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My Triumph Obsession: Part V, rebuilding the 1960 TR3A body

Published in blog.hemmings.com

A 15-foot U-Haul was the perfect size to transport the Triumph TR3A body shell to and from the restorer. Returning only 12-miles per gallon, it cost about $240 in gas alone. Photography by author.

Last August, on my 62nd birthday, I was standing in my garage looking over all my stuff that I’ve collected since I bought my first Triumph back when I was 18 years old and realized that I need to get moving on my project cars, otherwise I won’t be able to enjoy them while I’m still able to push in a clutch pedal.

Being the type of person who has always performed all his own work, including engine rebuilding, bare-metal resprays and a few body-off restorations, I never once paid anyone to work on my cars. Due to work and family commitments and never-ending publishing deadlines, I just don’t have that much free time anymore. And when I do find the time to work on my cars, I can’t work on them as long as I did when I was 30 – within an hour my back starts hurting, and when I’m down on the floor it takes a whole lot longer to get up now. What to do?

Now safe inside my New England garage/barn, the rebuilt body tub sits awaiting priming and painting.

My 1960 Triumph TR3A has been sitting relatively untouched since 2006 when I sprayed the body in epoxy primer shortly after bringing it home from having the body tub dipped. And since then… nothing. No other significant work, aside from bead blasting suspension and brake components and painting them, has been done to it. Until now.

New floor pans were purchased from The Roadster Factory many years ago; they are exact reproductions with all the correct indentations and bolt holes.

When you’re not a welder or fabricator, as I’m not, the hardest and most time-consuming part of any restoration is rebuilding the body, especially one as rusted as my TR3A was. So I decided to have–at the very least–the body rebuilt, as this would greatly assist me in jump-starting the restoration in a big way.

Both A- and B-posts required extensive metal repair especially along the bottom where they meet the outer sill. Lower section on both rear fenders also had to have metal replaced.

I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to spend your hard-earned money contracting work to be done, be it on your car or on your house, only deal with a specialist; so who better to rebuild my TR3A’s body than Macy’s Garage in Ohio. With their custom engineered TR2/3 body jig, it ensures that all the new panels being welded onto the body structure will be perfectly aligned. And with them restoring only Triumph TRs, and nothing but TRs, they know exactly how the work needs to be done. Due to that expertise, the work will be performed not only accurately but in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

A new reproduction battery box was welded in place as per the factory installation.

Back in May I rented a 15-foot U-haul truck and brought my Triumph body to Macy’s Garage from my home in New England. Then, after attending the CORSA Corvair convention in Illinois at the end of July, my wife and I then drove down to Tipp City, Ohio, where we exchanged our rental car for another 15-foot U-Haul and then made the 775-mile journey back home with the rebuilt TR3A body strapped down inside the truck. It was a memorable experience that we both enjoyed as there’s nothing like hitting the open road and seeing this beautiful country of ours. Along the way we stopped in Buffalo to feast on beef-on-weck roast beef sandwiches at Charlie the Butcher and visited the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. We had a blast!

A new trunk floor pan, which I bought 10 years ago and has developed a thin layer of corrosion from sitting in my garage, has been precisely welded into position.

The work done to my TR3A included the installation of inner and outer rocker panels, floor pans, trunk floor pan, spare tire well, replacing/rebuilding the A- and B-posts, a new battery box, and various metal repairs including the scuttle, leading edge of the body where it bolts to the chassis, and the lower exterior body and channel section surrounding the spare tire cover. With only so much money to spend, the repairs were left in bare metal with the final finishing, priming and painting to be performed by me.

With precious little time to waste to get the bare metalwork protected in primer before it begins to rust, I knew I didn’t have the time to prep all the welds for final refinishing so instead I degreased all the bare metal areas, did a final cleaning with Du Pont Metal Conditioner and using aerosol spray cans, primed those areas with Krylon Zinc Rich primer. This temporary solution will hold the rust at bay until I properly finish it all in autobody-specific epoxy primer.

The area where the windshield frame attaches to the scuttle was badly corroded so new metal patch panels were installed.

With autobody primers and paints so expensive nowadays I decided to cut costs where I can and brushed on two coats of Rust-Oleum Red Damp Proof primer on the floor pans, trunk floor, underside of the dash, interior side of the wheel wells and on the exposed sections of the inner rocker panels that will be covered by the fenders. At $9.95 for a quart can, it will save me a considerable amount of money. But my real reason for using Rust-Oleum on those areas is a pragmatic one: Those areas will eventually be covered by sticky sound deadening material, topped with either carpeting or vinyl covering. So why use expensive primers when a brush-on household metal primer will do? After all, as long as the metal is well-protected that’s all that matters.

The interior floor pan has now been well protected with two coats of Rust-Oleum Red Damp Proof primer; eventually it will be covered with sound deadening and carpeting, prior to which it will be painted in urethane enamel to match the exterior color.

As a precautionary measure, I brushed on two extra-thick coats of primer into every seam and overlapped joint for added rust protection; a thorough brushing of seam sealer will follow.

Next up is to flip the body over and begin priming, seam sealing and painting the underside. My plan is to then have the entire exterior area of the body epoxy primed before the cold weather returns. Come spring, let the final painting and assembly begin!