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1978 Spitfire 1500 - restoring a rust free car...

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I've got a few threads going on the car but figured I should try keep the bodywork in one, especially as it could take some time. So apologies for a short recap.

The car was first restored over a few years by the previous owner between 1998 and 2003. I bought it in 2009 as my first car and it had an immaculate 2 pack spray finish and had almost everything new. The door fit wasn't great though, particularly on one side and I began to realise this isn't uncommon now that most Spitfires have had bodywork done.

The first inkling I had that the door fit was going to be more of an issue was when I bought a hard top that first winter - I couldn't get it bolted on, as the cause of the door fit meant the gap between the front and back of the hard top attachment was smaller. It took a lot of jacking the sills to get the tub to spread, mainly on the worst side (passenger's) where the bulkhead had probably sagged. Here's a photo I found online from someone who'd snapped the car before I owned it:1963763043_u_TriumphSpitfireMkIV15001977side(Medium).thumb.jpg.254989fd7006c907b344681ad00e92b9.jpg

The good thing is it didn't stop me enjoying and improving the car, and I ended up using it every day at one point even for commuting.

With the help of forum members and particularly Tim Ward, I designed and built a Megasquirt 3 electronic fuel injection system, and carried out loads of other upgrades to it like lowering the rear suspension, wider wheels, a new cylinder head and TR5 profile cam shaft. It even sported central locking which came in handy with the amount I was using it.



As you can see the driver's door gaps weren't that awful with the hard top on.

It got to the point though when a few things were going wrong with the car and needed sorting sooner or later:

  • The door fit was wrecking the bodywork.
    • I found cracks in the driver's a-post panel where the hinges bolt onto, these were getting worse
    • The driver's door had started to split at the top above the locking mechanism, probably from banging against the rear wing
    • The passenger b post had started to crack around the striker plate
    • not to mention stripped threads in the hardtop bolts from forcing it on....
  • The repro driver's gutter wasn't a good replacement panel, not fitted flush at the bottom so water didn't drain properly
  • The bonnet is a new Heritage one and the rear wings never fit right - they curve in at the back lower edges. Repeated twisting when latching down meant they were bent and started to shear at the bottom lip
  • The hardtop had been filled by a very gifted artist and one spring when removing it, a small prod resulted in some very large holes around the windows!
  • The repro boot fit was poor and let exhaust fumes come in the cockpit with the hardtop on

By spring 2014 I was already collecting panels to sort these things, and then after doing a lot of work on the clutch, I again lost use of the car when reverse gear disappeared. So the car came off the road and hasn't been back on since.

Many people thought I was a bit mad as the car was in lovely condition in some respects, and they were probably right as life took over and it's now 7 years since I've driven it. But it gave me the opportunity to make it properly sorted to my liking, and since sending the panels away for paint removal I've found quite a few things that also needed attention. Turns out it wasn't completely rust free, although there were no massive surprises.







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I haven't got much done since the tub and chassis came back last winter. Partly due to the pandemic situation but also as I'm now quite keen to spend more time investing in making the work area decent - I've realised if I'm contorted and in back pain, or don't have the right area or tools, I don't enjoy it and it's harder to motivate me to work. So aside from building a little fold down welding table, I've also sorted the airlines to get water out of the compressed air, as I need to occasionally paint things.


First up was replacing the earth lead in my welder with a dinse socket and plug affair. My wife got me a HUGE earth clamp for Christmas so it was great to get this fitted and upgrade the welder with a slightly longer cable as well, that can be tucked away neatly.


Started making a portable panel for filters. The idea is have these close to the spraying outside, and run the hose reel up to them when needed.


Dusted off the LVLP gun I bought years ago at the NEC classic car show. This works really well and doesn't run out of air on a 7-8cfm compressor, the finish is beautiful and very controllable. Only cost about £25 I think? The only flaw is that the cup (not pictured) leaks at the top when you turn it on it's side to spray, so you end up with bondarust all over your latex gloves!


First step with the chassis was to get it outside and have a good look, blow out all the crud from the box sections with compressed air and spray inside with Buzzweld cavity paint. It seems good stuff and is very controllable but the spray cans don't last long. I should probably have bought 2, one was only enough to do 1 coat of all the box sections.


After blowing out the airlines I decided this compressor has something restrictive. Everyone blames little regulators on DIY compressors but look at this! Ours came with a tap and that's the size of the hole - no wonder it seemed asthmatic. After taking this off performance is much improved.

Proper work then started on the chassis. These bits still needed a bit of a clean up so I wire brushed and phosphated ready for spraying later. There were also lots of bits of lumpy weld spatter on the chassis so those were ground down. Not important but quick to do.



I took the chassis outside on a sunny day and prepped it properly with the wire brush, later using phosphoric acid almost like a panel wipe to clean it. This Novol weld through primer it's got on isn't particularly strong and was only supposed to be there for protecting chassis/body whilst restoring it. So I decided to use Bondarust and cover the whole lot properly. I did one coat but might give it another when the bodywork is restored.


Bit of paint left over so I also sprayed a sill panel I've got. 1980s BL pressing, had acquired quite a bit of surface rust and was bare metalled a few years ago.


Edited by RichardB
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So that post above takes me up to the end of September. Since then I've got the body bolted back on the chassis, using advice here I've opted for 6 metal spacers instead of original rubber ones in the middle.


Out of shot but I'm throwing everything at this to ensure alignment. I am using the H frame to support the bulkhead, and have spread the tub and got the hardtop properly bolted on at all 6 mounting points with the top hat spacers (never could get them on before). Door gaps are braced with adjustable spacers.


The hardtop has never sat this far back from the front of the windscreen frame. It's actually strange seeing it now that I've pushed it all out and bolted it in properly. The seam was lifted up so when it went for depaint/derusting it got properly cleaned out, that bit of the hardtop will probably need some work. I've even put the windscreen capping back on for alignment.


I also recently picked up another door - this is the 4th passenger door I've now got! Bit annoying but I want to use side impact bars. The first I bought was disappointing, when it arrived I realised it had been reskinned - rust free but not useful for me as I'm having to build the car back around the door as a datum. The original bar-less door is probably too twisted now from slamming. The second I bought from the US and had side impact bars, but probably needed re-skinning as the dents in it were extensive.

However this beauty is a Unipart door, never fitted. The surface rust looked awful but really isn't that bad, I'll clean the rest up later:


Doors braced...


Ending this post with a question:


Is this common to see? The front body mount seems to sit at a slight angle, and the metal on the chassis outrigger is 'puckered' up a few mm. I am being super pedantic with everything to try and ensure alignment, and use original measurements or panels where I can, but strangely it doesn't seem to affect the height of the bulkhead relative to the chassis. The distance from the outriggers (which are straight) to the bottom lips of the bulkhead panels (which haven't been messed with) actually measure the same on both sides, despite the driver's side outrigger appearing like it lifts the mount up slightly.

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Last update for now. I've started cutting - it actually felt great to get the angle grinder out after nearly a decade of planning:


Passenger outer sill came off. Lots of crud inside the cavity, probably a mixture of burnt waxoyl and paint for the most part, these pattern outer sills had no drain holes.


The A post was repaired and a pattern outer sill fitted probably some time in the early 1990s. When the car was fully restored, these outer sills stayed and the inner, membrane and floor were done on both sides. Pleased to see the a post is actually in good nick with an original edge on the right hand side and lips on the left and top.


I think the upper half is the original sill closer panel as the welds are exactly the same as the ones on the Spitfire at Gaydon. There's even a bit of the lip left from the original outer sill, just out of shot above the closer panel.


Carefully cutting around this panel, it's original and I'll try retain as much as possible. The old dimples from spot welding are there at the lower edge but they're not actually attached any more, the lap joint was just filled when the new outer sill was fitted.

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Can't begin to describe it Roger! Felt amazing last Sunday after seeing it stall for so long.

Yes I am thinking another coat of Bondarust for good measure before sending the tub and chassis together to a paint shop. There's also a few small pinholes I found when spraying it with the first coat that I should really fill with metal rather than filler. Happy to leave it for now though, I was just keen to get it bonda sprayed before bolting the tub back on because it will give the chassis more protection and I'm not cutting things out of it.

I'd like to keep the chassis Inca Yellow body colour, though may end up covering the underbonnet side of it when it's all done in black Dinitrol 4941 for protection. It is wonderful stuff.

Next jobs on Sunday are going to be bolting the bonnet back on and maybe cut the driver's pattern sill off so I can see inside there and start planning. Normally you'd want to keep as much metal on the car as possible, I'm taking a different approach and trying to unpick previous work to get back to a base where I know measurements are true. Feels a bit like forensic work.

Edited by RichardB
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Hi RichardB - I had (and still have) very bad door/sill/bonnet trailing edge gaps after replacing sills/inners/diaphragm/floors on both sides of my Spitfire some years back. The leading edge gaps are huge and the width across the car from sill to sill is not parrallel. I will fix it one day.....

I made the mistake of trusting the new panels to be the correct size.  CT Forum contributor JensH posted a cross sectional diagram which showed why the inner sill panels, as supplied, are just dimensionally wrong.  With some searching, it might be possible to find this diagram again on the new CT forum and may save you some grief.

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Hopefully we can build knowledge together of how to fix these sorts of issues? It seems far harder restoring a Spitfire for the second time but I'm bordering on obsessive to get it right.

JensH is right. I managed to get a pair of OE inner sills and they are quite subtly different, the length isn't the same and the hole for the wiring loom is in a different place. I always wondered why my loom never fit well in the floor channel and now can see, there isn't a smooth transition in steelcraft sills because the hole sits above the channel and is smaller. It's worth documenting the differences because some panels I will reluctantly have to use.

The cover plate for the front of the sill is also different, I got an OE one for the drivers side and will measure it to amend the new panels I have. The originals are smaller, but I think it should be easy to trim the new ones.

I think I will also need to extend the floor lips where the sill pieces meet - these are only 1/2" deep. Sadly the b posts have both been repaired where they meet the sill but they may not be too hard to reshape.

Even some heritage panels don't seem to fit well. The new bonnet needs tweaking as the contours behind the headlamp cowls aren't great.

Edited by RichardB
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I am - still - here :-)

Most common failure is due to trying to fit the outer sill too far up - especially if new (repro) floor panels are welded in too. Reason is the new floorpanels does not have the correct flange size.

Best way of dealing with sills - and poor panel gaps - on these cars - are by starting with the best (original) doors you can find, and yes: Repro inner sills not that perfect, though not the biggest issue if trying to get a good result  :-)


Edited by JMH
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Sill closing panel, OE vs a repro one (I think Steelcraft?). These are pretty good and probably would fit well, as I expect the curved outer edge wasn't originally a tight fit against the outer sill.


Note how the curved lip bottom right in the photo is much bigger in the repro panel, and the little notch at the top is not present either.

At some point in the history of making bodyshells I think they started to ground the upper lip off while fitting them. It was probably another rust trap.

I'm contemplating how to fit these at the moment. From looking at factory spot welds I don't think they were fitted in the same way most people restore these cars. When doing sill replacements people all seem to fit the closer panel after the outer sill, using something to pull it tight and plug weld it in.

They were originally spot welded on the outer curve, so unless they used a one sided spot welder, I think they may have been spot welded to the outer sill before it was fitted in place? (source unknown:)


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Lots of different suppliers of repro sill closing panels - your nos one is an early one - later cars had a small bend half way down. If you spot weld it before you fit the new outer sill, you must be sure the curvaton is correct (guess it was done in a jig at the factory). Would fit sill first and mig-weld.

Edited by JMH
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11 hours ago, JMH said:

I am - still - here :-)

:smile: Great!


On 10/14/2021 at 6:07 PM, RichardB said:

It seems far harder restoring a Spitfire for the second time but I'm bordering on obsessive to get it right.

Yep, for sure. I HATE having to correct others shoddy work..... and plug welds are much harder to separate that the factory spots!  Our Spit was horribly rusty, but it was all first time  around apart from some joke floor patches.  Also, it was so rusty that it was easy to push things around to where they needed to be to get everything to fit right.

The GT6 may not have been so rusty..... but it was plenty messed up!  And there's no bodger worse than a pro-bodger.

Good luck on your quest for perfection!

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I gave up trying to drill out Mig plug welds on some wings once. It was like trying do drill into a drill bit, rock hard. Succeeded with a hammer and chisel.

Watching a restoration video recently, where the young lad used the tip of a belt file to quickly grind through spot welds, peeling the top panel off, leaving the panel underneath perfectly intact, which is what I will try in the future. Using a spot weld drill you can occasionally go through both panels.

Edited by Mark
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Thanks for the tip Mark I may try that. I like the idea of thinning the weld area, should make it easier to then use a chisel I would have thought.

I think I'll have to do something unorthodox as some of the plug welds are raised up but others aren't easy to find.

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I've been busy making some new captive plates for the door hinges. I think at least 2 or 3 are knackered so I have set out to make 4, the mild steel bar stock was only £7 delivered online and is enough to make 5 or 6.

As luck would have it they sell it in 40mm widths which happens to be the exact width of the old plates. At 5mm it is ever so slightly thicker - the old ones are hard to measure as they are so warped but were probably 3/16" thick (4.76mm). For anyone looking to do this yourself, they are quite simple to measure out and you can have the measurements I took off the old ones which were probably original.

Width = 40mm, length = 68mm, thickness = 5mm

Draw 2 lines along the length 8mm in from the edges, and on one of the lines measure exactly half way in (34mm) - this is your first hole location. Measure half way (34mm) again on the other line, this is the mid point between the other two holes. They are spaced 25.4mm (1 inch) away on either side of this mid point. I used sticky label paper to mark out on mine, or you could just scribe it.


Used a centre punch then step drill to widen the holes to 6mm:


After that they need to be enlarged to 17/64 for tapping. If you buy a drill bit you might see it marked as 6.8mm which is probably close enough.

Checking alignment with the old plate:


Using a 5/16 UNF (aka 5/16-24) tap:


Testing fit with an original hinge



As you can see there's tons of thread poking out on the back, you could make these even stronger with a welded nut on the back for good measure.

Last step is just to cut each one off and grind the edges so they're not sharp. Haven't done this yet but I'm sure you get the idea.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Had another couple of hours to work on the car today and made a bit more progress. The passenger rear wing is more or less off, save for a few seams. I hated the idea of cutting out solid metal and at first thought maybe I could take it off cleanly - I've now realised that's a bad idea. To stand a chance of preserving the original metal, I had to cut it up quite a bit to take it apart cleanly.

A few things were wrong with it:

  • it sat about 5mm higher than the rear deck and boot lid
  • I could never get the horseshoe trim to stay on nicely at the back as it didn't fit well on the mismatched seams
  • the bumper attachment hole was slightly wrong and elongated (this never bothered me, it wasn't obvious)
  • the stitch welds holding it to the door striker b post panel were strong but a bit unsightly and really bad for trapping obvious dirt
  • the door edge at the bottom wasn't sharp and looked like it had been bashed with a hammer. I think this could have actually been from the passenger door slamming against it.

So I bit the bullet and took it off. I think freedom to move the wing should hopefully make setting all the panel gaps easier.





Removing MIG plug welds and stitch welds is a pain, isn't it? It makes me more determined to spot weld where I can. Hopefully this is the last time it'll be replaced but you never know.

The outer arch panel has obviously been replaced and it appears that it needed some persuasion to fit the rear wing panel. I'm probably going to have to take this off and set it again to fit the new one, aren't I? :confused:


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Jeez….. think I’d rather start with a rusty original car….. 

14 minutes ago, RichardB said:

I'm probably going to have to take this off and set it again to fit the new one, aren't I? :confused:

Maybe…… I’d be inclined to clean everything up and then see if you can get the wing where you want it without undue pressure before going to that trouble….. looks like a it would be a sod to get off!

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Thought that many times to be honest Nick! The logical thing to do would have been just get another bodyshell to repair or even better a Californian one.

I just couldn't bring myself to do it though - because a) what would I do with this one? it's rust free so scrapping it too wasteful, but selling it, I'd just be passing the problems on to someone else, and b) stupid ideas in my head about it being original to the car and having personal attachment to it.

On the upside it's an opportunity to learn...

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  • 2 weeks later...

Plodding along. Last week I reached a good milestone - I got just about all the remnants of the old rear wing off and got quite a motivation boost from trying a heritage rear wing to see how it fit.

It vindicated my decision to take the old one off, which I think now must have been a Steelcraft wing. In some ways they are really close, but the small differences really seem to change the way it fits around the B post and the rear deck seam.  The old one sat higher up and just looked wrong.

Even without banging it into shape I'm pleased to see I might just get away with keeping the inner wing where it is, and I now have a rear deck and wing in the same plane:


The horsehoe trim should fit much better now it's aligned right too:



Then on Friday I went to the NEC classic car show which stoked my ambition further. I managed to stock up on a few useful tools like Cleco's, mini mole grips and dremel accessories. All the usual stuff. It's always interesting going to see other Triumph's and the big variation in restoration quality really makes it obvious how important it is to get this job done right.

Today back on the job, I started by having a look at the driver's side rear wing where it joins the top of the B post. I need to painstakingly find the two lips front and side that extend from the rear deck panel, as they are the points in which the factory joined the rear wing and brazed the gap with brass filler.


In hindsight I probably shouldn't have put the B post capping on before mounting the hard top, but I still managed to get a good look after removing some primer.


Took the opportunity to clean the rear wing up again with phosphoric acid. The previous owner did a great job of repairing this panel. I notice he didn't recreate the (drain?) hole just behind the wheel arch - thoughts on this anyone? The wings always used to fill up with water before I took the car off the road so drainage is good, although the hole from the factory was large with no grommet.


The lower B post inner panel has had a few repairs in it's time, I think I will clean these up as overlapping metal is a potential rust trap. You can see here I've managed to find the original rear deck lip/tang thingy, and backed off from grinding just leaving a very small amount of brazing intact so as not to reach the steel.


Cutting the lumpy welds off the outer b post is quite tricky so I bare metalled it to get a better view. There's still more to do to recreate the edge, in addition to filling the holes. Got a nice thick copper bar for that later on. There's a bit of yellow left from the tack brazing so I know the right height up the wing to put that back on, which is another thoroughly pointless original detail I'll recreate later :banana:


Almost done cleaning up the top. I'm going to leave this for now until I get closer to fit up on the wing.


This just looks so much better! The edge of the wing is much crisper and it fits tightly against the b post. I will be spot welding almost all of it like original, the only part I don't think I'll be able to reach is the last 2 spot welds at the bottom near the sill. If so I'll have to plug weld those.

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15 hours ago, RichardB said:

fits tightly against the b post

Beware! I believe it needs about 19 mm from the inner edge - if not, you risk having the door sticking out, when you put on the door trim and seals :-)

Edited by JMH
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