Me and My ASP Pt. 3: Restoration
Fast forward to today. I’ve had the vee apart and back together 20 times since Garrett helped me rebuild it in 2004 but usually just long enough to fix or freshen between seasons. The list of things I would do to the car if I ever completely restored it was just getting longer so I decided now was the time to address everything.
After years of racing the the old girl and my more recent love affair with Formula Fords I have become a far better mechanic and I’ve learned many guarded speed secrets from Garret, my good friend Frank Newton and others. So this time around I wanted to give the 3 time Mexican national champ the love it deserved. I wanted to take the car back to as original as possible. After 40 some years a lot of terrible things can happen to a racecar and the ASP was no exception. The body was pretty hacked up, and was far heavier than it needed to be due to too many layers of fiberglass and paint. The chassis was riddled with holes from multiple floor pans and mounting this and that. And countless other problems that I’ve corrected along the way.
I started with the most miserable thankless job… fiberglass. I wanted to make sure the body was perfect and fit perfectly before disassembling the car…. a lesson I learned the hard way when restoring my Merlyn MK20A Formula Ford. For 8 weeks I spent nearly every night and most weekend days endlessly sanding and laying up glass. I started by grinding on the back side of the fiberglass and shed over 30 lbs from the body! Considering that 20 lbs is good for about 1 HP in a vee that is significant. I’d stand in my garage on a bathroom scale holding the part and record the weight. Then I would take as much material off as I dared or and weigh us again. I was able to take 13 lbs out of the tail section alone.
I then looked at original photos I have of the car and began to recreate the missing sections of body work. It had a lot of wear and tear, had been cracked up from minor shunts, cut for different seatbelt configurations, etc. Next, I sanded through the 6 layers of paint to get down to the gel coat so i could see all of the cracks. I carved out every crack in the gel coat with a Dremel and filled with glass filler so the cracks wouldn’t come back through the paint. Where the tie rods went through the body it was so bad i just laid in all new glass and cut new holes because there was just not enough material to work with. Then I did a lot of work making sure the body panels all lined up and came up with a better way to fasten everything together and minimize gaps. Once I was happy with how everything fit I took the body over to my good friend Brian Spieza’s shop to talk paint.
I don’t know why. Probably because I’m a designer by trade but paint color is something I agonize over. I love keeping cars original but the original paint scheme of navy blue and yellow was simply not an option in my mind. When I restored the car the first time I painted it Dutch racing orange and I liked it but it was too tempting to switch it up yet again. I finally settled on a color similar to the British Racing Partnership green found on the beautiful BRMs and Ferraris Innes Ireland drove. When it came to the graphics I wanted to keep it simple and somehow pay homage to the car’s winning history. I hand designed the numbers based on some old photos I had of BRP Formula Juniors. When Brian saw all of the reference I put together he loved it too, which was all the further convincing I needed. BRP Green it is. Brian then did the final sanding and we went to the paint shop to mix up the color.
While Brian was working on the body I began the rest of the disassembly and chassis restoration. The bottom frame rails had at least 3 sets of holes from different floor pans that I welded shut and ground down. There were about 50 miscellaneous holes drilled for brake line clamps and whatever else was mounted to the frame over the years. Some the original brazing had cracked and need to be re-brazed. I also sleeved and welded in some new tubes that had suffered the consequences of sitting outside nose down in the ground for a number of years. I did the final metal finishing and then dropped off all of the frame components for powder coat. I painted and refinished all of the rest of the bits myself.
Once Brian had all of the color down on the body panels it was time for graphics. I wanted the numbers and graphics painted on rather than vinyl. I know they used decals in the 60s and it’s extra work but looks far better and more correct to me. I cut out numbers in various sizes and placed them on the car until we found what we thought worked proportionally. When graphics are that simple, they have to be perfectly sized and placed or you just know something is wrong.
I for one think that a 40 year old racecar should look like it was painted 40 years ago. Some people think I’m crazy and some people really appreciate it. I work with Brian because he is a master of making brand new paint look old. He is known for painting guitars to give them an authentic vintage paint quality and broken-in look. When I was restoring my last car I asked him if he’d be willing to try the same technique on a larger scale. So many people look at that car and can’t put their finger on why it looks so period authentic…. It has a lot to do with the paint. It takes a lot of restraint to achieve this without overdoing it. Brian is truly an artist of a bygone era.
Within 2 weeks time I had all of the bodywork and frame bits back from paint and powder. Now for final assembly. I mentioned before I’ve had this car apart and back together many times but it came as a shock to me how quickly everything came back together this time around. I picked up the frame at 5:00 on Friday and by 2:30 Saturday morning the basic assembly was done. These are brilliantly simple cars. Saturday and Sunday I spent tidying up wiring and plumbing brake lines and by Monday I had all of the body work fastened on the car. Mind you it was pretty non-stop. Once I start seeing a project like this come together, I tend to forget things like sleeping and eating and life outside of the garage.
The engine is off to F Newton Motorsports for a freshening and as soon as I get it back I’ll drop it in. I plan to shake it down at Gingerman Raceway as soon as the weather breaks. In the meantime, I’ve already started in on winter project number two, a 1969 Merlyn MK 11A (the white frame you can see in several of these shots). Stay tuned.