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A Doretti Reborn - NBC 742 Chassis No.1200
by Peter Lockley
I was very surprised to realize that the first part of this restoration article was originally published nearly three years ago in the March/April 1999 edition of TR Action magazine. The article dealt with the restoration of the car up to the rolling chassis stage and at that time I was blissfully unaware that this was the easy part of the job. Indeed the rest of the rebuild was to raise so many headaches for my restorer Maurice Ford that he confessed to me that at one stage he was ready to give up the job altogether.
Mechanically the Doretti is essentially TR2 components mounted on a strong tubular chassis (the tubular construction is hardly surprising when Swallow's parent company at the time was the giant Tube Investments group). The steering column and box differ but this was not a problem as they were amongst the few sound parts on the original car. The engine is set further back in the chassis and the wheelbase is longer making the handling of a Doretti better than a TR2. All the mechanical parts we needed were available from TR specialists and no undue problems arose.
Maurice started on the bodywork with the front body tub. We had two to choose from, one from the original car NBC 742 (No.1200) and one from the donor car RLL 280 (No.1160). Surprisingly the tub from the donor car was in marginally better condition. It was straighter and only had body rot in about the bottom six inches despite having collided with a telegraph pole at Brands Hatch whilst racing in the late 50s and then spending the rest of its life in a scrap yard. The lower eight inches of the original tub was rusted away and it also showed serious evidence of a front end shunt.
The letting in of new metal at the bottom of the wheel arches and the side panels of the tub caused no real difficulties and the front tub was soon mounted on the car with the aluminium dashboard fitted in place. This was also from the donor car as the original car had a dash formed from a piece of old laminated sideboard with an aperture for a TR2 instrument panel cut into it. Fortunately the donor car's original dashboard straightened out fairly well and now has a vinyl covering. I managed to source a Doretti instrument panel from Protek Engineering at Wallingford.
Restoration of the rear body tub was a different matter to the front section. There was no option of using the rear end of RLL 280 because it wasn't with the car. It was once the only Mark I Doretti Coupe and Duncan Rabagliati had sold the rear end elsewhere. The original car's rear tub was so rotten that the only part Maurice reused was the boot lid aperture lip. The boot floor was in a reasonable state and could have been reused but it has a mound in the centre upon which the spare wheel rests taking up virtually the whole of the boot. We decided on a modification to a flat floor with the spare wheel offset thereby giving space in the boot for a couple of overnight bags with space for a few tools in the centre of the spare wheel. Maurice himself made all the new parts for the rear tub with the help of machinery in the workshop of his then neighbour Norman who at one time was involved in the designing and building of Thwaites Dumpers in Leamington. The only parts where Maurice needed help was in respect of the rear wheel arches which were made by a local engineering firm which had a wheeling machine. The rear tub was soon welded together and on the car and with both front and rear tubs on the vehicle was beginning to look like a car. The floors were also a part where it was easier to make new flat panels rather than repair the originals. The originals had strengthening channels pressed into the top whereas Maurice welded new strengthening channels on the underside. This may seem unoriginal but I understand that early Doretti's were built like this before the press tooling became available.
Next came the front wings - I had two pairs. The originals from NBC 742 looked superficially good but on closer examination they were a mixture of rivets, patches and filler at the front where the car had obviously had a heavy shunt. The ones from the donor car, RLL 280 were in far superior order except that on the nearside there was a crease at the top of the wheel arch which had to be straightened and that is not as easy in aluminium as in steel.
The front shrouds were a different matter. That from NBC 742 was a mixture of rivets, patches and filler at the front and for some inexplicable reason had lost the lip around the bonnet aperture. The shroud from RLL280 had a telegraph pole shaped indentation in the front indicating that it had hit it at high speed. It was so severely rippled and split as to be unusable. Fortunately with a little begging and pleading Ken Yankey came to our aid with the front shroud from VPP 915 and also threw in the rear wings from that car which were far better than the 65% fibreglass ones on NBC 742, no doubt a relic from the early 60s when, after being towed from Gibbet Hill Crossroads into Coventry for repair, the car caught fire in the workshop. Presumably most of the originals melted in the fire and the remains were bodged up with fibreglass. The rear shroud on NBC 742 cannot have been the original as it too would have melted in the fire but was in good enough condition for reuse.
As for a bonnet, NBC 742 did not have one when I bought it. There was one with RLL 280 but that had an indentation matching that on the front shroud and the steel reinforcing round the edge was rotten. Again Ken Yankey came to the rescue with one from VPP 915. That only left the doors, which on a Doretti are the only steel outer panels along with the sills. I had three doors, two from NBC742 and one which I had bought from T&M Classics at Wallingford. You could also perhaps describe the doors of RLL 280 as still extant. They consisted of approximately one foot square pieces of rust attached to the door handles and locking mechanisms.
Actually getting the panels to fit together was easier said than done and is where I suspect most Doretti restorations come unstuck unless you have an original set of straight panels from an original car. My jigsaw puzzle was far from easy for Maurice to put together. The largest panel gap we encountered was approximately an inch between the rear wings and rear shroud. The rear wings were not in a good state and Maurice had to weld up serious cracks in the front of the rear wheel arches on each side.
Maurice reskinned the rear boot lid of the car which was unlikely to have been the original though there is a possibility that it may have been. This is because the original owner Roy Stimpson had a boot rack and our boot lid was full of holes.
The doors of the car were also reskinned since the originals were full of filler and were not easy to fit between the new front and rear wings. At last in January 2001 the car was sufficiently complete to go into the paintshop at Alcester Car Care where the body was given its final preparation and etch primer before being resprayed in 1990's Rover Old English White. I selected this colour as the car was originally white and the Rover colour was more mellow than many modem whites. We had nothing to go on to achieve the original colour and at least if I need touch up paint I can get it from my local Halfords. We still had problems when the car returned from the paint shop in July 2001.Maurice had left gaps for the heading to go in the seams between the front and rear wings and shrouds .As the authentic Doretti items are unavailable we used TR3 items which are marginally thinner. Five front TR3 strips are needed, the fifth to be cut up to fill in the gap beneath the sidelights. Of the chrome strips on the body sides I had two from the donor car, one on the door from T&M Classics and I acquired the fourth from an Austin Devon specialist autojumbler since the strips are identical to those beneath the driver's door window on the A40 Devon.
The front bumper is a new Austin Healey BN2 rear and the over-riders are also BN2 Healey acquired from a specialist two miles from my home. The rear bumper is a BN2 Healey rear with 2 inches chopped out which I picked up for £25 at Beaulieu. Headlights are original Lucas tripod lights which I acquired at the NEC Classic Car Show still in their original boxes.
External door handles were not a problem as they are Standard 8 or Vanguard and I had several in stock as I own both an 8 and a Vanguard. The locks and strikers on NBC 742 were there but very worn. I had been told they were also Vanguard but I had difficulty working out why those of my Vanguard, an estate, were different to those on the Doretti, both front and rear. I finally discovered that the Doretti has Vanguard phase I and 2 saloon rear door locks whereas the estate car has Vanguard front door locks on the rear doors. Not even the Vanguard experts I had spoken to realised that. Once we knew what was needed, Brian Shakespeare, a well known Vanguard expert came to my aid.
The interior door handles are also Vanguard. As the picture in Part One of this article showed, the grille was in a bad way. As well as being in need of re-chroming it had a serious dent in the top nearside corner which was removed by Maurice - performing a miracle as it looked unrepairable to me.
The final chrome item was the windscreen surround. I had uprights from both cars. Those on RLL280 were the early type and those on NBC 742 the late type with a different hood fixing at the top. I also had a bottom bar but no top bar until Ken Yankey kindly provided one. Re-chroming the windscreen itself was no problem, but I had no glass. Much to my surprise a firm called Tamworth Windscreens actually had access to a supplier with six Doretti screens in stock. Unfortunately when Maurice checked the measurements the glass was about two inches too short for my aperture and would only fit the early type of screen surround, as would a sample of the screen rubber being re-manufactured in the USA. The problem was solved by Tamworth Windscreens cutting a screen from a larger screen and finding two sections of proprietary rubber to be glued together to take the new screen. However the fitting of the complete windscreen to the car was not easy and as Maurice tightened it down the surround twisted slightly and cracked the glass. The final solution was the use of packing pieces and extreme care.
Fitting the hood and trim were another aspect of the restoration where several attempts to solve a problem had to be made. I only had two seats from my one and a half cars, both from RLL280. One seat frame was reusable and Maurice rebuilt most of the other as the base surround had crumbled to almost nothing. He also made two new seat pans using a pattern from another car, only to later discover a simpler easier to make type on a third car. I used a Jaguar trimmer who worked on a spare time basis to do the whole car and whereas he made a good job of seats and carpets he came badly unstuck on hood and door trims. At least the car went on the road in November 2001 and appeared at the NEC Classic Car Show. However I discovered that the hood leaked like a sieve and got drenched inside the car in the first shower I encountered. I thus tried another trimmer who managed to reduce the leaks only to those coming in from above the screen rather than from every join. We then tried some thicker rubber trim affixed to the front of the hood and this improved matters still further. Finally we replaced this with similar rubber relocated slightly and placed rubber Dinky toy car tyres around the locating pins in the hood top bar. I remained relatively dry apart from the odd drop of rain coming in from the side-screens when I took the car to the paint shop to have its final paint rectification during a torrential downpour on 2nd January 2003.
The car on the road has way exceeded my expectations. Though it is in its original specification apart from radial tyres it performs and handles like a modern car. Only the brakes need to be treated with respect, though after driving a Vanguard that is not difficult.
The highlight of 2002, the car's first year on the road, for me was reuniting the car with Roy Stimpson, its first owner, at his home in Leicester last September. I began the day by posing the car at a railway bridge in Leicester which still carries an advert for the dealer which supplied the car, Browetts, who have long since ceased trading. The advert still describes them as Standard-Triumph and Jaguar dealers. On arrival at Roy's home I met not only him but also his brother and a friend who also drove the car in the 1950s both as a car in every day use and at Melton Mowbray Motor Club events. The car was regularly taken on Continental holidays and from time to time was stopped in Leicester for speeding though as Roy's father played snooker with the Chief Constable charges did not ensue. It was clear that Roy was really fond of his Doretti when he owned it and I think he would buy it back given half a chance. Not likely!
Thanks to Peter Lockley for the information.
Ken Yankey © 2002