Thoughts on Restoring a Morgan
Wood Work
©By: John T. Blair (WA4OHZ)
dot_clear 1133 Chatmoss Dr., Va. Beach, Va. 23464; (757) 495-8229

Last updated: 03/27/1997

When I bought my Morgan, my dad used to joke about needing a cabinet maker because of all the wood. When I describe the car to friends, they always kid about having it covered by a termite contract. I think the best joke about the car came from a co-worker, "buy a real car and save a tree!". This leads me to the topic I'd like to talk about in this article: restoring the wooden body subframe.

The factory did not seal the wood very well. When my car was totaled 22 years ago, I had to replace all the woodwork behind the doors except the right side rear fender arch. I sealed all the new wood (left fender arch, inner panel, etc.) with a wood primer/sealer but did not touch the right side wheel arch and inner panel. The car left the factory in December 1965, making the two fender arches 3 years different in age. When I removed the skin, I found that the treated wood was in great shape (no rot) some 25+ years later. The untreated wood is a different story. The back 2 inches of the fender arch has rotted away and the inner panel must be replaced. This time I wanted to seal the wood forever so I used the WEST system epoxy.
Removing the skin dot_clear
After the body is off the car, it was placed on saw horses to allow easy access for disassembly. The first undertaking was to remove everything from the firewall.

The firewall was removed from the wood subframe by removing the numerous wood screws around the perimeter of the firewall and the 2 hex head bolts that hold a steel stiffening bar to the firewall and wooden frame. Now comes the hard part, removing the sheet metal skin from the wood. The skin is held to the wood by a few screws and a LOT of nails. Removing the nails turned out to be a real chore. I spent hours trying to remove them with diagonal cutters (broke 2 pairs of them) and end cutters. Body on saw horese Next I tried modifying a screwdriver by grinding the blade to a sharp edge. I was hoping that I could drive the screwdriver under the sheet metal and pop the nails up enough to grab them with the dikes. This worked better than just the dikes, but not as well as I had hoped. The next approach was to use a dremal tool to grind off the heads of the nails. This didn't work at all. I kept cutting into the sheet metal. Regardless of the method I used, I couldn't work at this for more than 15 to 20 minutes before I got so frustrated I wanted to take an ax to the whole thing.
The Secret dot_clear
I found the secret by accident. I had taken my youngest son to the hardware store a few days earlier. He decided that he wanted to get a tool. He picked out a small claw hammer with a removable head and several other tools in the handle. In desperation, I decided to try using his little "toy" hammer. It worked like magic. I was able to drive the claw of the hammer under the sheet metal on either side of a nail and pry up the nail with a minimum of damage to the sheet metal. I had spent 2 hours using the dikes and screwdriver to remove 2/3 of the nails holding only 1 quarter panel to the rear fender well. After I started using the claw hammer, I removed the remaining 1/3 of the nails on the one and all the nails on the other quarter panel in less than 15 minutes.

After all the sheet metal is removed, it is time to start removing the screws which hold the wood subframe together. Removing some of these screws can be a real problem.

Here are a few hints to help a screwdriver get a better bite:

  1. the slots in the heads of the screws should be cleaned with a knife.
  2. ensure the blade of the screwdriver is flat and that the edges are not rounded - if so, regrind the blade.
  3. hitting the top of a screwdriver with a hammer while trying to turn the screwdriver helped on the stubborn ones.
  4. on screws that just won't move, I found a brace and a screwdriver bit usually did the job.

Dismantling the wooden tub dot_clear
The wood subframe can be separated into two parts. There are 2 screws holding each of the rear arches to the door sill plates, and 2 screws holding the rear quarter panel frame to the sill plate. The figure shows the basic wood subframe and the size of the screws holding it together.

To separate the two fender arches, start by removing the wooden U formed by the rear chassis mounts which are attached to the rear inner fender panels and the rear cross brace. Be careful as this U is relatively fragile. The fender arches are attached to the chassis mounts by three screws (6b). It may be necessary to use a rubber tap hammer to remove the fender panels from the groves in the chassis mounts. This U can now be disassembled by removing the 2 screws that hold the cross brace to the chassis mounts. The trunk rack and the spare tire rack can be removed by unscrewing the nuts on the carriage bolts and removing them.
Seperateing tub dot_clear
Finally, fixing something! dot_clear
When rehabilitating the original wood pieces I removed the paint with paint remover, and sanded each piece. The small nail and screw holes were filled using toothpicks or matches dipped in the epoxy. Screw holes that had rotted or otherwise been disfigured were repaired by drilling them oversize, and inserting a piece of dowel rod which had been dipped in epoxy. After filling these holes, the remaining epoxy was used to start sealing the wood. When the epoxy dried, I sanded each part with 60 to 100 grit sandpaper and a second coat of epoxy was applied and sanded. Now the wood was ready to be reassembled and painted. Instead of coating each individual part, you could coat the entire wood frame with the epoxy; however, I chose not to do so. I wanted the option to disassemble the wood, if necessary, without having to cut it apart.

I had to make several new wood parts: trunk back, trunk deck, the door sill plates, right rear fender well panel, door panels, and the gas tank bed, floor boards. Most of the replacement parts were initially cut by using either a band saw or saber saw. Final shaping was accomplished by clamping a template (either the original part or a poster board pattern) to the part and sanding the new part with a 1" belt/disc sander until it matched the template.

To make the new front floor boards, I purchased some poster board to make patterns. I measured the chassis and sketched it on the poster board and cut them out. Once the patterns fit, they were traced onto a piece of 1/2 inch of CDX plywood and cut out using a saber saw. I made one minor change from the original floor boards. The factory cut them so they laid next to the little fore/aft stringers that the transmission bracket mounts to. Instead, I increased the width of the floor boards so they laid on the stringers. Since the stringers are not flush with the bottom angle of the chassis, the floor boards were notched to accommodate the height of the stringers. (The notch was made by making several cuts on a table saw with the blade set to the height of the stringer.) Since the new floor boards go completely across the angle iron stringers, the floor boards must be notched to fit around the transmission mount bracket and the emergency brake hardware.

The seatpan part of the floor boards was also modified. Originally it consisted of 2 pieces with a cutout in them, apparently to allow access to the grease fittings on the rear U joint. Since the new U joints I purchased did not have grease fittings, I decided to make the seatpan one piece.
My first mistake dot_clear
The original gas tank bed was 3/4 inch thick. I hadn't checked the clearance between the rear springs and the bed, but figured that if I epoxied 2 pieces of the 1/2 inch plywood together, it would not hurt. Well, after I had the gas tank bed re-installed in the chassis and the gas tank mounted on it, I tried to install the rear springs. They were laying directly on the gas tank bed. I had to take everything apart and notch both sides of the bed so they were 3/4 inch thick to allow the springs to fit.
Making new pieces dot_clear
The sill plates were surprisingly easy to make but require access to several expensive machines. When the car was totaled, I had purchased a new sill plate but didn't use it. Consequently, I had a good template to work from. Since both sides are mirror images of each other, the one template could be used to layout the two new pieces. I purchased a piece of 1 inch thick oak and ran it through a planner to get it down to required 3/4 of an inch thick. Next I set the template on the board and traced 2 sill plates. I used a band saw to cut the sill plates to the approximate size. Then I clamped the original sill plate to one of the rough blanks and used a 1" belt/disk sander to sand off the excess wood. The little curve, near the back of the sill plate, was smoothed with a drum sander chucked up in a drillpress. The hard cut was the curve, in the side of the sill plate, where the fender fits. To make this, I clamped the original sill plate to the new one, then marked off several lines across the thickness of the boards. Next using a pair of dividers, I measured the thickness of the original at each of the lines and transferred this to the new piece. The curve was sketched by connecting all the marks. The cut was made using a vertical milling machine. (It could have been made using a table saw, but it would have been harder, as a spacer would have to be made.) The same process was used to make the 2nd sill plate. Once the new pieces were finished, they were coated with epoxy, sanded, recoated with epoxy, and resanded.

The right fender arch had lost the back 2 inches or so due to wood rot. The front lip, where it bolts to the sill plate, also had rotted, and the inner panel had to be replaced. The new inner panel was made by tracing the outline of the old panel on a piece of 1/2" BCX plywood and cutout using a saber saw. (The original panel was 3/8 inch plywood. I had intended keeping it stock. Somehow I just blew it. However, after getting the new panel made, I decided that the extra 1/8 inch would not make that much difference - I hope!) The final shaping was done using the belt/disk sander. Using the transfer punch set, I marked and drilled all the holes. Next, 2 coats of epoxy were applied and sanded. To repair the arch, I started in the back about 2 inches forward of the rot and drew a diagonal line (about 4 inches long) across the arch. (This would give more surface area for the patch to mate to.) The rotted section was cut off using a band saw. I bolted the side panel back on so the angle between the panel and the fender arch could be measured using a protractor on a ruler (similar to a combination square). Once the angle was drawn on a 3/4" piece of oak, it was set on the fender arch and arch lines were extended using a yardstick. The patch piece was cut using a band saw. Next, the fit was checked by setting it in place. The final shaping was done using the belt/disc sander. When a good fit was achieved, the patch was clamped to the arch and 2 holes drilled so the patch could be screwed to the arch. Everything was disassembled again and epoxy was applied to both the patch and the arch, and the patch was re-screwed to the arch. The entire arch was coated with 2 coats of epoxy. The front lip was rebuilt using epoxy and a filler to thicken it. I placed masking tape around what was left of the lip, to form a dam, and applied the thickened epoxy to the damaged area.
What holds the door skins on? dot_clear
I finally decided to tackle the doors. After I removed the interior panels, I couldn't figure how to remove the door skin from the wooden frame. I finally decided to call John Sheally again and ask how the doors were built. He said "the wood door frame is assembled and a metal flange is nailed to it. Then the door skin is set on and the edges of the skin are crimped over the metal flange." He suggested not trying to disassemble the doors. I will have to sand the wood and the inside of the door. (I don't suggest using any paint stripper, and if it gets under the wood it would be difficult to neutralize.) After cleaning the inside of the door and the wood, I will apply epoxy to the wood and repaint the metal. The factory makes the door inner panels using 1/8" plywood which has disintegrated. I made the replacement panels from 1/4" plywood sealed with epoxy and will cover it with 1/4" foam rubber and naugahide.

The firewall attaches to the front of the wood subframe. This wood is composed of 3 separate pieces with a small piece of plywood inserted between each vertical piece and the horizontal piece. I cleaned up the slots with a milling machine. However, they could have been cleaned with a table saw. To make the braces, I inserted a piece of poster board into each slot and traced the outside of the wood. I cut out the template and traced it on to some scrap 1/4 inch plywood and cut them out using band saw. The final shaping was done using the 1" belt/disc sander.

The last piece, to be made were the 2 curved pieces that support the sheet metal rear deck and fit on the outer edge of the fender arch just behind the cross brace. To get the curve, I used a curve tracing tool (made up of a lot of little rods held together by a cross brace). I placed this on the fender arch and tapped the top to get a nice fit. This curve was then traced on a small block of wood. The height of the cross brace was measured and transferred to the block of wood and the upper curve was sketched freehand. I used a band saw to cut the part out. Final shaping and smoothing was done using a drum sander chucked up in a drill press.
Closing dot_clear
Well, that should be enough for this time. Next time I'll discuss installing the front suspension subframe, rear springs, differential and reassembling the chassis.

dot_clear Enjoy your Morgan

dot_clear John

List of fasteners used in the wood subframe
Listing of Wood screw pilot hole sizes
Decmial to Fraction conversion chart

Return to the Index of Tech. articles

To email me with comments or questions.