‘It ar­rived with the en­gine seized solid and the ex­haust roped on’

Get­ting in at a ground floor price for any Fer­rari 250 means the el­e­va­tor of ex­pense can only go one way. But sav­ing this ne­glected GTE was worth ev­ery penny, says the owner

Classic Cars (UK) - - Epic Restoration - Words NIGEL BOOTH­MAN Pho­tog­ra­phy JONATHAN FLEETWOOD

When this glam­orous GTE was con­signed to an auc­tion sale in 2012, the go­ing rate for a rough but run­ning ex­am­ple was £60k, ac­cord­ing to con­tem­po­rary price guides. But such things can only be up­dated when cars change hands, and the Fer­rari mar­ket was charg­ing up­wards at a rate of knots. So when an auc­tion­eer sug­gested to Lin­ton Con­nell that this for­mer doc­tor’s car might fetch bids of £90k, even with a seized en­gine and no tax disc since 1976, it caused a sharp in­take of breath.

‘It didn’t quite put me off,’ says Lin­ton. ‘I fan­cied an As­ton DB4 but they were al­ways out of bud­get. And the Fer­rari might be a nicer car on the road, with that lovely en­gine and over­drive gear­box. So I went for it.’

Shortly af­ter­wards the car was trail­ered to Lin­ton’s home, with rope across the cabin to keep the ex­haust on. Af­ter 35 years in stor­age the ex­tent of the work re­quired was be­com­ing ob­vi­ous. Just to com­pli­cate mat­ters, a house move took the Con­nell fam­ily from the Mid­lands to the south coast, but at least this meant it was eas­ier to at­tend an open day at Em­blem Sports Cars in Poole, sug­gested by a friend.

‘They seemed like re­ally nice peo­ple,’ says Lin­ton. ‘Like me, they en­joy drag­ging things back to life – I did barn con­ver­sions in the Eight­ies and I knew what was in store. Well… mostly. When the guys at Em­blem stripped the car they de­duced it was off the road be­cause the pre­vi­ous owner had driven it into the ground. The ex­haust fell off, the ig­ni­tion could barely make a spark, the clutch was down to the riv­ets and the crank was cracked… never buy a doc­tor’s car!’

That’s a sen­ti­ment with which Tim Bate and Myles Al­dous would now agree. They’re the di­rec­tors at Em­blem Sports Cars, and un­usu­ally for peo­ple with that role they also do much of the hands-on work. They agreed to take on the restora­tion, look­ing af­ter the strip­down and as­sess­ment, the me­chan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal re­pairs and the re-assem­bly, while us­ing their reg­u­lar part­ners Andy Mitchell and Kevin Baggs for body re­pairs and trim re­spec­tively.

As the strip­down be­gan, Lin­ton dug fur­ther into the car’s his­tory. It had been reg­is­tered new in Rome in 1961 and a few years later was loaned to the film

pro­ducer Dino Di Lau­ren­tiis, then yet to hit the big time but later re­spon­si­ble for such hits as Bar­barella, Death Wish, Flash Gor­don and Co­nan the Bar­bar­ian.

In 1965 this 250 GTE was in­her­ited by a lady in Lon­don with a Park Lane ad­dress. She sold it a year later to her doc­tor, who seems to have used it on a reg­u­lar ba­sis for the next ten years. In­deed, when Lin­ton got it home it still had the ‘doc­tor on call’ sticker in the win­dow and other signs of use as a daily hack in­clud­ing crisp pack­ets un­der the seats.

‘We didn’t find any ev­i­dence of a ma­jor fail­ure,’ says Em­blem’s Tim Bate. ‘What we did find was plenty of in­di­ca­tions that it hadn’t been main­tained well. It had a re­paint in sil­ver at some point – the orig­i­nal colour was Blue Sera – but the more we looked, the more it seemed like the car had been run on a shoe­string.’ The strip­down be­gins – how much cor­ro­sion? When the car was laid up in 1976 a tatty 250 GTE would barely have fetched £1000, while the cost of ser­vice items and larger parts would have been as alarm­ing as for a new 365 GT4. So as the slip­ping clutch and worn, mal­ad­justed dis­trib­u­tors made it harder and harder to use, the car was garaged, pre­sum­ably with an eye to fix­ing it prop­erly at a later date. That date never came for the owner in ques­tion, but his long-term stor­age did the car some favours. De­spite the miss­ing un­der­tray and heat shields that Tim dis­cov­ered dur­ing the strip­down, it was sub­stan­tially com­plete and re­tained its orig­i­nal en­gine. That was one of dozens of com­po­nents found to bear the car’s num­ber, in­clud­ing the bon­net and even the par­cel shelf. Yes, there was some cor­ro­sion to deal with, but Lin­ton’s car was turn­ing out to be an hon­est, un­messed-with ex­am­ple.

But how much cor­ro­sion? That was the news Lin­ton and the team at Em­blem were keen to dis­cover when the bodyshell went to Andy Mitchell. ‘First we had it stripped with a gen­tle blast of glass beads,’ says Andy.

‘That left us with a lot of day­light com­ing through the floors – they were the worst area. But it was go­ing to need one new rear quar­ter as well as some work to the sills, plus some tricky re­pairs to edges and around the head­lamp bowls, the back of the whee­larches, the front valance and so on.’

Body­work and preser­va­tion

Few off-the-shelf pan­els are avail­able for hand-built ex­otics, but even if com­plete new sec­tions could be ob­tained that’s not the route Andy wanted to take. ‘The em­pha­sis is on preser­va­tion,’ he says. ‘If you don’t need to cut out an area of orig­i­nal metal, why would you? So we re­moved only the ar­eas that had cor­roded away and let in cus­tom-made re­pair sec­tions in such a way that you’d never see the join.’

Re-mak­ing the door skins would prob­a­bly have been the quick­est and most cost-ef­fec­tive way for­ward, but Andy pre­ferred to un­wrap the skins from the door frame and re­place the edges with new steel be­fore re-wrap­ping the frame. Neat TIG welds left a tiny but­twelded seam to dress where the new metal had been used and al­lowed the car to re­tain its orig­i­nal doors.

If that seems an in­volved and costly so­lu­tion, bear in mind that a pair of gen­uine sec­ond­hand doors in good con­di­tion might fetch £10,000 – and they could still re­quire con­sid­er­able work to achieve a good fit in the door aper­tures. Some ar­eas of dam­age weren’t touched; the rather ob­vi­ous ham­mer marks at the front of the in­ner wings were cre­ated by Pin­in­fa­rina’s panel beat­ers in 1961 and re­main just as they were.

Me­chan­i­cals: ‘The worst we’ve ever seen’

Andy found the kind of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion you’d ex­pect on a hand-built Ital­ian car more than 50 years old, but for Tim and Myles the me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents seemed to be com­pet­ing for the ti­tle of ‘worst we’ve ever seen’.

‘That was the phrase the car­bu­ret­tor spe­cial­ist used,’ says Myles. ‘Those We­ber 40DCL carbs were ter­ri­bly cor­roded and it took a year for them to come back.’ This was a mi­nor headache com­pared with the en­gine it­self. It was well and truly seized – the alu­minium cylin­der heads were frozen onto their steel studs.

‘We soaked the whole en­gine in a drum of parts cleaner over the Christ­mas and New Year pe­riod,’ says Myles. ‘That al­lowed us to get the cylin­der heads started.’

Tim came up with a jig plate that bolted to the head and pressed on the top of the studs, al­low­ing a lit­tle more pres­sure to be wound on each day. Both even­tu­ally came off in this man­ner and turned out to be in de­cent con­di­tion, barely re­quir­ing a skim to get the mat­ing face flat. But they also re­vealed more evil work fur­ther down – the head gas­kets had leaked wa­ter into the bores and the pis­tons were so stuck they could only be budged with heat and re­peated thump­ing. Mean­while, the block, cylin­der heads and crank went to Jim Stokes Work­shops in Water­looville, Hants for the en­gi­neer­ing work needed be­fore the re­build. Em­blem could have sourced new cylin­der lin­ers and pis­tons from Maranello, but Stokes con­vinced Tim that JSW could source and sup­ply items that were at least as good, if not bet­ter.

That was where the good news ended, though. ‘JSW X-rayed the crank­shaft and found it was cracked. A cou­ple of the con-rods were dam­aged too; it looks like the en­gine may have had a pre­vi­ous trauma. We had to source a new crank­shaft from GTO En­gi­neer­ing in Berk­shire.’

Prepa­ra­tion, paint and pre­vent­ing un­fair­ness

Most of 2015 was swal­lowed up with me­chan­i­cal re­pairs and re­fur­bish­ment, while the body re­mained with Andy. He had hand-coated the car with an ICI sta­bil­is­ing com­pound af­ter bead-blast­ing, then sanded it off again when ev­ery welded re­pair was fin­ished, af­ter com­plet­ing a trial fit of locks, rub­bers, doors and so on to guar­an­tee the metal was where it should be.

From there, his highly spe­cific method of achiev­ing a top-notch fin­ish could be­gin. Etch primer was sprayed onto the bare steel with a two-pack poly­mer coat­ing to the un­der­side of the shell. U£pol’s Galvex filler helped with shaping cer­tain con­tours be­fore a sec­ond trial fit was un­der­taken.

‘First we re­move “un­fair­ness” with 80-grit pa­per,’ says Andy. ‘Then a polyester spray filler goes on and gets blocked [sanded] down with 120-grit fol­lowed by 180-grit to crisp it up. That mil­lime­tre of spray filler is needed to knit ev­ery­thing to­gether; a lot of peo­ple miss it out but it’s this that al­lows ev­ery sur­face to be cut to the same ex­tent. It’s what makes it flat.’

A fi­nal trial fit com­pleted near ob­ses­sive at­ten­tion to de­tail be­fore the primer and colour coat were ap­plied. The beau­ti­fully-painted shell ar­rived back with Em­blem and trim­mer Kevin Baggs as­sessed the job.

In­te­rior co­nun­drum

Lin­ton had con­sid­ered leav­ing the car’s orig­i­nal trim un­touched, but the stan­dard to which the rest of the car was be­ing re­stored meant a clash with the heav­ily pati­nated cabin.

‘It was go­ing to take six hides,’ says Baggs. ‘But the good thing was that we could get the cor­rect leather; it’s called Con­nolly Vau­mol and has a bit of black in the grain, even in tan hides. It’s only re­cently be­come avail­able again.’

Kevin put 300 hours into re-fin­ish­ing the Fer­rari’s in­te­rior, pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to de­tails such as the padded trim around the bulk­head and trans­mis­sion tun­nel that un-pops for ac­cess to the gear­box. The door pock­ets have a pull-tab that Kevin had to recre­ate

by drag­ging the top piece of leather over a tiny wooden shape, then em­boss­ing and hand-stitch­ing it.

Such a com­plex and lux­u­ri­ous car was al­ways go­ing to take a long time to put back to­gether. The driv­e­line and body were more or less fin­ished by mid-2016 but it would be sum­mer 2017 be­fore the 250 GTE saw its first MOT in more than 40 years. It wasn’t purely down to assem­bly time; parts-hunt­ing of­ten added de­lays, as did de­ci­sions to bite the bul­let and pay up.

The long, wide search for parts

‘The cost of spares could be eye-wa­ter­ing,’ says Lin­ton. ‘I re­mem­ber see­ing a bill for a tiny bolt with a spe­cific shank length – it was £70. Then there were things like the door han­dles, which are shared with the 250 SWB… as soon as you say “250”, the price goes mad.’

It wasn’t only fid­dly items that needed find­ing. The back axle had seem­ingly been run dry for a while – that lack of TLC again – and the dif­fer­en­tial was be­yond re-use. A new crown­wheel and pin­ion took four months to ar­rive from Fer­rari.

‘Tim spent hours look­ing for parts, and he looked af­ter my money as if it were his own,’ says Lin­ton. ‘There were some things we just couldn’t find at any price, like the rear lights.’

These chromed cast­ings were orig­i­nally made in Mazac and had suf­fered the way all pot-metal pieces do, es­pe­cially in Bri­tain’s salty win­ters. They were be­yond re-chroming but when Tim saw rough sec­ond­hand ones were be­ing ad­ver­tised at £4000 each, he felt there must be an­other so­lu­tion.

‘We had the orig­i­nals dig­i­tally scanned, from which a 4K CNC mill – one where both the head and plate can move – ma­chined a fresh one in alu­minium. The first ones weren’t us­able, but the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion at­tempt was bet­ter, and the third-gen is ex­cel­lent.’

You could build a list as long as a 250 GTE in de­scrib­ing the other ef­forts the team made to find what was needed. The bat­tery came from the USA – it’s an old-style cas­ing with a mod­ern gel bat­tery in­side, while the Mar­chal air horns are care­fully re­fur­bished orig­i­nals. Bor­rani wire wheels came from Long­stone Tyres in South York­shire and the cen­tre slats of the front grille were painstak­ingly re-made in flat alu­minium, adding to a fear­some bill for re­pairs and re-plat­ing of the chrome trim. The mo­ti­va­tion to go the ex­tra mile built up as the stan­dard of the job be­came ap­par­ent to Lin­ton, as he re­calls.

‘I hadn’t en­vis­aged re­plac­ing things like the grille, but the end re­sult means the de­ci­sion to spend a bit more each time was jus­ti­fied,’ he says. ‘I can’t ex­pect to make any money out of this, but we could just about af­ford to make it a re­ally good job.’

What’s sur­pris­ing and per­haps re­veal­ing is that Lin­ton seems a lit­tle wist­ful now that the long and costly restora­tion process is over.

‘I am, it’s true,’ he ad­mits. ‘I re­ally en­joyed the process and I’m sad to see it fin­ished… I’ve loved com­ing here once a month and be­ing a part of all this. Em­blem have done this job as if it were their own car and I couldn’t ask any more.’

Leather was sal­vage­able but ul­ti­mately deemed at odds with pris­tine ex­te­rior

For­mer doc­tor’s car had never had the main­te­nance it needed

Owner Lin­ton Con­nell ad­mits he won’t be prof­it­ing from the restora­tion in mon­e­tary terms, but he loved the en­tire process and felt like part of the team while the work and the search for parts was be­ing car­ried out

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