Neglected but not forgotten

This is perhaps my favorite type of project, the preservation detail. You find a complete car that’s been abandoned in a garage or barn. It may not run and has been off the road for years. You want to clean it up, get it running and then decide what to do with it. Is it worthy of a full restoration? Do you want to flip it? Or can you do a preservation detail and just drive it for awhile as you decide? That last option is what the owner of this 1972 DeTomaso Pantera decided to do.

When starting to work on a car that has this much mildew, you have to think about your own safety. I like to work on these cars outside to get as much air flow as possible. Wear long sleeves or a bunny suit, mask and hood. I’m pretty sensitive to molds so I have my own scale. At the zero end, you know mold is probably present, but really only smell that old-car smell. I usually use the ozone machine before I start and just worry about wearing gloves. At the other end, at a 10, is mold and mildew you can see through the windows and smell as you approach the car with the windows up. You need good PPE for these cars. This car was a 9.0 on the mildew scale.

I clean in stages. Debris removal, followed by initial chemical saturation, then agitation. I then steam clean if necessary, let dry, and assess. I may need to repeat steps, but if it looks good, I’ll then use the ozone machine again. If the seats need rejuvenation, I then use leather spirits, repair as necessary, and re-dye the seats. The dye is applied in layers and heat-set between layers. After 48 hours, conditioner is applied. I repeated similar steps for the rest of the interior, carpet and the frunk. The change can be quite dramatic, but more importantly, it’s now safe to work on the interior.

Since the condition of the jack points and wheel bolts was unknown, the owner asked me not to remove the wheels or clean the underside of the vehicle, so I moved on to the engine compartment. The Ford Cleveland V8 is mid-mounted in this car and the engine cover is massive and heavy. This car did not have the fiberglass panel covering the transmission that made the compartment suitable for additional storage. I covered the air intake and electrical connections and carefully degreased and cleaned the engine and the engine compartment. Besides making you feel good by seeing such a beautiful beast of an engine, a clean engine runs cooler and is easier to diagnose when something goes wrong.

Having spend the majority of the first day on the interior and engine, it was time for the decontamination wash.

The goal of the first wash is to remove external contamination through the use of foam, handwashing and clay bar. Only then can you really assess what needs to be done. Through visual examination and use of a paint depth gauge, I was able to discern a few things. This car was at least four different shades of red. Some panels such as the engine cover, had a fairly robust uniform coat of paint. Others like the roof were quite fragile and bubbling with rust spots. The frunk cover was the most problematic. Someone had already burned through the top coat in a few places and a darker shade of red was starting to become visible. That meant I would have very little paint to work with on the front of the car. To figure out what was possible, I started on the back with a 50-50 test panel. This showed I only needed to make two passes with the pad/polish combo I was using.

I generally offer three levels of service: good, better, or best. Just like in motorsport where how fast you can go is answered by the question of how much do you want to spend. Do you just want the car to be shiny? To remove the major defects? Or get 80% of the defects out? Often the car tells you what it needs and you have to convince the owner not to do more. That wasn’t the case with this car as the owners intent and the condition of the paint dictated the appropiate level. There weren’t any major defects in the paint, at least ones that could be corrected and polished away.

When working on cars of this area, you have to be careful using masking tape. It can discolor rubber trim or remove petrified trim paint. You just have to be careful with your pad edges and polish sensitive areas by hand. Nonetheless, it took almost two full days to correct and polish the paint. After a final wash, the paint was prepped and ceramic coated. The result was pretty stunning.

We enjoyed the project so much, we put together a little video for the owner.