Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The days of in-car woodwork...

My son recently bought a Triumph Renown, a big stately 1951 coachbuilt saloon.
Coachbuilt, as in by Mulliner's of Bordesley Green Road, Birmingham.  Wooden frame, clad in steel and aluminium panels.
Naturally the interior is wood and leather and Wilton carpet with West of England headlining.

After 63 years it has had the odd ingress of that rainy stuff, that's all the fashion here lately and some of the woodwork, mainly mahogany, has a little rot in it.
It has also had the dashboard re-veneered badly in that ghastly sapele stuff.  "Bleedin' stripey old packing case wood", as my cabinet maker Granddad would have it.  He was an awful wood snob, if the mahogany wasn't Honduras at least or the Walnut best burr, it was packing case wood to him!

So, to start doing something for the lad, I took the bits that had been removed already and have started preparing them for repair and reveneering.
They are the A pillar trims, windscreen header rail and it's capping and the passenger glove box lid, which had a non working locking catch and a hideous ball catch added, plus its sapele was falling off.

I started with the glove box lid.  Taking the old catch mechanism off was a pain, but it came away eventually, leaving, of course, a big hole.
There is an identical catch/lock on ebay described as AC Ace/Cobra and the fool wants £200 for it!  No bids, of course.  The chances are it's just a lock from Wilmot Breeden's catalogue of the period.

So I shaved off the sapele with a nice sharp chisel and started to fill the gaps here and there with some pearwood, which I happened to have indoors.  The weather is just not feasible to go over the workshop!
I glued strips in, with Aliphatic glue, a thin liquid which would soak in all the nooks and crannies.  I will have to turn a wooden plug for the big latch hole. I have some mahogany that will do that.
Because I am using a nice veneer for the inside face of the door, so it looks classy when open, I need only to fill those nooks and crannies with something like Milliput. It doesn't shrink and sets rock hard.  Old screw holes need wooden plugs and then the surfaces will get a nice coat of epoxy resin, to seal it all in.
Then the veneers will go on and a new hole drilled for a neat 8mm sunken ballcatch.  I sourced some on ebay. They are brass with a keeper plate, four of them for £1-79, free postage!!  How on earth can they do that?  The postage alone would cost more.  Still, that's their problem.  They are on their way.
I have some walnut veneer, figured, but not burr, for the dashboard as a whole, so will use that for the front face.  Then, in good Vanden Plas, etc. tradition, the edges, which can't be veneered, will be painted a suitable dark brown and then varnished with the rest of the surfaces. Epoxy is a wonderful finish for a glass like smoothness, but is not UV proof, so a spray coat of acrylic gloss will finish it off.

The header rail needs the rot cut out and a new piece of mahogany let in. What boatbuilders call a Graving piece.  That needs to be sourced from a joiner in the village, along with the capping rail for that, which is currently a piece of 3mm ply with half missing.  Ugh!!
The side pieces are, in one instance, split and the other, bent with an extra hole (possibly because it's bent).
I shall soak the piece and jig it straight to dry by the woodburner, then plug the extra hole and repair the split with epoxy and let in a graving piece where a chunk split off the edge years ago.
Once all that is set, the whole lot gets planed, disc sanded, scraped down to size and shape and a complete coat of epoxy put all round to normalise the stresses and damp proof it all.  Epoxy will also fill the grain, ready for a rub down and a coat of clear.

This isn't going to happen overnight as I fit such jobs in to keep me sane and help out, but progress will be shown on here as it happens.


  1. I have missed this excellent series, having been up in Aberdeen with my face pressed against the grindstone, but it is most fascinating. A glimpse of how real craftsmen do their stuff. We talentless onlookers often forget the myriad jobs like this that are part of a restoration along with the more headline-grabbing mechanical bits.As Paul says, keep 'em coming! I will now read forward to the rest of the posts!

  2. Thanks, Iain, good to see you back.
    When I worked in car design it fell to me to do all the dashboard and centre stack of what became the New Landrover (pre Sport) in burr elm. The Germans (it was then owned by BMW) had no idea how to do it beyond that tacky photographic method (Euchhh!).