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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Triumph Spitfire Frame Tear Down

Got over the to shop (I'm going to call it a shop instead of a garage...hope no one minds) today to tear down the frame. My intention was to strip it of all attached bits and to cut the outriggers off to see how much actual frame damage there was. For the second time in as many visits, I got done what I wanted to get done!

Also, unlike the black car, I was rather meticulous this time with properly bagging everything and taking lots of pictures. I got several hundred plastic zip-top bags with that white stuff on it so I could label everything with a Sharpie. I also spent the first half-hour or so moving stuff around a bit to better suit my needs. Namely, I moved a wire shelving unit (that was in my home garage) out of the shop's bathroom (don't ask) to near the car. That way, the huge 230V air compressor can go in the bathroom...behind a closed door to keep the screech of its motor down. I also did some minor decorating.

Picked this up at the British Invasion last year. Figured it was inspirational!

I started up front with the steering rack. A quick pop of the ball joints using my trusty Harbor Freight ball joint separator, the removal of four bolts and it was clear. Found what appeared to be a brand new (or at least galvanized-looking, so new-to-the-car) reinforcement plate. Not sure about that, as the other one was original and covered with the "normal" grime and grease. Rack doesn't look like it was ever removed...who knows?

Ready to pop the first ball joint.

Rack removed. Nice shiny paint under there!

After that it was on to the suspension turrets. Since the goal was just to get the frame stripped, I planned on taking the turrets off with everything still attached. Having done this on the black car when I stripped it, I knew it was possible and relatively simple and only takes seven bolts per side.

Driver's side turret, prior to removal.

I think there's a bolt under there somewhere. This is the one bolt from the top.

Ah, there it is. And more shiny red paint!

There are a bunch of shims associated with the turrets. One or more (Dorothy had one per side but the black car had two), is under the top bolt that I show above. All of the others, and the numbers vary from side to side and front to back, are between the lower A-arm mounting brackets and the frame. I bagged these up individually, side to side and front to back, and labeled them appropriately. I haven't looked, but I'm sure the workshop manual has a complicated discussion on how to shim this stuff properly. Can't wait...

Once all the bolts and nuts were out, the whole assembly just pulls out (the lower A-arm mounting brackets have studs that pass through the frame and will hold it in place until you slide it out). It's got some weight too it, but like just about everything else on this car, it's light for what it is.

Of the seven total bolts that I mentioned, four (two front and back) attache to the outside of the frame to secure the turret. These bolt through the turret and into the frame then into a threaded bar. I didn't take any good pictures of them from the red car but did on the black one.

Picture tries to show how the nut bar slides into a gap between the frame itself and the u-shaped housing.

The bar "housing" is U-shaped and the bar slides into the space between the U and the frame itself. The housing is open at the top and bottom to allow insertion and removal of the bar.

I also labeled and removed the brake lines. I intend on replacing all of the brake and fuel lines for safety and cleanliness sake. However, the kits for these, while containing all of the individual lines of the correct length, are coiled and require bending them to fit. The fuel line had been replaced by the PO using soft copper which I had previously trashed.

The front 4-way union that takes the fluid from the master cylinder and distributes it through the car.

With all of that done, it was time to move to the back. The top shock mounts were first and came off with no problem. The shocks, however, are not in the best shape anymore.

Shock fully extended...and stationary.

Shock fully compressed...and stationary. Not a whole lot of shock value there. Ha! Get it?

The transverse leaf spring was next and, for the first time, I discovered a poor repair choice by the PO (or, DPO in this case) that caused damage.

At some point, the leaf spring was replaced, removed or otherwise disturbed. The original design springs are held down with six nyloc nuts that screw down onto six studs that in turn thread into the top of the differential. However, as you can see in the picture below, I have four studs/nuts and two bolts. Neither of these bolts were of the correct thread pitch or length. So, forever how long this arrangement was in place, the bolts tended to move around in the threaded holes in the differential and slowly bored them out.

Beginning removal. At this point, I knew something wasn't right but hadn't discovered the damage.

The worse of the two bolts. I did not have to screw the bolt in...I just pushed.

I have at least two options here. One, I could try to do a repair using Helicoil inserts (thanks, favorite forum). I've used these before in the Navy and they seemed to work just fine. Or two, I fortunately have the differential from the black car, though it is currently still attached to its frame. That can be easily fixed with a sawzall, though. Future me.

With the leaf spring out, it was on to the rear axles. This was unexciting and only four bolts per side to disconnect each from the differential. The whole assembly lifted right out after the brake lines were removed.

Then it was on to the differential. I was a bit worried about getting this out. On the black car, the rear mounting bolt had seized to the differential bushings and I couldn't (and still can't) get it out, leaving it stuck there. However, I didn't have any issues today and this bolt (darn thing has to be about 8-inches long) and the two front mounting nuts came right off and the differential was liberated.

Differential out and on the deck.

The damage I wrought.

With that, the frame was fully stripped. With the exception of the brake and fuel line clips that I forgot to remove, there is nothing else that can be removed from the frame...except for the five pounds of grease and grime that is still on there.

By this time is was around 4pm and I had about an hour left before I had to get home. On to removing the outriggers. I had discovered last year some time that the driver's side outrigger had totally rusted through and additionally the frame had also. While I hadn't confirmed this for the passenger's side, I suspected it to be the case as well. It was.

Of course, I had to get them off to be able to fully asses the damage. I cleaned up the area around the welds first with a DeWalt knotted wire cup brush on my HF angle grinder.

This is the passenger's side. While still toast, it wasn't as bad as the driver's side.

Once the cleanup was done, I cut through the outrigger about 1-inch away from the frame.

Driver's side after cutting through the outrigger, the hole in the frame clearly visible.

Driver's side outrigger cut away.

Close-up. You should be looking at a relatively full square of metal here...without all the chunks of decay, either!

Once the outriggers were off, I changed out the wire cup brush for a metal grinding wheel and slowly started to grind away the weld bead. To prevent me from cutting into the frame itself, I kept the grinding wheel on the outrigger metal and worked my way out to the weld. One thing I learned was that as the outrigger metal got thinner and thinner, it would start to more drastically discolor due to the heat generated by the grinding. Eventually, it would get so hot that it became red. At this point I could see the outline of the red color following the weld bead (hard to explain) and used this indication to tell me that I had ground enough metal away. Now the metal was thin enough to crack through with a chisel (which I bought today from Harbor Freight for just this purpose).

Significant grinding done. I've deformed the metal here with a hammer and chisel.

The top portion almost ready to come off. You can see the weld bead that runs vertically on the right. That may be tricky.

I got the top portion of the outrigger removed. There was a lot of grinding, sparks and noise, but it was not difficult. I also did NOT do any damage to the frame, so there was that. The vertical weld beads on the side are going to provide to be more tricky, I think, since there is not a nice flat spot to grind away the bead, so I will just have to be careful. I'll flip the frame over to get at the bottom, then repeat it on the driver's side.

That was about it. I made it home by 5pm after getting a solid 5 hours of work. I'm very happy with how things are going so far and the room provided by the garage, and the fact that I don't have to overly concern myself with the mess or the noise, is making all the difference in the world. I do need to remember to bring my notebook over next time so I can keep some detailed notes to go with the photographs.

Immediate future plans entail getting the remnants of the outriggers removed then wire brushing the whole frame. Then I will repair whatever needs it and then get to work on the "new" outriggers and do the same for them. I'll get those attached and then I will assess the overall frame to see if I want to media blast and/or powder coat it. I'm sure that decision will be several weeks from now, however, so there's no rush.


  1. Wow. Digging all you got done in 5 hours. Makes me wish I'd bought a spitfire instead of a midget. Unibody design when there is rust underneath is intimidating. Having the body and a true "frame" be seperate, seems to be more manageable to me. I wonder if painting some kerosene with a brish on all that frame gunk a couple times and letting it set for an hour might let you get mist of it off with a stiff putty knife. You are making great progress.

  2. Thanks, John. Like I said, the shop is making all the difference for me. I owned a 76 Midget in high school. Thing was only about 10 years old then and I don't think it had any rust to speak of. But, I do know the Spitfire is a dream to work on compared to that thing.
    I'm going to take a pressure washer with some de-greaser to the frame and see how that works out.
    Thanks for commenting, as usual!