The prodigal car arrived back in Indianapolis toward the end of April — having previously spent only one night at home since venturing east in December of 1997, then west in October of 2003. Rolling #5142 out of the trailer revealed a clunk at the left rear and an unpleasant scraping when the tailpipe encountered the driveway. Everything looked pretty good in a casual walk-around — especially the newly installed interior and top that had only previously been seen in photographs.
Then the critical, show-quality eyes came out. It was obvious that a number of issues would need to be addressed. Some were things not done yet, others had to do with inevitable wear and tear that occurs when any project doesn’t get completed quickly enough. The first items to be addressed would be the necessary mechanical repairs and adjustments. Leaving the body and trim as the final step seemed mandatory at this point, since potential for damage apparently increases geometrically the closer a car gets to being finished. The aforementioned clunk was added to the too-long tailpipe, lack of battery, and pigeon-toed front-wheel alignment.
The battery problem was remedied at the local Napa Auto Parts store, after which the powerful 1300 Normal fired up with minimal effort. The idle was pretty high and the clutch engaged too close to the floor. The brakes felt pretty spongy and the steering had more play than preferred. The engine leaked oil substantially, but not the gearbox, leading us to be concerned it might have no oil in it! It was time to call in local talent Bill Hoke, a man who can fix anything. He has proven his abilities over the years, repairing all things peculiar and bizarre thrown at him. After failing to convince him it would be better to do the work where the car was currently parked, he was presented with a list of the issues above along with requests for lubricating and adjusting the king- and linkpins up front plus a check of the electricals.
The work was completed in short order and resulted in steering, idling, and stopping with far more precision than before. The clutch-engagement point was still a bit low, but the car could be convinced to go into first and reverse, though the latter was not in the familiar 356 location, alongside first. During the troubleshooting process, the genuine 1951 water-stained owner’s manual suggested that we look for reverse next to second gear. Not surprisingly, there it was. As it turns out, there was oil in the gearbox. The engine leak would have to wait, as it was determined that splitting the crankcase would be necessary to correct it. This was last done in the early 1980s, when Richard Miller originally rebuilt the tiny flat four. Oh, and as for the clunk? Well, it turned out to be a loose road wheel, of all things!
During the car’s brief visit in October of 2003, one of the few local residents to see it was body and paint specialist Doug Livelsberger. Like Hoke, Livelsberger has not limited himself to any particular niche. Along with restoration work, he does collision and industrial services, which allow him to keep up with current trends. Unfortunately, our timing found him in the process of opening a new facility, Aeon 1, in Mooresville, Indiana. His assessment indicated that the paint chips and dents meant he’d either have to spot in color and do a full clearcoat or repaint the whole car — as there are no cut-lines. Either way, it would be necessary to remove all exterior trim and some of the interior, as well. After much discussion and angst, I decided to have him “work around” the rear of the newly installed top rather than remove it. At this point, everything was put on hold until his new shop was ready.
One of the few things remaining to be done was to have the rearview mirror re-silvered. Our local phone book had listings for mirror suppliers, but it had none for re-silvering or restoration. One mirror supplier referred us to a gentleman on Indy’s east side who provided this service. Removal of the mirror from its housing was easily accomplished by loosening two screws. The beveled glass part of the mirror was flawless, so only the reflective surface needed attention. At just $15, this proved to be one of the more reasonable jobs in this restoration.