The Never Ending Story
Monterey California - Circa 1995
I was attending the Monterey Historic races weekend and visited the Rick Cole auction at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Monterey (both the auction and the hotel have since changed their names). A friend and I were viewing the cars displayed outdoors when a particular car caught my eye. I didn't recognize the maker and asked the friend about the car. He said that it was an Intermeccanica Italia. Needless to say, the sleek lines of the car really caught my eye. I was already hooked, but didn't know it at the time. Actually it wasn't just the hook - I had swallowed the hook, the float, the rod and the reel! I immediately started thinking about what potential the car would have with its Ford drive train. The motor in the car was the ordinary looking unit that the Italias came stock with. Of course, I was already envisioning a full set of Webers and aluminum engine parts everywhere. It could look so totally cool. Little did I know what that newly planted seed would mean to me in the future.
At that time, I owned a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS. It was a beautiful car, but Ferraris come with high maintenance costs and high-strung engines. The car looked great, sounded fantastic, and handled very well; but, like many Ferrari owners I was always concerned about something serious breaking in the motor. Finally, I decided to sell the car. I kept thinking about that Italia. The idea of an Italian body with the reliability of an American drive train made all the sense in the world to me. Of course, I didn't think about the fact that except for the motor, transmission, and rear end, most of the car was still Italian. Well, not exactly Italian. As I would eventually find out, the parts for the Italia were sourced all over Europe. It's still amazing to me how many different parts from different cars that the Italia contains. German, French, Italian, English and who knows where else. The best of many worlds as it were, and so began the adventure.
The Search Begins
Some time later, my friend who was in Monterey with me called to say that an Italia was for sale in Los Angeles. It was a 1970 convertible, red with black interior, 4-speed, with factory air and 351 Windsor motor. I talked to the owner, who collected other exotic cars as well. Arrangements were made to see the car, and it was eventually purchased when we reached agreement on the price. Putting the money down and committing to the car was the real beginning of the journey. And, as usual, I did only limited research on the car before I jumped in with both feet. Apparently, I'm the type of person who continues to learn the hard way!
I was aware before purchasing it that it had some 'needs'. The bumpers were not correct; and the instruments had been changed, along with the seats. But it was shiny red! In reality the car had many needs beyond what I knew but that is the case with most Italia's. But it was shiny red! After the deal was done I drove the car from Anaheim Hills to Ventura and parked it in my friend's garage. After he went to bed, I went to the garage to look at the car, like a kid on Christmas Eve peeking at the gifts. I looked and looked and then looked some more. I was happy with the shape of the body but the car did have a funny list to it like a wounded cruise liner returning to port for repairs. I actually drove the car home to the central coast (200 miles) with no problems, and had a good opportunity to "feel" the car out. It was also my first introduction to the Italia suspension; and something just didn't feel right. The long learning curve had begun.
I had already been involved in Corvette restoration for a dozen years so it wasn't like I hadn't had experience with extensive restorations. And I really thought I was ready for this one. So, over the next 2 years I went to work on straightening out things on the car to bring it up to what I considered a reasonable operating state. The suspension was treated to a coil over shock arrangement on all four corners, and wiring issues were attended to. These are the two areas where most all Italia's are in need of work.
Many other areas were attended to. I replaced the grill, grill surround, the grill bull emblem, tail lights, rocker moldings, front bumpers, the Italia letter sets, and the parking light assemblies, to name just a few. As it turned out, that car was directly responsible for the beginning of Italia Reproductions. It became clear early on that some of the parts that I needed would have to be fabricated. And, if I had to make a part then why not make ten? I have always been able to turn a hobby into a business, and before I knew I had found yet another way to make myself miserable!
The Sickness Continues
The Italia became the catalyst for my increasing interest in cars that are a combination of Italian body styling and a powerful American drive train. The next one I found was locally owned, an Apollo, number 38. It was a coupe that had been built in Pasadena, and was more original that the first Italia but it had far more needs in the restoration department. So I purchased that car and was pretty excited about fixing it up as well. There's nothing like two parallel restoration projects. With the Italia, I had begun to get hooked big time; but with the acquisition of the Apollo I had now officially taken a swan dive into the bait box.
Within a short time we were selling Italia parts, with mostly me taking the calls, which brought me in contact with other people with the same affliction (or sickness depending on ones view point). In early 1997, I was on the phone one afternoon with another car enthusiast down in Florida. I can't recall his name but he was located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I believe he was ordering parts for an Italia his car company had in Florida. In talking to him I learned about another available Italia. The mystery story of the 1973 Italia that I now own began at this point. This car was said to be very original, and with just 10,000 miles on the clock. I got pretty excited about that and decided to try to find the owner. It quickly turned into one of those vague I-heard-it-from-so-and-so situations with no firm leads.
Over the next several months I continued to ask about the car, but all I heard was that the owner of the car might have released the car to another person to repay a debt. I kept asking around, and then one day the man in Fort Lauderdale somehow secured the name and number of the new owner who lived in Homestead, Florida. I was able to make contact with the present owner and he indicated that he would be willing to sell the car. We discussed the car's condition and his asking price. He sent me some photos of the car and it appeared to be very original and in nice condition. And I was interested in owning it. Homestead is about 25 miles south of Miami and there isn't much below it except the Florida Keys. It was June, and in South Florida it was going to be hot, humid and miserable, day and night. So I must have been very, very interested in that Italia.
The owner and I finally agreed on a price. He wanted a cashier's check as payment. I went to the bank and got a check for less than the agreed price, just in case the car was not as it appeared to be and we had to renegotiate. I did take cash to make up the difference if the car was as claimed. Here we go again. Actually, there was no 'we' involved, just me going down there alone. I guess my former mate was tired of the chase and insanity at this point. Some women just don't fully understand the needs of some men (in addition to sex).
So, In the latter part of June, 1997, I arrived at the airport in Miami. The sun was merciless and the humidity made the air feel thick. Just getting a rental car broke a good sweat. I got on the freeway and headed south to Homestead. I had actually been in Key West in August of 1992 when Hurricane Andrew was headed that direction. We evacuated out of the Keys, driving north with nowhere to stay and not knowing the actual path of the storm. We ended up sleeping in the car at a gas station around the Orlando area. Little did I know what destruction the Hurricane was going to bring to Homestead, or that five years later I would be back to buy a car there. I remember driving around the Homestead area while making the deal on the Italia. Five years later, the aftermath of the storm was still visible; most of the mess was cleaned up but many vacant areas still remained.
I went directly to the Italia owner's place of business to meet him. Later, we went to his home to see the car. I had already learned a few lessons from looking at rusty Italias, so I inspected all areas to make sure that this eastern car had not been exposed to undesirable elements causing rust, which is death to the Italia body. No rust. The car really did appear to be the real thing. I took it on a short drive and the car felt tight. I was impressed with everything but the heat inside the car.
After some haggling, we agreed on a price. Now all that needed to be attended to was the proper paperwork. And that's when I learned that the car had a Georgia title that was not in the new owner's name. Actually, it wasn't really an actual title either, just a bill of sale or something that transferred ownership to him. So there I was with the money while he tried to straighten out the paperwork. It looked like it would take him at least a few days to get the car's registration straightened out, so I had the choice of holing up in a hotel and running the air conditioning 24/7 or going further south to Key West for tropical drinks, blue water, and beautiful sunsets. Before I knew it I was on the bridge to the Keys, headed south to the end of the US.
While I was down in Key West I was also talking with the owner quite a bit, trying to find out how the paper trail was coming along. I wasn't able to fully appreciate that tropical paradise due to concern about the title situation, but I did my best. I returned to Homestead after a few days, and was pleased to find that the Italia's papers were now legal. This was fixed with no small effort, using a notary to make sure that paper work would be acceptable to the DMV in California. Actually, I didn't exactly have all the paper work when I left Florida - just a written statement to show that I had paid for the car. With the paper trail mostly out of the way, the only thing left to do was arrange for Intercity Lines, an automobile transporter, to pick up the car and carry it out to California. I had the car trucked to a friend's garage in Jupiter Florida to wait for Intercity to pick up the car and make its way to the west coast.
I got on a plane bound for home and a lot less humidity. I had to wait two weeks for the car to arrive, but it came in perfect condition. I can't say enough good things about Intercity Lines and how carefully they handle the cars they transport. All my experiences with the people who work for this company have been top notch. And, as for the Italia owner in Florida, in the end, he and I became friends, and later on I was able to help him find parts for a 1957 Corvette that he owned.
With the purchase of this 1973 car, the first Italia that I had acquired now needed to be sold to help with this new project. The Apollo also had some work already done to it but progress was moving slowly. My attention had turned to the new Italia with the intent of bringing it to good, dependable operating condition. The worst condition that existed in the car was the overheating problem. Calling it 'overheating' would be an understatement; I thought my sneakers would melt to the floor board when I drove the car. I made the decision to have an aluminum radiator built to the original radiator configuration. I was told by Griffith that it closely matched a Mustang radiator from the 1969 model year. Actually, the first real indication that I had a serious problem was looking into the engine compartment and seeing the plates inside the battery! The headers that had been installed to accommodate the special aluminum heads on the Cleveland motor were causing a serious problem and had actually melted the side of the battery out. As it turned out, new headers had to be constructed to arrive at a more practical solution. In the end, a true 4-tube exhaust system was fabricated front-to-rear, 9 inches of total exhaust. These two improvements made a vast difference in the drivability of the car, but I found that the interior of the car was still hot!
Other small improvements were made to the car as time passed allowing the car to be driven to Concorso Italiano, which is traditionally held during the Monterey Historic Races Weekend. The event was a very enjoyable experience, and gave me the opportunity to meet other Intermeccanica owners and see their cars on display. If you have never been to this show it's quite interesting and well worth seeing. Especially at the old location, the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, which had beautiful grounds and very eclectic Italian cars like the Fiat 500 Jolly. The Jolly was better known at home in Italy as the 'La Spiaggina', which translates to 'beach-ette'. Yes, it was essentially a surf wagon, but with typical Italian design flair.
After the Concorso trip - for one reason or another - it was determined that the intake manifold needed to be removed for possible gasket service. When the intake was removed it became clear that someone had tried to reduce the passages of the aluminum heads, using an epoxy compound, and that some pieces had broken off and had passed the valves. At that point I decided to remove the heads for inspection. When this was done, I detected a crack in one of the cylinders, and it was clear that I had a larger decision to make. A cracked cylinder meant that the engine would need to be pulled - and there were other things that I could change. For example, I had never liked the undercoating that the Italians spray on their cars, and I also found it interesting that they don't like to paint the interior of their steel panels to prevent rust. Once I began pulling the engine, the whole ball really started rolling; it became a project that still continues six years later! Fortunately, every story has an ending, and this one will hopefully end after the Italia project is completed.
The Never Ending Story
By this time I had pretty much become mentally committed to a complete restoration. As you have seen in the photos, the Italia was already a really nice car when I got it. Almost anyone would have been perfectly happy to own and drive this car. It was nice enough to show at the Concorso Italiano and not be embarrassed about the car. But no, not quite perfect enough for me! The red was not exactly the right color of red, and even though the black leather interior was very nice, I'm not a big fan of black, because it attracts so much heat here in the west when the top is down. I wanted the undercoating removed from the engine compartment and the bottom of the car. And, as you'd probably imagine, a few other changes were in order as well.
With this type of restoration, the right combination of talented people is required in order to accomplish the goals that are set. It was not just a matter of blowing the car apart, refinishing the parts to a high standard and reassembling the car. Instead, I wanted to treat the car to the type of equipment that I feel that it would have had if Frank Reisner had the resources he would have liked at the time of its assembly. The reality was that he was just putting the cars together as quickly as he could to survive financially each day, much like life in California for many people today. Having owned the 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS for six years gave me decent insight as to the way the Italians think about engineering, at least during that period of automotive design. And, as time passed I came to a gradual realization that almost all aspects of the car had to be upgraded or re-engineered in one way or another.
Onward to Orville's
After two decades of classic auto restorations, I can safely say that anyone who is involved with old cars doesn't have to be crazy to do it, but it might help make the process easier. My friend Orville Pearce is a retired electrical engineer and devoted car enthusiast. Orville approaches the car thing from an engineering perspective, while I'm more interested in the visual end of the spectrum. However, I do realize that the car must have good engineering or it will be good for nothing more than a static display - a Trailer Queen that is never really appreciated for its driving capabilities. The common thread between Orville and me is the automobile itself. I enjoy his approach to the resolution of problems and the resulting solutions. Seeing the Italia come together mechanically has been a real pleasure, the way it should have been in the beginning. The way I would like to do things if I had talent in that direction.
After the problem with the engine was discovered the car was moved to Orville's shop to start the process. At that time, I'm not even sure that I knew what the process was, but I would definitely find out. One thing that I did know was that I wanted to do was to remove the undercoating from the engine compartment, so this was one of the first things they did. The next step was to fabricate the aluminum in the engine compartment that I felt was necessary to give it a finished look, and for other practical reasons as well. The engine was much cooler with the new radiator but a lot of heat was being transmitted to the interior, which is a common problem with all big engine Italias. My friend's Italia with a 302 did not have the interior heat problem that mine did with the Cleveland motor. The conclusion that I have drawn is that all Italias should have retained the 289 Hi-Po during production. Add a 6-speed transmission to it and you would have been good to go. But my car came with a Cleveland and with the aluminum heads (which had been added after it left the factory), and required a single plane aluminum intake, which made it an interesting motor. And, there were the custom fabricated headers required by the raised exhaust port runners of the racing heads.
Did I forget tot mention that it hauled ass too? Before the car came apart it was really fun to take people for rides and hear them laugh with glee as the car rocketed to past 100 mph with no effort. I can't image what fun it will be like with 393 cubic inches, 425 horsepower, and a six-speed transmission. Yes, that's where this is all going. Yee-haw!
At Orville's shop, The firewall was finished in aluminum, but for more than cosmetic reasons. The aluminum panels were constructed with stand-offs on the back side so that space would exist between the original metal firewall and the aluminum. In this space we would add the latest in heat-resistant materials to control the transference of heat to the interior of the car. The interior firewall would also be insulated to the top of the dash, and of course the entire interior would be supplied with heat barrier material, along with the transmission area on the bottom of the car. Every measure that can be taken to control heat transmission to the interior will be implemented.
Next came the radiator. The core support was totally redesigned out of aluminum to direct the incoming air through the radiator only. Not over the top, or around it, but through it. The plate over the top of the radiator shroud has relief holes which provide cool air to the aluminum plenum that feeds air to the radiator. It's not only functional but also beautiful in design. Orville was primarily responsible for making the parts look so great. After the radiator we moved on to the location of the oil cooler in the left well, opposite where the battery resides on the right side. This cooler has a built-in fan for additional air movement. The whole unit was encased in aluminum with a hood that feeds cool air in from the front of the car. The pickup is in the grill area and fed to the cooler by flexible braided metal hose through the left inner fender. I love the clean looks of the aluminum, and the fact that it's all functional and makes the car operate more efficiently makes it all the better. Race car details applied to a street car with flair!
The side inner fender openings are closed up by formed aluminum which cleans the area up but also stops heat from the engine getting to the sheet metal vent area on the side fender. As you may know the side fender vents feed the kick panel vents to the interior. It's always better if that air is not pre-heated! There is no end to the detail put into this car and I hope that the photos shown will give you an idea of the attention to detail that was required. By far, this is the most involved I have ever been in the re-engineering of a car. It's not that I wanted to remake the car, that's just the way that it turned out.
The Italia has a beautiful shape, not as perfectly proportioned as the Ferrari 365 Daytona Spyder, but Ferrari only produced 112 Daytona Spyders so that limits who can own one - not to mention the cost of even a cut car. (As I have learned, the difference in cost between a top notch Italia and a Ferrari Daytona cut car is not actually that far apart.) The Italia has the best structural integrity of any convertible body that I have experienced. The combination of unibody and the box section frame that is welded to the bottom of the car makes it very strong. It also makes the frame very close to the ground!
This Italia was originally delivered with the 351 Cleveland motor (cast iron everything), 4-speed gearbox, power windows, power brakes, air conditioning, and Cromadora wheels. The 1970 Italia had a Ford industrial motor sticker on the valve cover. As I understand the story, Intermeccanica either couldn't get - or had and lost - the deal with Ford on motors. Therefore, the motors that were installed were industrial for whatever the reason. I'm sure that Paula Reisner, Frank's widow, would have the answer to that. She will be attending the Concorso Italiano this year in August 2006. The Apollo that Intermeccanica also made will be one of the featured cars there. Milt Brown, the father of the Apollo and importer of the body will attend this event as well.
I had already converted the car to a 5-speed before the disassembly but I knew what the right transmission for the car was. The decision was made to install a T56 6-speed transmission from a late model Camaro, giving the gears a more even spacing from 1st to 6th. In the T56 the 6th gear has an overdrive ratio of 0.63, not 0.50 like the Corvette's, which is good only on flat ground. I had actually purchased that transmission for my 1966 Corvette but it ended up in the Italia. The Corvette would have to wait for its conversion later.
The goal for the Italia was to bring its operating systems up to current car quality wherever possible. That would include the largest AC and heater system that was available on the market. The system has electric servos on the ventilation doors including bi-level for the AC. A modern sound system will be concealed in the trunk, so as to not distract from the period correctness of the dash. A stainless steel tilt steering column was installed to eliminate the parts that were not available for replacement in the original column. The tilt feature allows for a better driving position. After the column was purchased, the manufacturer made available a telescoping feature also not included on this column.
I recall reading that the clamed weight on the Italia was 2700 pounds. I never did weigh my car before it was disassembled so I don't know if that claim is correct or not. I can tell you that every attempt has been made to keep the weight of the car down. The copper and brass radiator was replaced with aluminum; the cast iron water pump is now aluminum, and the cast iron bell housing was replaced. The cast iron 4-speed is now an aluminum 6-speed, and the third member carrier is now aluminum. The cast iron heads and intake had already been replaced with aluminum before I got the car. The cast iron exhaust manifolds were replaced with custom fabricated exhaust headers for the aluminum heads. Soon, the steel drive shaft will become aluminum. It will be very interesting what the final weight of the car will be after completion.
Time for Some Paint
The car was not fully developed mechanically at this point but it went to Fred Hoadley's auto body shop in Atascadero anyway. Now, in retrospect, I know that all mechanical improvements should have been made before going to the body shop. But at that point I still had no idea the depth of the changes to the car that should have been made. The biggest improvement that was not done to the car would have been the complete replacement of the front suspension and cross member. I have related this to others who have contacted my business, Italia Reproductions, with questions about the availability of replacement parts for the front suspension. Virtually all front suspension parts are unavailable at this time. Drac Connally, of D.C. Custom in Marina Del Rey, will custom fabricate bushing replacements for the Italia front suspension, which he did for my car. Others have modified existing bushings, ball joints and tie rod ends to fit the Italia front suspension. More about the extensive mechanical improvements will be covered later in this article.
Concerning the body, there were several options that were considered. Most of the Ready Strip operations have shut down at this time in the West but at least one business that strips still exists in Los Angeles. With the dipping process, all rust and paint was removed from the car inside and out. One potential negative aspect that I have heard about is that sometimes paint adhesion is a problem, due to the metal not having all the protective coating removed after the process. If the car could be dipped in e-coat after the strip process it would be the ideal situation. E-coat stands for electro-deposition which is the application of primer to all surfaces of the car inside and out. The body is electrostatically charged so that paint is attracted to all parts of the body shell in all areas if designed correctly. But it's not a perfect world, and to my knowledge no one is doing this in the aftermarket to complete body shells.
So, with the car at Hoadley's, I decided to sand blast the engine compartment, interior area, trunk and undercarriage. The body was soda blasted to prevent heating and warping of the exterior body panels. At that point, all parts of that car that could be removed were. It was stripped to the last nut and bolt. So, my 'very nice condition' Italia that I had searched the USA for was now in as many pieces as possible! When the dust cleared, the removal of all paint and primer revealed no rust and a no-hit Italia body. One small dent existed on the left rear of the body just below the bumper. Due to the good condition of the body a tremendous amount of time and money was saved by not having to replace the bottom one-third of the body, which some owners find themselves faced with. Because of Intermeccanica's decision to not paint the interior panels of the cars, some of them are afflicted with tremendous rust problems. This applies especially to Italias that have lived their lives in damp or cold climates. And not much remains today of any Intermeccanica cars that were driven on salty roads when new.
The Search for Perfection
I'm not sure if it a blessing or a curse: I'm driven by the "vision"; I can see the car finished in my mind down to almost the last detail. That's the easy part - making the finished product happen is another matter entirely. Fred Hoadley is as obsessed with perfection as I am, if not more. More than 700 hours were spent on the car total in the painting process. More hours will be put into this part of the process but that part of the story will be revealed later. The hood, trunk and doors were matched to the body so that smooth edges and transitions match in one smooth flowing sculpture. All body joints were treated to seam sealer which protects all joints and provides a tighter structure in the end. The floors in the car had small pin holes so new floor pans were reproduced (these are available from Italia Reproductions) and welded into place. The entire under carriage was treated to a complete sanding and smoothing process, and then finished in semi-gloss urethane.
After the blasting of the car I knew that the rockers were not protected inside because they were completely enclosed with no way to get inside for rust proofing. New rocker panels were reproduced by Italia Reproductions so that when the rockers were removed there would be new ones to install. When the rockers were removed for blasting and painting I was amazed that the bare interior metal was still shinny in some areas! 30 years of bare metal with no rust, amazing! Below the side vents of the front fenders 3 pieces of sheet metal come together with no paint applied. I know this has to be a big problem for some cars but with the removal of the rockers it did make it possible to treat the area to prevent further rust (which this car did not have). This is the type of attention to detail that is best performed by people with an obsession for perfection. It is the only way to do the job right. So, with all areas treated to blasting and weldable primer the new rockers were welded to the car and finished off. Are you getting the idea about the attention to detail?
In all, the Italia lived at Fred's shop for two-and-a-half years. I was a regular visitor as you can imagine. During that time, my marriage ended (can't think of why), Fred's long term relationship with his mate ended (thankfully not another casualty of the Italia) but the restoration saga soldiered onward. When the car was being primed and sanded three times completely I would watch Fred's assistants, Juan and Luis Medina (who were brothers) working and it made me almost crazy with the amount of work that had to be preformed to get the car to the level that it is. Not to mention all the different levels of the wet sanding process for the paint. Juan and Luis can take as much credit for the car's quality as Fred can.
The box frame section, which is completely enclosed, had holes drilled in strategic locations so that the interior of the frame could be blown out and given a special metal treatment that converts rust to a finished, protected surface. Then rubber plugs were installed to seal off the openings. The engine compartment had the same treatment that was give to the undercarriage. Lots of extra holes were welded closed and all the metal smoothed. Frank Reisner would be proud. Frank didn't live long enough to see the car finished, but I hope that I do. That's kind of a standing joke that I have about getting the car finished. Looking at the car in the bare metal state, I was amazed that the sheet metal was hand formed; it could have easily been confused with a production car produced from stamping dies.
Next, the body was treated to three priming stages with block sanding of each coat. The paint that was used was DuPont urethane because it is the blackest paint on the market. The paint was then treated to four stages of wet sanding with 1000, 1200, 2000 and 3000 grit paper. The final result was just beautiful. One of the nicest paint finishes that I have ever seen, including the cars that I have personally painted in the past.
It's Just Never Enough
I think that the Apollo was gone by this time. I reluctantly realized that it was going to be way more than I could handle as far as the restoration was concerned. Again, as with the first Italia, a lot of items were fixed on the car but it was just too much for me to handle so it went off to Idaho. The new owner was going to cut the top off and make it into a convertible. I heard that happened but I'm not sure if the car was ever finished. At about the same time I started to develop an interest in the Ghia 450SS, so off I went again, this time bird-dogging Ghias. I looked on the internet and found two for sale, one in Los Angeles and one in San Diego. I bought the one in San Diego - it was red you know. After a few fixes it was a drivable car for the most part.
I learned a few more things with the purchase of that car also. Actually I owned the car for over 3 years and didn't really want to get rid of it, but it was time to remodel my house so the assets got transferred to the house. Did I mention that I got a call from a guy in Ohio looking to sell his 1971 Italia hardtop? As it turned out I was going to be in Ohio, so no harm in looking at it, right? I'm a convertible person by nature, but I did buy that car too. How could I pass it up? And, it was red of course! It's not that I like red that much - it just turns out that they are all red. So back to California the Italia went, which is where it was from originally. That car was around for about two to three years - counting the time that the ex-wife removed the Italia, herself, and three other cars from the house. It's not that I minded her leaving so much but I really did miss those cars. After I paid a sizable ransom fee I got the car back, but it finally went about the same time as the Ghia. The house fund you know. Now it's on the east coast again, and I hope living in a nice heated garage.
Light Somewhere In the Tunnel
The car returned to my house for more work after the painting process. Details, details, and more details. At this point, but not necessarily in this order, the aluminum Italia Reproductions gas tank was installed; it was a beautiful piece of work in itself. The front suspension was installed with the bushings that Drac Connally had reproduced for the car. The work had begun on installing the four aluminum coil over shocks with external adjustment. The rear axle was narrowed to the correct specifications to allow the mounting of 15 x 8 aluminum rim knockoff wire wheels supplied by Italia Reproductions. The rear axle on the Italia is too wide for the body no matter what the rim with the car has. Fortunately, there is plenty of inner fender space to allow for almost whatever tire and wheel configuration is desired for the car.
The new mounting plates for the rear shocks were fabricated to locate them to the upper frame. All 3 locating arms for the rear axle were fabricated by a local machine shop with new available bushings. The lower outer arms were redesigned to accept the mounting of the coil over shocks on the lower end. When the axle was narrowed it was ordered with new axles, 3:25 ratio gears, limited slip differential, and aluminum carrier for the ring and pinion to save weight. It was then treated to a gloss urethane finish.
If you have ever looked at an Italia instrument cluster from the rear you may have noticed that the minor instruments are almost covered on the left side at the top. To make it look right the top sheet metal was reworked in many areas to give it a better flow. Now, looking at the car, you would not even notice the changes unless it was brought to your attention. Many days were spent determining what was wrong with the shape and then fine tuning it for the right look. This entailed a lot of cutting and welding.
The front suspension was started at this location but finished at Orville's shop at a later date. The steering rack was rebuilt and installed at this same time. It was at this point I realized that if I had it to do over again I would have replaced the complete front suspension with a Mustang II conversion with tubular upper and lower A arms. This action would have eliminated many of the parts that tend not to be available for the Italias. That said, this car did drive very nice before the restoration so I think that will still be the case after completion.
The other major change or conversion that occurred at this time was the installation of the Vintage air heater and AC system in the dash. The largest unit they made was ordered; it is intended for station wagons and large cars. One might hope that a properly insulated Italia interior might even stay cool with this unit. The fresh air box that runs horizontal on the right side of the dash had to be removed for proper fit of the unit. After market units don't use fresh air to feed them so nothing was lost with the removal of this piece. The unit is completely concealed up in the dash so nothing is visible below except the custom fabricated air distribution unit below the dash. This contains the four billet aluminum ducts. I really like the design of this unit even if it was my idea. Put propellers on it and it could be the wing of a plane.
The Process That Has No End
That just about covers the progress at my place so now the car will move to Orville's again. Time for some really serious work now. Unless an Italia has already been rewired, it will need to be. Italian cars of this vintage were never known for the sophistication of their wiring and this car was no exception. In virtually all cases, the wiring would still need to be changed due to its age. A new harness conversion was chosen with an 18 fuse panel. That should cover all the upgrades being performed on the car without fear of overloaded circuits. As I mentioned earlier, Orville is a retired electrical engineer so one might expect the job to be top notch - and it is. I have a very interesting relationship with Orville, I tend to be a very vocal person on my opinions and don't mind letting people know what they are. On the other hand Orville is not an argumentative person at all so verbal debates are over in a hurry because he's not going to participate, period! We do work through it and the job gets done right and that's the most important thing.
The really cool part of this wiring system is that the instrument panel can be pulled with all instruments and switches and lights still installed in the panel. And speaking of the instrument panel, all original instruments were rebuilt and new original-style switches were installed. He used two 18-pin aircraft connectors that screw together for quick removal of the dash for service. Is that neat or what? Aluminum tubes run in the inner fenders front to rear to carry the wires rearward so that they do not have to be exposed in the engine compartment and cause clutter. No loss for attention to detail.
The stainless steel brake and fuel lines are also installed with the same professional care, running front to rear with plastic insulators attached to the frame. Braided stainless steel rubber hoses connect the hard lines to the calipers in the front and the axle in the rear. The electric fuel pump and fuel filter are located above the rear axle with the same attention to detail. If this was a production car with a run of 1,000,000 units it would have not been engineered better - possibly cheaper but not better.
I also love to look at the detail of the under carriage. The original nonfunctioning brake proportioning valve was replaced with a distribution block at the master cylinder. A working proportioning valve was installed to allow modulation of the rear brakes. The calipers were re-sleeved and the pads were relined at no small cost, and the rotors were turned. Orville felt that the inexpensive round plastic side marker lights were not up to the par of the rest of the car so billet aluminum units were created using LED'S as the light units. They were painted black to match the car.
The front suspension was assembled to a completed state with more parts fabricated to replace substandard parts. The upper A arms had to be notched and reinforced to provide proper space for the coil over shocks that replace the stock units. Connections were fabricated for the new steering column to the steering rack, so that now the wheels turn by the steering wheel, which is yet another milestone. The wire wheels that were used on the front are 15x7 to match those on the rear. And finally, the tail lights, back up light, headlights, and turn signal were installed and wired.
Down to the Motor
Now to one of the best parts of the car, the motor. As I have stated earlier, the car is equipped with a 393 cubic inch Cleveland motor which is great to look at in it. The motor work was preformed by Dave Bliss at Bliss Performance in Washington state. It has not been started yet but the time will come soon. The engine is equipped with Ford SVO aluminum heads. The intake valve size on these heads is a whopping 2.25 inches. The exhaust ports have been raised on the heads to allow better breathing, which requires special headers. The intake runners on the heads are larger than most runners that I have seen on big block Chevy square port heads. The heads are also equipped with aluminum roller rockers and the cam shaft is of a roller hydraulic design.
The aluminum intake manifold is of a single plane design produced by Roush Racing specific to these heads. The block was bored 30-over and then sonic tested and magnafluxed to check for cracks in the block. Cleveland blocks are known for core shift of the cylinders and must be checked after boring for cracks in the cylinder liners. The engine has a stroker crank to achieve the cubic inch displacement increase. The entire assembly is fully balanced.
No 6-speed manual ever came with the Cleveland motor so a McLeod bell housing was used to adapt the transmission to the motor. Other parts were required in the conversion that came with the kit. As with anything of this nature, it still was not a strict bolt-up process, but with enough phone calls and machining to the new components the new transmission has been fitted successfully to the motor.
Just Two Small Problems
Before any further assembly of the car I wanted to have the paint wet sanded again because of settling that had occurred from the time that it had been painted. So Fred Hoadley came to Orville's shop to pick up the car with his trailer. At Orville's shop, the whole car was covered in soft blankets to protect the paint, but when the car was uncovered Fred immediately saw a dent in the top of the right fender. It was pushed out so that would indicate something had pushed it out from the inside. A dent in that perfect black paint. I just about fainted. I was just about speechless, but kept telling myself, 'Okay, keep your composure man and don't lose it now'.
The car was pushed out of the stall to be loaded on the trailer. When Fred backed the trailer up the sloped driveway he didn't go all the way to the top so the trailer was still on a downhill incline. I think that Orville said that it would be okay, the car didn't weigh that much anyway, and he could hold it back. I should have insisted that the trailer be put on level ground but I didn't, but I really should have. As the car started to roll downhill I said that it was too much to hold back, but Orville said 'John, you worry too much.'
So there I was, thinking 'There is a dent in my freaking 700-hour paint job and here you're telling me not to worry!' I was about to have a heart attack! As the car rolled downhill I could tell that I couldn't hold it back by myself.
Orville looked at me and said 'Hey, you're trying too hard - I can hold it back.'
In my mind's eye I could see the car rolling up the trailer ramps and downhill to the front of Fred's truck. All I could think about was Orville saying, 'I never thought it would get away from us'. And then he would say 'Looks like you've got a lot more repair ahead of you now!'
So I'm standing there, everything happening in semi-slow motion while I'm praying I don't have a coronary. Somehow, the Italia was held back and it stopped before it hit the front of Fred's truck.
Orville said 'See John, you worry too much.'
So, I figured I had dodged the bullet and was in the clear. But when the Italia was tied down on the trailer and I was checking the car out, I was stunned to see a big vertical dent in the driver's door. I would imagine that somehow another car door had been opened on the door and had dented the metal. No marks in the paint though, because at Orville's the door had been covered with layers of felt covers. Have you ever been faced with the possibility of repainting a car that already had 700 hours of work on the paint before you even got to drive it the first time? That was one of the things that I was thinking about - plus a few others.
No place to break the paint except the rockers. After considering the possibilities with Fred the decision was made to repaint the whole car. He was concerned about the match of the doors to the fenders. What the hell, it's only more money. This car had long ago bled me down to near dry, but I was not going to be defeated. At least I didn't think that I was going to be defeated - if I lived long enough, and could sell my house to keep it going. Just kidding about selling the house. So far.