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Frame Off Restoration - Step 8 - Restoring the front end accessories of a vehicle (radiator, alternator, horns, etc.).


So this is the part you've been itching for. Getting under the hood and ripping things out! For most, removing all the rest of the bits is boring in comparison to playing in the engine bay. Now, before you go nuts pulling out bits willy-nilly there is an actual process to follow. Also, please don't expect to get this done in a day. It generally takes me at least a few weeks to a couple months to do this stage. Because you're restoring each individual item as you remove it, you'll spend much more time restoring than removing! Even though it takes a while, you'll be much happier with the results, and it allows you to more cost effectively track your purchases and spread them out over time.

The goal of this step is to remove anything under the hood that isn't directly part of the engine. The idea is that once you've got everything removed and restored there should be nothing left to do in this area short of pulling the engine and transmission. There are two categories of front end accessories: directly connected to the engine and not directly connected to the engine. An example of the former is the alternator / generator and an example of the latter is the radiator. Now, remember, just like the engine itself, don't tear into the suspension nor the brakes, we need to keep them intact for now.


I like to start with the horns because they are almost always the most forefront item under the hood. As always, with electrical items you need to test them out. I made a paired alligator clip set or wires with an inline fuse on the positive line. You can use that, with varying fuses, to test just about any electrical item on any car. Once you're done restoring the horn(s) it's time to move on.

Radiator & Cooing System

Moving from the front towards the car the next assembly you hit is the radiator. Now, your car may still be full of coolant, or it may not. Never assume that it's empty. If do you do you're guaranteed to end up dumping coolant everywhere. Before you unbolt anything put a coolant drain pan underneath the radiator and open the drain / petcock to ensure there's nothing in the radiator. Also take the cap off of the radiator to assist the drain. Now, check the lower radiator hose, where is the connection lowest? Reposition the drain pan underneath that connection point and disconnect the hose. This should, in theory, ensure that the car's completely drained. Realistically speaking, always be ready for more coolant to appear from unlikely places!

Remove the radiator hoses. Label them. If equipped, remove the heater hoses and label those as well. You may not be interested in reusing them during the final reassembly, but they're a great reference for later to ensure that the replacement parts are accurate. Don't forget to also save all the hose clamps! Now, the radiator assemly generally consists of a fan shroud (which may have elecric fans), a radiator, and possibly a mounting frame for the radiator. For example, my Studebaker has an entire frame that contains the radiator, but in the case of my Jensen-Healey it's bolted to the chassis.

Remove the fan shroud, radiator and any frame attachments that may exist. The shroud and frame attachments need to be cleaned, restored, and repainted. Here you have a decision in regards to the radiator. Is it reusable? Will it have enough cooling capacity? Tere's a couple options available to you. For starters you can replace the radiator, either with an OEM match, or an aftermarket one. But this is the most expensive solution (generally speaking). Another option is that you may choose to have the radiator recored. In the recore scenario you have more options. It's possible to have the radiator recored with more water passage capacity than the original, thus boosting cooling capacity (always an excellent choice when restoring Britsh cars). Finally, you can attempt to reuse the existing radiator. If you choose the third option always keep in the back of your head that you may need to change this decision later (i.e. once you've reassembled the car and are having overheating problems).

If reusing the existing radiator, one of my tricks for cleaning them out is the following. Determine the liquid capacity of the radiator. Close the petcock and lay on a flat surface. Fill the radiator with a 50/50 mixture of CLR and boiling RO or Distilled water. (Never use tap water in a radiator - ever! There's too much "stuff" in regular tapwater, like Lime or Calcium, that will eventually goober up the interior of the radiator.) The combination of the boiling water and the CLR should help to dissolve any solids that have built up in the water passages. When it cools a bit, pour the mixture off in a bucket. Here's an interesting point, you may see all sorts of nastiness come out of the radiator. When reusing a radiator I like to do this multiple times (generally 2 or 3 depending on the condition).

Now that you believe the radiator is clean on the inside, wash the outside. Next step is to do a pressure test on the radiator. Now I've gathered a collection of rubber plugs over the years to fit most radiators.So, what I do is plug the radiator, set my air compressor to deliver no more than 5 to 10psi of pressure and submerge the radiator in the pool while deliving air pressure to the interior of the radiator. If you see bubbles coming from the radiator, then you've got a leak that needs to be fixed. If you don't have the Pool, rubber plugs and such a simple way to do this is to wait until the wife goes out shopping. Then use duct or gaffing tape to cover the radiator openings. make sure to have some rubber tubing going into the radiator opening somewhere. Immerse the radiator in the bathtub (which is why you need to wait until SWMBO has left). Blow into the tube and watch for bubbles. It's not as exacting, but it's better than nothing.

Excepting the hoses, reassemble as much of the radiator assembly into a single unit and package it up and store it away. If you are following the distributed cost process that I follow (spend a set amount per month) make sure to order any cooling system parts you need for the final assembly and store away with the radiator assembly.

Oil and/or Transmission cooler

Quite frequently these cars may have an oil cooler or transmission cooler that's attached to the radiator assembly. In either case, you'll want to remove and restore this assembly as well. Be ready with an appropriate container to catch the oil / transmission fluid that will drain out of these assemblies. (In many older cars transmission fluid and oil are the same thing, just differing weights, they can be recycled together.) Now, there is a process similar to the radiator one, for cleaning these items out. That being said, it requires some flammable and not environmentally friendly items. Because of this, I'm not going to explain how to do it, but instead recommend you send it out to a company like Lanfried Ultrasonic Cleaning (in California).

Now, the other things that need to be examined are the mounting points, cooler lines, and seals (o-rings). Assess and replace as needed. In many cases you have an option similar to the radiator one, and may find that there are OEM or aftermarket upgrades you can make to this assembly. You will need to decide for yourself what you plan on doing (for example, on my Jensen Healey project we're going to add an uprated oil cooler to improve it's cooling capacity as I live in Arizona and it gets hot here!).

Once you've aggregated all the replacement parts, reassemble as possible, wrap it up and store it away. At this stage there should be little left forward of the engine on the car.

Wipers and Windshield Washer

Now, this will depend on your car as to how much is exposed and available. On some cars it's entirely under the dash, in others it's in the engine compartment. Once you remove this assembly you'll need to test it to see if it works (providing you didn't already know). Then it's a matter of disassembling and cleaning the unit. In many cases you'll need to regrease the rack that drives the wipers. You can see here how I restored the Windshield Wiper assembly on my Jensen-Healey. Again, once removed and restored, wrap it up and put it away.


Again, this is an assembly that may be partly or entirely in the engine compartment. Old MGA's for example have the heater under the bonnet. My Jensen healey has it entirely under the dash. Your mileage will vary. Remove the assembly, test the electrical components (generally some form of blower motor), and restore the unit. You can see here how I restored the Heater Assembly on my Jensen-Healey as an example. Remove, restore, and put away.

Other local components.

You may have other local assemblies that are contained under the hood, but are not attached to the engine itself. Follow the same general procedure of Remove, Restore, and Stow Away.

At this point we're going to start attacking items that are attached to the engine but are not integral components.

Air Cleaner assembly and Carburetor

Every car has some form of air cleaner, and most older cars have carburetors. If your car is fuel injected disregard the carburetor portion. Remove the air filter assembly. If they are easily removed, also remove any all mounting points. Repaint or polish the assembly as required and set aside. Remove the carburetor (make sure to be careful in the event that it still has fuel in it). Rebuild the assembly yourself or send it out to be rebuilt. To get a better understanding of the work entailed check out my article on rebuilding the carburetor on my 1953 Studebaker Champion. Now, that's just a single barrel carburetor. They do get more complicated as you add more barrels. Once everything is restored, cleaned and polished appropriately, store it away.

Alternator / Generator

Depending on the generation of your vehicle it will either be equipped with an Alternator or Generator (also known as a Dynamo). Regardless of type there a few items that are the same across the board. First, there should be a belt that drives the unit. On old cars it's generally just for the unit. On newer cars with serpentine type belt systems it will be connected to multiple accessories. Remove the belt. I recommend always replacing the belts when restoring a car. There's no point in risking problems with old belts. To remov the belt, there should be some form of adjusting arm attached to the unit. Loosent the bolts that hold the unit in place and swing it to slacken the tension on the bolt. Now, remove the bolts and lift the unit out of the car. (Word of warning, these things are heavier than they look.) Older units are generally rebuildable, either by buying a kit and doing it yourself, or shipping it out to a specialist. More modern units aren't rebuildable. If it's an alternator you can frequently take them to n Autozone or equivalent and they'll test it for free. Once everything's restored or replaced, store it all away.

Fan and Water Pump assembly

Unless the car is specifically equipped with electric cooling fans (which would have been removed when you removed the radiator) it will have a belt driven fan assembly and water pump (They're almost always paired together). Remove the fan and any pulleys, along with the associated belt. Replace the belt and do the necessary work to restore the fan/pulley assembly. You can see an example of the work in the article on my Studebaker where I replaced the vibration dampener. Now, when it comes to water pumps I have one rule that I always follow. Replace it immediately! Don't pretend to think it's reusable. The last thing you want is a questionable unit failing on the road and frying your beautiful new engine. Most times, the old unit is traded in as a core on a new/rebuilt unit. Take your restored fan assembly and new water pump and store them away.

Exhaust Manifold

Next step is to remove the exhaust manifold(s). You'll need to evaluate them for damage, cracking, or rust. Thre's also a big decision to make here: stock or aftermarket. Many people go with after market headers /exhaust manifolds because they are more efficient and free flowing. This directly related to higher power output for the vehicle. For example, my Jensen-Healey project will get aftermarket exhaust headers whereas I'm leaving the stock manifold on my Studebaker Champion. If you decide to keep what you have it needs to be cleaned appropriately. Regardless of stock vs. aftermarket you'll need to decide how to treat it. When it comes to temperature and other issues a lot of people go with a Jet Hot coating. The headers for my Jensen-Healey will get that treatment. A secondary note, if you go with aftermarket or custom exhaust headers, it will affect the type of exhaust system you can put on the car. But, this being said, if you're going with custom headers, you'll want a custom exhaust as well.


Remove the distributor and coil. Now, depending on the generation of your distributor it may be points based. Many people upgrade their distributors to a Pertronics type system to get rid of dealing with old fashioned points. As you remove this I recommend replacing the plug wires and coil. If you are to retain the points, then fresh points and condensor. Also, you'll need to check the distributor shaft for too much play. You may need to replace o have the entire unit rebuilt.


The starter is akin to the Alternator. Depending on the age of the unit you may be able to rebuild it, have it rebuilt or just replace it. If you intend to rebuild it, pay special attention to the gear that connects to the ring gear. You'll have to make sure there's not too much wear there.

Air Conditioning

Now if you're lucky (or challenged) enough to have an Air Conditioning system on your car, you'll need to remove it's under hood components. Warning! Air conditioning systems are under extremely high pressure. Before disassembling the system you must ensure that you have appropriately depressurized the system. Just to give you an idea of danger, I had an RX-7 line burst once while working under the hood, it just missed slicing into my neck. So move slowly and with much caution. Once the system is completely depressurized disconnect the lines where they connect to the compressor. Remove the compressor, and all the other controls. Test the compressor. Go through the system and replace all the seals. I highly recommend replacing the AC lines. I would even prefer that once set aside, you take the system and completed car to a proper mechanic's shop and have them reassemble / repressurize the system

Emissions Controls

Depending on the generation of your vehicle you may have some Emissions controls. For example, Mum's '78 Spitfire has an air pump as well as vapour cannisters and the like. These systems vary greatly from vehicle to vehicle. Remove the Emissions controls and refresh or restore where necessary. Whendone, put these items safely away.

Other items

You may have other items that are attached to the engine that I've not covered here. Follow the same general procedure of Remove, Restore, and Stow Away.

At this stage everything under the hood short of the Engine, Suspension and Brakes should be removed.

On to Step 9: Glass

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Contents copyright 2008, 2009 - Jody F. Kerr

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