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...
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.’
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