Salt-free diet

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Restoring the Bonneville record car presented an unusual set of problems for Dawn Treader

Even years after the record run at Bonneville, the Honda RA106 was still suffering from the salt, which was making the machine rust so fast it was literally falling apart.

Honda quit Formula 1 in 2008 and out of that team came 2009 championship winner Brawn GP A year later, Brawn had sold out to Mercedes. There was no need for the German manufacturer to hold on to Honda’s history, so the car was sold by Bonhams in July that year, for £51,000. Even then it was well on its way to the bin thanks to the effect of the salt, and in 2012 the new owner made the decision to send it to restoration specialist Dawn Treader Performance for a complete refurbishment. By the time it got to us,” says Dawn Treader boss Patrick Morgan, if we hadn’t stripped it then we would really have struggled to bring it back to life. It wasn’t until we started taking panels off that the realisation sank in about how serious the job would be. After three or four weeks of struggling just to get parts off the car we knew it was going to be a big job.”Very quickly Morgan realised that the threeor fourmonth project would take 10 months, and that was just to get the car into a non-running condition where it wasn’t rusting anymore.

The biggest issue we had was that every nut and every bolt had corroded into whatever it was screwed into. Every single one had to be drilled out. Take the shrouding around the brake discs, for example each has as many as 25 fasteners and could take hours to get out.” That in itself was bad enough, but each new fastener cost up to £30. We were just so lucky that the owner wanted it done properly,” Morgan says, with feeling.

“We’ve replaced almost nothing, and if you look at things like the driveshaffs you can still see the pitting on the surface. We cleaned and replated them, but the rust was too deep. It’s not a car you’ll be able to fake easily! The salt problem then started spreading over the workshop so that when we started working on the car we had to quarantine it. With the best will in the world, in any workshop environment that’s going to be difficult.”

The car now looks like something you’d see in a showroom, but speaking to Morgan you quickly realise that the salt was like a powdery disease if you touched a clean part of the car with a tool you had used on an unclean part, it would start rusting again. Sometimes signs of new rust could be seen as quickly as 12 hours later. Tools had to be thrown out and some were even made for special jobs every fin on the radiators had to be cleaned and each one was a slightly different shape to the last, meaning another tool had to be made to fit.

“The electronic connectors were especially bad,” says Dawn Treader employee Kris Nash, who did much of the work. They have so many small places for the salt to get into that you’d restore it, fasten it to another connector and another bit of salt would fall out! We cut the knurling back on the connectors with a scalpel and then put new patterns on, masked them, primed them and then sprayed them. Some days it would take two hours just to get the connectors apart!”

The effect of the salt didn’t just show itself on the metal parts, though. “A lot of the carbon was also really badly stained,” adds Morgan, “especially if some of the resin had been badly scratched. The salt would get in and the stain would spread. In rare cases some of the carbon bits had to be recreated and, as you can imagine, some of them, such as the exhaust heat shields, were really complicated shapes. We used the originals, glued them up to try to get the right shape and then took a mould from that.”

As Morgan says, we’re lucky that the owner wanted to do a proper job with the restoration because otherwise this one-off piece of history would have been lost forever. Like its record attempt on the salt flats of Bonneville, its restoration was fraught with difficulties, but there’s no denying the impressive nature of the outcome.