Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tatra restoration

In 2016 Shelly and I traveled overseas for six months so while I was away I decided to put the Tatra in the shop to address a couple of issues. The immediate issue was that the starter motor had failed and I had to hand crank her to get her started. Once I mastered the skill she started easy enough but it was a bit of a pain. The exhaust also needed replacing and there were a number of other, relatively minor mechanical issues to fix. I left the car with Classic Gasoline who had helped sort out the engine problems when I first bought the car.

The exhaust was replaced and the starter motor overhauled.

The engine out

A new clutch went in as the old one was virtually worn to the metal

The whole gearbox had to come out to fix the leaking boots. When I bought the car the gearbox did not leak as the oil in the gearbox had turned to sludge. Once the gearbox had been flushed and filled with fresh oil, it began to leak quite a bit. I was asked if I wanted the gearbox rebuilt. I said no as I was gearbox worked quite fine and I foresaw the risk that once the gearbox came apart it would be difficult to put back together.

Inevitably though, while the cats away the mice will play and once the gearbox was out, the guys did open her up and, as expected, problems were found. The gearbox had been restored using parts of dubious quality and it was probably the fact that the car had rarely been driven in the past 30 years that problems had not occurred. The guys sheepishly told me that they could not put it back together without replacing the worn parts. Now I had to find a donor gearbox. Great! Thank God for the internet and Tatra enthusiast forums. After putting the word out I obtained a replacement gearbox at great expense. Unfortunately, the donor gearbox had just as many problems as the original.  Some parts were okay but most were unusable.

Tatraplan gearboxes do not grow on trees. The company only built 3300 Tatraplans over four years. Due to wear and tear, gearboxes often require repair and replacement and stocks of NOS parts are no longer available. Wrecked gearboxes are pretty much all you can source these days and many have already been cannibalized for their most useful parts. In October 2016 I had put the word out again but had had no leads. After much cajoling I finally managed secure the missing parts from a source in Czechia.

By this stage Classic Gasoline had handed the gearbox rebuild over to a specialist gearbox rebuilder. It made sense as the job really needed specialist attention. However, none of the Tatra parts I was able to source met the company's high standards, which led to a lot of frustration on both sides. I couldn't make them understand that we simply had to make do with what we have.

The Body
With the car laid up it seemed a good time to send her in to the bodyshop. Although not really apparent in the photos I've posted, the paintwork was in pretty bad condition, especially on the car's left hand side where great cracks had opened up. I put the car in the hands of Karson Pasznicki of KPaz Panel and Paint.

The Tatra goes for a ride....

To KPaz

We were all pleasantly surprised to find that beneath the thick layers of bog the Tatra was in excellent shape. It appears that the car was involved in an accident on its left hand side and this had simply been bogged over. In some places the bog was a good inch and half thick. Beneath the bog was a resinous film from the decomposition of the old primer, but there was no real rust. This was really great news as I had expected the doors especially to be in very bad condition. The dents were beaten out and prepped with modern primer.

Taking a chisel to the cracked door panels

Despite the appearance of rust, this dark stain was resin from the original 1980s prep.

The steel beneath the resin was in pristine condition.

Signs of damage on the rear panel

Oddly enough the cake layering of bog was carried right under the car. This has all been take off now.

The roof is back to bare metal. Note the seam across the centreline. Tatra did not have presses big enough to stamp the roof as a single piece so the roof was built in two sections and then welded together by hand.

In primer

We decide to keep the Tatra silver because it's just such a traditional 'Tatra' colour, however, this isn't really correct. Tatra offered the Tatraplan in a wide variety of colour schemes include two tone. This came at extra cost of course and needed to be specially requested. The majority of Tatraplans left the factory in a standard gloss black. The trend towards silver as the standard is recent as restorers of T87s have adopted it to emphasize the aerodynamic appearance of their cars. Some people have even painted T603s in silver, a colour that that car never came in. When we peeled back the layers of paint we discovered that our car was originally dark green.

Final buffing

And rubbing down

The car looks fantastic now.

Back home temporarily

To the final chapter -

1 comment:

  1. Hello sir, thank you for the article, it is really a beautiful car. Just a reminder - Czechoslovakia doesn't exist since 1993. On another note: It is not always necessary (or even possible) to find original parts. Sometimes they can be repaired or replaced by utilising modern methods, e.g. as presented by Jay Leno on his Restoration blog (threading cracks, laserscanning and casting or 3D printing). Honestly I have no idea about the economy of said methods. I enjoy your blog very much, it seems well researched. Please keep up the good work!