Kitten body-off restoration

'A minor repair'

Well, that’s how it started……. I had the wee car up on stands carrying out the monthly lubrication and check routine. I had checked wheel bearings, adjusted brakes, greased the front ball joints and decided that it was high time I put a squirt of grease into the prop shaft nipples as well. As I gripped the central cross member to pull myself under to get to the rear prop universal there was a crunching feeling as my finger went through the tube – oh dear, time for some welding.

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It was always going to happen one day, in fact I had been looking (not very hard) for a chassis to refurbish in anticipation of this very event but I was no way ready for doing it yet. Time for some tea and planning. Firstly I needed to work out how much I could afford to spend, then sort out another car to get around in whilst the works were being carried out. A “modern” car had in fact been on the agenda for a while, the problem being that I’m a bit of a luddite where cars are concerned – I really don’t like driving modern cars, don’t like power steering, brakes, electric windows and so on……. Following forced retirement in 2001, the “Jaffa” became my only car and in the intervening years has racked up an epic number of miles, 30-40,000+ every year!!! In the 13 years before that it had been used pretty much every night to commute back and forward to London….. Payback time I decided, for the wee beastie owes me nothing and I owe it – lots. The next two weeks saw loads of activity. A motor trader friend sourced me a one owner but high mileage Suzuki Ignis 4-grip direct from a main dealer – they had supplied and serviced it from new and had recently taken it on trade in against a new replacement so it was a car with history. He bought it through the trade for me – £2100 – brilliant price for a 55 plate. Problem was that the dealer was up near Leeds – so I sorted out insurance and such and went up by train to drive it back. Surprise No 2 – it’s a very bright yellow colour (no, I hadn’t seen it). Doesn’t clash too badly with the tangerine of the Jaffa though……. I also arranged the use of a barn at a nearby livery stables. I had nowhere under cover to work here back then and doing it outside was never an option. The only caveat was that I was out by the beginning of September when they would need the space to store their winter feed – no problem. I ferried all my tools and kit over there, compressor, air tools, cabinets etc. I decided that I’d whip the body off and look to see exactly how bad the chassis was before deciding whether to replace or repair it. So, on the 31st May, work started. I’d never taken a Kitten body off before, though I have done a Fox, a Rebel and numerous three wheeler body-offs so was pretty well prepared for what was to come. In the end the process tuned out to be quite straightforward. Apart from needing to drill the heads off a couple of the captive bolts in the floor, and the two bolts on the base of the “A” pillars shearing off, it was a doddle. The tow bar provided the greatest resistance but did come off – eventually.

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I decided that I would not be refitting the tow bar – I only rarely used it anyway. Removal consisted of detaching all earths, water, brake and fuel pipes and cables under the bonnet; I removed the distributor and carb too to avoid damage. I removed the seats and seat belts, disconnected the steering column link, removed the grille and surround plus the radiator and fan assembly. Beneath the car I disconnected the clutch cable, the speedo cable plus the reversing light switch and the handbrake cable ends. In fact I removed the cable completely so it would not get in the way…… With all this clear there are just 16 bolts holding the body on. There are two ¼” UNF nuts and bolts under the front, one accessible from inside the air intake, the other from under the offside wheel arch. Then the two captive ¼” UNF “A” post bolts (that both sheared off) followed by four 5/16” nuts and bolts beneath the “B” pillar holding the roll bar to the end of the chassis outriggers. The remaining eight ¼” UNF captive bolts are through the floor in to the chassis rails, five in the boot, two in the offside foot well and one in the nearside. A couple of these had to have the heads drilled off because they were rusted in solid or the heads too corroded to get a six point socket on, a legacy I suspect of years of water leaks from the windscreen and rear hatch rubbers.

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Time now to purchase a few beers – not for me, I’m not much of a drinker, but for “rent a mob” a motley collection of old biker mates to lift the shell off the chassis. Having re- christened the Ignis, the “Pignis”, this was duly completed. It was time to take stock of what needed to be repaired. The body removed. Yes that is a vintage Fordson tractor in the background and the lake is normal when it rains as the fields drain straight through the barn – hence the shell is on pallets .

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A first look over the chassis was encouraging. Apart from the aforementioned hole in the cross member, a couple of the outriggers were a little frilly but that appeared all so I decided to strip the chassis and have it shot blasted, to hopefully expose any further corrosion. The stripping went quite well. Remove steering rack, exhaust, engine, gearbox, prop shaft and rear axle, fuel tank and all fuel and brake pipes. The rear suspension came apart easily as did most of the front, with the exception of the lower wishbone bolts which had corroded solidly to their centres. Despite copious application of penetrating fluid (I found 3 in 1 to be the best), PH Crackit and a propane torch they refused to budge. Eventually I was forced to jack them through (using progressive wedges behind the bolt end and the chassis, winding the nut against the wedges and forcing the centres through the front chassis hole, which, of course distorted it somewhat. They came off in the end though. Repairing the “belled” out chassis holes proved simple. I just used a pair of the thick seat spacers and a high tensile 5/16” UNF nut and bolt to jack them back to where they originally were whilst heating with a propane torch. The resulting repair is undetectable! Now I sent the chassis off to the shot blasters (along with the front suspension wishbones plus numerous spare ones, tie-bars etc.) and odd other metalwork. £70 well spent. Smaller brackets and such I used my bead blast cabinet to clean up. As expected, a couple more holes appeared but nothing terrible. I did find a crack in one of the wishbones so this was discarded in favour of one of the spares. All the suspension components were then primed and painted……. I also dismantled the rear leaf springs; wire brushed, primed and painted them, then reassembled them with new bushes, quite a satisfying job to do!.

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All the above were welded, the cross member being tubed internally, then plated externally and a new outrigger fabricated and welded to the offside. All the captive inserts in the chassis were replaced with welded in nuts and “keeper” bolts inserted. The chassis was then sent off for galvanising. I had arranged this through a local metal fabricators who agreed that I would only have to pay for “my” proportion of their weekly galvanising order. They specialise in fire escapes and fencing so have a lot of galvanising done. I know the galvanisers quite well (they’re in Corby and I’ve had work done there before) and had given them the “heads up” that it was my chassis. In the event they did a superb job, very thick galvo, no distortion and no extra holes drilled. The best bit was “my” proportion of the galvanising load – The fabricators charged me just £20!!!!!!!!!!

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First job was to remove the “keeper” bolts from the captive threads and clean each out with a tap, followed by drilling through all the holes to clear out the zinc. Then I started reassembly, using all new nuts, bolts and Kitten register poly bushes. Being on a budget, some components were not renewed, the (fairly recent) Kitten Register “Gaz” front shocks were dismantled, inspected, cleaned and reassembled and the also fairly recent Monroes on the rear simply cleaned – they came up like new! Likewise the rack was simply treated to a new pair of gaiters and cleaned. I do have a brand new, (boxed) rack in stock but could find nothing wrong with the original. The new one will stay in stock for another day! The front roll bar links, only replaced late in 2011, were found to have split rubbers and I could not source replacements, so I dug out a serviceable pair of original links from my shed, cleaned up and used these (with new nuts and bushes). I also found a little lift in one of the lower ball joints so replaced this also, with a serviceable second hand item. I did fit all new rubbers to the upper and lower ball joints – these were easily sourced and inexpensive (only £4.99 set inc p+p), from an e-bay supplier. The track rod end rubbers were fine so not replaced.

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The rear axle was wire brushed, reinforcing washers welded to the handbrake cable stops, then painted in Hammerite.



Modifications

It was at this point that some of the modifications were carried out. I had already decided to renew the entire braking system, apart from the brake back plates (which were only recently(ish) replaced. I had purchased new wheel cylinders, master cylinder (actually an MGB 1962-74 single row one) and ordered new drums from EBC. Then they returned my money apologising that the drums they listed were not actually suitable for Kittens – and I couldn’t find any other source. Do the DM019’s fit Kittens? I guess I’ll never know. I therefore decided to go with Fox drums instead as I had a couple in stock, and Joe Mason reckoned he could find me a couple more, plus some Fox hubs (which he did – thanks!).

I had also decided to renew the exhaust system which, although stainless, had been on there for 20 years so, whilst still sound, was looking a bit second hand. I was also going to fit one of Joes 4-branch manifolds.

Kev Hallett popped over and “recycled” the old stainless system on to the Vampire kitty



I started at the front end, fitting the Fox hubs with new bearings. The brake back plates were simply cleaned, painted and the adjusters freed and copper slipped. New wheel cylinders, shoes and springs too. The Fox drums were then fitted. At the rear I found that Kitten rear hubs are identical to Fox ones so I kept the originals, just fitted the new wheel cylinders, new adjuster screws and tappets (again copiously copper slipped), springs, shoes and Fox drums. I found that I also needed to fit 10mm longer studs all round to accommodate the spacer built in to the Fox drums. The thickness of the alloys added to the spacer cast in to the drums left the wheel nuts on just too little thread. The Jaffa, by the way, uses exactly the same drums front and rear.

The next job was the replacement of all the brake pipes. I used Kunifer for the pipes with Goodridge braided flexible hoses. Another very therapeutic job to do – I really enjoy this type of task…… Just for the record, a single line braked Kitten needs 15 male ends and 5 female ones.

I re-used the original nylon fuel pipe, just fitted a new filter at the tank end. This stuff is amazing, appears completely unleaded proof and all but indestructible.

The engine and gearbox were roughly cleaned and refitted and the new Joe Mason 4-branch installed – it was found necessary to trim the rear engine plate slightly for clearance, but a simple job…. It was obvious that the alternator was far too close to the front pipe of the 4-branch, about half an inch of clearance, so I decided to replace the alternator with a shorter one, as the factory did on late Robins when they fitted the 4-branches. The original alternator is a Lucas LRA100 (current part number). The replacement I needed was an LRA 602, under £50 from a local auto electrical supplier. This has about 2 inches of clearance but nonetheless I have made up and fitted a heat shield, of thick alloy plate, clipped to the front downpipe with “terry” clips. The rest of the new exhaust system was sourced from Steve at Dinky Cars. This fitted easily and gives ample clearance from the rear shock absorbers – also mated up to the 4-branch (after cutting) very well. At £180 not a bad buy.