May 2005

The Restoration is Done!

1953 Frazer Nash Mille Miglia, New Zealand, 2005

The completed Frazer Nash and owner, on Three-Mile Hill outside Dunedin, New Zealand, February 26, 2005

Frazer Nash Mille Miglia, 2007

Frazer Nash, bumpers removed and new spotlights, Invercargill, New Zealand, November 14, 2007

My car is a 1953 Mille Miglia, S/N 421 100 168, engine FNS 1/34. It  was built in Isleworth in time for the Turin Auto Show in 1952, where it was the featured Frazer Nash display car. AFN long ago sent a factory summary stating that the original color was maroon with gray interior and silver wheels. This car is also the last of the "first series" chassis ("100 Series"). The Series 200 chassis uses simple parallel main tubes rather than the more complex bent "A" of the 100 series. Debate continues on the merits of each.

Leaving the Frazer Nash factory, 1952

After the Turin show, the car was sent to Stuart "Duke" Donaldson, who was an unofficial distributor of the Frazer Nash cars in New York. The next owner was Perry Boswell, Sr., Boca Raton, Florida, who later traded it to Air Force pilot Capt. Jerry Saubers. When Capt. Saubers was transferred to Hickam AFB in Honolulu, the Frazer Nash also made the trip and looked great in this tropical setting.  Here are more photos and a story during Jerry Saubers ownership.

The first photo I took, in December, 1975:

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Moving from 404 Piikoi, in Honolulu.

Nearly 29 years later:

  Frazer Nash - 2004  

The same car in July, 2004, on arrival from Arizona and before shipping to Barry Leitch in Invercargill, NZ for the final restoration work.  See more at photos

Honolulu Star-Bulletin classified ad for the Frazer Nash, September 1975

I bought the Frazer Nash in Honolulu in December, 1975 after a tip from a law school classmate, Lloyd Van De Car.  He is in the light blue shirt in the photograph (above left) adjusting the trailer hitch to the blue truck owned by another classmate, Terry Yoshinaga. Lloyd is now a retired judge in Hawaii. The guy in the dark blue shirt is Charlie Campi, the seller, but not legal owner at the time.  At the time, I was third-year law student of modest resources.  Although the price was fairly low, I needed two partners to buy the car! Two years later, after no progress on the car, I bought their shares and become solely responsible for the storage, dis-assembly and slow restoration.  When I bought the car, Robert Scott of Honolulu was still listed on the car's title as the owner.  It took a few months to locate him and get the ownership properly transferred.

The Frazer Nash was moved to a garage at the corner of Nehoa and Makiki St. in 1978.  From June to October, the body panels, transmission, wheels and suspension parts were removed, stripping the car down to its chassis.  See photos and a journal here.

2004: Beginning of the End

Jump ahead 29 years. In July, 2004, the Frazer Nash passed through Los Angeles and the Long Beach port, shipped to Barry Leitch Motorsports and Restoration in Invercargill, New Zealand.  It arrived in September for total completion in time for the Frazer Nash Section of the Vintage Sports Car Club "Raid" in February, 2005. The photos below are just two weeks before Shannon and I planned to pick up the car in mid February to join the Raiders in Christchurch. 

Click for more photos from New Zealand!

Barry and Marguerite Leitch

Barry Leitch and Marguerite

1975: The Beginning

Before I bought the car, the only Frazer Nash I knew about was the Le Mans Replica, so when I first saw the full-bodied Mille Miglia, it was was quite a surprise. The engine was totally apart when we moved it from a second story warehouse loft at 404 Piikoi Street.  This building was well-known to Honolulu residents as the home of "Records Hawaii". Crafts-people had carved up the warehouse into many small shops and storage areas.  Much later I learned that  404 Piikoi was also the first administrative headquarters for "Hawaii 5-O" and Steve McGarrett's fictional home address - I never knew!

Although the styling of this Mille Miglia car was great, the condition of the car was not promising - the chassis was rusty and bent in the front. The left fender and one wheel were missing, reportedly caused by a traffic accident.  Also missing were the seats and steering wheel rim.  Because there were only four wheels with the car, there was a long search for the rare 16" knock-off. It was hard to find, but eventually successful!

This is the Frazer Nash in Kailua, a few months after purchase.

More "before" photos. Warning! If you like cars, these photos may be disturbing!

Many years of storage and research then started - the storage bills between 1976 and 1992 are impressive! From the beginning, I thought that the chassis and body work would be the hardest part of the restoration. Sources for such work were nonexistent in Hawaii and my finances remained modest.  During a 1976 summer vacation after the purchase, I went to San Francisco to look for promising engine and body restoration businesses.  As result of this trip, I sent the engine to Berkeley to a well-know shop that later closed.  Fortunately, the engine was returned intact, enjoying one more trip to the "Mainland" than I did.

In the quaint Makiki garage I rented with Larry Thompson, I totally disassembled the car, had the chassis stripped of rust, cleaned all the other parts and stored it. See photos here.  If my memory is correct, it was stored in seven different locations over the years in Honolulu, not including the parts which resided for a long time in my condominium's spare bedroom! Little else noteworthy happened until I relocated to California in 1985. I made some vintage car contacts and then shipped the body and chassis to Burbank.  I've lived in Burbank since 1990 and retired from working in 2007.

In Arizona: 1994-2004

I met Bruce & Colin Kimmins in 1989 at the Monterey Historic Races (Laguna Seca). Their shop, Kimmins Coach Craft, was then in Torrance, California, where they were constructing and restoring cars for Carroll Shelby & Vic Edelbrock. Their work looked great, so I followed them through their move to Lake Havasu City, Arizona (near the relocated London Bridge!). They rebuilt the chassis in 1997 and much of the front suspension. Not evident from the pictures was the complexity of this work - the front one-third of the left chassis tube was replaced and new suspension mounting points were made and aligned; all the small tubing at the rear was replaced; new door sills, hinges and lock plates were made and aligned with the doors.  The fender fabrication, other body work and more suspension work was completed in 2004.

Bruce and Colin completed building a new shop (garage) and moved nearly all their equipment - and the Frazer Nash - into this new location in March 1999. My chassis got sandblasted in late January 1999, was moved in February and is pictured below on the surface plate when this photo was taken on March 1. 

The tires on the chassis in this picture are the same tires that were on the car when I bought it!  I've since acquired "new old stock", but ancient Dunlop and Michelin tires.  Tubes were just purchased recently.

By the way, their new shop was quite nice!

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A year or two later, Bruce reported that "smoothing" work was coming along well on the rear clip of the body.  He said the aluminum was basically sound and of good quality, though pock-marked with small dents.  Bruce had built a dolly for the chassis/body, to make it easier for work access as he fits the body panels back to the chassis.  The next step was to apply the same "smoothing/straightening" to the right fender, to restore it to original contours.  This could then be used as a pattern to make the left (long missing) fender.

I took photos of this work in late November 2001 and also took chassis measurements for scale drawings.  These measurements were enough for a side and plan view of the major chassis members. 

When this Mille Miglia celebrated its 50th birthday - November 7, 2001 - it was in better shape than it had been for the last 35 years!  I had a small celebration in late November 2001, with a nicely polished grill on display, showing the way for the rest of the car!

Another year passed before I traveled to Lake Havasu and the shots below show the status then.  Bruce then forecast a completed chassis and frame in mid-2003, but the schedule was to extend another year.

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Yes, it really looks like "silver satin"! More photos

Back in Honolulu

168-99a.jpg (141768 bytes)The engine and all other parts stayed in Hawaii with a long-time friend and excellent mechanic, Larry Thompson (1149 S. Beretania St., Honolulu, HI 96814). Larry was to complete work on the mechanical parts, to join the car in late 2004. 

One of the major mechanical parts with Larry was the rear axle - essential to get the Mille Miglia rolling again.  When the car was disassembled, a crack was discovered on the top of differential housing, so the entire axle and both brake assemblies were taken apart so the crack could be repaired (welded).  The axle was found to be bent, so it was straightened before the welding.  This was done in December, 1979.

Reassembly started in late 2000.  After locating new axle bearings, seals, and picking out parts from a variety of boxes and coffee cans, Larry began putting together the axle, brakes and linkages for the torsion bars and locating member - a triangle-shaped assembly that pivots on the top of the differential.  Another casualty of the accident that destroyed the front fender, bent the frame and rear axle was discovered - a badly bent brake backing plate.  Larry straightened this, of course.

Below is the work done by Larry and Bruce in October, 2001.  The photos below show the empty differential/rear axle and the same assembly after assembly.  Not terribly sexy, but this is the basis for forward motion!  Those are, however, "tropical" newspapers on Larry's work bench. (click each image for the full-sized photo)

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Just after a visit to Larry in Honolulu in September, 2003, his design for an improved stud attachment method for the rear axle was finished by a Honolulu machine shop and the following photos were received mid-October (click each image for larger photo):

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Axle Flange - Front

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With 4 New Studs

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Axle Flange - Rear

Finished in New Zealand

As mentioned above, the restoration took a new direction in 2004 - I heard about a "Raid" planned by the Frazer Nash Car Club for February 2005.  I was determined to go on this Raid with my car, so it was shipped in mid-2004 to the very bottom of the country - Invercargill - to be finished up for this adventure.

As part of the finish work in both Honolulu and Lake Havasu City before shipping to NZ, here is the axle before it was packed up. Larry built a superb crate, and it arrived safely in Los Angeles on June 20, 2004. Click here for more photos.

To continue the story from above, Barry had done an excellent job in completing the body and suspension work and the car was sent to the paint shop in mid-December. 

The engine was also sent to Barry for completion and a potential problem had a Los Angeles solution.  The Bristol crankshaft was found to be bent and have cracks - a replacement was needed.  Acting on a tip from Arnolt-Bristol vintage racer Bill Watkins, I called Henry Velasco, the well-known Downey manufacturer of billet crankshafts.  Long ago, Bill provided Bristol crankshaft specifications to Henry for a series of cranks for Bristol-engined vintage racers. Henry had one Bristol crank in stock.  I bought it on December 13 and it was air-posted to Barry the next day. Some modifications to the engine and crankshaft were needed, but the work stayed on schedule right after the Christmas-New Year's holiday. For those with a tech interest, we have two crankshaft photos

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Frazer Nash Mille Miglia - January 2005

The Mille Miglia in Invercargill, with Greg Hunter, Paul Bryan and Regan Carter, January 30, 2005

Phone calls, emails, invoices and payments flew between California and Invercargill during the rest of December and January.  Trusting the news and photos from Barry, we hopped on a flight to Auckland and arrived on February 11.  What happened next?  Continue the story here!

Bob Schmitt - Burbank, California (AND still crazy after all these years...)

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Last update: November 15, 2023