Part 2 – The Restoration Continues
Part 2 – NUE 854 Restoration at Bill Rawles Classic Cars
By Chris Dixon
This is part 2 of the story of the restoration of my Healey NUE 854. Part 1 – A Story of Restoration can be found under MORE in the Blog section on this website.
The restoration at Bill Rawles Classic Cars took from August 2014 to August 2015, plus a couple of months fettling once I got the car back in my garage.
Why Bill Rawles Classic Cars?
Having decided to restore such a car, the choice of a restorer was vital and I talked with many people about this. There are only a very few restorers in the UK who could rise to this particular challenge, and I contacted them all. In the end Bill Rawles Classic Cars in Four Marks, near Alton, Hampshire became an obvious choice as I was convinced they could do the work. They are a very knowledgeable and friendly team. Bill Rawles and his wife Rose Rawles head the team which consists of Charlie (son of), Greg, Tom, Rob and new additions Adrian and Will. Their open door policy meant that I was always welcome in the workshop and I could commute back and forth to help with the restoration work. Being a big part of the restoration project was something I was very eager to do. It was far from the ‘cheapest’ estimate but in the event was the right choice.
A friend, Nic Hilton, and I stripped the car back to a rolling chassis, body and engine, removing all trim, instruments, wiring, lights, radiator, carbs, exhaust, windscreen, seats, hood etc. Once the car was at Bill Rawles Classic Cars we removed all the running gear (suspension, axle etc.).
The restoration was split with Bill Rawles Classic Cars working on the chassis, body and engine restoration; Nic and I on the rest. I worked on and off at the workshop doing non skilled body and chassis work. I really enjoyed this time and learnt a lot. It says much for a business like Bill Rawles Classic Cars to have me, a client, on site. It struck me that many would not want to be so open about their methods and practices but this is not the case with them. There are no secrets and there is a huge willingness to share information, skills, tricks of the trade, etc. Of course I must not forget their refreshments, celebrations and especially Fish and Chip Friday. Nic and I were witness and part of it all. We felt very welcome -and maybe we added a little bit to our waistlines too!
The most important underlying requirement of the work was to ensure that the car was restored as it was when Betty Haig took delivery and drove it in 1953-4. The Warwick 100s were essentially hand built. The engine, transmission and suspension were mostly standard 1952-3 Austin parts. But the chassis was butt gas welded by hand and the aluminium body was mostly handmade.
These cars had a number of unique build differences from later production cars made at Austin’s Longbridge plant. There are more than 40 such differences and NUE 854 has all of these. Note that not all these differences ended immediately Longbridge production started, some continued for varying numbers of cars into early production
We had to ensure that all these differences were retained. This meant that in many cases standard replacement parts could not be used and repairs to the originals were necessary and expensive! As examples: the seats are bolted to the floors (no slides), the floor panels have a unique ‘100’ pressing and the front inner wings are made in one piece. A repair was necessary on the right hand front inner wing and this entailed a substantial amount of work including making a ‘buck’ patterned from the left hand wing so the repaired wing could be shaped correctly as original.
The whole body and chassis was chemically stripped and phosphated. This revealed that all was in reasonable condition. The chassis needed minor repairs of the front cross member, the inner wings and cockpit and boot floors. Some of the aluminium outer body panels were corroded and contained an unacceptable amount of filler -probably not surprising after over 61 years.
Thankfully the front and rear shrouds were original and largely intact. It was discovered that the aluminium wings were not original and were badly corroded and heavily filled; it was decided to replace these with new items. This solved most of the ‘filler’ problem, but then (as restorers everywhere know), actually fitting the new panels to the car requires the attention of an expert body maker. Step forward Charlie Rawles.
Charlie Rawles did the most superb job of fitting not only the new body panels but reworking/repairing all the other panels to fit perfectly. Charlie took the whole chassis and body restoration under his wing and although to me at times progress seemed like ‘watching paint dry’ I came to the understanding that watching a perfectionist is like that! The whole task at Bill Rawles Classic Cars was completed in 12 months of almost continuous work. I am apologetic to any other customers who may have felt that their car had been put on the back burner. I am very grateful for the attention that my car received and I realise that this is an unusually short period; such a restoration can easily take twice as long, or dare I say it, even longer than that.
The quick completion of the restoration was due to the continuous work on the project by team Rawles. This work schedule had been agreed at the start of the project. Undoubtedly the fact that I took on a lot of the peripheral and mechanical work, plus my being able to work at Bill Rawles Classic Cars Workshop when needed all added to the speed of reaching the completion. At my time of life I am increasingly aware that if something takes too long I might never see it!!!!
To see all the progress pictures please take a look at the Bill Rawles Classic Cars Facebook Photo Album – Austin Healey -100- NUE 854
Part 1 – Part 1 – A Story of Restoration
Part 2 – The Restoration Continues
Part 3 – Paintwork, Engine & Completion