Getting Ready to Paint 4: Almost There

I have never had a vehicle completely painted before and the fact this is a 15-year old fixer-upper truck places my experience at further distance.  As we get close to the actual painting I am increasingly focussed on details, wantng to make sure I have done everything that should be done first first, and amazed at the number of things that I did not think of that still need to be done.   It was in that spirit that I took the Defender up to Paani the welder after he thought he had seen it for the last time, to adjust the bonnet to accommodate the chequerplate aluminum fender tops that will go on after the painting.   I realized that having to adjust the bonnet and fenders to fit the aluminum plates after  the painting could result in some nasty scratches.  Has to be done first. I also asked Panni to remove the two spare tire carriers, one that was welded to the bonnet frame and another that is attached to the rear door, all because I am trying to take as much off as possible before it is painted in order to reduce that great Ghanaian painters short-cut, the tape around.

The spare tire holder on the rear door poses a bit of a dilemma.  I am not sure I want to keep a tire there at all, since Paani  impressed upon me how carrying a tire on the rear door on rough roads can damage the the door frame.  I don’t like the way the rear door behaves with a big 750/16 tire and wheel on it anyway.   I thought it might be better to carry the spare tire on the bonnet, which the high Land Rover front seat and window makes possible without affecting visibility.

Removing the rear door spare tire carrier

The rear door spare tire carrier consists of a foot square steel plate on the outside of the door, attached to the door itself via 11 bolts into another plate on the inside of the frame with three large three large bolt-like extenders welded to it  that go through the holes in the body and the outer plate to secure the wheel through the bolt holes.  From the perspective of getting ready to paint, the steel plate on the outside  would be difficult to tape around and I would never be able to get the sprayer to remove it.  He would want to take the tape-around short-cut so popular among house and vehicle painters alike here.  Then everything   appears as if  it were “painted around” – not an image I want to convey in this rebuild.  But  for the rear-door wheel carrier  Paani said that it would be too difficult to remove, and upon first inspection it did indeed appear as if the whole thing might be welded to the frame inside the door,  perhaps as a result of the door frame repair that Paani did.   However I could not resist trying to loosen the  11 bolts and to my delight they all came undone quite easily and the interior plate to which the wheel holders are welded to slipped out nicely and the whole unit came out.  With that the exterior body is pretty much stripped, save the rear wheel arches that rim the wheel wells.

With that I have moved to the interior, which was already pretty stripped by Paani during the earlier body work which included the door work and filling of some random bolt holes here and there.   The roof liner, the door panels , and the rear cargo bay bench seats are all gone.  But when you look at it through a spray painters eyes you realize how much is still left to take out.   Seat belts for example.  Seat belts are secured by bolts through the frame in two places.   I spent a couple of hours after work this week to try to get them out, but was only partially successful, frustrated by limited tool choices.   Nuts that have been on bolts on the bottom exterior for fifteen years are not easily removed despite any amount of WD40.  I was able to get one end of the belts free on both sides, but I could only loosen the two that are directly bolted into the chassis frame enough so the seat belt rollers come away from the interior body enough to expose the surface underneath for painting and can be wrapped to keep the paint off them.  Better than taping, but not much. The good news story is the the “cubby” box between the front seats.  This was surprisingly easy to get out, four bolts that thread through 2×2, the only wood in the whole vehicle, into threaded holes right in the frame.

I was also able to remove the front passenger seat quite easily (need to leave the drivers seat in to be able to drive to the sprayer!) – my nemesis was the back seats.   There are no fewer than 12 bolts that secure the simple bench seats  through the floor into the frame.  The nuts underneath have not been touched for 15 years and are EXTREMELY stiff and rusted.   I was able to loosen and remove a couple, but stripped two of the nuts quite badly and decided to stop and review alternatives.  Francis just happened to come by to drop off the refinished front grill as I was struggling with these in our yard and he came to my rescue with an invite to his shop where he has access to an arc welder that can cut them off.

Today I left work early to beat traffic and drove out to the Kaneshie district where Francis has his shop.  He had one of his boys take me over to another place, down a side street,  off onto a dirt track that wound through some houses into an industrial yard that led to a fair-sized machine shop that was retooling various pieces of machinery and gears from transmissions and the like.  The yard smelled seriously of waste,  there must have been an open sewer, a not-uncommon phenomenon in Accra, behind the  adjacent wall.

I was welcomed by a couple of fellows to whom the boy did the explaining in Twi, upon which they pulled out their tools and went to work.  They were able to get three of the twelve bolts out intact.  The other nine were removed with a hacksaw or smashed with a large three foot chisel and a sledge hammer, not tools I have in my kit, but against which a ½“ bolt is no match.  The electric welder on standby was never called upon, brute force prevailed.  The back seats are now out,  and I am (only) 30 cedis (20 dollars) poorer for the labour and the tools.  Francis has someone getting nuts and bolts to replace the ones that were lost to the process.

Finally got the back seats out, the cargo bay bench seats have been out for months. The ride like this is anything but quiet.
Cubby box and passenger seat gone, the last lonely ride for the old driver's seat











However, that was not the last thing to take out.  There are also plastic covers over the back seat catches, and the foam and fabric liner around the front seat boxes, which is glued down and leaves annoying strips of foam behind on the metal that has to be scraped off.  Then there is the a piece of interior liner above the rear door that had escaped Paani’s removal campaign, and the seat belts in the front.  There don’t seem to have ever been any seat belts in the back seat.

I don’t think there is any good reason to delay painting any more.   I know as soon as it is painted it will start to get nicks and scratches and that creates  some degree of inertia, but I can get touch-up paint and the work here is very good and not expensive.   Once the paint is on we can proceed to finish the interior off with the new cushions and seat covers that are sitting in our storeroom, put the soundproofing and carpet in and put back all the interior fittings.  None of that will take very long, soon we will be able to focus on the expedition prep.  But painting is next.


Getting Ready to Paint 3, Francis the Fixer and the underbody

When I bought this Defender almost nine months ago I remember crawling underneath it in the yard to see what went where and having to put on glasses to prevent the thick coat of dirt from sprinkling into my eyes .   It was a real mess.   All the work that has been done since has knocked much of the accumulated mud and dirt off, but it is still a mess.  Opere talked about sending it to a washer before painting later, but  he has not taken any initiative to organize that and Francis has again stepped in to fill the gap.   Francis has consistently come through on a number of fronts and is more than anyone else playing the role of “fixer” in the Land Rover project.

I was introduced to Francis through colleagues at the High Commission.  He has been the CHC mechanic for a very long time, not quite since independence but almost that long.  The first time I met him he was in the office of a colleague, with one hand heavily bandaged and was recounting the story of how he had been caught in an attempted robbery in a “shared-taxi” .    As the name suggests, shared taxis are multi-passenger  vehicles, not the larger van-type “tro-tros” that carry 10-12 but regular sedans which carry one to three passengers in non-air-conditioned discomfort who are going in the same general direction and are prepared to share the space and accept a less than direct ride in exchange for a savings on the fare.  The other downside of shared taxis is the personal security risk that comes with getting into a vehicle that is already carrying more than one person, and Francis had just gotten caught in a situation where he  was asked by the driver and passenger to hand over all his money.   They got more than they bargained for , when Francis, who must be well into his sixties but as a former soldier knows something about hand-to-hand combat, gave the would-be robbers a run for his money.  He first dealt with the other “passenger”  ,  who he took into some sort of headlock  and was able to throw out of the car as they went around a corner in the shanty district of Nima.  He then turned his attention on the driver and wrestled him for the wheel until they smashed the car into a pole not too far from the Nima Police station.  The “driver” abandoned the vehicle, leaving Francis to report the attempted robbery at the nearby police post ,  with the abandoned taxi as evidence.   He sustained some ligament damage to his arm, but escaped with his  money, and his pride, intact.

Francis dropped in on his way home from a funeral to leave the repaired griill. He has a beer in one hand and a Ghanaian High Life music CD in the other. The grill is poised on the bonnet

Francis has done the work on our Subaru and while he is not a precision mechanic, he has impressed  with his sense of customer service and his pro-active aptitude for finishing a job.   So far his involvement with the Defender project has been limited to serving as a reference to other specialists to provide quotes on work as diverse as body work, electrical, air conditioning  and carpeting and  upholstery.    He has also gotten the plastic grill repaired that was broken at Opere’s and he is the one that he also stepped in to get another part of the project where others have fallen  down – the steps below each of the doors.  (separate post  coming on “Queen Vic’s Carriage Steps”).

I had approached Francis to get a quote on paint and in the process we got talking about the underbody.   I liked the methodology he talked about: getting under with a pressure washer and soap and scrub brushes , then going through the underbody with sandpaper to get any the rust out, then going through with the soap and pressure washer again.  We both agreed it would be foolhardy to leave it to  the sprayer to do the underbodyprep work, it would be too easy to just paint over the parts that were too difficult to clean and who would know.

This led to Francis bringing a couple of his “boys” to the house a couple of weeks ago.  We took the Defender to a good washing bay for a thorough cleaning with a pressure washer (the second time I have done this)  and then back to the house.   Three people spent six hours under the vehicle with petrol and sandpaper, then we took it back to the pressure washer.  The result  was amazing.  The wheel wells that were previously caked with dirt are now down to clean, shiny aluminum.  I can read the Land Rover symbol on the muffler.   The whole tailpipe is shining and the frame is clean black metal.   There were still some spots of dirt around, but another visit to the pressure washer fixed most of that.  There are still spots of dirt in nooks and crannies in the frame here and there and I am thinking of another more supervised visit to the washer, but that might be bordering on obsession.  We broke the back of the underbody cleaning challenge.   While they were here they also cleaned up the roof rack and took off the plastic wheel well arches that I was not able to figure out how to get off (plastic pins that worked like concrete anchors for screws) .  It cost me almost $100, half for labour and half for sandpaper and petrol.

The tragegy of the common. In true Ghanaian fashion, we cleaned the underbody in a public areait
Spotless Wheelwell and steering linkages. New Biltstein heavy duty shocks are visible in the coil











Picking the undercoat  is turning out to be almost as much of a challenge as picking the body colour.   My research leads to a dizzying array of products, ranging from cheap enamel to high-tech plasticized products that sound as if they would do just fine on the underside of the Space Shuttle, with prices to match.  There are actually  three parts of the underside:  the frame, the mechanical gear and the body.   The sprayer wants to use something called Terason Underbody on all these.   I could not find this on the internet when I googled it, instead Terrason came up, which suggests that perhaps the product here is a cheap copy of the internationally  recognized one.  Francis knows  Terason and thinks it is a  good product.  I am going to get him to do the frame and maybe the underbody, but not the  tailpipe, which is looking so good, or the front wheels wells.  Later if I can get my hands on some spray or brush- on liquid sound dampener I will add a couple of coats to the underside of the body and the wheel wells to reduce noise and provide additional protection.  I will have to bring that in, no-one seems to know it here.

We are still not quite ready to paint yet.    Bernard the sprayer at Sikkens will have to wait a little longer.