6 Appeal—Chapter 3

The two biggest enemies of any automotive restoration are rust and accident damage. Either one can be a deal killer that stops a project in its tracks.

In the case of our Group 44 Inc. Triumph GT6+, we were lucky. Despite a prosperous racing career, the car actually saw a limited amount of track time. As a result, it suffered little if any real damage. It then spent a few decades in dry storage, meaning there was not one speck of rust on the car. (Since most race cars are stored inside and generally avoid winter use, perhaps the lack of rust isn’t too surprising.)

Accident damage, however, is a reality with old race cars. The same can be said for the ravages of modernization. While we had very little of the former, we had much of the latter. The car received updates that coincided with rule changes imposed by the Sports Car Club of America, the main sanctioning body for sports car racing in this country.

The biggest change that impacted our Triumph was the allowance of flared fenders in the Production ranks. Period photos taken when the car won the 1969 national championship show a totally stock body. Fender flares were allowed soon after, and our car received a set—crudely fashioned, we might add.

Simply removing the flares wasn’t an option. The only viable fix would be to replace all four quarter panels with genuine steel pieces. We had some real surgery ahead of us.

Fighting With Fenders

Tom Prescott of The Body Werks replaced our missing fender wells with mint ones cut from our parts car. Once we were finished the repair became imperceptable.

Depending on how a car is made, there are different ways to attach fenders. At one extreme is the Triumph TR6: All four of its corners are simply bolted in. Then there’s the Sunbeam Tiger: Each of its fenders is welded and then leaded in place.

Fortunately, the GT6+—and the Spitfire upon which it is based—is somewhere between the two extremes, as each fender is created from two pieces. Inner and outer fenders are spot welded together, and the resulting seam is covered with a simple piece of chrome trim. The inner fender wells are then welded to the outer halves.

While the result is a bit crude, this method was apparently an inexpensive and easy way for the factory to build the cars. As a side benefit, it made the potentially nasty job of replacing fenders rather straightforward. To replace our butchered outer fenders, we started by simply drilling out the spot welds. We then welded our new fenders in place. The fronts were new old stock pieces found via the Friends of Triumph Internet community, while the rears were new reproduction pieces sourced from Spit Bits.

Our new inner fenders came from a rust-free parts car, and after much checking and rechecking each one was seam welded to the inner fender. We then ground down the welds to make an imperceptible, permanent repair.

Side Glass: Yes or No?

We needed new doors as well. While not rusty or damaged, our original doors had been completely gutted—a popular move among amateur racers of yesterday and today. Unfortunately, the gutted doors meant that we couldn’t install the window mechanisms that were present in 1969.

Despite the fact that several experts told us that the Group 44 Inc. team didn’t run side windows, period photos prove otherwise: The shots we have from the 1969 championship clearly show all of the car’s glass intact.

We can understand the arguments both for and against side glass. Glass adds weight and increases safety concerns. However, it also offers weather protection during and between events. At high-speed tracks like Daytona—where that 1969 title was won—side glass also makes the car more aerodynamic.

We wanted to return the car to its championship-winning configuration, so we needed new, intact doors. A Friends of Triumph member came through here, too, with a set of NOS pieces.

Fixing the Floor

Our body still needed a bit more work before it could head off for paint. The car was solid, but it needed a few updates and repairs.

First, while not rusty, the car’s floors were simply hammered from off-course excursions. While each little dent told a story and we wanted to retain as much patina as possible, we flattened some of the damage so the car didn’t look like a wreck. Tom Prescott of The Body Werks masterfully massaged the floor back into shape. It now looks good, but not too good.

We also had to undo an update. At one point the parking brake mounting system had been unceremoniously cut out of the car. A patch was then riveted in place.

Again, our parts car held the cure. We removed its original parking brake assembly and seam welded it to the race car’s floor.

Picking the Paint and Perfecting the Graphics

So many old race cars are over-restored, and we wanted to avoid this mistake. Unlike our Tiger, which sports an amazing, mile-deep shine thanks to its two-stage PPG paint, we wanted the GT6+ to have a factory-looking, single-stage paint job.

Tom Prescott respected our wishes, and we received a very factory-looking paint job done in PPG enamel. To be honest, it’s still probably nicer than any paintwork that left the Triumph factory.

Bob Tullius was a stickler for getting things right. His Group 44 Inc. cars were known not only for their speed at the track, but also for their presentation. Their looks went beyond paint and included simple, effective graphics packages.

Tim Bergman at Hawkeye Signs & Graphics used our photos from the 1969 American Road Race of Champions to recreate the graphics in vinyl. That said, we did make one major change: the trim color.

Group 44 Inc. didn’t start using the now-legendary green-and-white livery until about 1971. Before that, the cars were white with black trim. In the interest of originality, we initially went with the black-and-white scheme.

However, the complaints started soon after: Readers said that we got it wrong. We countered that few color photos of the car existed. In our corner we also had the recollections of several team members.

The readers had a point, though, as our black graphics did look a bit plain among the green-and-white Group 44 Inc. cars displayed at last year’s Mitty and Amelia Island Concours. We decided that the green would look better, and we changed the graphics shortly thereafter.

We also had to redo the numbers. At Amelia Island, Tullius complimented our restoration but gave us holy hell for screwing up the shapes of the numbers. He then showed us how he used a quarter for the outside radius of each 4. He even offered to lend us the original templates used back in the 1960s and ’70s. With these templates in hand, we cut new, accurate numbers out of black vinyl to make our car perfect.

One more note about the numbers: Why is there a backward 44 on the rear deck lid? We’ve had numerous people come up tell us that the 44 is backward. Thanks, we noticed. This was done on every Group 44 Inc. car and has become a bit of team lore.

While helping to prepare for one of Tullius’s early races, a girlfriend accidentally cut the numbers backward. They were in a hurry and Tullius thought the whole thing was funny, so they left them that way. It soon became a trademark, and another legend was born.

Bumpers and Trim

As the SCCA racing rules clearly state, even back in 1969 racers could remove the bumpers and some trim pieces from their cars.Group 44 Inc. left the bumpers on the GT6+, however, although these originally chrome pieces were painted satin black.

When asked, team members replied that the front bumper helped improve the car’s aerodynamics at fast tracks like Daytona. The bumpers are basically just trim pieces and weigh nearly nothing, so this isn’t hard to believe. Keeping the car looking close to stock may have also come into play. We simply retained the stock bumpers, and we had them powder coated satin black.

Suspension Surgery

Now that our car has a good, solid foundation, we can turn to the parts that go below: suspension and brakes. As with the body, our goal here is to refurbish but not update. Sure, faster, newer equipment may be out there, but we have some history to preserve.

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