Serendipity city, part 1: Vortex XT

Sir Richard Branson ran crying down a London road. He’d just sold Virgin records for a billion dollars in 1992, to found his airline, but was upset over saying goodbye to it. Despite the serendipity of a fortune to fly planes, Reuters reports he felt like he’d sold a child.

Selling my automotive baby wouldn’t take a billion dollars (I have had offers recently) but it would have to be a healthy figure, considering it’s only a few years ago that I finally achieved my childhood dream of owning a Subaru Vortex XT, albeit the stock standard version.

Along with the strikingly shaped car were some standout patches of rust: in the left side chassis rail, around the boot and on the edges of the sunroof.

The Vortex on the day I bought it

I had repairs to all 3 areas in 2018 before getting the car back on the road, but in the last 40+ months they’ve all begun bubbling again. They were repaired quickly at a somewhat low cost, and now it shows. Let’s just say chassis rust was simply covered with new metal.. and body rust was just moved aside for filler putty.

Therein lies the problem – it seems that in neither case was the rust properly removed, with the metal then sandblasted and fully sealed. I’ve been learning a lot about oxidation this week, by studying the skill that another local body shop is putting into repairing my ride. The man behind the operation grew up in a cold country, repairing rust on cars which drove on salted roads. He knows how to stop the rot.

Previously repaired chassis rail, eaten out by the rust that was simply covered up in 2018

After a day at his workshop, the chassis rail was renewed and will be sealed inside with a particularly noxious substance, which has many warning labels. So that’s the underside done.

New chassis rail, with evidence of some other repair at the front – but we’ll keep an eye on it

New rust spots around the body are also being revealed under plastic trim and will get the sandblasting treatment. There’s one nasty outbreak under the rear glass, perhaps caused by a hasty previous windscreen removal, with a sharp tool, that scratched the metal surface which was then left untreated. Add to that oversight, insufficient sealant – and rust will come. That’s a lot more glazing knowledge than I had last week.

Rear right hand side windscreen rust spot

Which brings me to my serendipity (apart from finding this very thorough body shop). The sunroof is a heavy metal lid, which has been gradually rusting on the passenger side.

Sunroof after 2018 repair, would rust again on this side

Given that it can easily be removed, I didn’t expect it to be much of an issue to repair. However, on checking in at the workshop, I found my metalworking god scratching his head.

He said the sunroof was too eaten away at the edges to be restored. I’d have to get a fibreglass lid made, or have new metal cut to the ever-so-curved design, or just go with a piece of glass. Any of those options would cost a bit – and it’s then that I mentioned I had a spare sunroof at home.

This sunroof was salvaged from the Vortex car shell I bought, along with a “barn find” Vortex, when I went to see a man about buying hubcaps. I’ve had it for sale for years, and it’s sat unloved in the shed, until I pulled it out today to show to the body shop.

At first he didn’t say much, and I thought he was in shock at how badly rusted the spare roof was. But once he was able to put sentences together again, he revealed how marvellously preserved this metal was, for my car’s purposes. He grabbed a wire brush and immediately made positive noises, as he checked the shallow depth of the top rust spots. It made his day – and it will make the sunroof-sized hole in the roof a lot more leakproof.

My spare salvaged sunroof, which looked all rusted out, to me at least

Even the rubber seal around the outside was in good condition, just needing a good soak in an anti-mould solution.

I also learned the importance of looking at welds, and cleaning down bare metal before covering it. My body maestro put on his detective hat, while attacking a small rust spot in the passenger door sill.

Door frame: evidence of a new panel

He said the car looked to have had a new rear quarter panel at some time – with the Vortex a coupe, this covers quite a large area. He noticed that the welds on this side were not as precise as the robot-regulated shots on the driver’s side. Plus, the panel edge that’s usually under the plastic trim looks a bit rough.

There was one other thing he found, while going back to bare metal: what seems to be the fingerprint of whoever replaced the panel in the past. It matches up with where a hand would have placed the panel edge. In their haste, they didn’t clean it off before coating it. So the tiny amount of dirt or moisture from their thumb has left its mark on the metal, over the years.

“Fingerprint” circled

So you never know how a previous owner or repairer will literally leave their mark on your car. That’s a lot more body shop knowledge than I had last week.

With so much attention going into the rust spots around my Vortex, I don’t think I’ll be doing a Branson and selling it. Anyway, he’s into rockets now – and I already own one, made in 1985.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Serendipity city, part two: Toyota Corolla | Classic and Clunker

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