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How to test a marriage: Restoring a Triumph TR8 interior

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[Editor’s Note: Melody L. shared this tale of interior restoration and spousal cooperation with us on the My Hemmings pages.]

This project was started a few years ago. The vision in my mind’s eye for the much needed interior update on Banshee, the TR8, had been on hold for a while. Her, (yes, my Triumphs are of the feminine persuasion) custom interior of nearly 20 years was faded and dated. I envisioned a return to something similar to the factory original, but a bit more timeless; black original vinyl and a grey-black tartan. All the fabrics, vinyl, and bits I could think of were ordered and then sat in storage for two years.

Due to the unknown foibles of little British car ownership, bigger, unforeseen, and more important issues with Banshee had to be addressed first. Upon those issues being addressed the inevitable question arises, “Can I really afford thousands of dollars for someone else to do this, or do I just jump in and do it myself?”

With this being the train of thought, I knew I could not accomplish this task without my better, larger and more methodical half, my husband Larry.

I am a “let us just jump in and get this done” type person. He is the “let us analyze and overthink this” type. Between the two of us we get stuff done somewhat correctly.

So, after a few weeks of getting other stuff done, on a very hot Monday the project started. The morning temp was 89, and it just went up from there for the rest of the project. Note to self; find a used floor fan. Larry half-jokingly said, “what minor god from mythology is going to attach itself to this endeavor and how much blood will have to be spilled to appease said god?”

Four folding tables were set up, one small one for my laptop. The laptop was essential as it provided music, and with the aid of a memory stick provided parts and workshop manuals for references. A camera was also necessary to take pictures of what was coming out and hopefully help us get it all back together. This table was also used to hold purse, keys, my husband’s wallet and the daily quota of sustenance needed for the day.

The second table was set up and kept clear and clean for actually doing stuff.

The third table was for paints, glues, cleaners and all (we hoped) of the other accouterments needed to complete this project. Disposable and reusable gloves are a must as well as plastic bags of various sizes. A few first aid supplies were also placed on the table.

The last table was for the tool boxes, my husband’s 40-year-old collection of tools covered in what he described as “historically significant grime,” and my pink bare minimum tool bag. They were placed there with hopes we had enough basics between the two of us to get the job done.

Other essentials were a shop vac, a broom, a gallon of acetone, and lots of rags!

Thinking we had covered all the bases we naively began.

Day One
First act, rip out the very tacky green carpet. Both Larry and I had voiced concerns about the state of the floor pans. Would the project be set back once again due to thoroughly rusted out floor pans? All we could do was hope for the best and carry on.

Even though I clean Banshee regularly, dust and ground-in dirt went flying. More dirt, dust, and other unknown parts went everywhere with the continual removal of the carpet underlay. Then we saw it, the thing we were dreading, rust!

Larry calmly suggested finishing the removal of the rest of the interior before pushing the proverbial panic button. So we continued on. The seats were removed after several hours of fighting with allen screws in incredibly tight spaces! One screw alone took over an hour, due to it having a castle nut on the underside that could not be reached. Another note to self; it would be incredibly nice to have a lift! Alas, the roof on the garage is not high enough. Rats! This gave us (Larry) more rust to deal with.

Onward we slogged, through the removal of door cards and back cockpit panels. The action of removing the door cards revealed that the tweeters and midrange aftermarket speakers in each door were not hooked up, and had not been for a while. Hmmmm.

Anyway, what was revealed was a lot of mold, water damage and just plain rot. This gave way to the enlightenment of why I got occasional headaches after driving with the top up. Time to vacuum up the bits of mold, paper and some unidentifiable crust left behind. A small headache was coming on, so we called it a day.

Day Two
The next morning the last pieces to come out were the ever so brittle plastic console and pieces surrounding the gear shift. This was completed without a snap, crackle, or pop! Whew!

New panels for doors, cockpit and back window area would have to be constructed. So measurements were taken and calculations were made. Two of the largest size panels of interior board would be needed. This called for a friend with a pickup truck and his knowledge of the nearest automotive upholstery supply company, so a call for a favor was sent.

While I was sent off to get the panels Larry set upon the task of tackling the myriad rust that was on the floor boards. Armed with a hand drill and wire wheel he set to the floor pans first. I got back with the needed items from the automotive interior place to find that the rust on the floor boards was just surface. Let us all rejoice; it was just deep surface rust! Oh, did we dodge a big proverbial bullet. Time to call it a day.

Day Three
The next morning I put down rust inhibitor on the floor boards as Larry set out to calculate the measurements needed for cockpit back, door cards, and back of cockpit flat ledge. While getting measurements for the flat back board I noticed that the shock absorber covers were rusted. So off they came, and they were put with the ever growing pile if items on the second table, to have rust removed and then be painted. This pile of rusted bits became known as ”job security for Larry!”

I began the processes of figuring out which and how much sound proofing to put down. I had two types of sound proofing. Foil back and some that had foam backing that was given to me by a fellow Delaware Valley Triumphs member. I had been consulting the oracles of YouTube and several LBC chat sites to glean all the divined insight I could. It was decided that the foil-back heat resistant would go on the floor boards and a 10 x 12 piece in the interior of the doors. The foam-backed sound proofing was chosen for the back and top ledge of the rear cockpit. The foam-back had flame retardant in it so it was the better choice. Who thought putting the gas tank behind the passenger seat was a good idea anyway? After all, this isn’t a Ford Pinto!

The rust inhibitor on the front floor boards was still a bit damp, so the sound proofing would have to wait a bit. With calculations complete, the cutting began. Larry found that a small jig saw worked best. The first piece for the back of the cockpit went perfect. The back board was cut only to find it would not fit due to the roll bar, and that the top lip of the said piece was curved to cover where it meets with the top board. I also had an epiphany. The back board I had taken out was carpeted, while the original was vinyl covered. After another look at the door cards we saw we would have to make to make lips on the top of the cards as well. I continued on, and removed the cover for the hand brake and shifter knob. Those, as well the cardboard bases, were not worth salvaging due to me not having a sewing machine I had no way to reconstruct them. These would have to be made by the interior person I still needed to find, adding to that bit of questionable expenses.

After calculating how much more vinyl I had to purchase, what it would cost to get a piece of bendable metal to make the lips, and the extra time this would take to do the work, a list of items to be purchased was promptly started. I heard my husband’s head starting to rattle off calculations. Yikes!

Larry said nothing and took the rusted pieces out of the garage. He took the folding chair and the drill and went to work on all the offending rust. I turned to figuring out how to put the carpet pieces in. Opening the box there were no instructions. After sweeping and vacuuming the floor of the garage, (come to think of it, I would be doing a lot of that on this project) I laid the pieces out as they were in the print out. Back to the internet, and LBC chat sites again. Larry’s hands got tired of working the drill with the wire wheel, so he joined in. After consulting these oracles once again, we found we had two coupe-specific pieces we did not need, and that those pieces would not be enough to cover the back cockpit card. A few pieces were figured out.

I made a call to Victoria British to get some help. They promptly told me that my carpet set was not made anymore, and to send pictures and they would try to get me some help. More than a bit aggravated we called it a night. On the way home though we did note that no blood had been spilled – yet!

Day Four
The next morning revealed another day of over 95 degrees! Once again, note to self; a floor fan is greatly needed. On a brighter note, the rust inhibitor on the floorboards had dried enough for me to put on the last of the sound proofing. Larry started spray painting shock covers and removing a bit more rust on the seat rails. The minor god we had joked about was promptly appeased. The wire wheel that Larry was using slipped and flecks of flesh and blood flew! First aid followed.

I went to making phone calls to get the door cards, back cockpit panel and other items on the growing list. First call Woody at the Wedge Shop. Yes, he had some used door cards that were in great shape he would ship them out tomorrow. I still need a person to reupholster the door cards and seats. So, a call to my go-to guy and mechanic extraordinaire Lou. He happened to know someone very local. Kramer Automotive Interiors, contact information was received via text. On to Victoria British to order a back cockpit board in black, and boots for gear shift and hand brake in black as well. Now to tackle dyeing the seat belts and tan top cover black.

Again I did consult the oracle YouTube and the majority consensus was a hot bath dye for anything nylon or synthetic. The best way seemed to be my large five-gallon stainless steel pot on the burner on our outdoor grill. This would eliminate the house getting possible damage due to mildly toxic fumes, a possible boil over, and any number of mishaps! So, with grill tongs in hand, one hour of stirring seat belts (with clip ends safely out of the water, secured by shish kabob skewers), it looked as if all was going well. After rinsing, the belts were hung on clothes racks in the basement. Next into the pot went more black dye and the canvas top cover. I had my doubts about this actually working because of the elastic in the fabric, but oh well, gotta try. The canvas came out a very ugly chocolate brown! Yuck! Oh well, hang it in the basement and to call it a day.

Day Five
Yet another 95 degree day greeted us with sticky open arms! Time to put down the carpet pieces that we had figured out and glue them into place. Disposable gloves must be used on this. The adhesive that was used was 3M spray. Spray each side, wait 10 to 15 minutes and press pieces together. While I was doing the sticky stuff, Larry put the freshly painted rear shock covers back on. They really looked nearly new, at this point we realized that a lot of Larry’s meticulous work would never be seen by anyone! I will be ever grateful, though. Note to self; say thank you a lot! The phone rang, and it was my bestie, Nancy. She was calling to make sure we were meeting her in Rhode Island for her mother’s burial that weekend. I was glad she called. Note to self; pack tonight.

Just as I hung up I received another call, it was a representative from British Victoria. The carpet set that had languished in storage for the last two years was no longer produced, and, yes, it came without instructions! They were offering to send a new carpet kit!? I gathered my breath and willed myself to calm down. My mother’s voice was in my head saying, “You catch more flies with something sweet!” Yes, even when our mothers have passed to the beyond their little words of wisdom still stick in our heads! In a calm lowered voice I had to inform them that we had started to put down some pieces and I was not about to tear it all up, but I felt I was entitled to something for the aggravation. I went on to explain that YouTube videos were not that expensive to produce and neither were instruction sheets. I suggested that they pay for the shipping on the parts I had just ordered since I was very much aware that the parts ordered had oversize shipping charges. The representative on the line put me on hold.

While all this was going on Larry had put the newly cut back panel in. He went back to grinding more rust off the seat rails. A thought flashed in my Mind, “Would the god ask for more blood? There had been so very little spilled.” That thought was interrupted by the voice of the representative from Victoria British. She stated that my parts ordered had already been shipped but they were more than happy to send a gift card in the amount of the shipping charges. Score one for listening to our mothers’ voices that linger in our heads! I felt I had scored a small victory in march into the unknown. Once home, I went to check the seat belts in the basement. My heart sank. They had not evenly dyed and looked like crap! Back into the dye pot they went, this time indoors. Larry helped stir the pot while I made dinner. This time we took them back to the garage and hung them from the rafters. Our thinking was if they were hung straight the dye might set more evenly.

At this point packing and a weekend in Rhode Island was what was truly called for.

Day Six
The following Monday morning I received a call from Mr. Kramer. He said he would meet me at the garage to see what I had and what he could do with the seats and door cards. I brought the now-ugly chocolate brown top cover with me just to get his input on what could possibly be done. I must admit he sounded a bit like it would be a waste of time, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. After introductions and showing him what we had accomplished (or tore apart depending on how you look at it) he seemed to get more on board with the idea of doing the job. He stated he was glad to see the seat rails off and that I had chosen proper period correct vinyl and sturdy grey and black plaid wool fabric. He caught on right away about my wanting to keep the new interior an updated version of the original plaid inserts. He was pleasantly surprised I had the foam inserts for the seats. Now for springing on him the top cover. He did not even blink, and asked how much of the vinyl I had purchased. I responded, “10 yards of vinyl and 8 yards of wool plaid.” A deal was struck for cash only. I asked if he needed a deposit. No, just payment upon completion as each seat, door card and top as completed. I could not help him load his van up fast enough!

Once he drove off, a big sigh of relief was heard coming from me. We were making progress, and I had not felt a sense of accomplishment this large in a while. Next came the phone call, “you need to come to Texas and see your dad”. The boxes of parts from Victoria British and the Wedge Shop were delivered. Larry’s Lincoln was being used as a pickup truck, something he detests. We made the trip to the garage one last time before I had to hit the road for Texas. I went to glue in a few more bits of carpet and Larry spray painted the seat rails for the last time. I opened the very large box containing the back of the cockpit and boots. We decided to tackle the cockpit back first. We had previously tried to use the piece we cut, and had to trim it way back, so this was going to be a task indeed! After several attempts of one side in then the other we concluded that the only way to get it in both sides behind the roll bar and gently bow it in the middle. With much trepidation we lowered it in and pushed each side down, one then the other. When the bottom was reached, it just went into place. A sigh in unison was released.

The everyday clean up was done, the garage locked, and I said goodbye to this labor of love. At this point, I took 10 days off to go to Texas. I needed to see my father. Larry let out a sigh of relief as I drove away. He could get back to his normal life of computers, racquetball, and beer. Banshee sat in the garage almost done but not done enough to drive. I was delighted to see my dad and a few longtime friends, but in the back of my mind I really wanted to get my car done. Larry on the other hand had to meet with Mr. Kramer on the following Wednesday to get the seats and give him the new door cards to reupholster. The door was locked one more time, and we would start up again when I returned.

Day Seven
Upon my return, the weather cooled and the garage was finally a pleasant place to work. Larry set out on the task of affixing the seat rails to the seats. This turned out to be a two person endeavor the seats we just enough of an odd back and seat angle that I needed to hold them on the edge of table so pilot holes and screws could be put in to once again secure the seats to the rails. I finished gluing down carpet pieces in place. We chose to leave some carpet unsecured due to all the electric wires that ran from the front of the car to the back, then into the trunk. I have no external door handles and an interesting hodgepodge of new and 20-year-old stereo equipment, so access to wires is essential. The driver side seat went in without a hitch, the passenger, not so much. The two rear bolts and right front went in as expected. The left front was worse trying to put back than it was taking out. We gave up after about 20 minutes of not getting the bolt spacer, and nut to line up in the channel in the underside. It went on the growing list of niggly bits that we need a lift for. The offending bolt and other bits were bagged, tagged, and put to the side.

The next part of the project was to replace the vinyl behind the sun visors and the mirror. I cannot cut a straight line. So the course of action was to fold over the top part and glue it on itself. The 3M adhesive was used, and with instructions dutifully followed it worked! Next, the adhesive was applied to the metal and to the vinyl for adhesion. The roller left from the sound proofing turned out to be the right tool to smooth out all the offending wrinkles. We did not finish the end toward the windshield, for that needed to be folded in as close to the glass as possible. The original edge was put in a small lip that we just could not figure out how it was done at the factory, so we had to improvise. We once again cleaned up and called it a day.

Day Eight
The next morning, the door cards were delivered. They went in well at the top. The bottoms would not clip in. This was due to the bolt ends on the servos for the door releases. Mr. Kramer, the upholstery guy, said he would not make cuts in the back of the door cards for fear of cutting the fabric. So they would not fasten at the bottom. A small detail to be added to the fix-later list. He was paid for what he had done so far, and said he would return with the top cover in a few days. Larry and I then finished with the vinyl piece over the windshield. We thought it was going well.

With the deadline of Vintage Race Week in Watkins Glen looming, my attention went back to the butt-ugly half-dyed seat belts. I just needed to get new ones. This turned out to be another not-so-small quest. Back to the oracle of the internet. The seat belts could not be identified from the markings present. After several days of calls to breakers and retro manufacturers we did find an alternative that would work with the existing attachments. They were ordered. The next day was on to some more final touches; attaching the new sun visors, procured from Rimmer, and the original rear view mirror. All in all, a good short day.

Day Nine
When I returned the next morning, the weather had cooled and the top cover was done and being delivered. When Mr. Kramer helped me put it on we realized that the new cockpit back has snaps in different places than the one he had used for a pattern. Vintage Week was just a week away and alterations would have to wait. The brake and shifter boots went in without a hitch, and the plastic surround went in without the slightest crack. A few creaks, but no crack. The console with new top and Larry-perfected bottom went in to place. The new closing clip aligned perfectly. The holes to fasten the back of the console to the back cockpit did not even match up. Even though there were no holes to match up to. The back of the console was so brittle that there was really nothing to fasten it to the back anyway. All we could do is sit it in and remind the driver (me) just to be very careful, as in “do not lean on this, period!” Next came the newly covered seats and new seat belts. All went well in this also, but we still have a secondary fastener on each back by the retractor and no way to remove them. Sigh. All in all though, the new interior was looking awesome and, for two people that knew nothing about what we were getting into, we were more than a bit pleased!

A phone call was made to get Banshee up on a lift the following evening so the front seat could be completely fastened. Larry’s place as navigator must be totally secured in its place. After all, this is one of the few times he can tell me where to go! Also, tires, brakes, hoses, and a general checkup would all be done before the trip to take place in a few days. Time to tidy up the garage; all tools put away, tables folded and returned to home, cleaning supplies put away, and floor swept, and the garage returned pristine condition.

And we are off, to Watkins Glen and the finger lakes of New York . Making a stop along the way we meet up with our fellow sojourners; the trip was getting more joyful. We decided to split into groups going on different routes to our chosen destination, the Marriott in Horseheads, New York. Larry and I chose the group taking the long and winding roads, with Bill Murphy and Lou DiFabio in the lead. So, with the sun in our faces, the wind in my pony tail (Larry had a hat on), and the low melodious roar of Banshee’s V-8 in my ears, I was in my forever happy place. Larry has ear plugs in so I am on my own with the forever happy place, but, oh well, cannot share everything! As the sun beat down the heat started to cause the vinyl behind the sun visors to slowly let go (insert groan here!). This is mentally added to the list of things to be finished or fixed once we got home. I promptly put this on the proverbial back burner, because nothing was going to upset my blissful state of mind. The trip itself is another tale for another time and was covered by our own Bob De Luca.

Day Ten
Back to the interior, when Banshee was returned to the garage the first thing was getting all the glue off the back side of the vinyl and off the metal framing around the top of the windshield. This took several hours and a lot of vacuuming and peeling off the residual glue. After yet another consultation with the oracle I found that neither the 3M, nor Gorilla glue was the best. The Gorilla glue was used for a few other bits, though. The best was good old fashioned contact cement. So with paint stir sticks and clamps we glued down a section at a time. While the glue was drying on the offending vinyl, the door cards were taken off and once again Larry proved his steady hand and nerves of steel. He marked the inside of the door card with a quick smack with hammer and large piece of wood. Then removed the door cards and painstakingly cut out the spaces where the bolt backs and nuts were holding the servos in place. When he finished, the door cards were rehung and, presto, the bottom clips on the door cards went promptly into place. Old glue was cleaned off of the window outside rubber on the passenger side, Gorilla glue was reapplied, and a pair of pliers was used as a wedge to get these two offending pieces to bond together once again. It was Tuesday, and our DVT meeting was just a few hours away, so, for better or worse, our work was going to be on display. Alas, we were late to the meeting. Our printer decided to throw a color hissy fit. Oh well, we had a great night ride.

Now, on to the last two items. The carpet kits were cut a bit too big, and when you put down the floor mats would tend to bunch up on both the passenger and driver’s side. The passenger side is a bit different anyway due to the angled wooden box covering all the electronics and fuses that have found a permanent home there. Larry doesn’t need the extra legroom anyway. The driver’s side kept bunching up at the heel of my foot which made shifting a mess. Solution; two pieces of carpet non-skid. Works like a charm, and we already had two pieces cut to the right size. The last bit to tackle is the two snaps on both sides where the window meets the convertible top. The snaps are there but attached to nothing substantial. Larry to the rescue once more. He cut two pieces of metal that were to be fastened with rivets two the snaps. Rivets are not long enough. So screws were procured and ground down to fit inside the snap heads. When this will be done I have no idea, but it has to be done soon.

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