It all started in April 2018 when the government brought in the new anti-diesel emissions rules. The diesel Ford Focus that I had owned for 15 years had just clocked 200,000 trouble free miles but was starting to get a bit smokey. Once, as I put my foot down to overtake a bunch of cyclists they all but disappeared behind me in a thick cloud of smoke. I can only imagine the expletives that must have come from their mouths amidst the coughs and splutters.
The Focus had been used and abused for the last few years and had become more of a DIY works van. As I assumed it would probably fail it’s MoT the following February due to the emissions, my thoughts were concentrated on what car to replace it with. It would need to be an estate to help with the DIY duties and it would need to be a daily driver able to be used all year around.
We were also thinking of getting a bigger classic caravan, one that would give us more space than the blue one. This would mean we’d need another classic car to tow it as it would be too heavy for the Herald 2000.
So, the thinking gradually came round to combining the two. And, of course, if it was going to be a classic, then it would have to be a Triumph. Which meant it would have to be one of the big Triumphs.
Buying an old car would also give me the chance to give one finger to the government. The cynic in me is sure that their attempt to get diesels off the road had nothing to do with the environment, rather an attempt to boost the profits of car companies by “encouraging” people to ditch their old vehicles and buy new.
But I digress.
I was looking for a Triumph that I could ideally use straight away or perhaps a fairly easy rolling restoration. I wasn’t bothered whether it was 2000 or 2500, mark one or the facelift mark two. After a few months of looking I heard of one about to be put up for sale. It was a 2500S which, being top of the range with carbs, seemed to be a good choice. I was told the only problem with it was a noisy diff (the owners couldn’t remove the filler plug so it had been run dry).
After a viewing and a test run (where the noisy diff became very apparent) monies were handed over and in April 2018 I had myself a ‘new’ Triumph.
In spite of the constant drone from the back end and the sloppy steering I loved the drive home. My first time driving an automatic, along with the sofa style seats gave the car a feeling of luxury. It was a completely different driving experience to the Herald.
As life was heading for a very busy time, with a house to renovate, a wedding looming and a number of caravan trips arranged it was decided to leave any work until the end of the summer. In the meantime it’s first job was ferrying hardcore and garden rubbish around with a trailer as we got the garden ready for our forthcoming wedding in June.
By August I was itching to get the car sorted out. The Ford’s MoT was due in February and I wanted the Triumph on the road before that. I would be doing the work outside and I was well aware that winter was fast approaching. I really didn’t want to be out there picking up frozen spanners and scrabbling under the car in the wet and cold.
How difficult could it be to take the diff off and send it away to be refurbished? Quite easy as it turned out. But once it was in the air the horrors unfolded. It was at this point that one of the rules of buying classics came back to haunt me – always look at several examples before parting with your money. It turned out it was going to need a little bit more than just a replacement diff. Removing the old Underseal revealed an underside that was riddled with rust. The choice was to go through the easy route and just replace the diff and put it back on the road or restore it properly. Knowing that once it was being used regularly it was unlikely I would have the time or inclination to do any major work on it, I decided to strip it down and get things sorted so that it would last a good number of years without having to be welded at every MoT.
So the rebuild started. The thought of scrabbling under the car to scrape off old Underseal, dirt and rust while I was immediately underneath it didn’t really appeal. So I decided a rotisserie was in order. After a few weeks looking at new rotisseries one came up on EBay that had been used to strip a Triumph Stag. Assuming it would be suitable for the big Triumph I put in an offer an offer which turned out to be the winning bid.
Renovating a big Triumph is completely different to the small chassis Triumph I had done before. This was to be the first monocoque bodyshell I had worked on. The first job was to take the engine and gearbox out. Nice and easy on the Herald, slightly more difficult on the 2500. It involves dropping the engine onto a suitable trolley then lifting the bodywork up (scarily high) so the engine can be pulled from under. But once that was out of the way it was easy enough to attach the car to the rotisserie through the bumper mounts. Rotisseries are great, a real lifesaver! It just makes working on the underside of the car sooo much easier.
The running gear and diff were removed quite easily. The diff went to the Gearbox Centre at Great Yarmouth to be sorted out while I got on with the bodyshell. First the scraping and removal of the rust covering underseal which revealed a patchwork of welding and welds on welds. The passenger footwell was the worst with three layers of rusty metal welded one on top of the other. Another bad spot was the passenger rear radius mount where patches had been added over time and just tucked under the rubber mount.
Cleaning up the underside revealed the history of the car. It looked as if, at some point in its life, it had had some serious and quality work done to it after which it appeared to have been bodged at various MoTs. Good points were that the outer wings were rust free and the sills were in good order, which I was grateful for, I’ve yet to try replacing a sill and was not especially looking forward to it.
All in all there were twelve patches welded in. Nothing too pretty I’m afraid. Perhaps with more time and replacement panels, readily available I might have made it look a bit neater. But as mentioned earlier, this was going to be a working car, not a show car, and it needed to be on the road sooner rather than later. She would have to wear the welds like battle scars – a reminder of how close she came to being scrapped. And believe me it was close!
The underside was then painted with POR15. Not everybody’s choice but ever since I had a drip on the Herald that I couldn’t chisel off, and had to get a grinder to, I’ve been a fan. Another preference was to have the underside and wheel arches in body colour. Again not to everybody’s taste and probably not the most sensible option for an everyday car but I really don’t like black. I’d just spent months getting black under seal off and really didn’t want to just replace it with something that looked the same. It will mean I’ll have to jack it up a couple of times a year and give it a good clean underneath, but that also means I can touch up any bits that aren’t holding up. My method? Two coats of POR15 and while the second coat is still tacky I lightly spray some undercoat on. This, I find, binds the two paint types together. Once dry a light sand, another spray of undercoat and then a final couple of sprays of top coat and then Waxoyl to finish it off.
It was now nearing Christmas and the Retro Caravan Club were trying to decide what to put on their stand at the Classic Car Restoration Show at the NEC in the middle of March. Some bright spark mentioned it would be good to have a car mid restoration there amongst the caravans. So a deadline was set. Much as I hate them, they do tend to concentrate the mind.
At this point the car was still on the rotisserie. All the patching and painting underneath had been completed, so it was just a matter of putting the bits back on. By the end of January the suspension, petrol tank and seats were in position and the car dropped onto axle stands. By the end of February the engine, gearbox and diff were fitted.
March 5th saw the Triumph resting on its own wheels for the first time since the previous August. But would it start?
Of course it bloody didn’t! I couldn’t get any fuel to leave the tank and when I turned the ignition, nothing. After a bit of fiddling I suspected the auto box inhibitor switch was the main culprit. At this point I realised I was out of my depth, so I made a few calls and a mobil technician was booked in for the following Thursday.
The inhibitor switch was disconnected, new petrol pump replaced with the old one and after a bit of suction fuel was coming through but still no starting, although it was now turning over. The next suspect was the points and condenser which was down to me to order the following day. I also booked the MoT in for Tuesday the following week. We needed to be at the NEC by 10.30 Thursday morning so we were looking to leave on the Wednesday. Things were looking a tad tight.
The new points came at the weekend and by Sunday I managed to fire her up for the first time. Monday saw me flushing the cooling system, topping up the gearbox and steering and fiddling with the carbs. She was running rich enough not to need the choke to start.
Tuesday morning saw me driving it to my favourite classic friendly garage about 20 minutes away for the real test, the MoT. It wasn’t long before I had a list of faults that needed doing. Nothing major, just a varied selection of niggles. Knowing I didn’t have the time (or at this point the inclination) I gave them the green light to get them sorted out. By Wednesday afternoon she had passed her MoT and ready to pick up. Two miles after leaving the garage she conked out. I was about to get a serious case of melancholy, but luckily it was an easy fix, she’d run out of fuel! Once topped up I was soon home with just one job left to do – fit the towbar. Yes, the first journey after getting her finished was a 400 mile round trip with the caravan on the back.
Looking at the drawing of the hitch wiring I’d done before taking it apart just made my mind go blank, it just looked like a load of coloured spaghetti. My mind had reached saturation point and I just couldn’t focus any more. So my wife Christina was brought in to tell me what wire went where while I fiddled with a screwdriver.
By 8 that evening it was on and tow lights were working. But on turning the ignition key, nothing. Although this was another easy fix, a loose wire on the starter motor, I saw it as a message from God that we weren’t meant to go that evening, so we decided to call it a day and leave early Thursday morning.
At 6.30 Thursday morning, with fingers crossed and wondering why we had to run things so close to the wire, we were on the road, the first major journey in the Triumph and the first time towing with it. All went well apart from the occasional panic when we could smell something odd or hear a rattling. These, thankfully, tended to emanate from a passing lorry and were soon gone.
It’s funny how when you drive a classic and notice something odd you always assume it’s you and fear the worst. We had what turned out to be a very pleasant and easy journey. We even had the occasional beep and wave, something we’d got used to when towing with the Herald but weren’t really expecting it with the 2500. It’s funny but it felt, in comparison to the Herald, like a modern car. After all it had a working clock and hazard warning lights! Coupled with the automatic gearbox it felt easy to drive.
We arrived at the campsite without a hitch (pun intended) by 10.30 and met up with Shaun, one of our fellow showman, who was waiting with his VW camper. We left the caravan at the campsite and headed for the NEC. It was starting to look like we’d made our first trip without a problem. But, on arriving at the NEC, Shaun mentioned that my indicators weren’t working. This was to be the start of an ongoing problem. At least at the NEC I was able to get some advice and a spare flasher unit, which was duly fitted at the show. On the Sunday afternoon the Triumph also received it’s first wash since I had bought a year earlier.
Having managed to get out of the hall earlier than we thought on the Sunday we decided to head back that evening. Whilst it meant driving back in the dark it also meant we wouldn’t be hitting the Monday morning traffic. So back to the campsite it was to hitch the caravan up and go through my check sheet (I have a list I go through on my phone, the times I’ve been over confident and thought I could do it from memory are the times I’ve forgotten something). We got as far as checking the lights and, you’ve guessed it, the caravan lights refused to come on. So gremlin number three had me with my head in the boot fiddling with the wiring until they worked.
What followed was a very enjoyable drive home. The lack of traffic and getting used to the car, the fact that we didn’t have to be somewhere and if we broke down we were heading home anyway meant that I was possibly even relaxing.
By the time we got home at 10.30, the main beam had stopped working along with the Rev counter and fuel gauge. I was yet to have a journey where there wasn’t a problem at the start or end of a journey. The electric gremlins had come out in force.
So as this, the first part of the rebuild story, comes to a close the last piece of problem solving saw me replacing the chock block, originally used to connect the caravan electrics, with bullet connectors (as I should have done originally) and then checking each connector throughout the car and either cleaning or replacing. After a few hours the rev counter and fuel gauge were working.
The next trip out saw the speedo packing up. But by then I had a rev counter that worked, who needs a speedo too? I’m on limited mileage though, just don’t tell the insurance company. The inhibitor switch on the auto box needs to be fixed for when I try and start it when in drive or reverse. And then there is the list of topside bodywork repairs, rusted drivers door frame and skin, door check straps that are missing along with numerous dents that will need filling before it gets painted. Something that I’m planing on having a go at myself.
I’ve thought long and hard about the differences of driving the 2500 and the Herald. The quick turn of speed and excitement of the two litre Herald has the vigour of youth. Having had it since I was 18, I guess it takes me back to my youth. The 2500 on the other hand is a much more relaxed affair. It makes me feel like a middle-aged man. It makes me feel my age in fact. With its working clock, thick indicator stalks and hazard warning lights, armchair seats, power steering and auto box, it feels more like a modern car. I feel like I’m cheating when I say I’m driving a classic. It makes me feel like my dad when he would have been my age. Old.
And the Ford? It passed on emissions but failed on rust.
Part two to follow, but not any time soon.