Fiat Dino Spider 2000 #726 Restoration

Pt. 5 - Shell Restoration Commences. A-Post Area

We decided to start at the front of the shell. After levelling it up, we set the front end on tall axle stands and removed the front brackets and rotisserie. We left the rear of the car attached to the rear rotisserie as this keeps it nice and secure.

Next the outer panels were removed. We need to re-use them so great care was taken to ensure no distortion. This exposed the full extent of the damage to the off-side front A-Post and the corrosion of the near side front A-Post. At this point we paused to take stock of what we had, carefully inspecting the damage and taking measurements. The decision was taken that the best way forward is to rectify the A-Post damage and straighten the floor and lower bulk head, then to repair the end of the off-side front inner sill and replace the outrigger. This will ensure there is enough strength before removing the front chassis rails and inner wings. If the repair is not approached in this way, you risk distortion or possible collapse of the front of the shell.

The welds holding the plated repairs of the front floor pans were carefully ground and sanded away and the metal removed. This careful approach allows us to remove the remains of the original panels to use as patterns. Also, it allows us to check for any creasing or ripples from a previous accident. Understanding what the Spider has been through helps us to know how to approach the repairs.

We would have had to pull the front end before removing it if the accident damage had travelled into the bulkhead and floors. Thankfully, it hadn't so we were able to continue without putting it on a dozer/car bench to pull it straight.

We unbolted our brace frame from the off-side. We still need to brace this area but the frame bolts to the windscreen mount which we need to remove so we can work on the A-Post and inner panels. A brace was temporarily welded from the rear of our brace to the dash brace on the shell. We also used a jack to hold up the dash brace (it seemed appropriate to use a Dino scissor jack as we had one to hand!).

With all secure and braced, the A-Post and inner panel were removed. Next the front floor, which curls up into the bulkhead, was removed. This is a deconstruction process. We drill out all spot welds, use a panel saw and, where appropriate, a very sharp splitting chisel.

The A-Post was then stripped down to its constituent parts. A new one was made - we were able to re-use the threaded captive plates that the door hinges bolt to. The rest we re-made using the correct grades of steel as the A-Post is re-enforced internally. It was then assembled with the spot welder to replicate the original construction. Inner panels were re-made to replace the damaged and corroded originals.

The splash panel (the curved area directly behind the front wheel) needed a lot of work as there was previous poor repairs and corrosion. We were able to re-use the top half but the returns around the edges were re-made along with the lower half. It was assembled with gas welding which is a more gentle form of welding. Steel plate has a grain to it much like wood. Gas tends to fuse these grains together and is less likely to split when re-worked whereas MIG/Arc welding leaves a very hard bead of weld behind and is quite likely to split next to the weld as the stress in the grain fractures. When a large panel needs repair, it is appropriate to butt weld the two pieces. This way, once dressed and finished, you cannot tell a repair has been made, whereas usually, people lay a repair plate over the top of the original leaving a clear step in the metal and obvious signs of a repair. Done our way, once painted, you would never know a piece of metal had been replaced.

The inner sill was badly corroded so the end was cut off, a new piece made out of 2mm steel plate and MIG welded into place. All welds were ground down and dressed so there is no evidence of a repair. MIG welding is the best method to use for this, as the inner sill is made of heavy 2mm plate and there is less tendency for it to distort. Gas tends to cause more distortion which would then have to be dressed out with a hammer and dolly. Also, access to this area is limited.

Next up was the outrigger. Using the original as a pattern a new one was fabricated. The old re-enforced jacking point was re-used as this is made of heavy 1.5mm steel plate and has survived the ravages of time well. For some reason these are shortened on 2.4 cars, possibly to make them easier to fit, helping to increase productivity at the factory. I can see no other reason to have modified them. With the outrigger fitted and the new floor spot welded to it, we could assemble the inner A-Post panel and fit the A-Post to it. Measurements were taken and the door trial fitted. Satisfied with alignment, we used the spot welder and attached the A-Post. As our car is of monocoque construction, the pressed steel panels are spot welded together. Spot welding is used at the factory as this is a very quick way to assemble multiple sheets of steel together. We generally try to space our spot welds exactly to original factory specifications. This way, once our new or repaired panels are fitted, no-one would ever know they are not the originals fitted back in the 1960s.

The front wing fits to a closing panel that is attached to the A-Post. A new closing panel was fabricated, trial fitted, checked for alignment against the original wing, then spot welded into position.

  • front end

    Here you see the Coupé front-end on its return from the dipping company. You can clearly see the front cross member which is different on the Coupé to the Spider. This will be replaced once the front-end is securely fitted on the car. Leaving it on for now keeps the chassis rails true and will stop the front-end from distorting. This will help us to correctly align the chassis.

  • bracket

    In this picture you can see a small bracket with 2 holes in it on the chassis leg. This bracket carries the brake hoses and will have to be changed as it is a 2.4 litre item. 2 litre cars only have a single brake hose per calliper so we will reuse the original 2 litre item.

  • bulk-head cross member

    In the lower part of the picture you can see the bulk-head cross member, unfortunately this was damaged during the dipping process. We left it in place to help keep the chassis rails in true. When we come to fit the front-end we will use the front cross members that carry the engine and front suspension to help keep the chassis rails true. The damaged cross member will have to be remade.

  • damage

    You can see the accident damage to the A-Post and the triangulating supports. If you look closely you will also see the A-Post itself is rippled. The top triangulation bracket is very badly buckled and has been crudely reshaped. The lower one is also damaged and has a large hole hacked into it. We will carefully unpick these panels by drilling out the spot welds and use the originals as patterns to re-manufacture new panels. The blue discolouration you can see is where we have used the oxyacetylene to melt the braze joints enabling us to remove the wing.

  • Pinninfarina

    This is a detailed shot of the very front edge of the door where the hinge joins. Of note is the very small Farina stamp applied by the Pinninfarina factory.

  • hinge

    We have removed the top triangulation panel, this exposes the captive hinge plate inside the A-Post. The hinge plate strengthening bracket that retains the hinge plate, but allows it to move to enable the door to correctly be aligned, is damaged. Below this you can see two scar marks running horizontally across the panel. These are where the A-Post has been cut into and crudely welded back together in an attempt to straighten it. All of this will need removing and remaking. We will reuse what we can in the spirit of originality.

  • triangulation panel

    We have straightened the damaged top triangulation panel - you will see the bluing and heat marks from the oxyacetylene.

  • triangulation panel

    Another view of the top triangulation panel - you will see the bluing and heat marks from the oxyacetylene.

  • lower part

    You will see here we have remade the lower part of the triangulation panel and gas welded it together. We felt it appropriate to use the top as it was undamaged and in good condition.

  • lower part

    Another view of the lower part of the triangulation panel.

  • inner panels

    The A-Post has been removed, this gave us full access to the inner panels. you can see where the spot welds have been drilled out. As previously stated this is a careful deconstruction process.

  • buckling

    Here you can clearly see the buckling where the damage from the accident has travelled through the A-Post and damaged the inner panel.

  • A-Post removed

    Here we have the A-Post removed and sitting on the bench. This is made up of various gauges of metal. We will re-manufacture this panel as you can see buckling and hammer marks where it was previously straightened. This was done on the car and was probably the best they could to with the time allotted for the repair.

  • rear of the A-Post

    The large panel forms the rear of the A-Post, the rectangular holes are where the hinges pass through and bolt to the A-Post. Towards the end of this panel is a small triangular piece - this is where the windscreen bolts are located.

  • panel

    Here we have the same panel again - this is what you see when you open the door of a Spider and look at where the hinges go. The outside contour, towards the right, is where the wing attaches and the raised bit halfway down corresponds to the waistline of the Spider. Also of note, the windscreen mounting plate is reusable -you will see measurements on it to help us correctly relocated it.

  • A-Post inner panel removed

    Here the A-Post inner panel is removed and you can see the kick plate. This is the panel your passengers right leg would rest against. This is also buckled and will be removed and remade. This panel could have been straighted but the lower edge was corroded so we opted to replace it.

  • kick plate

    This shot better shows the buckling of the kick plate.

  • inner A-Post panel

    Here we have the inner A-Post panel.

  • removed the kick plate

    We have now removed the kick plate. You may recognise the Dino jack supporting the dash panel beyond which you see the drivers side kick plate.

  • void

    Here we have the void left once the A-Post, splash panel and kick plate have been removed.

  • through the void

    Here we are looking through the void into the car.

  • buckled kick plate

    Here we have the buckled kick plate removed from the car.

  • splash panel

    Here we see the splash panel. This is the large tub behind the rear of the front wheel. The top half we will try to reuse, the lower half is damaged and corroded. This will be re-manufactured. The two parts will then be gas welded together with a butt weld and dressed out with a hammer over a stake. This way it will look like it was one piece of metal again rather than having a visible seam or step where the 2 panels were lapped over one another.

  • new kick panel

    New kick panel being constructed. The flanges are being formed.

  • kick plate trial fitted

    Kick plate trial fitted in place. On the leading edge of the kick plate where it joins the splash panel you will see we have made new wiring tangs. These will wrap around the wiring loom to keep it in place as per the factory originals.

  • Inner A-Post panel

    Inner A-Post panel being trial fitted during manufacture.

  • Splash panel trial fitted

    Splash panel trial fitted to inner A-Post panel and top part of splash panel.

  • new A-Post

    New A-Post along side the old damaged one. We were able to reuse the hinge boxes. You will see the witness marks left where they have been removed from the old A-Post. Also the previously mentioned scars from where the A-Post was cut and re-welded can be seen although this time we are looking at them from the inside of the A-Post. The panels are assembled together using the spot welder as per factory (we are actually looking at the A-Post upside down).

  • captive hinge plate

    We are removing the captive hinge plate retainers from the A-Post.

  • MIG welded repairs

    Here you will see evidence of MIG welded repairs to the box section which carries the hinge plates. Also visible on the bench, the captive hinge plate marked "top" - this is the plate that the hinge is actually bolted to.

  • hinges

    Here we can see the washers that are welded to the top hinge. This way the door was moved outwards on its top plane. This was to overcome where the A-Post had been pushed inwards with the accident. These have now been removed as we have realigned the A-Post correctly.

  • alignment issue

    Although it only moved the door outward by a few mm it was enough to successfully realign the door. By reconstructing the A-Post we have overcome this alignment issue.

  • top triangulation bracket

    The A-Post trial fitted with the repaired top triangulation bracket; the lower one has yet to be remade. This cannot be fitted until after the sills (rocker panels) have been fitted.

  • before final fixing

    The A-Post is trial fitted into position before final fixing. The hinge apertures have raised flanges around them for strength, this also gives a more pleasing finish. The two holes by the top hinge carry the check-strap. Below these are the two holes for the courtesy light switches and further down is the hole that the wiring loom passes through. This corresponds to a hole in the A-Post strengthening bracket (which can be seen in the earlier photos of the A-Post construction). This allows the wiring loom to pass through the A-Post and then travel inside the door to the courtesy light (and electric window motors if fitted). Also of note is the vertical row of spot welds where we assembled the A-Post.

  • floor pans

    The crudely made plate being removed from the passenger front floor pan. Underneath this, another poorly made repair panel is uncovered. You can clearly see how these repair panels have been welded in directly over the original corroded floor pan. These are poorly executed repairs but at least they have been carried out in a manor which allows us to unpick them to expose the original floor which we can now use as a pattern to make a new one. Where original panels have been cut out and new ones poorly made to replace them we have to refer to another car which is still in original condition - fortunately we have access to other Dinos so this is not a problem. Top of picture is the damaged lower bulk head area.

  • Underneath

    Underneath the floor we can see the cross member that ties the front chassis rail to the inner sill. It is very common for this to be corroded and poorly repaired. In the corner of the front foot-well the floor raises up to form the top of a box section with this cross member. Without good strength in this area the front end of a Spider will flex and in severe cases will cause scuttle shake on the road.

  • chassis leg

    Lower bulk head removed exposing the inside of the chassis leg.

  • Lower bulk head fabricated

    Lower bulk head fabricated and trial fitted.

  • Lower bulk head fabricated

    Lower bulk head fabricated and trial fitted.

  • New cross member

    New cross member fabricated and fitted. We reused the original jacking point bracket (the one with the two holes in it). The end of the inner sill has also been replaced with 2mm thick steel plate.

  • new sill end and cross member

    View from the front shows the new sill end and cross member. You can see why this area rusts - all the road dirt is thrown up from the front wheel onto it. The two holes visible on the chassis leg are where the steering idler is mounted.

  • sill end

    View from under the car. You can see into the sill end where the new sill meets the original.

  • Lower bulk head fitted

    Lower bulk head fitted. You can see the spot welds as they follow the cross member and chassis rail.

  • Inner A-Post

    Inner A-Post panel fitted.

  • A-Post fitted

    Inner A-Post and A-Post fitted. The door is trial fitted. The lower part of the A-Post will need tweaking to fit but also the leading edge of the door has been damaged and subsequently poorly repaired so that it doesn't follow the right line. Once we are satisfied with the profile of the door, we can correct the lower edge of the A-Post.

  • A-Post fitted

    A-Post fitted. This will later be fitted with the triangulation brackets so you will no longer be able to see inside the A-Post or see the captive hinge mounting brackets, so this is a view that is seldom seen. The A-Post area on both Coupés and Spiders are problematic because of corrosion. The Coupé A-Post is of a more conventional design but is still complicated to re-manufacture and repair properly.