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

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The 'last' Spitfire at Gaydon. Looking at these again the bonnet to front of door gap might actually be the same as the Herald book above (5/16") - the photos I have all make it look different depending on the angle the photo was taken from.

Planning this job for so long, I've accrued an unhealthy number of photographs of Spitfires...


Interesting to see how the bottom of the rear wing looks bent up at the front.


The bonnet wing/sill gap is even, that's just lens distortion making it look shorter at the back.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I was thinking of making my own windscreen drip gutters as most of the aftermarket panels I've seen look like they were made by someone with their eyes closed. The drivers side one was terrible and I've removed it already, but the passenger side is still the original.

After speaking to Chic Doig I got some from him as he makes them up and said they fit well. I'm very impressed. They are indistinguishable from the originals, I know its a fairly simple panel but it's still rare to see that. It's saved me a decent chunk of time making my own.



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  • 4 weeks later...

Haven't posted for a while as there's not been a lot of exciting progress to report. I didn't get as much time to work on the car over the holiday period as I'd hoped, and the focus has been a lot of thinking, measuring, planning, and still more grinding away the remnants of the old panels.

It seems as if I encounter a new problem at each step that complicates the work further. This time it's one of the new outer sills. They are both older genuine pressings, as I figure that gives me the best chance of getting a good fit. 70s pressing on the LHS and 90s (I think) Rover pressing on the RHS. The Rover pressing isn't as good though - the longest lip that rests against the A post panel isn't very sharp, only the curved portion of the lip is sharp on this sill.


^ left lip bad, right lip good


I know this isn't right as a) it will need persuasion to sit at 90 degrees and b) the older sill I have is a nice sharp folded lip here. Bit annoying but not a deal breaker, I can probably panel beat it out with a good hammer form.


I've got the driver's side door back on which is good news. To get an approximation of how far out everything is, I used a sharpie to get the hinges centred on the door and on the A post.


This is a USA door with side impact bars that is in lovely condition... except USPS dropped it when it was on it's way to me and bent the edges. Urgh. You can see the lower front corner is really bent in here, I've since beaten that back with a hammer and dolly and think I've done a good job. No photo yet but it will require only a very slight skim of filler. What really helped with that is realising that Spitfire doors should be completely straight in the horizontal direction from back to front, it's only the vertical plane that they have a shape. So all I had to do to fix the damage was put a straight edge against the door horizontally and keep checking.



It's really obvious just loosely clipping the outer sill in place how much the height of the sill placement affects the bottom door gap. The more you squeeze it and reduce the gap between the top and bottom seams, the more outboard it sits. It's too far in here in this photo. This side of the car is unquestionably better than the passenger (LHS) one but I still think the door gap will end up being a bit too tight without resetting it, looking at how the bonnet is currently too far forward. But something to worry about later.

Next job was doing the same centering job with the passenger door, rehanging it to the sharpie marks.


I then spent an hour measuring everything - not because I think these measurements are how they should be, but just so I have a frame of reference for what may have changed when I start cutting more metal out and moving things.



I would love to know this measurement in particular if anyone has an unwelded shell. The curious thing for this car is that the door frame is currently wider on the left side, but the gap between the heelboard and top of the windscreen is wider on the right. About 1cm each way. The welds haven't popped on the windscreen panel (I checked this properly after your tip Nick) so the disparity is probably bulkhead related, with maybe a little bit of a bent windscreen frame too.

Finally, I've been cleaning up a chopped up bit of Spitfire I bought ages ago to use for repair patches. Shame it's not the driver's side. It is incredible how much filler people used in the past to keep these cars going, it turned the driveway white with dust when I wirebrushed it all off. This bit of scrap has an original outer sill, inner sill, a-post filler and strengthener so might be useful for getting some measurements as a guide as well.




Next on the list of jobs to do:

  • find a solution to brace yet easily adjust the bulkhead on each side. don't want to have to keep tacking bits of metal bar if I can avoid it.
  • start making repair patches for the hinge areas on the driver's side
  • cut out the lower A posts where they meet the floor, so I can move them around and reset them with new repair patches
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  • 2 weeks later...

Made some decent progress today. I got thinking over the last week or two about the Heritage bonnet and why it fits  badly in some places.

I have a theory that although BMH are at a disadvantage because they probably don't have the original jigs, that isn't the main reason - it's more likely to be that a 'Heritage bonnet' isn't 100% original parts, it's a mix of old pressings and repro ones. I have tried to figure out what's likely to be original pressings and the parts I'm suspicious of are the headlamp areas and the support irons because they appear to be different from original ones I've seen.

I took the main bonnet support tube off and already I had less resistance to pushing it into the right shape by hand. I then fitted a spare original support tube back onto the bonnet and hey presto - no more tucking at the back corners. The bonnet has never looked this straight, I'm very happy especially as it proved the theory.



The two bonnet support tubes are definitely a different shape, I reckon the flanges at each end might be original pressings (I haven't really looked) but the heritage tubes are a thicker metal and probably not bent on the same jig. Lining the two up together is tricky but it's clear the mounting holes on the original 1970s assembly are about 1cm narrower apart across the width of the bonnet, which tucks the wheel arches in a bit more and then that pushes out the rear lower corners of the front wings.



The wings have had the holes in the original pressings enlarged at the BMH factory (see above) or less likely, by the previous owner but they didn't need to do this - what they should have done is gone back to the support tubes and improved that part. It's a shame as I prefer the BMH part otherwise, it's much more substantial with the heavier gauge steel and is less likely to rust like the originals do. I may rework it at some point once the car is back on the road, as I'd like to fit one of the USA support catches on the RHS. The support iron I've just fitted is from a Mk4 so would need modifying anyway, it doesn't have the bracket for it.

The next job was to have a go at cutting the lower A post to separate it from the floor, and starting to remove the inner sill and strengthener. This allows me to start resetting the bulkhead to the right place. Before I did that I took a measurement of floor ^ up to dashboard so I can see how much I've moved it from the 59 cm height it's at now.



There is clearly tension now pulling the bulkhead up a bit to where it should be, as the thing sprung up a few mm higher at the A post / sill join area after I finished cutting. Most interesting. We are a long way to go before it fixes the door fit though. The gap at the back of the door is still hideous, a very wide 'V' shape.


Edited by RichardB
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On 1/23/2022 at 2:06 PM, RichardB said:

I have a theory that although BMH are at a disadvantage because they probably don't have the original jigs

Jigs...? looks like they just use molegrips for most of it!

(Presume you'll have seen this - unfortunately they don't show the support tubes being made)



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I have seen that before but it's been a while since I watched it, thanks for sharing Pete. I think that demonstrates the issue - the guys will be taking as much care as they can, but without anything to go by for alignment there is less chance it will fit. The original pressings presumably improve their chances of success a great deal.

The headlamp surrounds in particular are problematic - if they drop them in just so they touch the main panel snugly, that won't work because that sub assembly isn't an all original pressing. My bonnet doesn't follow the contours of the alloy shrouds well so are going to have to be un-welded and reset.

Edited by RichardB
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Today's efforts were interesting. I had a go at shifting the bulkhead to see if my plan is correct, and to do this I got out my 4 tonne body adjuster kit. It's basically a hydraulic jack, similar to a bottle jack but with a multitude of different length extensions and different shape end fittings.

This was the starting point - the door gap was too wide at the top and too tight at the bottom. No amount of adjusting the hinges would get the door in the right position, and in this photo the door hinges were jacked right up - not centrally located in the captive plates.


After some experimentation, here's what I ended up with. The hydraulic ram pushes against the door gap adjuster, which is tightly bolted to the flange - this way it prevents it from distorting anything too much at the point of pressure.


Unfortunately I learnt a lesson about support with this - the first go around I didn't have a block of wood underneath the foot and nothing underneath the car, and managed to raise the bulkhead but bent the floor downwards at the same time. It will straighten out later but it's tricky to do this well without bending something on the other end. The heelboard doesn't seem to work well as a base because the diagonal push ends up changing the door gap, and all I need to do is raise the bulkhead vertically up and down.


You can see the extent to how much the A post has moved as this gap was even after cutting with the angle grinder - this was the first time around without any wood on either side. Even without the floor distorting, the shift is quite noticeable though. I reckon it had sagged around 1cm on the back once you minus the floor distortion.


^ Second attempt after thumping the floor back into position, this time I used some wood underneath as support.


This is much closer now, the gap still is very slightly wider at the top but the difference here is the door hinges are in the middle of their travel where they attach to the bulkhead. The gap looks worse at the top due to lens distortion on the camera, it's probably close enough now you could fill it with a very small amount of lead or just leave it.

So in conclusion whilst none of this trial is permanent, it proved what the car needs is not a door gap adjuster, but a vertical bulkhead adjuster. I was able to slacken off the door gap adjuster completely and that helped things go back into place, with the hard top bracing the shell and the hydraulic ram lifting the bulkhead, a considerable improvement in door gap was achieved.

The bonnet then had to be shifted forward a bit to get a nice gap and that left it with an even 5/16" gap at the front of the door and 3/16" at the back.


The only thing that didn't look right was the rear wing / sill join was a bit too inboard of the door. Lots of progress still to make though before I get round to worrying about that - I have all the old shrapnel to get rid of from the inner + middle sill and plenty of repairs to make.

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Something to look for while you are at this stage......

While you say non-rusty car - clearly it has been.... and anyway, what I'm about to mention isn't necessarily rust related.  You need to have a look right up under the the bottom of the windscreen pillars......


I don't appear to have a "before pic, but various layer come together and one of the key ones rusts in the very subtle manner - in the red circled area IIRC.  Also, one of the other gussets is only tacked (orange circle) and may break if heavy driver swinging on the pillar getting in or out, or if you are beating on a windscreen that just will not seat.......  The upper A pillar gets awfully flexible when this happens!

We repaired and added another gusset (between arrows).  Best to check on this and attend to it if needed as may affect relationship between top and bottom of A pillar!

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Thanks Nick I do plan on strengthening that area. On the driver's side it has had heavy repairs done because the bit the glass seals sit on had rotted particularly badly.

I wish I had a spec for what the rake angle of the screen pillar should be, as I'd be able to just fit a gusset now. The two sides of the car are slightly different angles so I probably won't do it until the door fit really gets going and I am starting to play with glass inside the door. It's a lot of work doing that only to take it out for painting, but it used to drive me nuts that I couldn't wind the glass up properly, I could never get the angle of the glass to sit far back enough (again proof the bulkhead had sagged).

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That part is a tricky place to do repairs - on early cars (mk 1-3) its a rust-trap due to the front screen boltet through.

Re. the rear wing: I have only done body work on early cars, but dog-leg part often need some 'persuasion' to get right. Its possible to move the lower joint (floor) a few mm. both ways.

Looking good btw. :-) 

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  • 4 months later...

I'm ashamed to say progress has more or less stalled over the last few months. I slipped a disc in my back lifting loft boards in whilst insulating and boarding, stupidly trying to carry more than was practical up the loft ladder. That put a damper on things through February as recovery was slow, and then a few other major projects took over whilst recovering.

This month I've made a small dent though and picked a couple of tasks well worth doing. First was cleaning the garage - my word, grinding dust covers everything and probably isn't very good for my health just sitting there. Despite wearing a respirator when working, I'm sure some of it will get kicked up into the air when it gets disturbed at other times.

I got a cyclone online called the 'dust commander' that goes in between the vacuum cleaner recently so brought that out and set to work. It's not strictly necessary in this situation, I bought it more for woodworking but every bit of filtration helps.

Next job was to start filling up the 8-10mm holes in the b post door catch panel from previously drilled through spot welds. This was a bit of a mess and almost made the panel not worth saving, but I thought it's good practice to use the copper backing bar and a MIG to fill up holes, as big as they were.




The back of the lip looks scabby as you never get a smooth reverse face doing this, but I'm not sure that's really that big a deal? Even the front is mainly hidden under the rear wing - what concerned me more is having a fairly even thickness of metal and no unsightly remnants of previous repairs.

It's easy to go too thin with the angle grinder when smoothing off, so I don't want to end up burning through any parts I spot weld or weakening the panel. But then again if there's a huge thick build up of weld behind the lip, imagine that won't help spot welding either as the current will be too low.

Think it's alright now anyway. My next puzzle is what sheet metal cutter to obtain as I want to start making a repair patch to fix the rubbish repair patches at the bottom of the b-post area where it meets the floor.

Any recommendations would be welcome, I'm looking at things like this? ebay affair with wheels or this ebay cheapie straight guillotine but not sure if they'd be a false economy. I tried using a nibbler which works tremendously well but the mess is unbelievable and takes years to find once it's fired out everywhere.

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The ones I have cut clean and the edges stay flat. I have cut 4ft sheets of mild steel in half no problem, but used it lots lately cutting strips to repair spit floor edges. With practice it's pretty easy to follow a a scribed line to get an acceptable straight edge for a repair.

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Just to add, these are no good for cutting curves but are great for straight cuts, more in line with a guilotine cut, but I also have a pair of Wiss tin snips for cutting curves and smaller pieces. Wiss tin snips are on a different level to the cheapo ones and in my opinion well worth the extra cost.

Edited by Mark
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  • 1 month later...

Progress has been very slow with family life being busy but I have managed to spend a little bit of time preparing the inner sill panels. Both Stanpart inner sills, they got the paint stripper / clingfilm > angle grinder wire brush treatment. After that they were cleaned with phosphoric acid, sanded to 80 grit to give a key for the paint, wiped again with a light coat of the phosphoric acid and then wiped down with acetone.

Glad I did this as the surface rust under the slight spider webbing was quite noticeable. Most of it had come off by the time I took photos but you can still see some of it on there.

I was going to spray them with bondarust but just ended up brushing them in the end, I need to start saving time where I can. The masking tape is for any welded areas, I am informed that bondarust can be welded through but to be sure I'll use weld through primer where the spot welder is in contact with the panels.






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On 8/15/2022 at 10:18 AM, RichardB said:

The masking tape is for any welded areas, I am informed that bondarust can be welded through but to be sure I'll use weld through primer where the spot welder is in contact with the panels.

Pretty sure I’ve seen a seam sealer that is designed to be applied just before spot welding….. Seems like a good idea in principle….:confused:

Was thinking of you yesterday as a friend bought a mk2 GT6 last year and while it seems fairly solid, apparently the PO and his brother did a diy restoration on it and their grasp of the concept of panel fit was clearly rudimentary at best. The door and bonnet fit are grim…. And it’s not going to adjust out…..

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That would be the ideal wouldn't it?

I think this stuff may fall into that category - https://www.3m.co.uk/3M/en_GB/p/d/b40066975/ but then again maybe it still can't be applied to the immediate weld area. 3M's online videos tell users of their 'weld through primer' to clean it off where they are intending to plug weld. Suppose you'd also have to weigh up the benefit vs the increased complication and going off time.

When I started down this path my approach was always 'belt and brace it' but now I'm thinking there's a lot to be said for actually finishing a project. I've had the car off the road in my ownership more years now (7) than I had it working (5)...

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4 hours ago, RichardB said:

When I started down this path my approach was always 'belt and brace it' but now I'm thinking there's a lot to be said for actually finishing a project. I've had the car off the road in my ownership more years now (7) than I had it working (5)...

I am generally of the same opinion. Although I do occasionally fall off the wagon and have to remind myself.

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8 hours ago, RichardB said:

my approach was always 'belt and brace it' but now I'm thinking there's a lot to be said for actually finishing a project.

It's a difficult balance. It is thoroughly depressing to see rust appearing a year or so after a full strip & repaint. Not suggesting that would happen here, but I rushed the paint stage on my front suspension rebuild and regret not taking a bit more time.

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