Racing to the cafe

Having previously restored TC2628 (UXS 717) to pretty much an original specification, the chance discovery of TC2287 (ERY 627) in a poor state presented a restoration choice; the same again, or perhaps more interestingly as my interpretation of a cafe racer.

The restored TC2628 (UXS 717) and TC2287 (ERY 627) as discovered.

The term café racer, coined more from motorcycling in the 50’s, I think of as a still road legal vehicle but with styling and performance enhancements more akin to a circuit racer. So that’s what I settled on, with:

  • Registration digits applied directly to the front apron
  • Deletion of badge bar and fog lamp, with horn hidden under the apron
  • Wire mesh grille insert
  • Headlamp stone guards
  • Alfin front drums
  • Cycle front wings
  • A new valence panel to fill the gap between the bottom of the bonnet sides and the top of the chassis rail
  • Windscreen folded flat
  • Racing roundels to bonnet and doors (low tack to avoid paint damage)
  • Deletion of running boards
  • Ram pipes replacing air cleaner assembly
  • Exhaust constant diameter from down pipe to tail pipe.

…but all to be achieved without drilling any new holes or modifying existing panels so that the car could easily be taken back to original.

The majority of the changes would be straight forward, but the valances and cycle wings would require quite a bit of design and fabrication work to achieve the desired look. I am pleased to share how this was achieved in case anyone else wishes to go down a similar route.

First the valances, purchased from a well-known supplier; they were very well made and a good fit, but as I expected, came without mounting brackets. I chose 5 attachment points, perhaps overkill but mindful that retaining the original bonnet catches would stress them.

The top edge of the valance goes behind the bonnet side with a reasonable overlap; at the front, its bottom edge profile dictates that it sits on top of the apron and can share its rearmost 5/16 mounting hole and captive nut. Whilst the bolt head would be visible, just as it was before when securing the apron, I was determined that the other new fasteners would be out of sight; difficult but aesthetically worth it.

Shared front mounting point

Towards the rear of the panel the lower 2 bulkhead bracket bolts provide a neat opportunity when longer ones, washers and nuts are fitted, to extend through a simple bracket flanged for stiffness and spot welded to the valance. Similar to how the top bolt also supports the radiator stay.

Bulkhead bracket mount

The rear edge will be secured by a countersunk screw in the top corner hidden behind the over-lapping bonnet and by a tab for a second wood screw from underneath.

Tab for a wood screw

The valance then joins that list of panels which require gapping prior to paint. Mine perhaps intentionally a fraction too long was easily addressed by shortening the rear edge to follow that of the bonnet side. I chose to retain the top wired edge for strength and cut the bonnet rubber to accommodate at the rear and grind the wired edge to a taper at the front to fit tight against the radiator shell.

The front wired edge has been ground to a taper to best fit the radiator shell.

I chose to retain the original bonnet catches and handles for their attractive style.  The fact that I couldn’t work out how to disguise the 3 holes that would remain was also a consideration! Additionally, I have a dislike of leather straps or springs and hooks, as so often the original is the most elegant solution.

The Amal catch is a very clever design in doing its two jobs at the same time. Closed under tension the little stop dictates the horizontal position of the handle whilst independently the spring provides tension for the hook. The trick is to position the catch plate the correct (original) distance below the hook, made easier for me by having a witness mark worn over many years when in the closed position.

My procedure was with the valance fitted to pull the bonnet side down tight and run a 5mm drill through the lower of the 3 catch holes and drill the valance. Then with masking tape applied project the centre line of those holes down onto the valance. They are all at different angles to clear the dynamo bulge and louvre patterns.

Remove the valance and bolt the bonnet catch to it through the new hole and at the correct angle, then make a reinforcement plate with flanged sides for stiffness and a cut out to clear the catch. By rotating the catch until the hook part aligned with the witness mark and clamping in place, I could drop on the catch plate, mark where its 2 mounting studs will be required and remove to drill 2mm holes through the reinforcement plate only.

The studs are made by facing the heads of 1/4 BSF bolts to remove the lettering but leaving a 2mm pip for location.

Braze the studs in place, remove any distortion and spot weld the reinforcement plate in place. Finally, remove metal to make a cut out in the valance to match the one in the plate. For a tight bonnet fit the catch needs to clear both the valance and reinforcement plate when finally fitted.

Repeat for the other 3, which will all be different.

The studs brazed in place and the reinforcement plate spot welded. A cut out in the valance has been made to match the one in the plate.

The choice of spot welding means that the slight marks on the outer surface can be easily dressed and filled to give a smooth finish for painting.

Rubber pads will still be required to prevent the two overlapping panels from touching with resultant paint damage.

I chose a simpler solution which I will describe in part two, together with how I mounted the front cycle wings.

Bob Lyell

Ed’s note: Bob sent me a picture of the finished item in place – difficult to photograph, but here it is:

The finished item in situ.

Ed’s further note: Bob will need to pay a little more for his cycle wings than the ones on offer from Vic Derrington….but then, it was circa 1954!

Fronts in steel cost 18 shillings for 6” width, 20 shillings for 7” and 22 shillings for 8”.

If you wanted them in light alloy, it would set you back 30 shillings for 6” width and 32 shillings and 6 pence for 7”.          8” in light alloy were not available.

Rears in steel were a little more expensive at 20 shillings for 6”, 22 shillings for 7” and 24 shillings for 8”.

If you wanted them in light alloy, they would cost you 35 shillings for 6” and 37 shillings and 6 pence for 7”.

Wing stays and valances were not available, “owing to variations of different models”.

However, in another of his lists Vic says, under the heading of ‘Coachbuilding’:

Our special department under the supervision of a skilled practical coachbuilder and designer, can design and make special panel work, conversions or build complete bodies of lightweight construction. Repairs, renovations and pre-fabricated sections and assemblies made.

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