Thoughts on Restoring a Morgan
Putting the Wooden Body Frame Together

©By: John T. Blair (WA4OHZ)
dot_clear 1133 Chatmoss Dr., Va. Beach, Va. 23464; (804) 495-8229

Putting the wooden body frame together consists of the following steps:

  1. mounting the firewall,
  2. assembling the rear fender arch assembly,
  3. assembling the front half of the body frame,
  4. attaching it to the rear section,
  5. mounting the body frame on the chassis.

I started this process by installing the firewall. To determine how it was supposed to fit, I bolted it on the original chassis and measured the angle between the side flange of the firewall and the chassis using the protractor attachment for a combination square. I removed the firewall from the old chassis and set it on the new one, holding it in place with a couple of C clamps. The protractor was set on the chassis, and then the firewall was moved up and down until the correct angle was obtained. The clamps were tightened. Since the firewall was the original one, its mounting holes were used as the template for drilling the chassis. The center of the mounting holes were marked using a transfer punch. The firewall was then removed, and the holes were drilled.

Wooden tub

Since the entire front half of the body fit is referenced to the firewall, I decided to ensure that it would fit before drilling the holes for the front inner fender panels. To accomplish this, I reinstalled the firewall. Then I set the front inner fender panels on the chassis, bolted them to the firewall and clamped them to the chassis with C clamps. The two fenders were set in place and bolted to the inner fender panels. The nose was bolted in place. Finally, the hood was set in place. Fortunately, everything fit. If not, now is the time to make any necessary adjustments. The nose and front fenders were removed and set aside. Before removing the inner fender panel, the chassis mounting holes were marked with a transfer punch. The panels were removed and the holes were drilled in the chassis.

Now that the front half of the car has been fitted, it is time to start with the wood subframe. I started by reassembling the rear fender arch. The inner fender panel was screwed to each of the rear fender arches. Before attaching the wooden frame that forms the trunk area, it should be assembled on the floor. This allows the frame to set square and the screw holes to be drilled. To get the assembly square, set a carpenter's square in each corner. (This assembly could be laid on a piece of paper and the corners traced to help keep things square while drilling the holes.) The side rails of the trunk frame mount even with the cutout in the fender wells, and are attached to the rear fender panels with 4 1/4" carriage bolts (2 on each side). To ensure the trunk is set level, a level was placed on each side rail. The rails were adjusted until the rails were level.

The rear frame, which holds the spare tire, was reassembled as described above. Then it is attached to the fender panels with 4 1/4" carriage bolts.

The rear chassis mounting blocks (the small pieces on the bottom of the rear part of the inner panel) can be fitted to the inner fender panels. Since I had to replace one of the inner panels, the holes for attaching the mounting blocks to the fender panels had to be marked and drilled. Then the mounting blocks were removed and bolted to the rear cross brace, forming a U. Be very careful of this section as it is quite fragile. Now the U can be placed on the fender panels and screwed into place. The rear cross brace, to which the rear metal deck and the plywood trunk back are attached, can now be mounted. Again I used the original holes to align this piece.

Instead of building a jig to assemble the front half of the wooden frame, I used the firewall. I bolted it to the chassis and started to assemble the U that attaches to it. Since I didn't replace this wood or the fire wall, I could use the old screw holes (which had been plugged with scrap wood and epoxy) for aligning the 3 pieces of wood. Each piece was aligned by centering the old holes in the wood with the holes in the firewall, clamped in place, the pilot holes drilled and the screws installed.

The sill plates were set on the chassis, slid forward until they touched the firewall, and then clamped in place. The rear fender section can be set on the chassis, slid forward until the front of the fender arches touches the flare on the sill plate, and then clamped in place. Next the wooden elbows that form door striker post and the rear quarter panel were set in place. These pieces fit into the notch on the sill plate and rest on the fender arches. Then the three holes were drilled in each fender arch and the elbow was screwed in place. Next 3 holes were drilled in the lower front edge of each fender arch to attach it to the flanges on the sill plate.

The two pieces that form the door hinge pillar and lower door frame can now be set in place and checked for fit. Next I drilled the two holes to attach the door hinge pillar to the right hand side vertical firewall support, and screwed them together. Then I removed the vertical support and door pillar/lower door frame to allow drilling of the hole in the front of the door frame to attach it to the vertical support. This assembly was reattached to the firewall. The same process was used to attach the left hand side.

The three pieces that form the dash board mount can be assembled.

While this assembly process sounds easy, it took me quite a while. I assembled and disassembled the rear fender section several times. The first time I assembled it, I noticed there was a 1/4" gap where the trunk side rails bolted to the fender wells. This was due to fact that the notches in the cross brace had been cut 1/4" too far back. To correct this, I unscrewed the cross brace, tightened the carriage bolts, marked and drilled new holes. Now the gap was between the cross brace and the side rail. I cut some popsicle sticks to be used as a spacer for the front and rear cross members and epoxied them in place.

After all the wood had been reassembled, I set the various sheet metal pieces over the wood to check the fit. The only pieces that I have had any trouble with are the two small metal covers that fit between the sill plate and the door frame. When fit to the sill plate, the curve in the top of the metal piece is about 1/4" short of mating to the door frame. Currently, I am thinking about making a wooden filler for this space and attaching it to the bottom of the door frame. The other possibility would be to make new metal pieces.

Now that the wooden subframe has been assembled, it is time to drill the subframe and or the chassis. (Keep the entire subframe held to the chassis with C clamps during this process.) I started in the rear. The rear mounting block was original and already had the holes drilled. It became very obvious that with the fender arches mounted, the holes could not be drilled from the top. Nor could I get the transfer punches into the hole to mark the chassis. The chassis holes would have to be drilled from the bottom of the chassis. To accomplish this, a combination square was set on the mounting block over the center of the holes, and the centerline drawn to the outside of the mounting block. This line was then extended down the mounting block to the chassis and then inboard across the under side of the top lip of the chassis. Next the distance from the outside edge of the mounting blocks to the center of the holes was measured and then marked on the underside of the chassis lip. A center punch was used to mark the spot to start to drill. The holes can now be drilled and then the carriage bolts inserted. When the holes didn't quite line up, the wood was wallowed out inserting the drill back in the hole and wiggling the drill.

The holes in the sill plate are not that critical, but only two can be drilled from the top of the chassis. The width of the top chassis lip was measured with a combination square. Placing the combination square against the inboard side of the sill plate, a line was drawn marking the outer edge of the chassis. Next a line was drawn to mark the center of the top chassis lip. Now the holes at the door striker post and the hole about half way to the firewall were drilled. The hole by the firewall an the one back by the rear shock had to be drilled from the bottom as described above.

Now it's time to remove the wood subframe from the chassis for painting. To disassemble it, I removed the 3 screws that hold the fender wells to the flange on the sill plate, and the three screws that hold the door striker plate to the sill plate. Now the rear section can be lifted off the chassis. The front half can now be removed. Be careful as this half is relatively fragile.

In addition to painting the woodwork, now is the time to finish up the chassis. If the floor boards have not been drilled, set them in place and drill them. Then remove them and set them aside. The wheels can be placed on the car and it rolled out of the garage for cleaning (both the car and the garage). Clean the dust off the chassis, sand any scratches and fill them with spotting putty. Lightly sand the entire chassis if desired, wash it and rub it down with some degreaser. Finally spray on a light coat of paint.

Before replacing the wood subframe, cut some tar paper to act as a cushion or gasket between the chassis and the wood. Now replace the wood subframe and install the carriage bolts to hold it in place. This completes rebuilding the wooden subframe.

In closing, let me cover some of the problems that have occurred since I wrote the these articles:

As many of you probably guessed, the reassembly of the wood subframe would take longer than expected, because each joint had to have the excess epoxy cut out to allow the pieces to fit together correctly. I found that using a good sharp wood chisel or some coarse sand paper (60 to 80 grit) on a paint stirrer worked the best.

In a previous article, I mentioned I was making the inner door panels out of 1/4 inch plywood. After I finished covering them with the epoxy, they were so stiff, they would not give enough to pull up flush with the door frame. Consequently, I made new door inner panels and the quarter panels out of 1/8" plywood. These have been treated with the epoxy as previously described.

I encountered a problem when reassembling the wood that forms the trunk/boot (if you can call it that). I had installed the trunk back before I had fit the trunk deck hold down brackets. With this piece of wood installed, I couldn't get a screwdriver far enough back to reach the screws that hold the clamps down. In removing the trunk back, some of the nails pulled through the wood and chipped the wood. Instead of making a new piece, I patched the wood by filling the holes with toothpicks and epoxy, then covered the areas with some more epoxy with had been thickened with filler. Since the fuel line is routed through the trunk area, the fuel line should also be in place before this rear panel is installed.

If you are in a hurry, and have a good deal of money, you could send the body panels out to have them stripped. This would allow you to work on something else in parallel. However, as I have said I'm doing this on a shoe string, I did the stripping myself. Paint stripper can cost up to $30 a gallon. The best and most cost effective stripper I found was at Home Quarters (HQ), SAVOGRAN "Strypeeze" semi-past, for about $12 per gallon. It took a lot of elbow grease, and about 2 gallons of stripper to strip every piece of metal on the car! To help in the paint removal, after the stripper has been brushed on, I suggest using a window paint scraper that uses the single edge razor blade. With a good blade in them, it works great!

Well, I have talked you through most of the restoration. The remaining tasks are:

  1. Painting the body work,
  2. Remount all the parts on the firewall,
  3. Put the wiring harness back in the car,
  4. Install the engine and transmission.
  5. Redo some of the upholstery.
The painting process is an extremely time consuming process but should not present any problems. In fact, I don't foresee any problems with the rest of the restoration. Regrettably then, this will probably be my last article. I hope you have enjoyed reading them and that I have helped you over some of the rough spots. If you have any problems, suggestions, or just want to say "Hi"!, I would enjoy hearing from you.

dot_clear Enjoy your Morgans.

dot_clear John

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