In these hard times many enthusiasts are busy rebuilding their cars in the hope of better days to come. Consequently, this article, in which Wing Commander R.C. Symondson, A.F.C., M.A., tells how he bought a crashed Talbot “75” and rebuilt it at a total expenditure of something like a third of the price of a second-hand car of the same sort, at the same time incorporating several improvements, will be of considerable interest. — Ed.
With second-hand prices at present levels and “basic-less” time available, the following method of obtaining a good car cheaply may appeal. I had seen in my local garage a Talbot “75” which had been in a bad head-on collision. It was the standard Sports saloon of 1935. Enquiries disclosed that it had been living there since it was crashed in 1941, the proprietor hoping some day to find time to rebuild it. I asked him if he would sell it and allow me to rebuild it on his premises, making use of his equipment as required. This he most genially agreed to, and I bought the car, as it stood, for £30. His advice and skill in welding were invaluable during the rebuilding.
Neither he nor I knew quite how extensive the damage was, which added to the fun. I had hoped that it might not be necessary to remove the body, but after some preliminary stripping, it was clear that this would be necessary and eventually the chassis was stripped of engine, gearbox, body, both axles, batteries, all springs, steering gear, etc. Petrol tank, running boards and some of the wiring were left in place.
The damage was now possible to assess completely. The body was in good order, but had a broken windscreen, dashboard and driver’s seat, and a slightly-buckled scuttle. The rear wings were only slightly dented. Radiator, front wings, front bumper, all front lamps and supporting bars, bonnet, front apron, etc., were torn and buckled. Two wheels were wrecked, the others had some loose spokes and were badly rusted. The chassis was badly bent and twisted from the cross-member supporting the rear of the engine, forward. One dumb-iron was broken off, together with a piece of the chassis. The front cross-member was distorted and torn. There was also some distortion in the centre of the chassis and various loose rivets.
Front axle, drag link and track rod were all bent, but not too dauntingly. The shock absorbers were not working. Brakes were in good order, but the leading shoes of the front brakes required re-lining. The dismantling was all straight forward if one discounts the difficulty of removing rusty and sometimes distorted nuts and bolts, which had been untouched for five or six years. It was at once noticeable that few nuts were really tight and most were split-pinned. The body was removed with the aid of helpers, but without tackle. The seats and door boards were removed and the body bolts released. The body was then levered up sufficiently clear of the chassis at one end to enable a plank to be slipped right through from side to side, the plank then being supported on old oil drums. The other end followed. The body was then raised further with wood blocks under the plank ends and the chassis dropped by removing the wheels. The body was now high enough to clear the wheel arches and the chassis was slid forward completely clear.
Getting the chassis true was a long job, made more difficult because the front half is curved in plan and one has no straight lines to work on. The rivets were cut out of the front cross-member and dumb-irons and these components removed. Each remaining cross-member was then carefully marked at its centre. A piece of fine string was tightly stretched down the centre or the chassis. The marks on cross-members 3, 4 and 5 (counting from the front) lined up correctly, and diagonal measurements also showed that there was no distortion aft of the 3rd cross-member. The mark on No. 2 cross-member was some 3/8 in. out of line. The loose rivets in this member were first of all either replaced or heated and tightened. Then wood blocks and a jack were inserted diagonally across the frame, the jack extended until the mark on the crossmember had been pushed over about 1/8 in. too far and the frame heated with a gas welding plant at points close to the wood blocks. After cooling, the jack was removed and the mark on the cross-member was found to be dead in line. The rest of the frame was straightened with patience, bending bars, occasional attacks with a sledge hammer and the gas-welding plant. The broken piece was welded on, fillets being added where the break had occurred, the dumb-irons re-rivetted and the front and second cross-members finally fixed in place more rigidly than originally, both by means or extra rivets and by welding at certain points. One difficulty had been to keep the frame true in plan duiring this process, but all measurements now checked up satisfactorily and the chassis was slightly stronger and more rigid than when new.
I had decided in the interests of road holding to mount the engine rigidly in the chassis, especially since the original rubber mounting did not provide much real insulation. Aluminium blocks to fit within the side-members and bolt up flush with the front engine-bearers were cast and machined using using old pistons taken out of “rebores” as the material. The rear engine bearer bolts had originally passed through the bottom flange only of the cross-member concerned. The rubber bearer cones were scrapped and the cross-member strengthened by welding at the engine attachment points. Larger bolts, which had to be machined up out of an old axle half-shaft, were then passed through the crankcase bearers and both flanges of the crossmember. A bracket was welded to the top of this cross-member and bolted to a convenient hole in the cylinder block so that the sump could be dropped when required, without dropping the whole engine. There was also an attachment point at the bottom of the gearbox to a light cross-member, which also carried the front end of the battery cradle and the back of the front wings.
The engine-gearbox unit had then become very much an integral part of the chassis, and it remained to be seen whether it would be harsh and noisy. In fact it is surprisingly smooth and pleasant, which I put down primarily to the excellent Talbot crankshaft, with its disc webs. I detest “elastic” in the steering, a fault which is to my mind present in the majority of British cars. In addition, therefore, to using the engine as a torsionally-rigid cross-member I decided to scrap the rather tired Silentbloc shackle bushes and to have made some brass bushes with wide end-flanges. The rigidity of the steering box mounting also received attention. The remainder of the steering gear after repair was considered to be of sufficiently rigid design, although the drop arm is rather long.
Stub axle pins and bushes were slightly worn and replacements unavailable. The pins work in hardened steel bushes, pressed into the stub-axle forgings. These were sent away, the bushes ground out oversize, and new pins made. The steering box was stripped right down for careful examination, bearing in mind possible damage in the crash.
After trial it was decided to increase the self-centring action, so wedges giving a rise of 1-1/2 dgrees were made up and inserted (thick ends at the back of course) between front axle and springs.
The old-type Talbot was a good patient for this kind of treatment, and the final result is gratifying. There is no more difficulty in repositioning the car on a slightly misjudged bend at 70 m.p.h., than there is at 30. The car, unlike too many, really goes where it is steered regardless of road camber.
The front axle was straightened cold under a hydraulic press. (I would not have considered it safe to use if it had been necessary to heat it.) The drag link, track rod and the tubular cross-bar bracingthe wings and carrying the head lamps were all straightened cold by a method taught me by the garage proprietor. A soft wood block is upended so as to bring it to a convenient height. The offending tube is then given a resounding whack on the block at the point where it is bent. Quite a bent tube can, after practice, gradually be straightened in this way without kinking or damage. There is no adjustment on the track rod of these Talbots, so tracking of the front wheels was effected by slightly setting the near-side track rod arm under the hydraulic press. The radiator was sent away for repair. This subsequently failed, due to the side plates not being carried down to the bottom tank, and had to be repaired again. The wheels had all been sent to a firm advertising rebuilding, shot blasting and painting. After endless delay, they came back with oversize spokes and unpainted, so I had to paint them myself. The road springs were sent to the same firm for resetting and some new leaves. One front spring came back to the wrong pattern but usable. One back spring came back with the spring-eye turned the wrong way…
Shock-absorber repairs and replacements by the makers were also unfortunate; prompt failures were experienced with one new and one reconditioned shock-absorber. Subsequently, two more failed utterly and the whole were replaced by a reclaimed set of large double Hartfords, which are an immense improvement.
The body was replaced single-handed. The chassis (engine, gearbox unit and axles having been installed) was slid under the body and the supporting planks were worked out with blocks and levers, the chassis having been raised onto its wheels.
The front wings were dealt with by a professional panel beater and a coach painter, as they were beyond my skill. The remaining body and bonnet repairs I undertook myself, although many details were smartened up by the coach painter, who became thoroughly enthusiastic and was most helpful. The radiator shutters and operating mechanism and the radiator cap had been sent to the radiator repairers, who thought they could do something with them. All they did was to lose them. Another kind enthusiast, however, came to the rescue and straightened and painted the radiator shell, which was too badly damaged for satisfactory replating. He provided half-round chromium strips, 3/4 in. wide with 3/4 in. gaps, to replace the shutters. He also managed to produce for me a radiator cap and replated this and other parts such as hub caps and door handles.
Connecting up all the wiring provided some fun and. games, but finally everything worked. The engine, gearbox and back axle were given only routine attention, as there was no knowing their condition until they had been tested. These were all found in excellent condition when the car was taken on the road. The speedometer read 49,000 miles, but the engine showed no symptoms of requiring a rebore, so I imagine this must have been carried out before the crash.
The car has now done about 24,000 hard miles since I rebuilt it and the stop watch performance is better than that given for an almost similar Talbot tested by a motoring journal in 1935. This is largely due, no doubt, to the fact that it is 3 cwt. lighter than the car tested. I saved weight in many ways, partly by throwing away unwanted bits. I also substituted aluminium for heavy gauge steel for some of the sheet metal work and by a certain amount of drilling of unimportant but heavy components. The expenditure was as follows:
Costs (£ s. d.)
Wrecked Talbot — £30 0 0
Radiator repairs — £10 5 0
Windscreen — £2 15 0
Coach painter and panel beater — £9 0 0
Shock absorbers — £4 14 0
Repair to springs — £7 10 0
Lamps (second-hand) and bulbs — £3 0 0
Stub axle pins and bushes — £2 10 0
Rebuilding wheels — £12 5 0
Shackle pins and bushes — £7 15 0
Two batteries — £8 0 0
1 condenser — £0 6 9
2 brake linings — £1 1 0
*Grease nipples — £1 0 0
Welding, sundry spares, sheet metal,
nuts, bolts, washers, wire, Bostic, paint, etc. — £20 0 0
Total————————————————————————- £120 1 9
* The “one-shot” lubrication system required much repair. It was, therefore, scrapped in favour of ordinary nipples.