Epic Restora­tion

This beau­ti­ful Frazer NASH-BMW has been the prop­erty of just one man since Ge­orge VI was on the throne. Now, what started as a preser­va­tion job has turned into a prize-win­ning restora­tion of the ut­most care and skill

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

Af­ter an in­tense 80-year re­la­tion­ship with ‘Zoe’, his BMW 328, one man de­cided to treat his shapely lit­tle beau to a com­plete makeover – but skindeep dilem­mas tested the re­solve of its re­stor­ers to the limit

In 1950 Guy Cross­ley-meates was a 21-year-old with a mo­tor­cy­cle. His par­ents were con­cerned about the risks of two-wheeled trans­port and at­tempted to en­cour­age him onto four wheels in­stead. ‘I knew of the BMW mar­que, I ad­mired the 328’s beau­ti­ful lines and had read about its fan­tas­tic per­for­mance,’ says Guy. ‘So we sought one out and I named her Zoe.’ She and her new owner be­gan a long and happy life to­gether, tour­ing abroad, com­pet­ing in speed hill­climbs, and tak­ing part in clas­sic reli­a­bil­ity tri­als. For quite a num­ber of years, Zoe was Guy’s ev­ery­day trans­port. ‘She has given more than 70,000 miles of plea­sure from her out­stand­ing han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics. I felt she de­served a facelift in her old age which, be­cause of her rar­ity, im­plied a thor­ough and sym­pa­thetic me­chan­i­cal strip-down and re­build.’

It is a rare car – just 460-odd BMW 328s were built at Eise­nach be­tween 1936 and 1940. Of those, only 48 were im­ported to Bri­tain with right-hand drive and sold as Frazer Nash-bmws. How­ever, rar­ity didn’t save this ex­am­ple from the rav­ages of time and when Guy sent the car to Thorn­ley Kel­ham in south Glouces­ter­shire, hopes of re­strict­ing the project to the me­chan­i­cal as­pects of the car soon faded.

‘It be­came a full nut-and-bolt restora­tion,’ says Guy. ‘Go­ing back to a bare chas­sis, it’s taken just over two years to com­plete. Thorn­ley Kel­ham con­cen­trated on pre­serv­ing the car’s orig­i­nal­ity while re­turn­ing Zoe as close as is pos­si­ble to her new con­di­tion in 1937.’

The task be­comes clear

Zoe ar­rived at the work­shop af­ter some years away from reg­u­lar use and in non-run­ning con­di­tion, though with no known ma­jor faults. The 328 is based on two large-di­am­e­ter steel chas­sis tubes on top of which sits a body tub made from a wooden frame with an alu­minium skin. The bon­net and door skins are also alu­minium while those long flow­ing wings are made of steel. And while alu­minium may not rust, it can cor­rode and sus­tain other dam­age, as well as con­ceal­ing what lies be­neath.

‘We were a bit dis­mayed at what we found,’ says Si­mon Thorn­ley. ‘For a start, the alu­minium on large parts of the tub was too far gone to re-use,’ says Si­mon. ‘The wood frame had sur­vived rather bet­ter but cer­tain ar­eas were clearly rot­ten.’ Else­where, the wings, tub and badly bat­tered alu­minium belly pans were care­fully laid to one side while the oily bits were ex­posed. Thorn­ley Kel­ham’s team re­moved the ad­vanced BMW 2-litre straight-six en­gine and its four-speed syn­chro­mesh gear­box, the in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion and the back axle, re­duc­ing the lit­tle road­ster to bare poles. While some com­po­nents had sur­vived in­cred­i­bly well (there was hardly any rust in the chas­sis tubes, for in­stance), eight decades of wear had clearly taken their toll.

Body beau­ti­ful – more than skin deep

The body’s wooden frame went to Thorn­ley Kel­ham’s favoured ash-work spe­cial­ist, Alan Swan­son.

‘It’s ac­tu­ally made in beech, not ash, which seems to have been BMW’S choice in those days. It’s a very tough, hard wood – I reckon about 95% of the frame was res­cued,’ he says.

The area un­der one door had rot­ted com­pletely and been crudely re­placed with a piece of ma­hogany, with noth­ing at all un­der the base of the B-post, but that rail was the only en­tirely new sec­tion. Else­where, Swan­son was able to plane off dam­aged wood, glue on new beech and shape it to fit.

A glut of work for Thorn­ley Kel­ham’s own met­al­work­ing team meant that the body tub then de­parted to an­other sub-con­trac­tor, GP Panel­work in Brack­nell, Berk­shire. Sadly, the tub’s skin of­fered very lit­tle orig­i­nal metal worth sav­ing, so the de­ci­sion was taken to cre­ate a new one. The steel wings were re­paired at Thorn­ley Kel­ham where Tom Wilkes took on a chal­leng­ing bit of alu­minium work – the bon­net.

‘The swage lines didn’t meet the ones in the body, it was short in var­i­ous places and it was dented,’ says Wilkes. ‘They weren’t made to the same stan­dards peo­ple ex­pect of a good restora­tion to­day and when you add in 60 or 70 years of be­ing opened and shut, re­moved and re-fit­ted, you’ve got brack­ets wear­ing, holes mov­ing or en­larg­ing…’

He trails off, re­call­ing the ner­vestretch­ing pa­tience re­quired to get it ab­so­lutely right. ‘If I said we’d had it on and off again 100 times, I’d prob­a­bly be 100 out.’

Wilkes had to move the swage line down so it ran per­fectly into the body. This in­volved cut­ting, dress­ing and re-weld­ing both sides of the bon­net before re-form­ing the swages, but before even this could be done he had to weld a two-inch strip right the way around the edge. Mak­ing the panel over­sized meant it could be cut and filed to a per­fect fit – once the con­tours of the edges were right.

Wilkes used an old-school tech­nique he’d learned when mak­ing bon­nets at the Mor­gan Mo­tor Com­pany. ‘I put oil on the large steel roller in our work­shop and mas­saged the edge of the panel by mov­ing it back and forth while lean­ing on it gen­tly. It’s such a large, frag­ile piece I had to have some­one hold­ing the other end of it the whole time.’

One other glimpse of the skills di­rected at Zoe’s body­work is pro­vided by Wilkes’ so­lu­tion to dents. Do you shrink it? Heat it and whack it flat? No, you chase the bulge all the way to the edge.

‘I moved a big dent to the edge of a panel by us­ing a slap­per, a kind of heavy flat bar with a kink in it. It took about 45 min­utes to get it there and then I just had to worry about dress­ing the edge.’

Wilkes also made spe­cial tools to straighten the bon­net lou­vres, an­other fea­ture that was less than per­fect when new. With ev­ery part of the body­work sub­ject to this kind of at­ten­tion to de­tail, the time in­vested be­comes fright­en­ing.

Re-engi­neer­ing the en­gine

The BMW 328’s six-cylin­der en­gine was a po­tent unit for its time, fea­tur­ing hemi­spher­i­cal com­bus­tion cham­bers. At first glance looks like a twin-cam, but ac­tu­ally re­lies on just one camshaft in the side of the block. Pushrods rise up to one rocker shaft con­trol­ling the in­let valves and ac­tu­at­ing other rods that cross the head to the sec­ond rocker shaft, open­ing the ex­hausts.

De­vel­op­ments and im­prove­ments made to the BMW en­gine by Bris­tol have long since been an ad­van­tage to 328 own­ers and Zoe ar­rived at Thorn­ley Kel­ham with a Bris­tol cylin­der head. Danny Kerger worked on the en­gine.

‘The cylin­der head looked like it could be saved, but the bot­tom end was just too cor­roded. The cylin­der block is a new Crosth­waite and Gar­diner BMW 328 item with a new crank­shaft, con-rods and pis­tons matched to it. Af­ter a skim and new valve seats the head was ready.’

Bris­tol and BMW items are not quite a straight swap, as Kerger ex­plains. ‘The distrib­u­tor tower’s fix­ing has to be mod­i­fied be­cause the holes in the bracket don’t line up,’ he says. ‘You also need to cut and re-weld the ther­mo­stat hous­ing on top of a Bris­tol wa­ter pump to get it to line up with the out­let for the BMW’S ra­di­a­tor.’

Other Bris­tol im­prove­ments added dur­ing the re­build in­cluded a stronger oil pump, re­quir­ing the sump to be an inch deeper.

‘We sliced the bot­tom off and welded in an extension strip,’ says Kerger. ‘We also fit­ted a Bris­tol crank pul­ley with a damper in­side and ma­chined the block to ac­cept a lip seal for the crank­shaft rather than the scroll that’s there as stan­dard.’

Get­ting the power to the wheels

Like the en­gine, the gear­box re­build was in­flu­enced by the use of Bris­tol parts. Those triple Solex 32s and the Bris­tol camshaft boost the power and over decades of experience, BMW 328 own­ers have learned the hard way that dam­age can en­sue. Danny Kerger ex­plains the so­lu­tion, ‘Third gear has a sin­gle key­way for the whole gear, so we cut an­other one on the op­po­site side to make sure it kept hold of the shaft.’

The other gears were ser­vice­able de­spite such a long and active life, though the syn­chro­mesh (third and top gear only) needed re­plac­ing. They are not brass or phos­phor-bronze cones on th­ese BMW ’boxes, but lit­tle iron cast­ings with steel ta­pers in­side. Parts for the 328 and re­lated mod­els are not ex­tinct but what is avail­able is cer­tainly patchy. For items like the syn­chro­mesh and other parts used in the driv­e­line and run­ning gear, Thorn­ley Kel­ham worked with a Ger­man spe­cial­ist called Feier­abend, based in Würzburg.

They sup­plied new gear­box bear­ings through­out, with in­put and out­put shafts ma­chined or sleeved to take mod­ern seals. Else­where on the chas­sis, the old king­pins and steer­ing ball-joints were too worn to save though the steer­ing rack was suc­cess­fully re­fur­bished, as were the pis­ton-type dampers in the front sus­pen­sion. Brake drums were skimmed and re-shoed.

Danny Kerger ex­plains one fi­nal chal­lenge – how to set up the clutch on a BMW 328. ‘It has three sprung arms act­ing on the pres­sure plate, and un­less they’re all push­ing at the same rate you’ll get clutch jud­der. So you clamp the clutch down on the fly­wheel, lay it flat on the milling ma­chine where it’s easy to mea­sure the heights, and then ad­just each arm on a thread un­til they’re ex­actly the same.’

Paint­ing and per­fect­ing

Ja­son Wilkins is Thorn­ley Kel­ham’s head painter. He sprayed the car in stages but with as much done at once as was pos­si­ble, for rea­sons that seem ob­vi­ous when Wilkins ex­plains them. ‘We had the body tub in one spray booth and the wings, nose and doors in an­other. We wanted to make sure they were

painted with the same batch of paint from the same gun, held by the same painter, to remove as many vari­ables as we could.’

Only the bon­net and spats were done later, be­cause they needed to be filed in raw alu­minium af­ter be­ing sized against the fully as­sem­bled body for per­fect gaps. With two coats of di­rect gloss on the primer, the car was rubbed down and an­other two coats ap­plied. Then came Wilkins’ highly spe­cific ap­proach to get­ting a per­fect fin­ish – first remove any hints of orange peel or tiny dust motes trapped in the paint with P1200 pa­per, then re­peat with P1500 and P2000, all used wet and rubbed by hand. Mov­ing to a DA sander, Wilkins then uses 3M Trizact – equiv­a­lent to P3000. Fi­nally, a cut­ting com­pound and then pol­ish on the DA’S mop re­vealed the deep and even shine Wilkins was af­ter.

The hood, side-screens and ton­neau cover were tack­led by Gary Wright Coachtrim­ming. That ox-blood leather is Ital­ian, and to re­turn the seats to use­able con­di­tion they were re­duced to bare frames.

The chrome trim was al­most all saved and re-used, al­beit with some minor com­pro­mises – that long strip on the bon­net was heav­ily pit­ted and by the time the pit­ting was sanded away, the strip had lost a lot of its meat. It was just about re-us­able.

The last leg

Jim Hodges took charge of the build-up process – a lot more in­volved than sim­ply as­sem­bling the parts of a kit. One early task was the cre­ation and fit­ting of the wind­screen assem­bly while re­plac­ing the hope­lessly scratched old glass. ‘I made tem­plates out of ply­wood of the right thick­ness so we could have the glass cut ex­actly to size, but also so I could get on with mak­ing the hood seal against the wind­screen,’ he says.

That’s a big ask – the screen has no top frame and the hood just pulls down onto the glass, meet­ing it with a rub­ber ex­tru­sion. Or it does if the catches in the hood work; th­ese didn’t, mean­ing more prob­lem-solv­ing for Hodges as he re­made them and the posts they fas­tened on to. ‘The doors were tricky too, be­cause I had to hide shims be­hind the hinges to get a per­fect fit and the front wings were a night­mare – they’re very long and not very stiff so it took two or three of us to of­fer them up, and there are 15 bolts each side.’

Paul North­cott stepped in to fit the loom, but before he could do that, he had to cre­ate it. From scratch.

‘The car had its wiring stripped out when it ar­rived,’ he says. ‘I con­structed a loom from a wiring di­a­gram us­ing the right cot­ton-braid ca­bles for the pe­riod. Luck­ily I’d done one for a 328 before, so with a bit of mem­ory it wasn’t im­pos­si­ble.’ As Zoe neared com­ple­tion in April 2017, she was in­vited for dis­play in the foyer of the RAC Club. While there, she was ad­mired by an or­gan­iser of the City Con­cours event and duly in­vited. The re­sult? Best in Show.

To say that Zoe’s facelift is a suc­cess is an un­der­state­ment, so the last word should go to her pro­tec­tor over th­ese last 67 years. ‘Thorn­ley Kel­ham’s pa­tient at­ten­tion to de­tail is such that she should last for at least an­other 80 years.’ Thanks to John Giles for his as­sis­tance with the project

The BMW ap­peared rel­a­tively healthy, but eight decades of use had made an im­pact be­neath the skin

Only the frames of the seats were re-us­able

Af­ter eight decades – the ma­jor­ity of which saw Zoe used reg­u­larly – a painstak­ing restora­tion has ex­tended her life by the same amount again, ac­cord­ing to her ul­tra­long-term owner

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