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Why do they call it a "Cliffhanger" .  .  .  ?


Don't ask......................

Sunday, May 5, 2002:
Okay, so I had this great idea to wake up early Sunday morning and drive 100 miles east to the California Valley and the little town of Button Willow.   Moss Motors was hosting their annual vintage race weekend that included a little British car show as well as a chance to drive on the Button Willow Raceway track.
I decided to take Highway 58 which is notorious for it's scenic route and amazing winding turns through the hillside passes that run the east and west boundry of the Carrizo Plain, a section of California High Desert.
Unfortunately, coming down the winding canyons on the east side, I lost control of the America and plowed nose first into a 3' high earth burm.  The impact launched the car up over the top of the burm and it started down the other side when the lower front apron and tires burried themselves, and stopped the car. The rear of the car was left hanging out in the air.
Fortunately, the car didn't continue down the 50' embankment and into the unknown below.
A few minutes later, a local resident stopped to help.  He gave me "...a ride into town..." and got me to a phone so I could call a "wrecker" to come tow me out.  Mind you, this is 8am on a Sunday morning and I am in the middle of nowhere.
The tow-truck driver picked me up and took me back to the car, and then magically, my wallet was $110 dollars lighter.  Once down on the road, the America fired right up and drove nearly perfect.  The front-end alignment was alittle off, and I had to pull the front fender out of the left tire, but all was good...considering!
I drove on to the race track and enjoyed the remainder of the show.  The trip home was uneventful. to tell the wife! 

Deconstruction begins:
May 14, 2002
Well, telling the wife went about as smooth as the removal of the entire front panel......there was some grinding, hammering, chiseling, prying and yanking.....and then I started taking the car apart.
In a way, the crash was a good thing.  It turns out that the "butcher" I hired to replace the front panel and paint the car back in 1990 did a very bad job welding.  The front panel was barely held on and only by a few welds that looked like chewing gum.  It took me about an hour to get all the trim and wiring removed and another hour to cut the front panel free.
What a sad state the car is in and I'm well deserving of a boot in the rear for crashing it!
May 15, 2002
Most of the day was spent on the frame rack.  The progress was nothing short of amazing!  The inner fenders are now completely straight and flanges that will ultimately be welded to the front panel are back in place again.  The front subframe is also back out and squared up, and the buckle in the drive's side floor board is gone too.  The front panel will be welded on next, followed by the rough bodywork and the final staightening of the lower left fender.
May 17, 2002:
Quite a bit of progress was made in the last few days.  The inner fenders were salvaged and staightened.  I was showed that the wheel-base measurement were back to spec. The front panel was clamped in place and ready for final alignment and welding.
Unfortunately,  the bodyshop didn't listen when I asked them to stop pulling ont the front corner of the subframe.  The were pulling so hard that the subframe mounts were beginning to tear apart.  Even after my warning, they continued pulling and an area of the lower left corner of the firewall was badly torn.  This ultimately needed to be welded up and then a repair panel was welded in as reinforcement.
Left inner fender straightens out.
Floor patch roughed in.
Front panel clamped in position.
Inner fender repaired.
May 20, 2002:
Significant progress today.  Although some of it scares me to death! 
The floor repair was patches were installed.  One large one was placed over the torn area of the firewall and floor, and one was placed inside insided the left fender well.  Unfortunately the person doing the work doesn't appear to have the skill needed to MIG weld and the welds are looking more like chewing gum.  The patch covered over the torn area and I have a feeling the tears weren't welded.  The patch also covers over the rear subframe bolts.  When I pointed these issues out to the shop owner and the body guy, both told me that they would be taken care of.
After the trial fitting of the front panel, they decided that the front flanged areas of both fenders were needing some extra metal.  I, of course was not told of this.  Imagine my shock when I show up to find that the body guy has taken an old door skin from another car, fabricated new flanged edges for the fenders, and begun welding them in place.  By the time I showed up, the left side was welded in place and the right side was fitted and ready for welding. 
For some reason they welded these new "flanges" onto the outside edge of the fender. As you can see in the photos, this took some time and I have no idea why they didn't put these on the inside of the fenders.  I wonder how they are going to handle the final bodywork over the welds and strips of metal. 
I'm told the inner fender flanges are going to get this same treatment.
Re-edging the right fender
Left fender re-edged.
May 23, 2002:
The America came home today with the framework completed and front panel welded in place.  It's amazing how much stronger the front of the car feels, compared to before the crash. 
Unfortunetly, the job and quality has really fallen apart during the past few days.  They didn't follow my instructions and call me for a final inspection of the car before they welded the front panel in place.  My intent was to give the car a final inspection and if there were any areas of concern, address them while the car was still on the frame machine and not welded up. 
However, in their haste to complete the job, they welded the inner fenders into the wrong location on both sides of the front panel.  The floor was never straightened after their little pulling damage and the backs of both front fenders were never lined up with the doors or welded back to the body.  The patch in the floor was never opened up around the areas of the subframe bolts and the patch was never welded to the car within it's interior.  Just the exterior edges are welded.  So, it's not structual at all, it's still just a band-aid. Additionally, there are cracks and tears in the inner fenders that were never welded up.  They were using a big 300 or 500 watt halogen construction light, which they had place on top of my new armrest and center console.  I kept waiting for it to fall over and melt its way through one of the seats.  Sure enough, it fell over and laid against the shifter knob so long that it melted a huge 3/4" wide trough in the shifter handle.  That must have smelled nice.  I wonder what their first clue was that there might be a problem?  The smoke from the melting plastic,  or the smell of the melting plastic?
If all this wasn't enough, the bowed outer edges of the front fenders were never straightened.  I had asked for them to be, and was assured by the owner and 2 of the body guys, that they would be straightened.  But, they were not.
Somehow during their re-alignment of the hood, they got it too close to the right corner of the cowl and took a big chip out of the paint.  On top of that, there is a shallow dent between the antenna opening and the hood, on the top of the fender.  I have know idea how they managed to do that.
They want the car back on Wednesday the 29th, but I'm not sure it's going to return there again.
Took the car to an alignment shop and had them check the alignment of all 4 wheels.  It was slightly toed-in, which they adjusted, and there was a 1 degree angle of thrust between the front and rear wheels, which is pretty close.  While the car was up in the air, I was asked to come inspect the damaged area to the floor.  I was surprized to see all the tears in the floor that were never welded up.  Not to mention the buckling of the floor that was never pushed out.
I'll be spending quite a bit of time over the next few days to treat the weld seams and undercoat the front fenders inside.  I'm also going to work on straightening out the floor and firewall. I'm taking the car to a friend who owns the muffler shop that I always use.  He is really skilled with a MIG welder, and we're going to weld up the remaining areas of the floor and inner fenders that weren't finished by the bodyshop.
Four wheel alignment.
Front panel welded on.
May 25, 2002:
I spent 5 hours today at the muffer shop with my friend Dale.  We found the right fender was welded onto the front panel crooked.  The "shut line" of the hood with the fender was wider at the front of the car indicating that the fender was too far out to the right.  The hood lined up fine with the left fender.
We cut the welds connecting the right fender to the top crossmember of the front panel, then made a puller and moved the fender inward until it lined up properly.  The whole task took about :30min.  Why this wasn't done is another unanswered question.
We repaired all the tears in the lower parts of the inner fenders and re-welded those areas to the nose panel.  We also welded up all the holes that were in the welds connecting the front panel to the left fender. 
After finishing on the front panel repairs, we were ready to put the car on a drive-on hoist so we could get at the floor.  However, I was yet to discover another little "land mine" left by the bodyshop. 
As I backed the car up in the parking lot, it died and wouldn't re-start.  I noticed the cranking speed seemed labored and the starter sounded different.  Then I looked up and saw Dale waving his hands to tell me to stop!  There was smoke coming from under the hood!  When we opened the hood, the wires for my new Pertronix ignition system were glowing red hot and burning the rest of the wiring harness next to them. 
We cut out the burned area and repaired one severed wire with a splice connector.  Amazingly, the car fired right up.  I later found that the bodyshop had re-installed the battery tray in such a way that it pinched an ignition wire between itself and the fender.  This wire was shorted to ground.  Although I'd been driving the car just a day before, the shorted wire was probably not "totally" shorted until Dale and I began working on that poorly mounted right fender.  I also discovered later that the wrong bolts had been used on the battery tray (eventhough it had the correct bolts on it when I took it to the bodyshop) and the threads on some of the studs were now stripped.
With the wiring repaired I got the car loaded onto the hoist.  My floor repair idea was to loosen the left rear front subframe mounting bolts from just the subframe.  They mount into slotted openings, so I figured that would allow the floor and firewall to be moved without effecting the subframe alignment.   Then , I thought we could straighten the buckled floor by using a post jack and a block of wood.   We could place the wood in line with the buckle, then push up into the buckle with the jack until it started to flex out flat again.  While doing this, I would get inside the car with a BIG hammer and flatten the floor and drive the firewall foreward.  After getting the floor straight, we could tighten the subframe bolts and weld up all the tears and cracks.
The plan worked fantastic.  The floor was straightened in about :10min. and the entire repair took about :45min including the welding.  Why this was never completed by the bodyshop, remains a mystery.  I had asked them to stop pulling and use a "Port-A-Power" to push the floor and firewall back out into shape.  I gues they thought is was a better idea to just leave it buckled?
May 28-31, 2002:
This has been the car repair week from hell!
The week started on Tuesday morning when I went to discuss all the issues with the bodywork with my "friend" and shop owner, John.  John's response was the classic "smoke-and-mirrors" trick used when somebody know's they've been caught, and they don't want to take responsibility. 
He immediately became angry, eventhough I kept telling him that all I wanted to do was talk about what was done and figure out a way to resolve it.  The calmer I spoke the madder he got. 
John couldn't comprehend the simple statement, "Your guy welded the inner fenders to the wrong location."  All he would say is, 'What do you mean they're welded in the wrong location?  The panels fit don't they?  Everything lines up doesn't it?'  Nothing I said convinced him that they were in the wrong location on the front panel.   He refused to discuss the issue of the floor and said if it was so bad, why hadn't I come to him the week before and tell him what the problem was.   I tried to refresh his memory;  that I had told him the floor patch was covering the subframe bolts and that it looked like it was welded improperly...and that he'd assured me, that he'd take care of it.  I also reminded him that I had called to ask that they not weld the front panel on until I inspected the car.  His response at that time: "Why? What's the problem?"  I tried reminding him that I'd talked to him, and both body guys about not pulling on the subframe anymore.  And, that I'd talked to all 3 of them about removing the bows from the front fenders. 
John had an excuse for all of it.  He would have had the floor patch fixed if I would have told him and showed it to him.  The subframe pulled out of the firewall because the firewall was so thin, weak and rusty.  (Funny it had lasted 32 years)  And they'd decided not to work on the fenders anymore because the fenders were so full of body filler that they would crack-out everywhere and then there'd be even more work.  (Too bad they didn't discuss that with me)
John then accused me of causing all the problems and blowing the whole thing out of proportion by doing all the repair work to the car over the weekend.  It was ALL my fault!  I should have given him the car back, so he could fix all my concerns.  As if all the concerns I'd already spoken of were addressed during the past 2 weeks!
He then told me that if I wanted my $750.00 back, I could have it.  He didn't want customers like me and he was tired of being the one who always got "F*cked" in these situations where he tried to help someone out.  According to John, our friendship was over and I was not welcome to ever come back again.  He wrote me a check, which I gladly accepted, and told me, "You know what Todd, you have too much time on your hands, and I'll just leave it at that."

I can see his point!  If you're doing bodywork like this you definately don't want a customer who:

  • Tells you he doesn't want an estimate, just wants it fixed.
  • Takes his car completely apart and removes a welded in place and damaged front panel so that you have access to pull all the remaining panels on a frame machine.
  • Brings you the factory specs for the car, since you've never seen one or even worked on one before and have no information on it.
  • Brings you a brand new front panel so you don't have to mess with straightening the old damaged one.
  • Brings your crew lunch 3 days in a row.
  • Checks on the car's progress at lunch time and at the very end of the day.
  • Advises you to stop pulling on the rubber mounted subframe to keep you from damaging the car, subframe and its mounts.
  • Asks that you quite pulling on the subframe after you tear it out of the firewall.
  • Asks that you use a "Port-A-Power" to push the floor and firewall back into position in order to avoid more damage to those areas.
  • Turns off the 300watt halogen construction light that your body guy keeps leaving propped on the vinyl armrest, unattended while at lunch, to keep it from setting the whole car on fire.
  • Asks you to call him before welding on the new front panel so you can make sure there's nothing else that needs to be done prior to welding...and tell you where the inner fenders go, so they are welded in place correctly.
  • Pays you immediately in cash.

Yes, I get the picture now....

May 28, 2002:

At the suggestion of State Farm Insurance, I took the car to another bodyshop.  These folks were just shocked at the poor quality of work that had been done and said the only way they'd touch the car, was if State Farm payed them to cut the front-end apart, put the car on a frame rack and re-assemble it a piece at a time using new parts.

They told me to get the insurance company to send a claims adjuster out to inspect the car and decide what to do with it at this point.

It was reassuring that someone else had an issue with the repair work, but at the same time, very disheartening.

I found a new bodyshop, recommended by my friends at British Sports Cars.  It's a one-man shop and Dave, the owner, does it all.  When I stopped by to show him the car, I was happy to find an MGB GT, MGB, Morris Minor Pickup (owned by British Sports Cars), and an early Datsun 240Z, all in for full restorations.  The America will be right at home and I'm considering having the entire car repainted at this point.

Dave is British, which suites me just fine!  He was amazed to see my "1100," commenting, "You don't see these anymore.  They used to be everywhere in England."  It's very nice to deal with someone who knows the America and can respect that it's a 30 year old British car.

Grinding the fenders down.

June 3, 2002:
Dave made quite a bit of progress on Saturday.  The front fenders are striped down to bare metal and welded back in their proper locations with respect to the front door "shut-lines".  The left fender is still a bit closer at the bottom, but he's working on that.   He has most of the floor patch removed and is getting ready to fix it properly.
The State Farm Insurance claim adjuster met with us and accepted Dave's estimate for the repair work.  The adjuster was not impressed with the work done by John's crew.   Apparently, we'll have an insurance check in a few days.
June 8, 2002:
The floor patch is complete, and looks great.  Dave was able to remove all the bowing from the mid sections of both front fenders.  So, they are now straight in line with the doors and the rest of the car.  He has them roughed in and ready for block sanding.
I've decided that since the car is going to be out of commission and so torn apart, it doesn't make sence not to repaint the entire thing.  So, I spent some time today taking the remainder of the trim, lights and rear bumper off.  Dave had a glass shop come out and remove the front and rear glass.

June 20, 2002:
All the body work is completed, including the major repairs to the lower part of the boot where the bumper mounts and the left tail light area.  The repairs are simply amazing.  The bottom rear area of the left fend, that was full of body filler, was cut completely off and new panels were welded in place.

The car was all in primer yesterday and today it was block sanded and the bottoms of the rocker panels were coated with a rubberized undercoating to protect them from chipping.

Final body work will be done tomorrow followed by one more coat of primer and another session of block sanding.  It will be painted next week.

I finally got the front bumper back today.  A&T Bumper in Los Angeles basically gave up on it after their third attempt at straightening and re-chroming and sent it back.  It is straight and the chrome looks good, but they refused to correctly repair the area that they broke and re-welded.  There's still a wad of weld bead on the back side of the bumper.  The top curve of the bumper is deformed from the weld, along with the bolt hole being ruined because it is no longer straight on 2 sides to capture the bumper bolt.  They didn't charge me so I'm only out the $15 to stop payment on the check, plus $25 in UPS shipping fees, plus all the long distance phone calls.  What a bunch of clowns.

The radiator fan shrouds, brackets and battery tray are at the powder coater's.  They were rusting through the powder coating that I had done about 3 years ago and I had some cracks welded up on the upper shroud and a hole welded up on the battery tray.

I had a new Commission Number Plate done for it this week and it's a nice match to the Chassis Number Plate I had done a couple years ago.

So, the jig-saw puzzle is starting to come together.  I'll be happy to see the car in a coat of paint again and it will be fun to start re-assembling all the pieces.

Funny, my Heritage certificate states that my car was built during June 9th through the 26th of 1970.  So, this will be a nice 32nd birthday present for it.  I'm secretly aspiring to have it complete by July 9th, which my Heritage cert. says was it's "Dispatch" date.

Poorly repaired collision damage.

Bodywork completed.

June 26, 2002:
Final sanding was completed today it looks like it'll go to the paint booth tomorrow. 
I test fit the front bumper today and it is completely distorted and will not fit.  A & T Bumper butchered it to the point that it no longer fits the gentle curve of the body.

June 29, 2002:
The car was painted last night and I got a quick peek at this morning while it was still curing in the paint booth.  It looks very good.  The paint went on smooth and shiny, and the color looks correct.
One small "fly-in-the-ointment" literally a fly in the paint!!  Somehow a fly got into the paint booth, was overcome by fumes and crash landed into the wet paint on the hood.  It then stumbled around on the hood leaving a zig-zag track for about 8" until it keeled over.  So, the hood will have to be repainted.  The paint will be color sanded and polished after that, and I will pick it up on July 3rd. 
I got the powder coated radiator shrouds, bracket and battery tray back on Saturday.  I also finished painting the new radiator and coolant reserve tank this weekend.
While it's torn apart I'm going to replace the timing chain cover with the correct breather vented version that the car originally came with.  Then it's time for the fun task of putting it all back together. 

July 4, 2002:
I brought the America home today and started putting it back together.  It should be all finished in just a few more days.  I'm getting anxious to take it for a drive.

July 8, 2002:
The car is completed.   After a few hours Thursday and Friday, I put in a full day on Saturday and nearly completed re-assembling the car. 
Several things took quite a bit of time, including the glass-bead blasting of all the body side trim "buttons," the removal and replacement of the engine timing chain cover, the repair and re-routing of the engine compartment wiring harness, and the replacement of the radiator.
The side trim buttons were rusting against the body and were in pretty bad shape.  I bead-blasted each one....and there must be 30 or more!  Then I Zinc primed them and then painted them.  Each one was then reinstalled using an all aluminum rivet.  Then all the side trim had to be straightened where the "buttons" attach, so there was a good fit.  It was slow going and tedious.
Next came the repairs to the engine compartment wiring harness.  The wiring for the front parking and side-marker lights had always been poorly done by a previous owner.  I'd always been to lazy to put it back to the correct and original configuration.  So, I made those repairs, as well as a permanent repair to the Pertronix Ignition system that was damaged by the electrical short.  I also added new battery cables in the correct color and locations.  I then routed all the harness bundles in the correct spots.  It looks much nicer now with everything correct and routed properly.
Then it was on to the task of replacing the timing cover.  The correct cover for my car should have a breather fitted.  The cover that I'd always had was a non-breather version.  My good friends at British Sports Cars gave me a cover and after alittle cleaning and painting, it was good as new.  After installing a new crank seal and timing cover gasket it went back together without a hitch.  This breather has a stepped hose that meets the breather on the drop gear/flywheel housing at a plastic "Y" and then goes to the port on the carburetor.
With the timing cover back on I was able to istall the new (used) radiator and newly powdercoated shrouds and lower brackets.  Everything went together smoothly.  I even got the fan to spin without hitting the shrouds on the first attempt!
Although I have an NOS bumper coming, I installed the ruined one.  It was a joke seeing it buckle in the middle as I bent it to fit the shape of the car.  But, for now, it looks fine.
The powdercoated finish on the wheels was ruined by someone at the bodyshop who wiped them down with a solvent soaked rag in an attempt to get overspray off of them.  So, they are now going back to be repainted!
There are some paint sags in the hood that have to be buffed out still and a few other details, but overall it looks very nice and it's great to have the car back home again.