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Giving up

A salutary lesson in failure

by Julian Edgar

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I have given up.

Those are not words I like writing; they are indicative of a failure about which I am not proud. My project of modifying and restoring an Austin 1800 ute is too much for me. I have bitten off more than I can chew; I don't have the ability to perform at the level that would make me happy; it is a project that I will never finish.

Why? Well, I made some errors and misjudgements - ones that are probably common in car projects.

Growth

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Firstly, the project was something that grew and grew.

It started off as the restoration of an Austin 1800 ute - making one good car from two average ones, helped along by a host of extra parts. 

The project acquisition initially comprised the two utes and plenty of bits, while new parts were bought piecemeal over the period of a few years. New headlight rims, a brand new sill panel replacement, new ball joints and tie-rod ends and suspension joints. All of these bits came from overseas.  

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Then there were the suspension displacers (combined rubber springs and interconnected fluid damping) and other, equally rare, parts that I sourced from within Australia.

I bought literally hundreds of bits.

So parts were not a problem - but the more parts that became available, the more work that was needed to fit them.

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Then there was the engine. I thought long and hard about restoring the Austin 1800 engine, and then decided that creating a better outcome wouldn't be very hard.  In other words, how about installing a more modern engine? To achieve this I bought a slightly damaged Honda Integra that had a driveline in excellent condition.

See what I mean about the project growing?

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The Honda engine and trans didn't quite fit, so I started to modify the Austin chassis rails, making new, slightly doglegged, ones to clear the powerplant. Then I found that custom inner guards would be needed, so I hand-formed a structural, compound-curved inner guard from 2mm sheet, complete with recess for the Honda fuse box. This took forever.

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Even with the new chassis rails in place, to get the engine in and out required a special jig that would tilt, and then rotate, the engine/gearbox assembly.

I'd gone from a simple restoration to transplanting a new Honda engine, brakes and fuel system - requiring structural modifications, major changes to the driveshafts, and adaptation of braking parts.  Oh yes, and needing full engineering approval.

Incrementally, the steps were fine. Taken in totality, the project was out of control.

Not enough skills

The second major problem was that I found I don't have enough skills to do the work at the level I am happy with. 

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Take the ute tray, for example - it had minor rust in it. I needed to cut some new inner panel parts from the other ute and then weld these parts into place. Trouble is, I wanted both sides of the panel to look like the original - without using any body filler. Therefore, MIG'ing one side and grinding back wouldn't be good enough.  The weld needed to be fusion welded with an oxy and then the panel hand-beaten while hot so that the weld was flush both sides. I did this on the tray repair, but I gave myself only 7/10 for the result. Acceptable - but only just.

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But what about the new panel needed to mount the brake booster? This was welded to the firewall - but I couldn't hand-beat the back of the weld because I couldn't access it sufficiently. Result - a daggy appearance that I hated. The fact that all the inner surface of the join would be under the carpet made no difference to me - I'd always know it was there.

In fact I was unhappy with almost every job I did - instead of feeling rewarded after completing a task, the project was giving me negative job satisfaction.

Time

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Despite over the years doing lots of projects with cars - the most complex being supercharging, and then turbocharging, a Toyota Prius - I much underestimated the amount of time that a project of this magnitude would absorb. In fact, at the speed with which I was working, it was going be years of part-time work.... perhaps five or even eight years.

And I don't think that is worth it: I'd rather spend that time doing lots of simpler projects. (Projects from which I also gained satisfaction!)

Realisation

It took me a long time to realise that I'd lost enthusiasm and interest for the Austin 1800 ute project.

I made excuses: it's winter, and the shed is cold. I need a new MIG. I'll give myself a rest from panel work and get the brake disc adaptors made instead.  I'll do a few other projects and then get back to the Austin. And so on...

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But then I realised that the Austin ute and the Integra and all the spare parts filling my shed were starting to irritate me - why couldn't I use the floor and shelf space they were taking up? Hell, if all this stuff were gone then maybe I could turbo my Honda Insight. And that would be a much more interesting project than the Austin....

The project had moved from excitement and exultation to hindrance and hardship.

Years ago I had a buddy who was rebuilding a Mazda RX-3. He knew more about Mazda rotaries than anyone I have met before or since; he had a superbly painted shell and heaps and heaps of brand new parts to bolt into it. The project seemed to be going fine: and then all of a sudden, he sold the lot and went onto something else. I could never understand the change of heart - but now I can.... the weight of work still to do must have become overwhelming.

My thoughts about the Austin were crystallised when I heard my 8 year old son talking to a man who was restoring an old Holden.

"Daddy was working on an old Austin ute," Alexander said. He paused before adding matter-of-factly, "But now he's given up."

And that's right... I have.

It’s a salutary lesson….one perhaps to keep in mind if you intend embracing a major car restoration or similar project.

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