1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia SS epic restoration

1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia SS epic restoration

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Epic restoration 1964 Alfa Romeo Giulia SS. The roof had been walked on and half its rear wings were gone. Craig Jones hadn’t intended to buy an Alfa Romeo Giulia SS, but when he happened across this looking sad on a trailer, resistance was futile. Words MIKE RENAUT. Photography MATT RICHARDSON.

 

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Craig Jones admits he wasn’t in the market for an Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale. ‘I’d seen the Abarth Double Bubble that DTR European Sportscars had restored and thought it was the cheapest way into the Mille Miglia, but Paul de Turris, DTR boss had restored it with disc brakes and right- hand drive. Then I saw the Giulia SS looking rather forlorn on a trailer. I was completely taken by the stunning lines. Paul agreed to sell it, fully restored, for a fixed price. I had no qualms about DTR’s ability to do the work, because I could see exactly what the guys had achieved with the Abarth.’

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It was a car that deserved a proper restoration. Alfa Romeo’s Guilietta Sprint Speciale had futuristic lines when unveiled in 1957, borrowing styling cues from the Berlina Aerodinamica Tecnica (BAT) show cars. Production of the light and extremely aerodynamic sports coupe began in 1959 with the 1290cc Twin Cam model. After 1366 were built it was superseded in 1963 by the more refined 1570cc Guilia SS model.

‘I saw it looking rather forlorn on a trailer. I was completely taken by the stunning lines’

Production ended in 1966 after 1400 Guilias had been built, yet only in the past decade has the appeal of the SS become properly recognised. Having done the deal I contacted the Alfa archives.

They noted my SS was manufactured on January 30, 1964, immediately sold to Chipstead Motors Ltd in London and first registered in July 1964. It was one of 25 converted to right-hand drive by Ruddspeed and was Alfa Red straight from the factory. There was more than one Alfa Red, though; the Bertone factory had its own, which was a darker, less orange, shade than that used by Alfa. Paul sprayed the bonnet half in each colour and I much preferred the shade used by Bertone.’

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The interior colour was inspired by a Fiat Dino Spider Paul was restoring with Tobacco leather. ‘It’s obviously an upgrade on the original black vinyl interior,’ Craig says, ‘but if I ever did sell, it can be put back to original relatively easily.’


STRIPDOWN/REASSEMBLY

The interior is the hardest thing to install

Andy Warboys (left) took care of the initial stripdown and the final reassembly. ‘We got the SS as a shell and a box of bits, so my first job was to check that everything was there.’ In this case the Alfa’s engine had seized and the pistons had apparently been smashed out with a hammer. Parts are easy to source for these 1570cc engines and Andy could have easily found a new cylinder block, but if it’s the original which this one was - he prefers to repair it to save as much of the original car as he can. ‘That was our philosophy with all the parts,’ he says. ‘I repaired everything I could. The only pieces I’ll always replace on every car regardless are fuel and brake lines.

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‘I cleaned the parts, then made a list of things I wanted the others to do - for example, I noted that the rear bumper fits tight up against the back panel so I needed that bumper fitted in place - not merely seated before the body was painted. Then I know there’s not going to be a gap when I bolt it on. However, you can’t refit everything otherwise you’re rebuilding a car twice.’

Andy also noted the originality. On a coachbuilt Alfa Romeo all the parts were numbered in the factory because they were handmade to the correct size - if all the components’ numbers match, it’s a very original car.

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‘The mechanical parts got divided into suspension, engine, gearbox, axles and so on, then into offside and nearside components,’ Andy says. ‘Everything went into the parts washer with a bacterial solution that eats grease and dirt - we often find rubber seals are re-usable too/ We stripped down the gearbox and it turned out to be in good condition, just needing a new synchromesh. ‘The rear axle was excellent; like new. We sent out the brake calipers for cleaning and rebuilding. We trust the firm we use so we’d rather use the time for other jobs. The balljoints were cleaned and fine to be re-used, and we made suspension bushes on the lathe from brass.’ Parts such as suspension components were washed, sandblasted then chemically dipped in a black finish.

‘We never powdercoat. The paint we used has been proven to last and a powdercoated finish doesn’t look original,’ Andy says. ‘We also use a lot of nickel cadmium plating - it avoids the end result looking like it’s been put together with a box of brand-new bolts.’ Fortunately, all the glass was fine after a clean-up. ‘When factoring in the costs you can’t control the prices an external supplier will charge for rare components,’ explains Andy. ‘If we’d had to get a one-off screen it would have really affected the budget. With the Alfa arriving in pieces I had to decide whether to install the dashboard before or after the windscreen, until I realised the screws that hold the dashboard in couldn’t be tightened if the screen was installed. It’s working out the sequence of things that’s the key.’

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Close to the finish Andy realised there was a gap at the back of the bonnet. We found the clear flyscreen in a box, but it was scratched. ‘We could have made another one but I preferred to save it by rubbing it down with wet and dry, starting with 400 grit up to 2000, then using the same polish we use for paint.’

Chrome can cause problems, especially bumpers, as Andy explains. ‘We don’t do chroming in-house so we have to check parts carefully. If you miss cleaning up, say, a brazed-on stud it really shows on a shiny bumper. When the grille came back the chromer had tried to help by assembling the centre grille’s bars - sadly they were all in upside-down. The two horizontal blades on each side were difficult to get smooth - especially their underside, which was hard to reach with any tools.’

The interior is the hardest thing to install, according to Andy. ‘That’s because that’s what people see - they rarely care about the machining work on the running gear. I’ll use the same approach on most Italian cars that I employed on here: fit the headlining then the carpet, quarter panels, doors, dashboard and finally seats. There’s not much adjustment room when fitting the doors - Alfa never considered people removing the doors so the bodywork has to be done perfectly.’

Hours taken: 600


EXPERT TIP

'You can’t drill through leather - if the bit catches you’ll rip it. So you have to punch a hole through it first. Always use a sharp razor blade and slicing action to cut it too - you should never have to saw, as that leaves a ragged edge.’


BODYWORK

‘There’s not a straight line on the SS - it’s all curves’

Steve Dyson (left) did the final panel shaping and early-stage bodywork levelling on the SS. He recalls first seeing the car. ‘It was a nightmare. The Alfa obviously had endured a hard previous life - it came back from shotblasting with every single panel needing work.’

The roof had been walked on and half of both the rear wings were missing. With no spare panels to work from DTR took careful measurements from other cars and made templates. ‘Being coachbuilt meant the panels were originally made to fit that car,’ says Paul. ‘You can tell when one has been re-done because both sides are completely symmetrical.

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‘Every restoration is different because different people have worked on it in the past. In the case of the SS someone had started chopping rust out, then gave up,’ says Paul de Turris. ‘There was no metal that could have been put straight into primer. We replaced a lot of the lower body - including making new floorpans from scratch, hammering in each stiffening rib by hand. There’s not a straight line on that SS - it’s all curves. We prefer to make parts ourselves - we made castellated nuts by hand because we couldn’t find the correct ones.’ This wasn’t a car you could simply buy replacement panels for, so Paul took care of all the metalwork and fabrication, as he explains. ‘The inner wheelarches were entirely missing and new ones had to be fabricated on the English wheel - the curvature was made up of three or four different pieces I carefully shaped and welded together. I used 18- and 20-gauge steel, gently curving it to shape and constantly checking the progress with profiles; pieces of metal I’d shaped to the exact curve I needed. It was the same for the external panels, hand- shaping it all to a perfect curve.’

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‘It came back from shotblasting with every panel needing work’

The biggest problem was repairing other people’s work, as Paul observes. ‘I’d much rather work on a very rusty but original car. That’s the appeal of a barn-find.’ Fortunately, the front half of this car was largely undamaged and more or less correct, but it had endured lots of earlier corrosion repairs, which all needed putting right. ‘Originally the Alfa would have been finished with lead; but once you’ve got all that out why put it back in?’ Paul says. ‘Filler is fine provided it’s correctly applied - it’s a lot lighter than lead too.

‘Of course, the absolute minimum amount of filler is used - it has to be used for skimming only, never for levelling over dents. It’s the final stage prior to blocking and priming.’ This meant the team was able to save as much of the car as possible. ‘I’d say we managed to save 80 per cent of the overall original parts of the entire car,’ Paul says. ‘But 30 per cent of the bodywork had to be fabricated.’

Hours taken: 450


INTERIOR

‘The interiors on these Alfas are almost an afterthought’

Paul de Turris (left) took responsibility for all the Alfa’s interior and sheet metal fabrication. ‘I bought the Alfa with the intention of restoring it, then Craig came along at just the right time. ‘It was a huge leap of faith for him to trust us but I worked out how long the restoration was likely to take and quoted a firm price.

One major problem was the conversion to right-hand drive. ‘Ruddspeed converted the dashboard, steering and so on, but it was crudely done,’ says Paul. There was no rustproofing and they only riveted the bulkhead in place; that’s now been seam-welded in.’ The headlining was a particular challenge, as it needed to fit the multiple curves of the roof. ‘I fought to avoid the lines of perforations from crossing over each other - although overlaps can’t be avoided on the sharper bends. If you don’t use perforated material the headlining billows every time you close the door.

‘Craig wanted reprofiled seats compared to the very square originals, so I used the spring arrangement from a 1964 Fiat 1100 saloon and reshaped the foam.’ Patterns on the Alfa SS varied when the cars were new, so Paul studied all the photos he could find, then chose the best elements of each. The interiors on these Alfas are almost an afterthought,’ he says. There’s little in the way of detail. Craig asked for speakers for an iPod dock so we used a set of Seventies aluminium surrounds and I colour matched them to the tobacco leather - itself an almost exact match to a sample found on another SS.’ With that tiny interior it was challenging to keep the leather tight - at the slightest curve it puckers. ‘I used Bridge of Weir leather stitched to 3mm-thick scrim foam backing, as anything thicker causes bulges. Any thinner and it follows every contour of the panel below.’ Paul stitched the two together using his 50-year-old Singer sewing machine. ‘It’s perfect for the job.’

For the car’s undersides, Paul used an adhesive sound- deadening sheet. The original method would have been spray-on tar,’ he says. ‘It’s possible to make the cabin completely quiet but it ruins the original feel, so we’re careful not to overdo the sound-deadening material.’

Hours taken: 100


EXPERT TIP

‘Be careful of how you store leather because it absorbs moisture and breathes - which can lead to some expansion or contraction or even water marks. Certain leathers can absorb more moisture than others, which should be allowed for. Store carefully before making patterns and finally cutting.’


PAINT

‘I expected a nightmare, but it was an absolute joy’

Paul Morgan (left) did the finishing, priming and painting. ‘The SS came to me in bare metal with all the panelwork complete and a final coating of poly stopper - a very thin filler. First I sprayed the bare underside and wheelarches with a grey oxide zinc-based anti-rust primer.’

The top surfaces of the body then got a coat of Glasurit high-build primer two-pack. ‘I block-sanded it by hand with 180 grit paper, smoothing the body of any high or low points,’ Paul says. ‘I followed that with three coats of dark grey high-build primer - when it’s sanded it goes light grey and helps to define the lines of the car. I like to leave it to sit for a week to dry. It sounds like a lot of primer, but for every three coats that go on, one gets block-sanded off. With a square car you sand along the lines, but the SS is curved all over so I had to use a circular motion to maintain the curves.’ Paul then dry-block-sanded the Alfa, first with a 320 grit paper then a 400. ‘I used a softback double-action sander with 500 grit to lift the scratches then Scotchbrited it with a cleaning solution to remove the dust. After the body was masked up I applied Sherwin Williams degreaser with a lint-free cloth to get rid of any dust or silicon.’

Paul painted the edges of the panels and gaps first, then three full coats of colour went on. It took 45 minutes to paint using a medium-to-fast hardener.

‘I used a Devilbiss GTI Pro clearcoat gun - actually a gun intended for lacquer with a 1.3mm T1 nozzle,’ Paul says. ‘It’s an easy gun to use upside-down on the complicated recessed sections. I started applying paint at the highest point, went round one side, then the other, then round again lower down. I’ll always try to make the finishing spot at the car’s narrowest point or underneath a wing because it always ends against dry paint - it can’t be avoided. Then the bodyshell is baked for 20 minutes and left for a week to harden.’

Paul allowed a full day to do the polishing. Any dirt in the paint was removed with a de-nibbing block - a small, ultrafine-grit sanding block. The whole body was then dry-flatted with a 1500 grit softback DA disc, then a 3M 3000 Trizact softback disc used wet with water sprayed on. The 1500 removes any fine scratches; the 3000 prepares the surface for polish.

I first used 3M compound polish,’ Paul says, ‘then later a finer compound - both applied with an electric polishing mop. That was followed with a hand wax with carnauba wax using a soft cloth to apply it by hand, then polished off with a microfibre cloth.’ But what was it like to work on? ‘I had expected that curved Alfa body to be a bit of a nightmare,’ laughs Paul, ‘but honestly it was an absolute joy.’


THE RESULTS

So what did Craig make of the final product? ‘The car was a pleasure to drive from the first moment. Given the enormous amount of work DTR did I was amazed it was so well-sorted,’ he says. ‘It’s compact and the visibility is superb, which makes it undaunting in London traffic. The little 1570cc engine is a peach, and the induction noise is addictive. I’ve driven it on motorways where it easily kept up with the modern stuff, and feels well planted at motorway speeds. The next aim is to take the car on a decent European trip.’ But is the restoration bug satiated? ‘DTR is now restoring a Maserati 3500GT for me.’


Thanks to Paul de Tunis, Andy Warboys, Paul Morgan and all the staff at DTR European Sportscars: dtrsports.com, 020 8645 5050

NEXT MONTH

We go behind closed doors to find out how highly skilled artisans bring a cherished car back to brilliance


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