July '16

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 95 of 119

90 THE SHOP JULY 2016 Representing the far opposite end of the spectrum, Sports Car Craftsmen restores pre-1981 British cars for cus- tomers who usually want them returned to factory-stock condition—in function as well as appearance. (We'll deal with a few exceptions to that below, but for the great majority that look of showroom authenticity extends to the gauge cluster.) Unfortunately, reproduction gauges are not available, even for the most popular cars. (Well, one combination water-temperature/oil pressure gauge "that was common to several cars," is available, says Paul Dierschow, owner, "and it's a very good reproduction." But that's it.) So restorers have to make 50- or 60-year-old gauges look and work like new again. Often, Dierschow and his team can find what they need in the company's sizable inventory of used gauges. "We have one of the largest stocks in the world of used parts of all kinds for the cars we deal with," he notes. "And we're very fortunate that almost all of the instruments for these cars were made by one company—Smiths—so there's a lot of mechanical interchangeability." In fact, many British automakers of that time did not design their own gauges, but simply ordered instruments from the Smiths catalog. "In some rare cases we've taken one instrument and modified it to replace another." That might mean having a new dial face custom silk-screened. Fortu- nately, some reproductions are available for bezels and glass. Also "readily available" are reproduc- tions of the wooden instrument panels found in some of the more popular cars. In fact, "there's a whole range of prod- ucts out there, and many of them are far nicer than the originals. In a lot of these cars, the factory dashboards were rather bland—nicely done, but not exotic." Today, you can buy the same panels made of burled walnut and other rich- looking woods. "Very beautiful," says Dierschow, "but not authentic. So now we need to have a discussion with the customer: Do you want it the way it was, or how you wish it was? And ever y c u s t o m e r h a s a different perspec- tive." Ma n y o t h e r British cars of the era came with painted steel dash- boards. "The 1963-'67 MGB dash came with a black wrinkle finish that we can reproduce using a powder-coating, and it's just gorgeous. Unfortunately, that dash is in short supply, because those cars are so collectible"—and because so many earlier owners cut holes in them for additional gauges and switches. "So we put a lot of work into welding and repairing those dashboards. The good news is that we can repair them." The later, foam-padded dashboards are more challenging. Most have cracked after years of exposure to sunlight and consequent UV damage—"especially here in Colorado, where it's dry, and the sun is intense, there's no such thing as an un-cracked dashboard." or the most popular cars, at least—the '68 and later MGB and Midget, as well as the Triumph TR4 through TR6, Spitfire, and GT6—reproductions of the padded dashboard fascias are available. "They are not perfect, but we can make them look pretty good, as long as you don't scrutinize it too closely." Installation requires completely dis- mantling the original dashboard. "Every single piece has to come out. On the big Triumphs, you pull the windshield." Then the padding has to be removed from the steel structure underneath, a task Dierschow describes as "surgical." The inner padding has to be preserved, as no repro is available for it. Then of course it all has to go back together, "and every electrical and/or mechanical part has to be tested to make sure it works correctly. It's a huge job, but we do it quite regularly." Perhaps the bigger challenge is making the customer understand how long the job takes and what it costs. "They think it's an afternoon project, and they are disappointed to find that it's a $2,000 proposition that's going to take at least half a week." Aside from fancier veneers, one other area where Sports Car Craftsmen cus- tomers sometimes deviate from factory spec is in the gearbox: Many choose a modern Japanese five-speed for relaxed cruising with better fuel economy. These are installed so that "the shift lever comes out correctly through the original shift boot," says Dierschow, "so you don't know it's not stock until you drive it home." Part of the conversion is "a little box that connects to the transmission and changes the ratio so that the speedom- eter reads absolutely correctly." It's characteristic of the Sports Car Craftsmen philosophy: "We don't want a speedometer in there that will read absolutely right; we want the original speedometer, and we want it to read absolutely right." --John Katz Auto Interior Impressions THE BRITISH INVASION For older cars, restor- ers often have to make 50- or 60-year-old gauges look and work like new again. Sports Car Crafts- men restores pre- 1981 British cars for customers who usually want them returned to factory-stock condition— in function as well as appearance. HOT ROD & CUSTOMIZATION

Articles in this issue

view archives of THE SHOP - July '16