The story begins with a note that arrived from an auction house in the southern highlands, which I deal with, from time to time that specialises in antiques. This note listed a number of collectables on offer at an upcoming auction and included a 1923 Chevy and the remains of a model T Ford. The big day came and Monica [my partner] and I were on site just outside of Goulburn on a farm, walking around very unimpressed by the antiques that were on offer, but then in the paddock was this rusted pile of tin they call a Chevy. Immediately I was hooked and after closer inspection I noticed, as did to the disgust of all the Chevy guys that were there, the car was infact was a Dodge 1923 Tourer. After discussion with Monica I concluded that the car would probably sell for much more than I could afford at that time and I discarded any possibility of a purchase. To my astonishment there were very few bids and to my surprise after an elbow from Monica to place a bid we were the proud owners of a pile of parts, they were calling a vehicle. As luck would have it a local chap with a car trailer showed up and after negotiating a price, he agreed to deliver it to my home in Sydney and again to my surprise, we didn’t do anymore damage to the vehicle than was already there.
The next couple of weekends were spent with Monica sorting nuts, bolts and bits into jars and myself trying to identify what belongs to the car and what didn’t. Boxes of parts were sorted, some pieces were discarded, and others were cleaned and put away. Then one of my business associates suggested that I join the Vintage car club, this was undoubtedly the best decision I could have made, as within a week I had a visit from the President and the Editor of the VVCA. Within a week I was accepted into the club, the ball immediately started to roll and information started to flow.
I firstly sent the body panels to be shot blast back to bare metal, some minor panel work completed and a number of coates of two pack primer filler applied. I chose the primer after consultation with a spray painter; he indicated that this was the best product on the market for a project where time was not a major consideration. This primer did not absorb moisture and was totally waterproof, hence the car could site in the garage for 20 years if I liked and the primer would still do its job. Over a few weeks I finished restoring the steering wheel and have installed a new exhaust system.
Slowly and with many thanks to Club members, the issue over having an incorrect radiator was solved and the identification of many of the parts, we had acquired, was made. Soon after that was completed, the radiator was opened and cleaned and the surround was made ready for priming. My aim was to start the engine in a few weeks, which is a most exciting thought, as we were told when we purchase the car, that a large amount of money had been spent overhauling the engine and it had not been started since its completion.
Certainly we have a long, long way to go, but what is amazing is the help and assistance from with the club members and now I feel confident, that such a daunting task is not overwhelming, I cannot thank the club members enough for there support and I must say that the culture of the people involved in the restoration of my car is truly one of fellowship.
Time moved on with the restoration and I find the more I do, the more I want to do. I completed the main paintwork and what I have noticed, is that I started off as a very ordinary spray painter and panel beater. After completing the car, I am not much better than where I was when I started it. One thing is for certain, I am very proud of what we have accomplished in a relatively short period of time. You quickly learn that there are not enough hours in the day and not enough days in the weekends and time is always a huge hurdle.
One thing is for certain are that you become in tune with every part of the car as the restoration is taking place. With my limited experience, I have found myself analysing possible problems areas, purely because I have been forced to learn, about things I new nothing about before. So the running tally or status of the car to date is that all the paintwork is completed, the new spare wheel mount has been mimicked, the wheels have been stripped [by soaking in a mild caustic solution] and the new tyres have been ordered from America .
I found one of the most laborious exercises was in the masking of the spoked wheels after I completed the lacquering process, however it was also another milestone accomplished. The next process was to prime and paint the wheel rims and centre hubs in preparation for the new tyres.
Over the next few weeks I had been loosing much sleep over the king pins, bushes and also the head light rims, both had seen better days and both needed to be retired. Once again the club members came to the rescue, with contacts and information. Since then I ordered a new set of king pins and bushes from Melbourne and a new set of head light rims, being made out of brass from a local metal spinner. My next task is to check the braking system including all the linkages, so to ensure the best possible braking that can be achieved, but still retaining its originality.
During this restoration, the main hurdles have been in finding a few missing parts, hence we have spent many hours and days walking around the swap meets, sometimes in rain just to find the correct part, as do many others.
My aim at this stage is to have a maiden drive in my drive way and to the upholsterer by the end of the year. So for this month, putting the car into gear, whilst it is still on stands is going to be a major milestone, as I have not checked either of these items as yet. I find interestingly, that I am working on a number of different areas at one time and hence, this seems to drive me to accomplish my goals and frequently the car takes new dimensions, which pushes me to strive for the next milestone.
In my experience, I found creating levels that are accomplished gave me incentive to push forward and keep pressing on.
The end is finally very near, I have put the car through its paces [on stands of course] checking the clutch and brakes under no load. At every turn yet another little thing that needs to be done, but I must admit the list is getting smaller and I am not spending as much time working on her as I do sitting and looking at her. The sense of achieving something, out of an almost discarded piece of junk is gratifying and sometimes I find it hard to believe myself, that this is the same piece of rusted metal I found in a paddock in Goulburn 12 months earlier.
The arrival of the tyres made a huge difference to the car and I have learnt from this painful experience to check and ask correct questions when purchasing goods that need to be delivered from the USA . Sitting on my trusted milk crate, in a position where the upholstered front seat will soon be, it gives me a far more realistic height perspective. During the past weeks I made a decision to purchase the hood bows although I had made arrangements, to make them myself, the new ones were being made of spotted gum and with my experience with that timber type, I knew that this timber would stand the test of time. Once these arrived the painful process of fitting them, taught me many lessons in patience and I can’t tell you how many time I took them on and off the car. Even when I thought I was finished, the upholsterer still made modification to them, so as they would lock properly.
I then negotiated a price with an upholsterer, be aware that the final product is only going to be as good as the upholstery and it is wise to check previously completed cars before engaging one. We selected the type and colour of the leather we wanted and his job was to complete the upholstery, hood lining and carpet, this took about three weeks to finish.
The final major restoration item, was in my case the windscreen frame, this was been completed, yet I still waited for some time for the toughened glass to arrive.
One of the club members said to me at the very start, most people can’t stop at one car and now I understand the reasoning, behind that comment. Once again I would like to thank the club members for their patience support and friendship.
I guess my next step is to learn how to drive a vintage car properly, so we can enjoy our outings with the club.
Laurie & Monica Debono