Rot­ten body, BL bodges, a huge V12 – a truly epic restora­tion!

From un­promis­ing be­gin­nings, this Jaguar XJ5.3C was trans­formed into a car fin­ished to an ex­em­plary stan­dard. Planned and ex­e­cuted like a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion, the job even had a suit­ably covert co­de­name...

Classic Cars (UK) - - Contents - Words Nigel booth­man Pho­tog­ra­phy Jonathan Ja­cob

Iwanted the best XJC there was,’ says Bradley Beard. ‘I had an E-type, which is how I met Myles Schofield at Miles Clas­sic, but I’d al­ways loved the XJ5.3C. I asked him to find me one.’

Schofield and co-founder Gareth Davies had al­ready been look­ing for a ba­sis on which to con­duct an ex­em­plary restora­tion, nick­named Project Halo, to be­come a stan­dard-bearer for the com­pany’s restora­tion work. With a com­mon goal to cre­ate the best V12 XJC in ex­is­tence es­tab­lished and a car sourced, Project Halo had a green light. ‘A young lad had owned this car,’ says Schofield. ‘It wasn’t run­ning and had been through plenty of own­ers. XJCS have some ter­ri­ble wa­ter traps in the bodyshell and once we started strip­ping it down I was ex­pect­ing the worst.’

Built-in prob­lems

Even when the XJ Coupé was in de­vel­op­ment, it was clear that the pil­lar­less de­sign wouldn’t keep the rain out al­to­gether. The model was put on sale any­way, but those that were parked out­side rather than in garages soon be­gan to suf­fer. Dis­cov­er­ing just where this ex­am­ple had suf­fered – and putting it right – was down to fab­ri­ca­tor and panel beater Steve East­wood.

‘There was lots of scrap­ing to get the shell clean,’ he says. ‘We used a dry process – abra­sive wheels and so on, with a bit of me­dia blast­ing once we could move it out­side. As the ex­te­rior pan­els came off, I as­sessed each one and gave it one of three la­bels, depend­ing how bad it was – re­fur­bish, re­pair or re­place.’

East­wood had to de­vise a plan of at­tack for the bodyshell re­pairs, de­vel­op­ing a sys­tem of braces within the shell and en­sur­ing front and rear sec­tions were sturdy enough to be at­tached to the body roller.

‘If you bolt bits of box-sec­tion steel across the front chas­sis legs it adds the strength you need when the roller mounts are at­tached to the legs just near the bon­net hinges,’ he says.

East­wood dealt with one side of the car at a time, mea­sur­ing and then brac­ing the door aper­tures be­fore cut­ting any­thing away. He made re-us­able door braces that had oval holes to al­low them to bolt on hinge and lock fix­ings on any XJC.

‘When I was sand­blast­ing it out­side there was day­light com­ing through ev­ery­where,’ says East­wood. ‘There weren’t many fac­tory spot-welds to repli­cate – it had been patched and welded all over the place so that needed sort­ing too. It looked a daunt­ing job, but I’ve been do­ing this since 1966 so I soon got over that!’

East­wood worked me­thod­i­cally along and across the shell, re­plac­ing the rot­ten floor as a one-piece sec­tion, then re­fit­ting the cross­mem­ber be­neath it, and fix­ing rot in the front bulk­head and front valance. There are some Xj-spe­cific trou­ble spots in­side the rear wings where the car’s two fuel tanks sit, one on each side.

‘The tank pod cov­ers al­most al­ways rust away,’ says East­wood. ‘There are ar­eas in­side the boot and around the rear panel that rot as well, but it’s hard to fix that un­til the car’s off the body roller again.’

Con­vo­luted re­pairs to clas­sic cor­ro­sion spots

The XJ Coupé’s sig­na­ture fail­ing is rot in the back of the sills, and this car was a text­book ex­am­ple. Wa­ter got down past those side win­dows and into the bot­tom of the sec­tion be­hind each door. The nar­row drain tubes clogged eas­ily, af­ter which the wa­ter rested with no es­cape un­til it had rusted through the in­ner and outer sill. Re­place­ment re­quired a clever tac­tic, as East­wood ex­plains, ‘Cut­ting the old sill off and weld­ing the new pieces in place isn’t too hard un­til you get to the rear end of it. Then, to get ac­cess to the top of the in­ner sill and fin­ish the weld you need to cut a win­dow in the panel above it, which leaves you with another re­pair to do. It’s a pity, but it’s the only way. While I was in there, I fit­ted a new drain tube – a metal pipe with a much larger di­am­e­ter than stan­dard so it won’t block again.’

By the time both sides and both ends of the car were rot-free and welded up, East­wood could look at the pan­els he’d been able to save and those that needed re­plac­ing. ‘The re­pro pan­els we had to use were never a bril­liant fit. We could still get it bet­ter than new, though. And even the orig­i­nal pan­els, once stripped and re­paired, don’t al­ways go back as eas­ily as you’d hoped.’

The many months of hard work now needed pro­tec­tion, so Miles Clas­sic’s painter, Matt Ab­bott, gave it a blast of epoxy primer be­fore East­wood painstak­ingly ap­plied the seam-sealer with a brush. Next came a coat of Gravi­tex for the un­der­side, a tex­tured anti stone-chip sealer ap­plied with a spray­gun.

Mean­while, all those cylin­ders needed sort­ing…

If ‘daunt­ing’ was a word that ap­plied to the bodyshell, it was equally apt for a non-run­ning, fuel-in­jected 5.3-litre V12. Schofield de­scribes what they had to deal with, ‘The en­gine was pretty grubby un­der that nest of fuel in­jec­tion pipes, which does look a

lit­tle in­tim­i­dat­ing. Once you get down to the en­gine it­self, it’s not that com­pli­cated – but you wouldn’t want to be tak­ing it on at home.’

Not least be­cause this one, like many Jaguar V12s, was in­ter­nally cor­roded. ‘The cylin­der heads were stuck, which isn’t un­com­mon,’ says Schofield. ‘Some head studs sit sur­rounded by coolant, so tend to seize to the head – we had to work the heads up and off very slowly. Once we’d man­aged that, it was clear the pis­tons and lin­ers were go­ing to need re­new­ing.’

The V12 is a wet-liner de­sign in which the cylin­der lin­ers sit in the block on a ring of sealant, held down from above by the ‘squish’ from the head. ‘Wa­ter had got in some­where,’ says Thomp­son. ‘Both the pis­tons and lin­ers were cor­roded and it was best to re­place ev­ery­thing. The top end wasn’t too clever ei­ther – all the valves needed re­plac­ing, though we did save the camshafts and the cylin­der head cast­ings them­selves.’

The crank­shaft sur­vived af­ter a re­grind and the con­nect­ing rods were also good enough to re­use. ‘When there’s 12 of ev­ery­thing, you only re­place what you need to,’ says Schofield. ‘Take the in­jec­tors – you can’t buy them new, but even to have them re­fur­bished as we did with this car cost £100 each.’

Per­haps the big­gest chal­lenge was feed­ing the big V12 with fuel and sparks. It’s Lu­cas’s own in­stal­la­tion of Bosch D-jetronic and this is com­bined with an Opus ig­ni­tion sys­tem. This set-up has a few as­pects unique to the Jaguar V12, as me­chanic Richard Thomp­son de­scribes. ‘It has some pretty old-fash­ioned fea­tures – you al­ter the ba­sic mix­ture strength with a screw and the dis­trib­u­tor runs points ig­ni­tion with trig­ger switches for the in­jec­tors. The old D-jet ECU needed an am­pli­fier to run 12 cylin­ders on the Jaguar, but all it did was send pulses to the in­jec­tors in four banks of three – it’s not that pre­cise.’

Some­thing a lit­tle more up-to-date is re­quired for proper re­li­a­bil­ity and ef­fi­ciency. ‘We fit­ted an up­dated ig­ni­tion sys­tem kit that gets rid of the points and repli­cates the way the later XJ-S HE sys­tem works,’ ex­plains Thomp­son. ‘With a new ECU to run the fu­elling, it’s much im­proved.’

Bring­ing up the rear of the tired V12 was an equally tired Borg­warner au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. ‘They’re a bit leak-prone and be­cause Jaguar started fit­ting the bet­ter TH400 ’box to the XJ mod­els from 1977, we de­cided to source a re­built ex­am­ple of this trans­mis­sion in­stead of per­se­ver­ing with the old one,’ says Schofield.

‘It’s one of sev­eral up­grades Brad wanted, like the im­proved in­jec­tion and ig­ni­tion, and they’re all pretty sub­tle – the idea is that noth­ing should de­tract from the clas­sic char­ac­ter of the car.’

Putting on the Prim­rose

Steve East­wood got the panel gaps right while com­plet­ing the work to the bare shell, but painter Matt Ab­bott soon got in­volved as the shap­ing process be­gan. ‘With this car, I wanted to get the con­tours ab­so­lutely right from front to back, so I filled it us­ing two grades,’ he says. ‘The fin­ish­ing filler that gives the fi­nal shape is pretty fine, so you have very few pin­holes to deal with af­ter­wards.’

Ab­bott fin­ished this stage with 320-grit abra­sives on a block, then used another layer of epoxy primer to pro­duce a slightly shiny sur­face and make the swage lines eas­ier to check. ‘I sanded this back with 320-grit again, but this time on a soft block to avoid leav­ing nibs in the sur­face. Af­ter this it was three coats of acrylic primer to seal ev­ery­thing in, blocked with 400-grit fol­lowed by 500-grit to re­move the sand­ing marks.’

Be­fore mask­ing and fin­ish­ing the ex­te­rior (or ‘A-sur­faces’ as they’re called in spray­booth lingo), Ab­bott painted the en­gine bay, un­der­side and cabin area in one hit. ‘From there, the A-sur­faces were pre-cleaned and masked and the colour went on un­til I had proper cover­age. I checked it by turn­ing the lights off in the booth and us­ing a 3M day­light torch. When I was happy with it I gave it three coats of a high-solid clear lac­quer – it gives you plenty to pol­ish when you’re work­ing on the fi­nal fin­ish.’

Af­ter all that, Ab­bott then moved on to wet-flat­ting the paint­work by hand with 1500 and 2000-grit pa­per and fi­nally Trizact 3000 and 6000 discs on the DA ma­chine. He’s a big fan of the Ru­pes fi­nal pol­ish sys­tem he used to cre­ate this car’s mir­ror­like sur­face on the Prim­rose paint, as he ex­plains, ‘The ran­do­mor­bital sander won’t burn through the paint, even if you leave it sta­tion­ary. The dif­fer­ent grades of sand­ing pads colour-co­or­di­nate with the dif­fer­ent pol­ishes, but you can mix them up for sub­tle steps be­tween grades.’

Trim­ming leather to im­i­tate vinyl

Brett Wadsworth took on the task of trim­ming the XJC. He found the leather sur­faces of the seats just a lit­tle too split and dam­aged to ever look re­ally good again, no mat­ter how much treat­ing and re-colour­ing they re­ceived.

‘The seats were saggy,’ he says. ‘I stripped them and fit­ted new di­aphragms and foams, with a layer of denser 20mm foam over the top of ev­ery­thing. Then I re-made the leather seat cov­er­ings, cre­at­ing the pleats by tuck­ing and rolling the hide along grooves in a thin piece of scrim foam.’

There are ar­eas of the car that were vinyl-cov­ered as stan­dard – the cen­tre con­sole and door cards, most no­tice­ably. Bradley Beard pre­ferred leather through­out, which gave Wadsworth the chal­lenge of repli­cat­ing a moulded vinyl con­struc­tion in hide.

‘For the door cards, I had to make the back­ings from scratch from 3mm marine ply – the orig­i­nals were too far gone and ply­wood is stiffer so it stops the clips break­ing off and al­lows the cards to be taken off and re­placed more eas­ily. I had to cut out the cen­tre of each card and trim it sep­a­rately, then re-fit it to cre­ate nice, sharp lines like the orig­i­nal moulded vinyl.’

Wadsworth also made new sun vi­sors and in­side lin­ings for the C-pil­lars from scratch. He made ex­ten­sive use of sound dead­en­ing, lin­ing the cabin with Dy­na­mat be­fore lay­ing felt and fi­nally the new car­pet. That left the big job on the out­side – the vinyl roof.

‘It’s made in three sec­tions – a cen­tre piece and two side pieces,’ Wadsworth says. I ap­plied equal amounts of con­tact ad­he­sive to the roof and the vinyl sec­tions and laid them on. The cen­tre is a wo­ven pat­tern with­out much give, but the edge pieces need to stretch more so they’re on a knit­ted back­ing.’

Build­ing to the high­est stan­dard

Richard Thomp­son and Dave Horn started the build-up, as­sem­bling those front and rear ‘clips’ or sub­frames be­fore in­stal­la­tion. With ev­ery­thing shot-blasted and painted, Thomp­son and Horn fit­ted new AVO dampers and re­placed all the stan­dard bushes with polyurethane items. At the front, As­ton Martin DB7 Brembo

This is what it looked like be­fore me­dia blast­ing

The car was a non­run­ner be­fore the long road to restora­tion

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