Since I am in the process of building a 59 Bugeye pretty much from
scratch, I thought that I would kind of chronicle the saga. I'm sure that I will encounter
a lot of the problems that are encountered on a day to day basis by other Bugeye owners or
at least problems that have been encountered and conquered in the past. I will be relying
on the "spridget" list for a lot of insight and guidance in this process.
Hopefully this will also provide insights for others that are contemplating doing similar
things to their Sprites.
I learned of this car through a "friend" and fellow member of the Pebble Beach
Sports Car Club (PBSCC). The car had been setting in a Pacific Grove California backyard,
uncovered and totally exposed to the elements for some time. Although the winters here are
not as severe as in other parts of the country, it is damp, and the air is salty so its
not like the desert but its not real bad either.
The current owner had purchased the car for the Bonnet and one door and had no use for the
rest of it. The car had apparently been raced at one time since it had a big roll-bar and
was sporting Goodyear Blue Streaks on the rear. It had a lot of rust but most of it was
just surface stuff and was not a problem. The biggest problem with the car was the Bonnet.
The current owner had purchased the car strictly for the Bonnet and the passenger side
door to replace the ones on his MKII, which has a Bugeye Bonnet. The
Bonnet was a total loss as far as my metal working skills were concerned. The fender seams
where rusted through almost the entire length of both fenders. The flange on the fenders
and the center section were mostly gone. It would have required finding someone with a lot
of skill and paying him a lot of money to fix. Being a sucker for a pretty face, I bought
the car anyway.
Somewhere along the way the slave cylinder access hole had been enlarged and a hole had
been cut in the driveshaft tunnel to facilitate driveshaft installation. Two, two inch
square holes, one on each side of the license plate recess area had also been cut out. The
holes looked like some kind of lights had been installed in them. I contemplated for a
while and decided to keep the enlarged slave cylinder access hole (even though I will
probably install a 5-speed) and the driveshaft tunnel hole, looking on them as
improvements. I made some covers out of sheet metal and bolted them on to cover the holes
but still allow access for clutch bleeding and driveshaft installation when required. I
made patches and filled the holes in the license plate recess.
The car had been totally stripped of parts and all that remained was the rust, six layers
of paint, suspension, steering, doors, and Bonnet. The inner fenders on the front had also
been removed (why?). The passenger side door that had been swapped with the MKII's was in
pretty bad shape, the skin was stretched and it would just flop in or out when touched,
and it had a large dent in the front hinge edge above the top hinge, how this was done I
don't know. I found a very good door at a Mini Mania Swap meet and it fits pretty well so
that problem was solved.
The front and rear suspension was removed and checked for usability. The only things
retained where the front hubs, the rear axle housing, the differential, and the rear axle
shafts. Although I plan to replace the axles with hardened ones, I will probably use them
initially. The next order of business was removing the old paint, under coating, and 35
years of accumulated crap.
The tub and doors were taken down to bare metal, top and bottom, inside and outside. The
only place not stripped was the inside of the transmission/driveshaft tunnel and if anyone
has any good ideas (other than growing longer arms) on how to do that area by hand I would
be interested. I used a combination of paint removal wheels of various types, wire wheels
of various types, chemical paint remover, an electric drill, a propane torch, various
scrappers, and a siphon type sand blaster. You have not lived until you have sandblasted
the inside of a Bugeye trunk.
It took me about three months of hard labor but I got the entire car down to bare metal. I
know there are easier and probably better ways to do this but they are not nearly as much
fun and do not provide nearly as much satisfaction as doing it by hand. Its very
therapeutic laying on your back scrapping and wire brushing on the bottom of a Sprite for
hours at a time. It gives you a lot of time to contemplate the vagaries of life and LBC's.
The hardest stuff to get off was the undercoating. I ended up using a propane torch to
heat it up and then a putty knife to scrape it off. After the outer crust of undercoating
was removed, paint remover would dissolve most of the rest and then the wire brush would
clean it up.
There was not as many bad rust spots as I first thought. The lower portion of the door
hinge post on the drivers side, the pockets behind the rear wheel wells (found a partially
decomposed pine cone in one side), and the trough that runs across the rear of the Bugeye
trunk pan. If your Bugeye has to set outside in the rain or is driven in the rain keep an
eye on this trough, it is a perfect water retention spot. I drilled drain holes in the new
sheet metal after it was installed. All of these places had to be cut out and replaced
along with the inner fenders on the front. I got the inner fenders from Moss because they
sell them in one piece. Other places that I checked sold them in the two separate pieces
that they consist of. I made my own patches from 20 gauge sheet metal using a sheet metal
nipper. I then used a pair of flanging pliers to flange the edges of each patch. This
works o.k. when you can put the patch in place from the back but it can be difficult to
insert the flange from the outside so you may not be able to flange all of the edges. I
used a spot welder attachment of my welder to spot the patches and inner fenders in place.
The spot welder works o.k. as long as there is no air gap between the two pieces being
welded. If there is any air gap at all, it will just burn a hole in the outer piece. After
the patches were spot welded, I used a combination of an arc welder and a gas welder with
a #1 tip to weld the seams. I then used a heavy sanding/grinding wheel (paper backed) in
my trusty drill to grind the welds down to surface level. At this point the dreaded Bondo
came into play. I don't really have a problem with Bondo just the way some people use it.
I used it to smooth the area after welding and grinding.
I have taken some flack over this but I coated the entire floor pan, top and bottom with
POR-15. I have used this stuff in the past and liked it. Others have told me that after
putting it on they could peel it off in large sections. I used it over bare metal (most of
it sandblasted) after prepping the surface with a metal prep also made by the POR-15
company. I had previously used it on sections of my other Bugeye's floorpan and don't see
any problems with it. I then painted over the POR-15 with a semi-gloss black enamel
followed by a coat of rubberized undercoating in the wheel wells. At this point the tub is
pretty much finished.
Gave up on finding a Bugeye bonnet in decent shape for a decent price. The pickings are
kind of slim when one of the requirements is that the bonnet has to be within reasonable
driving distance. Can't imagine what it would cost to ship a Bugeye bonnet cross country.
Looked at bonnets with asking prices from $300 and $1000. The ones in the $300 range were
as bad, if not worse, than the one I started with and the one for $1000 was pretty good
but not perfect. Decided to go with a fiberglass bonnet from Mini Mania.
The fiberglass Bonnet is at least light enough to handle but is too flexible. The Bonnet
is wider at the shoulders than the car is (about 1/2 inch on each side) and the wings
stick out about 2 inches from the car. I installed two hooks on each side to clamp them
down and bonded a bar across the back edge to keep the bonnet from bowing up in the middle
After looking at the Bonnet that came with the car I decided that the radiator ducting was
in pretty good shape compared to the rest of the Bonnet, so I took my trusty torch and cut
it out. After welding in some extra braces and cleaning it up, I used fiberglass and
rivets to bond it in place on the glass Bonnet. I then used the Mini Mania front hinge kit
to mount it and this worked out o.k. Except for requiring the hooks to hold the wings in,
the fit is not that much worse than most bonnets. It fits almost as well as the original
on my other car. I might add that the other car has been wrecked a few times.
I installed "Thread-Serts" for the headlight and hold-down hook mounting points
in the bonnet.
The following is a quote from Mike
Gigante: "Well, I have yet to see a good fitting fibreglass bonnet for the
bugeye. They may exist, but they have eluded me. I bought mine from Mini Mania. It has a
reasonable exterior finish although it is pretty wobbly and required a lot of work and
bondo to make it smooth enough for a nice paint finish. The big problem was fit. It seems
a little low at the front (in the area between the headlight bowls) and the side 'wings'
or quarter panels stick out about 4" on either side and are a little too shallow
(leaving a gap between the bonnet and the sills (rockers). The top section around the
scuttle was too flat. It doesn't come with any radiator shrouding, so you should plan do
do something about that too. MM is not alone, the local ones have problems of similar
magnitude. If you do go for a f/glass bonnet, be prepared to spend lots of hours on finish
and fitting and be prepared for a less than perfect fit."
The stock rubber seal that rides in the channel on the firewall proved to be too thick.
The back of the bonnet would not go down flush with the crowl,sticks up about 1/2 inch all
the way across. Checked the J.C. Whitney catalog and found a piece of 5/8 inch wide by 1/2
inch thick rubber and this fits o.k.