Frame-Off Project Planning
When it comes to doing it right you can't go wrong using the frame off, or nut and bolt
restoration method. This particular process, since the vehicle is off the road, allows you to determine the
exact final state of the vehicle, and ensures that it's off the road and accessible until it matches the
vision. The downside to this, of course, is that it won't be driveable until it's done.
Planning the Frame-off restoration is much like planning the In-Situ restoration only we have the luxury of
not having our work results be driveable at the end of the day. While the purchase questionnaire is an important
part of the overall restoration, it's not as critical as it would be in an In-Situ situation.
The first step in a Frame-Off restoration (after the cleaning and inventorying phase) is to do a detailed
photographing and commenting session. Go around the car, photograph everything. If there is something you know is
wrong, grab your notebook and start taking notes. Your focus should be on driveability, but any other items (e.g.
it's got a crappy 8-track stereo) are also worth noting.
Now that you know what's right and what's wrong with out car, it's a matter of sequencing the work. The goal
of this is to enable the restoration of the car in small containable units of work in a fashion that's most
efficient from a time and money perspective. I mention time and money here for a specific reason. Regardless of
the time and money you estimate for a given project, it will always exceed your expectations in this regard
In terms of work encapsulation, there's a million different ways to pursue this. I document the method that I have
developed over the years. This method, for me, works from a work, cost, and time perspective better than other
methods I've tried or seen.
This is my final caveat: Buy a nice restoration and drive it. It will always be cheaper and a shorter
time to enjoyment than doing it yourself.
- This collection of items may be as simple as a spare tire and a jack. Or, in some cases be a full factory
set of tools. These items are the detail pieces that separate a good restoration from a stellar one. I think
one of my favorite examples of this is the MG TD. You can have two identical restorations side by side at an
auto show. The one that will shine the brightest is the one with the original tool kit.
- Surface Electrics
- My next step is to remove what I term the surface electrics. This constitutes the rear and front lighting,
turn signals, etc. This group is all of the satellite electronics that are visible on the exterior of the vehicle.
- Exhaust System
- I have yet to work on a restoration that didn't involve ripping out the exhaust system and replacing it. Also
this system tends to underlie many other systems. From the end of the manifold to the end of the exhaust pipe, this
system should be removed and corrected first.
- Fuel System
- As I normally work on rear wheel drive vehicles, I try to start with the major systems furthest from the engine.
99% of the time, this is the fuel system. This compromises the gas tank, fuel filler, fuel lines, and fuel pump (as
long as it's not a mechanical unit on the engine). With more modern cars this may include some evap controls, such
as return lines, charcoal canisters and the like. You'll have to determine how this impacts your specific restoration.
- Interior - soft
- The vehicle interior will generally be the biggest piece of "soft work" within a restoration. By "soft work" I
mean work that is less mechanical and more artistic. As you work through the disassembly be very careful of your
process, documentation and care. You want to save as much as possible from this stage, regardless of whether you
are yo replace it or not. These pieces will help redefine the interior of the vehicle.
- Brightwork is a generic term intended to cover chrome, stainless steel and any other bright or polished metal
within the vehicle. In most cases this will be on the exterior of the vehicle, but much of it may also be on the
interior. You want to remove this in one fell blow because it's most cost effective to treat it all at once rather
- Interior - hard
- The hard interior items are all of the shielded (visually) items and the structural items within the interior
this constitutes systems like the ignition, radio, heater, AC, etc. These systems need to be progressively removed
one by one until it's empty.
- Front end accessories
- Again, we're talking about front engine rear wheel drive cars. These accessories are any systems that are not
directly part of the engine. This includes systems such as air filters, horns, radiator and cooling systems, etc.
It pretty much contains every system that's not directly related to the engine itself
- Some cars have a little, others have a lot. Glass needs to be appropriately removed, cleaned, and stored. The
last thing you want is having to replace a windshield at the end of the project.
- Outer Body
- The "outer body" varies wildly from vehicle to vehicle. In the case of my Austin Healey 3000 it's every piece
of visible sheet metal On a 1959 Nash Metropolitan it's the hood and doors. In every case, the most important part
of the disassembly is to properly mark where the parts originally sat. outside of this, it's ensuring that these
panels are stripped and prepped appropriately for rebuild.
- Engine & Transmission
- With almost all of the external bits removed (see above) you should have little but a core body, suspension and
engine left on the "vehicle" at this point. This stage is separating the engine and transmission from the vehicle
- Suspension & Brakes
- Now these last two steps may flip-flop depending on whether the vehicle is a chassis & frame like my Studebaker or
a Monocoque (unibody) like my Jensen Healey. If it's the latter then this step applies first. Remove the suspension and
brakes as a full unit. Generally you wind up with a front suspension assembly and a rear suspension assembly. This is where
you would then want to store the body on a rotisserie
- Monocoque or Frame & Chassis
- If it's a Monocoque (unibody) type vehicle, you now should have the car up on a body rotisserie ready for cleanup and
repair. If it's a frame and chassis type vehicle you'll want to remove the frame from the chassis and put the chassis up on
the rotisserie. I generally leave the suspension assembled to the frame as long as possible before tearing it all down as it's
much easier to move with wheels attached.
On to Step 1: Externals
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