past the dog leg. The answer, I was advised, was to use a length of stiff but flexible wire and then attach the loom to the end and pull it through. Welding wire, twisted to increase its stiffness, is ideal for this – and it worked without too much trouble.
Around this time I received a phone call from Chris Forbes telling me that the engine, gearbox and overdrive unit was ready for delivery. Great timing – excuse the pun! I had previously decided that it would be far easier to lift the body over the engine than vice versa so, when it arrived, I was able to get them to drop it straight onto the chassis. That way, I didn’t have to lift half a ton of metal in the air at peculiar angles.
So far, so good. I then turned my attention to the body shell. It quickly became apparent that it would be far easier to fit the wiper mechanism and washer pipes before running the looms behind the dash area so these were duly fitted – not without difficulty I would add. It took several attempts to get the alignment of the wiper correct. I would not recommend trying to do this job with the wiring in place unless you absolutely have to.
Back to the electrics. After a little experimentation I found that it was easiest to concentrate on one area at a time fitting all of the relevant looms and their units ie. fuse boxes, relays, etc in place as opposed to fitting individual loom sections in sequence from switch to fuse to unit. If you follow the latter course, I found that you quickly had congestion problems where several looms had to pass through one aperture, in particular at the main access through the front bulkhead under the voltage regulator.
You eventually end up with a mass of wires that feed the instrumentation and switches coming through one main access hole in the area of the dashboard. At that point, I checked each one for circuit flow from its respective fuse or unit.
I had already assembled the switches and gauges into the central dash panel and attached the dash loom to the relevant switches, etc. As I was working on my own, I devised a system of strings to suspend this central unit from the roof and side pillars so that I had both hands free to make the connections.
Previously, when checking the circuits, I had identified all of the wires coming out of the bulkhead. As a result, with the aid of a wiring diagram, it was a logical, if time consuming, job to work my way from one unit to the next making the appropriate connection. If you are trying this yourself, I found that it was easier to work over the top of the dash panel, ideally without the windscreen or top trim cover in place, and connect the appropriate wires to the lower units first then gradually work up the panel to the top.
The only other area that can be a fiddle is the loom that runs inside the o/s sill connecting the rear lights, reverse and interior boot light to the fuse box and gearbox. The answer, once again, is using welding wire for the initial push through before attaching the relevant loom to its end and pulling it along behind. Once it emerges, just in front of the rear seats, it is a simple matter to run the loom up and over the interior o/s wheel arch. Here it divides either to the o/s rear lights or across the car under the rear parcel shelf, where it divides yet again, to the boot lid lights (interior, reverse and number plate) or on to the n/s rear light cluster.
Installing the front lighting looms was very straight forward as there was plenty of room to work under the wheel arches. The main loom runs along engine side of the o/s bulkhead through the wheel arch to a ten way connector mounted in front of the radiator on the side valance. Here it divides to the o/s indicator, side and head lights as well as running under the bonnet opening and up the near side to five way connector mounted on the other radiator valance. This links to the n/s lights and indicator.
Wherever the looms are exposed under the wheel arches they have been covered with a rubber heat shrink sleeve to protect them from the weather. Another important point to note it is that, where the loom runs under the bonnet opening, special care should be taken to secure the cable to the body using a rubber clip so that it doesn’t chafe with the flexing of the car body. As reported in an earlier issue of XK Gazette, it has been known for the lighting circuits to short out and catch fire at this point.
While sorting the electrics, I was also planning ahead for the next stages, namely renovating the wood and chrome. Some of the prices being quoted did seem a little over the top so I started investigating small specialist craftsmen who are not necessarily car restorers.
Wood Trim and Chrome
Many of the wooden parts had suffered from damp over the years, in addition to being damaged in some cases, so I was convinced that they would need totally reveneering or even replacing. I was introduced to a woodworker who normally specialises in hand built wooden boats, seats, etc for the rowing fraternity but, off season, takes on other jobs that appeal to him. How could he resist the opportunity to get involved in my XK!
The end result was that he renovated most of the original veneer, repaired the damaged panels so that you ‘couldn’t see the join’ and even made one section from scratch - buying veneers to match the rest of the car. The panels were then coated in an epoxy resin to resist anything that they are likely to be exposed to. And all for a price about half of that quoted by the traditional restorers.
Finding a rechromer was a similar exercise. I was given a phone number of someone that does a lot of work for members of the JEC Kent Region. He duly came and inspected the relevant parts – eighty-six separate items on a fixed head – and we agreed a price. I must admit that I wasn’t looking for a concours finish as some parts were badly corroded, particularly the cast grill and the Muzak items, but the price was still considerably cheaper than anything else that had been mentioned. Rechroming tip of the week – don’t rely on the chromer to protect the fine threads on small parts otherwise it is extremely difficult to clean them after the chroming process as chrome is very hard.
So, the wiring looms were installed and circuits checked – what next? Put the body back on to the chassis. It had come off easily enough but putting it back would be a different story as everything had to align with the fixing points and there was now a large engine and gearbox to contend with, as well as the hydraulic, fuel and electric pipes and cables.
Actually, it wasn’t as difficult as I had anticipated. The body, which had been resting on two bars under the front and rear bulkheads, was suspended about three foot above the ground from the garage roof joists. The first job was, in fact, to raise it even higher so that the chassis and engine could be wheeled underneath. The engine, of course, wasn’t on the chassis when the body was lifted off and now there wasn’t enough clearance. With the roof of the car neatly fitting between two joists, the engine cleared the floor pan by about an inch - but that was enough.
Lowering the body was quite easy for the initial two feet or so - with the help of two strong friends holding the ends of the ropes. For safety’s sake, everything was duplicated with two ropes at each point. Each of these was undone and lowered in sequence, about four inches at a time, to provide a fail-safe system if anything should slip. Plumb lines were used to check that the body was dropping evenly and accurately onto the fixing points as certain areas, such as the cross tube between the chassis sides/rear bulkhead and the rear of the engine/front bulkhead were tight. Once the gap between the body and chassis was down to about a foot, four scissor jacks were placed under the sills front and rear and the two bars removed from under the bulkheads while there was still room to get them out.
The operation was now much more controllable, albeit very slow. Needless to say, I had kept a careful note of the position of all of the spacing washers fitted by the bodyshop so the body shell settled evenly on to the fixing points - and a deep sigh of relief was heard to echo around the garage!!
Lesson learnt – take out the petrol tank and refit it after the body is in place, otherwise you can have trouble with the tank not aligning with the hole in the boot floor due to its angled inlet pipe.
Suddenly, the car seemed to be taking shape although there was still a lot to do. First job was to connect the relevant electrics and fuel line to the engine followed by the radiator and various hoses that comprise the cooling system. The main hoses were fairly easy to fit thanks to the detachable access panels inside the o/s wheel arch.
However, the connections from the rear of the engine to the heater unit were another matter. The small hoses that came with the hose kit beared no resemblance to what seemed to be required to fit into this restricted space. After several enquiries I was put in touch with SC Parts of Crawley who knew exactly what was required. Lastly, the water temperature sensor was connected to complete the system. With some trepidation I filled the radiator in stages checking each time for leaks, but it appeared that all was watertight.
Before connecting the water temperature sensor it was, of course, necessary to feed it through the front bulkhead from inside the car as it is permanently attached to the gauge. Fortunately, the oil pressure pipe that connects to the same gauge unscrews but trying to bend it through the various openings in the bulkhead area was probably the most difficult part of this operation as the pipe is extremely stiff.
The final positioning of the gauge itself was also critical so that it aligned with the relevant hole in the dashboard.
Checking The Electrics
It was then time to check the electrical circuits for real. Earlier I had decided to substitute the two six-volt battery system for one twelve volt unit - mainly on the grounds that it would be easier to maintain one battery rather than two considering where they are situated in the wheel arch. There was also a cost saving to be considered.
I had read in the XK Gazette of a specific Varta battery that gave the best power output relative to the maximum footprint that would fit in the XK battery box. My nearest Varta stockist was an hour’s drive away at Twickenham, Middx. - but well worth the journey as it turned out. The sales rep was very knowledgeable about XKs as well as batteries. Having quizzed me on the likely “life style” of my car i.e. long or short journeys, daily or intermittent use, etc., he recommended that I go for maximum cold starting power at the expense of battery life should the dynamo stop working. He then took me through the stock room to find the largest battery that would fit the dimensions of the battery box.
With this fitted to the car – with a slight modification to the length of the fixing rods due to its size – I was able to start checking the circuits. Amazingly, everything appeared to work apart from three items, two of which were down to bad connections and the other was the brake warning light sensor. The latter was not surprising, perhaps, as it was the original unit. With a replacement unit fitted everything was OK - for now!
The speedo cable was easily installed but the rev counter cable was a different matter. The connection on my original cable was different at the end to the engine take off point.. I can only assume, once again, that this cable was a non- original part “modified to fit” at some stage. However, once I bought a new cable it fitted together OK.
This would be a good point to mention a potential problem that I did not discover until sometime later when the car was on the road. The standard rev cable is 13½ inches long. My new cable just reached between the engine and the rev counter but kept coming undone. What I didn’t realise at the time was that there is a certain amount of adjustment allowed for in the dash board mounting brackets. Not knowing this, I had, by chance, fitted them at the extreme end of the adjustment. By the time I had found out about this adjustment the car had been trimmed, making it a very difficult job to adjust all of the trim panels to suit. The answer, thanks to Speedy Cables of Hertford, was to have a special length cable manufactured to fit and for a price that made it worthwhile rather than embark on hours of work adjusting the trim.
All it needed now was an exhaust. Stainless steel was the obvious choice for all of the usual reasons although I was concerned about the exhaust note as I had heard several reports of stainless silencers sounding “tinny”. Once again, I made a few phone calls to get knowledgeable opinions on this and settled on Coventry AutoComponents’ units which, I was told, “fitted better than most”.
Sure enough, with a little juggling and a handful of packing washers to provide adjustment on the hangers, it fitted quite well. The only real problem was one of the down pipes just touching the torsion bar. A not uncommon problem, I learnt, and one later solved by a local specialist garage - with the aid of a blow torch and pipe bending equipment.
Start Up Time
At this stage of the restoration I was rapidly anticipating running the engine for the first time. By now, the engine had been in the car for about a year, although I had been turning it over regularly to keep the oil circulating and had added some Redex through the spark plug holes into the bores. Fuel lines were all connected and electric circuits checked so:
D-Day - ten past two, Sunday afternoon, 9 March 2003. Ignition on. The fuel pump started ticking. It took three pushes of the start button to get petrol up to the engine. On the fourth push it gave a cough, the next push it coughed again then, on the sixth push it burst into life – what a lovely sound!! Oil pressure climbed quickly to around 70psi and stayed there – so the large bore oil pump appears to be working – and water temperature rose steadily to around 80ºC.
At this stage I discovered a couple of electrical problems. Firstly, the voltmeter was working back to front – easily corrected by transposing the wires - and the voltage regulator only worked intermittently. Eventually, cleaning the contacts cured this fault. Again, the unit had come with the car although it looked too new to be the original fitted by the factory. I must keep an eye on it.
As with everything else in my restoration, costs had to be carefully monitored so, in the case of the bumper irons – which were all missing apart from one rear section, I decided to have them made by a local blacksmith. After all, they are only pieces of strip steel angled at certain points. I took the relevant measurements from another 140 fixed head and produced a set of working drawings which I took along to my local smithy.
Apart from a little adjustment to some of the angles, with the help of a large hammer and even larger vice, they fitted OK. The original front bumper was missing from the car when I bought it and a replacement bumper was both hard to find and expensive if you did.
My solution – I found a Mk7 Jaguar bumper at an auto-jumble. It is the same profile but about six inches wider overall. This was overcome by a “cut-n-shut” – with the joins behind the overriders – and the necessary brackets to connect to the front valances being welded on. It was then just a matter of offering up the front bumper and packing the attachment points to the front valances with washers to complete the fitting operation.
The rear bumpers went on much the same, except for some difficulty in getting them central with the wing seam and the rear number backing plate. After several attempts and taking various measurements, I realised it wasn’t me at fault but the fact that the backing plate wasn’t central to start with. Once the holes in the back plate had been suitably modified, everything aligned nicely.
By now, all of the chrome parts around the car, with the exception of those for the doors and windows, had been fitted so, for the first time, it was beginning to look like an XK.
Next job was to fit the steering column and prop shaft – to all intents very similar jobs on an XK. Access to the steering column was very straightforward from under the offside wheel arch. Fitting the prop shaft was much the same except, of course, for split pinning the attachment bolts.
I was beginning to realise that it could almost be driven – at least out of the garage so that I had enough space to fit the doors.
The doors and window mechanisms, which had been completely stripped when the body work was rebuilt, were now reassembled. This was a fairly straight forward operation, apart from renewing the quarter light rubbers and fixing and sealing the weather strip between the glass and the door frame.
The original quarter light rubbers appeared to have been made in two parts - one piece for the vertical face and then a continuous moulding for the other two sides of the triangular opening. However, now you have to buy it in three separate sections and cut them to fit. Great care is needed to get a good joint at the forward end.
When fitting the weather strip, I carried out a series of dry assembly runs to check the positioning for this before plucking up courage to apply the sealant and ‘do it for real’. An extra pair of hands, thanks to my wife, came in very useful at this stage. Renewing the window runner felts was just a matter of cutting them to length and fixing them into the frame.
It Moves!! For the first time in nearly thirty years, the car moved under its own power at 11.00am on Friday, 20 June 2003.
Now that it was out of the garage, I could attach the doors. This operation must be potentially one of the most difficult parts of the restoration if you are going to get the alignment correct. I had tried to anticipated this problem by carefully marking the packing pieces as they had been removed from behind the hinges. It worked. With a little bit of fine tuning, the alignment of the door shape and spacing between pillars was good.
Only one ‘small’ thing was now stopping me taking it on the road – leaking seals in the rear axle. I was aware of this problem before I replaced the body on the chassis - when they were a lot easier to get to. I had managed to change the pinion seal OK at that stage but, having successfully wrecked two pullers trying to remove the hubs, I gave up until I could let a professional have a go at it. This point was fast approaching.
I booked it in to GDM Ltd, run by Paul Massingham, a local classic Jaguar specialist, and gave him a list of odd jobs to be carried out. As well as renewing the hub seals, these included things like setting the camber and castor angles, adjusting the ride height, installing the front and rear screens and, finally, getting the MoT.
I learnt, later, that even Paul had a lot of trouble removing the hubs, so it wasn’t my inexperience that was the problem. Eventually, they came off - accompanied by a large bang – having been soaked in penetrating oil for some time, then attached to a hydraulic ram and heated with a torch. They probably hadn’t been off the axle since the car left Browns Lane.
The screens were installed by one of Paul’s regular suppliers, called Old School Windscreens, who are well versed in the problems of fitting classic car screens but, as any XK restorer will tell you, everyone has trouble fitting the chrome trim and mine was no exception.
Then, one day, I got a phone call saying that the car was ready for collection and asking whether I wanted the car returned by trailer or did I want to drive it home. What do you think?
All that remained to do now was to tidy up one or two places on the paintwork and then have it trimmed. OSC, who had sprayed the car, had agreed long ago to have it back for tidying up once it was nearing completion, so that was the next job. Delivery was so much easier now that it was roadworthy and I could drive it around.
Finally, it was ready for trimming. Who was going to have the “honour” – Mick Turley, of course. Having seen the quality of his work on a friend’s XK120 OTS, there was no hesitation – and the price quoted was very competitive. The factory specification listed a choice of two colours to go with Imperial Maroon paint - red or biscuit. I choose the latter, firstly because I preferred the contrast and, secondly, because the original materials are still available.
So, one dry December morning, it was up the M1 to Nuneaton. On arrival, Mick’s first comment was that not many cars are driven to his workshop, apparently most arrive on a trailer. However, it gave me the opportunity to try the car out and put a couple of hundred miles on the engine – albeit at a fairly sedate 60-65mph, around 2500rpm in overdrive, on the inside lane. Even the lorries were overtaking me on the motorway.
A month passed and I received the inevitable phone call saying it was ready for collection. Back to Nuneaton I went. It looked beautiful and the distinctive smell of leather just added to the impression it created. Many thanks Mick.
I’m pleased to say that the journey back south was uneventful, but very enjoyable. On the way home, I made a slight detour to nearby Leaping Cats to show John Brown the finished car that had started its resurrection in his workshop some four years previously.
The wonders of hindsight
If any of you are thinking of carrying out a restoration such as I have described over in this articles, the following are a few tips that, with hindsight, may make your life easier. These comments largely apply where you are trying to do as much of the work yourself rather than putting it to a professional restoration company with an open cheque.
Firstly, assuming that the chassis is in reasonable condition, have the bodywork repaired before you strip and restore the chassis, otherwise the chassis paint, suspension bushes, etc. may get accidentally marked, due to the welding, cutting and spraying, as the body is built to fit.
Next, double check everything. Always get a second or third opinion – even the specialists aren’t right all of the time. Talk to other people who have restored cars, preferably by doing it themselves. Ideally, try to find an original car, i.e. one that is to factory specification, to check parts, dimensions, etc.
Don’t make the mistake, as I did, of assuming that the construction of my car was original – as it left the factory - just because numbers (chassis, engine, etc) all matched. I found various anomalies in the routing of pipes, wires etc. and various parts fitted. I eventually realised that this was probably due to the correct spares not being so easily available in the 1970s, when I bought it, as they are now - thanks to the excellent service provided by the various specialist suppliers that meet our every need today.
Lastly, study the exploded views in a parts manual. You may be surprised what parts are missing that you didn’t even know existed. One example, in my case, was the tapered fibre wedges that fit between the rear springs and the axle mounting.
So that’s it. After almost thirty years and some 2000 hours of my labour, TGH 143 is, at last, finished and on-the-road and I can begin to enjoy our special style of motoring.
You may leave a comment or question about this article:
2006-08-27 01:34:22 | Don Westcott writes:
If my experiences can be of help to anyone restoring an XK, you are welcome to contact me by clicking my name, above.
2013-08-22 13:48:46 | Robert Stokes writes:
Fascinating article. Just imported a XK140 fhc (LHD automatic) from America and starting to take the body off. Like yours the car will need a complete rebuild but these days there are parts a plenty - you just need a strong bank account!
I will download your article and study it very carefully. Thank you for making it available.