1971 Spitfire Restoration

Hey, it looked good on the outside, but I have learned that beauty is often only skin deep. Rust and dents can go right to the bone…this is one such story.

Thinking “I’ll just take the head off for a little peek” is how the restoration of my 1971 Mk IV Spitfire started. The bores had a distinct lip on them, so it was out with the engine for a recondition. “Hmmm…the rest of the engine bay looks a bit tatty – it would be a shame not to tidy that up seeing as the engine is out.” “Now what about the rest of the body?”…………. Well, that was three years ago now.

I purchased 71 SPIT after returning to New Zealand from Australia and enjoyed three essentially trouble-free years of using it as my everyday car. During this time I replaced most of the interior (dash, seats, door panels, carpet, steering wheel etc) and fitted a new stereo, hood, clutch, reg no. and starter motor – but I always had in my mind the idea that one day I would treat the car to a full rebuild. As it happened that day arrived sooner than anticipated…. mainly thanks to my morbid curiosity about the state of the head.

Once out the engine was given a full rebuild, the only modifications made being to fit hardened valve seats, a duplex timing chain, and a full (rather than half) crankshaft thrust washer. A new rocker shaft and rockers were fitted, as these were found to be very worn – I may yet fit a remote oil feed to avoid a recurrence of the problem. The engine now sits on my bench nicely painted, with a freshly chromed rocker cover and air filter awaiting return of the rest of the car from the paint shop. Roll on that day.

The decision to attack the rest of the body once the engine had been removed was not taken lightly, but in the end I decided it had to be done. The paintwork definitely fitted in the ‘good from far, but far from good’ category – large sections on the boot and bonnet starting to resemble crazy-paving as the three separate layers of paint (that I later found below the top coat) had slowly reacted with each other over the years. All it took was about 10 L of Tergostrip, a high tolerance for the pain inflicted when you get this evil stuff on your skin, and in the short space of two years I had the whole body stripped back to bare metal inside and out – easy as! Nasty discoveries on the way included mega rust in all the lower panels, except the front valances, which luckily were dented instead. But that was OK… because then they matched the RH rear wing. Fortunately Mr MasterCard came to the rescue and provided new front valances, a new rear wing, two new sills, half a new boot floor and a new front floor pan…..he is good like that.

Currently the car is in at the sprayers being painted – in preparation for the big bolt-together. Hopefully this is going to occur sometime in the next few months. In the interests of saving money I decided against a two-pack finish, but did opt for a phosphoric acid anti-rust treatment for the body, and smooth red Hammerite for the chassis. All ancillary components in the engine bay have either been reconditioned or have been replaced new (mainly from Cardinal Triumph in the UK). These are all currently sitting in boxes at various locations throughout Christchurch. Having shifted house four times since the whole restoration process began my biggest fear now is that when I go to put the spittie back together I am going to find half the bits missing!

After 3-4 years off the road that first drive is going to taste so sweet though..


Yep, the spitfire finally arrived back from the painters and the big bolt together could begin. This went surprisingly quickly – mainly because all the parts had previously been either replaced or reconditioned separately whilst the body was away. Progress was measured by the number of boxes of bits remaining to be bolted on…the only problem is that even now that it is finished, I still have one box left!

Handy hints for potential rebuilders that I have picked up on the way include –

» Do replace all the nuts and bolts as you go with new ones – reusing the old ones just isn’t worth the hassle.

» Do label all your wiring ends and parts, and take photos of the wiring loom and under the bonnet to remind yourself how it all goes back together.

» Don’t steam clean your chassis if you used water-based pen for your wiring labels – I found this out the hard way!

» Get an upholsterer to recarpet your vehicle – the carpet kit I bought from the UK was an appalling fit.

» And finally, for the sake of your sanity, don’t move house five times while restoring a vehicle! Despite moving around so much during the course of the restoration I only managed to lose two bits – the bonnet prop and the fuse box lid. I did have a bit of a moment when I realised I hadn’t seen the exhaust pipe for about 3 years, but a quick trip back to the flat I lived in at the time reunited us!

Anyway, the Motor Vehicle Registration Department set me a deadline of June 2001, when the car registration was due to expire (this had been placed on the restoration register thus protecting the registration for 5 years), which we managed to make with a couple of months to spare. Pausing only to dent the front spoiler reversing out of the garage (duh!) the car took its first drive on Feb 5. Yeah!

It is great to have 71 SPIT back on the road again, and I would like to thank my friends, Bruce and Richard, and my partner Sue for all their help putting it back together.

Thanks also to everyone at the Triumph Owners Club who re-enthused me at times when my enthusiasm was at its lowest! It will be good to attend a club event in a Triumph once again!

Pictures From the Restoration

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Catering for Triumph Car Owners in the Canterbury Region