When Michelle Cope decided to tackle her first restoration project, a 1971 Spitfire Mk IV proved to be the perfect candidate…
When Michelle Cope met her partner, Rich, in 2003, she was pleased she’d eventually found a man who was into cars as much as she was. ‘Things were going well, so in 2005 we decided to buy a restoration project to work on together,’ she says. ‘Both were novice restorers, although Rich had built kit cars before. What they bought was a brave choice for a new restorer – a Lotus Eclat.
‘It was disgusting, but I wanted to learn how cars worked,’ Michelle says. ‘However, not long into the project I began to notice Rich referring to it as ‘his’, and I really wasn’t happy about it.’
Then in 2007, after one particularly long and arduous night in the garage in which Rich called it ‘his’ once too often, Michelle finally snapped. ‘It was agreed from then onwards that the Lotus would be his, and I’d get a project of my own.’
Michelle had always liked the Triumph Spitfire even though she’d never driven one, and fortunately, her quest to find one was relatively simple. ‘Rich mentioned it at work and a colleague revealed that his brother-in-law had one for sale, it was great timing,’ says Michelle. The one-owner from new car was located in Basingstoke and had been laid up for many years after developing an engine fault. At just £200. Michelle felt she couldn’t lose.
The first job was to assess the car. ‘I only had two goals: to make it as shiny as possible and try to do everything myself.’
Michelle was meticulously during the stripdown, ensuring that every nut, bolt and washer was preserved, labelled and stored in sealed plastic bags. A workshop manual helped her identify and disassemble the parts. The car was taken down to its chassis, which remarkably only required a little welding on the chassis rails and around the bonnet hinge mounts.
Working on the car in her single garage, after work and during weekends, the project progressed , although, often, lots of time would go by between jobs.
She began to think about colours after the chassis was repaired and ready to paint. Luckily, during the build, she’d been given a box of Triumph Sports Six Club magazines, and looking through them helped her to decide to change the colour from Wedgewood Blue to the later Pageant Blue.
The bodytub and bonnet were in poor shape, but there was brighter news for the engine. The engine problem was traced to a dropped exhaust valve on number four cylinder. ‘We rebuilt the head, grinding in new valves but that’s all it needed. We didn’t even need to change any ancillaries such as the water pump. Everything worked perfectly,’ says Michelle. That stroke of luck was followed by a little more, when she found a spares car on ebay.
‘I was working to a budget so I scoured the internet to find good secondhand spares,’ she says. A bonnet in better condition was sourced for £60, and when Michelle got to the breakers yard in Macclesfield, she discovered the rest of the car was available, well most of it.
By the end of summer 2008 the body was finished and back on the chassis, but then the project ground to a halt unexpectedly when the Eclat blew its head gasket and the Spitfire was pushed out of the garage and the Lotus rolled in. Even though it was in bare metal, it spent the next six months in the garden under a sheet.
In the summer of 2009, work began on the Spitfire again when the car was primed and painted.
‘Everyone thinks restoring a car is expensive, but it really needn’t be especially if you buy secondhand parts and tools. My Spitfire cost less than £1200 to purchase and put back on the road.’
The ingenious cost savings including Michelle and Rich making their own tools to fit the weather strips and chrome windscreen trims. The rimbellishers on the wheels were £3 from a car boot sale, and the chrome GT6 wheel centres, along with the other brightwork, were polished at the factory where Rich works in return for beer.
In April 2010, Michelle’s Spitfire made it to the MoT test, which it promptly failed. ‘One of the float cambers on the carbs was leaking but our local garage is classic friendly, so he made up a new gasket and fitted it for us.’ Since then, Michelle has pressed the Spitfire into regular use. ‘The project is still ongoing,’ says Michelle. ‘For Christmas 2013, Rich got me some new seat covers and bases so I could rebuild them during the holidays. I mean, a girl couldn’t ask for more.’