Managing a restoration

Managing a major restoration

First of all, an apology for not posting for some time. Since mid-August, I have been to the Belgian Grand Prix, followed a week later by the World Endurance round at the Nurburgring, then the Italian Grand Prix, followed by the Goodwood Revival. Then I flew to Singapore for that GP and then on to Japan before finally a weekend off. However, off to Sochi on Wednesday.

Now in theory this means a quiet time for the man restoring my Excellence, the excellent Ian Webb from near Liskeard in Cornwall. When I’m around, I’m badgering and pestering him for updates, for progress on various bits, what exactly he needs and then I try and find it. It’s only when you’re really hands on (if you can call it that) in a restoration that you realise just what an enormous task it is.

In the last month or so, for instance, we’ve tackled the windscreen (yes, you can get them from National Windscreens, 10-12 weeks), windscreen wiper (still unresolved), the door handles(an ongoing saga), the interior trim and leather (again, not yet decided), the radiator (not long now), speedometer (now this will be interesting), handbrake cable(probably resolved), fuel tank sender (delayed), handbrake lever and circular saw (fifty per cent there), exhaust (starting soon), bonnet and boot (ongoing saga again), distributor (finally resolved, I hope), all the small instruments (all present and correct but working?) etc – yes, there are more. And this is a month when I’ve been travelling!

I bought the Excellence in the early nineties. It had been stored under a tree in Herne Bay and part of the tree had fallen on the roof, creating a dent. There was almost nothing in the car. The owner had had a problem with the brakes in 1972 when the car was only 12 years old. A mechanic had begun to strip the brakes and he just hadn’t stopped, so that there was nothing in the car at all apart from the steering wheel and some pretty grotty wiring. There was no glass in the car apart from the rear screen which is still there.

Everything else was in boxes or just loose: seats, trim, windows, windscreen, fan, engine parts, heater, lots of little boxes of screws, more of brightly chromed interior and exterior parts, great hulking lumps of bumper, massive servo, delicate FACEL VEGA lettering etc etc. Some of it was wrapped in newspapers from 1972, which is why I know that’s when it was all taken apart. I’ve just discovered the announcement of a friend’s sister’s engagement in a piece of the newspaper.

So we were starting from scratch. The good news, even from the moment of purchase, is that the car itself seemed to be pretty sound. Sure, there was rust, particularly in the bonnet and boot but not in the chassis and everything – well nearly everything – seems to be there. I noticed that there wasn’t a speedometer – but several fuel gauges – and we seem to be missing part of the wiper mechanism. And I don’t recall seeing parts of the sun visor… There was no spare wheel and just three wheel trims. I live in hope that they are all in a box somewhere which I will suddenly discover but I’ve since bought both a spare wheel and a wheel trim – although the latter will need work.

Steadily Ian has been working through the car. Occasionally I have to send something down from Sussex where I live and we have a small network of couriers who either pass his door or live nearby. But I have to rustle through the boxes that remain and try and find what he wants. There are still quite a few heavy duty brackets in the boxes, for instance, and I have brake shoes but he’s bought new ones. There are lots of little warning lights, the door handle mechanisms, some grotty bits of metal which could be heat shields, heavy duty ducting, lots of rubber seals (boot? doors? screens?) and so it goes on.

Some things have to be sourced or worked on by specialists – not always with satisfactory results. For instance, Ian noted that the door handles had lots of little bumps on them. They’re made of mazak which is a cheap alloy and it can break quite easily. We’ve seen that with the bonnet mechanisms. In spite of being chromed, the bubbles in the handles actually have little holes beneath them, and while you can fill these holes, they can reappear. The solution was to have new door handles and their buttons re-cast but just at the time I took them to a recommended casting company, they received a major order and put all their little on jobs on hold. That was four months ago and they don’t expect to start my castings for a further month.

The dashboard and seat backs need painting with wood effect; I wasn’t very impressed when my Facel 11’s dash was done but there’s an Englishman in France who has done some good work on an Excellence and I’m going to him to have mine painted. After an initial delay due to being hospitalised a couple of years ago, he’s finally coming to have a look at the job in a couple of week’s time, but of course that has to be timed between Grands Prix and when he wants to come to this country.

At the same time, it’s important for the trimmer to see how the seat backs’ leather blends with the wood effect paint but my chosen trimmer has recently moved premises and doesn’t seem to have done any homework on the job from the information that I’ve supplied. He was due to be back in operation at the beginning of this month but there’s no sign of that happening at the moment. And I want him to come and see the job in the next week. It rather makes you want to head in another direction.

Parts, as you know, are difficult to come by, so when we’re looking for something, it might have to be re-made or at least sourced. Facel Vegas have their French and American heritages, so you start by looking in that direction. Then again, you can go down a blind alley. Something – I forget what – is produced by Lockheed – but French Lockheed not UK or American Lockheed.

But quite often Facel used British-made parts, partially thanks to production at Jaguar and other major companies. A friend recently enquired as to the source of Facel Vega brake discs. There are several specialist companies which will make you gorgeous modern callipers and supply you with all the right master and wheel cylinders but not discs. Couldn’t they be bought off the shelf from a Jaguar specialist? As my jetlag cleared, I remembered being told that the blank discs were Dunlop but the Jaguar and Facel fittings were different; they were machined and drilled to different dimensions. Fortunately, there are a couple of specialists who offer them, but their prices are a hundred euros apart.

At the moment I’m searching for parts of the windscreen wipers which I looked for in all the remaining boxes over the weekend but couldn’t find. Might they be hiding with the speedometer and the sun visors? Please? It’s at times like these that you begin to stray away from originality. After all, you really do want windscreen wipers that work and work well, so why not head off to something modern which works and works efficiently? You can always store the old motors and mechanism for the day that you sell, so that the new owner can fit the original bits if he so desires. And who’s going to know? The motor hides under the bonnet in a corner. The only give-away is that they work and work efficiently as opposed to the old stuff which probably won’t.

As you’re probably well aware, when it comes to buying bits of Facel Vega – original or otherwise – the best places are in Holland (Amicale Facel Vega), Germany (K4-SystemX) and France (Amicale) but there are several other sources and individuals who have a range of Facel parts. And my never ending bugbear is where did these bits come from in the first place? I’ve mentioned the brake discs from Dunlop, for instance, but there are lots of other bits and pieces which come from odd places. I recently had to look for a boot lock; it transpired that it came off a Ford Zephyr or Zodiac originally. I found one advertised on e-bay for a Facel Vega and it was about twice the price as that advertised for the Ford.

Talking of e-bay, parts occasionally appear there for varying amounts of money. Some are plain stupid, others quite sensible. I’ve occasionally noted parts that have come up for sale and a friend recently bid for some Facel trim but failed to buy them as the price rose and rose. Sadly, that’s what is likely to happen and you may never find the bits you need. Unless you find someone who stashed away a whole load of bits when they were cheap and is happy to help out a friend, then you may be frustrated. It’s a good reason to be a member of a club; this information is available to club members.

The alternative is to get the parts manufactured. When I was looking at replacing the doorhandles, a number of manufacturing options arose. Being involved in motor sport, I know that 3D printing is a major option for fast and accurate manufacturing, but at this stage it’s also expensive. Some would even suggest that it is a potential possibility and one friend suggested a company who might help, but the boss of the company said that it was still too early to think about manufacturing parts in this way. This is something for the future; maybe I should have just left the car for a further couple of years before beginning the restoration. Restoration may soon be a whole lot easier once this technology comes on stream. It shouldn’t be long now.


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