BACK FROM THE BRINK
David Adams was of the "Best Lancia 2011" Cortile Cup Awards. This article originally appeared in the August, 2012 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
A friendship forged over coffee leads to the heroic 6 1/2-year rescue of a rare, alloy-bodied Lancia Flaminia GTL
Feature Article from Hemmings Sports & Exotic CarAugust, 2012 - Words and Photography by David LaChance
Had he lost his chance to buy the car? Dave Adams hadn't been able to make a deal with the owner of the decrepit Lancia when he first saw it; now, a year later, he learned that a group of prospective buyers were flying in from Europe, and were likely to take the car home with them.
But the Europeans lost interest when they saw just how far gone the coupe was. Though it was rare, one of just 303 Flaminia GTLs built, it was literally falling to pieces, and had already been stripped of some of its parts. If Dave had listened to the experts' advice, he, too, would have forgotten about the GTL. But that's not what happened.
When he learned the deal had fallen through, Dave didn't hesitate. "I gave [the owner] what he wanted and brought it home. I didn't know what I was getting into, or I might not have done it."
Dave had first seen the Flaminia in 1999, when he went with a friend to look over a collection of Lancias at the Fiat-Lancia Parts Consortium on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, and the stylish coupe had caught his eye. "It was in very poor condition; most of the controls and the instrument panel had all been robbed out and sold for parts. And the car actually looked beyond restoration--it was buckled in the center and rusted out down underneath and the doors wouldn't open," Dave recalls. "But I'd never had a European car, and I just liked the idea of the aluminum body, the four-speed and three two-barrels."
Yes, you read that right--Dave had never before owned a European car. In fact, he was sitting on a collection of Pontiac GTO project cars when he first saw the Lancia. "My wife fussed because I had so many [GTOs], and I hadn't restored any, because that's what I was going to do when I retired. And she was giving me heck, so I just sold all of them, and bought this one Italian car."
It's also worth mentioning that he had never before restored a car, and that a hand-built car like the GTL, with its Superleggera aluminum-over-steel coachwork by Carrozzeria Touring, would be a challenge even to a seasoned restorer. But Dave had a number of factors in his favor: He doesn't discourage easily. He ran an auto parts store for 20 years. And he had found a mentor in an old-world craftsman named Dick Frye.
Dick and Dave had met at Dave's store in Shelocta, Pennsylvania. "He was down there every morning, drinking coffee. I had free coffee. It drew in a lot of people--they'd stand around and BS. It was kind of a hangout." Dick had earned his skills at a Cleveland-area shop during the post-war years, learning about gas welding, lead filling and other techniques involved in European coachbuilding; he returned to Pennsylvania in 1958 to open his own shop.
"My mentor, Dick Frye, told me that anything that was hand-built can be rebuilt," Dave says. "And these cars were hand-built. They took the frame and hand-bent each panel; a fender might be five or six pieces of aluminum welded together, and formed to create the car."
The Flaminia, first shown as a prototype in 1956 and put into production the following year, was the successor to the successful Aurelia. Like the Aurelia, it was powered by a 60-degree V-6 engine, initially displacing 2,458cc, and growing to 2,775cc in 1962. The clutch and gearbox were rear-mounted, providing excellent balance.
In addition to the Pinin Farina-styled Berlina, four Flaminia variants were produced: Coupes by Pinin Farina, Zagato and Touring, and a convertible by Touring. The GTL, a 2+2 version of the GT with a wheelbase that was 80mm longer, arrived in 1962. Dave has become an unabashed admirer of the entire Flaminia family. "That was like the Rolls-Royce of Italian cars," he says. "They didn't have the power that a Ferrari or a Maserati had, but as far as build quality, they were the best."
Dave trailered the GTL home from the Fiat-Lancia Parts Consortium, but not before thinking to conduct a search of the shop's shelves, which turned up every one of the switches his car was missing. Then, he and Dick got to work.
The aluminum skin was the first to go. "Dick and I cut the body in sections, because it's a one-piece body, and took the body off. I think we ended up with seven or eight pieces," Dave says. They used a cut-off wheel to slice the aluminum, and drilled through the hundreds of rivets holding the body to the steel structure below.
It was at that point that Dave realized just how badly damaged the floorpan was. Had the discouraged Europeans been right after all? Not by a long shot. Dave knew that the Consortium had, among its other cars, a Flaminia Berlina that had suffered an engine fire. The bodywork was ruined, but the floorpan was solid. He bought the Berlina, brought it back to his shop and stripped it down.
Putting the GTL's body on the Berlina's floorpan was no simple matter. The tubular steel frame that supports the coupe's body had to be transferred over, a job requiring a seemingly endless number of measurements. The Berlina was a longer car than the GTL, too, so Dick had to slice 2 1/2 inches out of the wheelbase. The GTL stored its spare tire in a horizontal well in the trunk, while the Berlina's was mounted upright. None of these required changes proved to be a roadblock, thanks to Dick's skill with the oxyacetylene torch. "If you get the right flux and the right torch, oxyacetylene will work," Dick tells us. "I try to put it back together the way it was built."
"This new chassis, in addition to being too long, the inner fender wells were approximately two inches too wide," Dave says. "So we had to cut all of them off, and then Dick re-bent all the lips by hand. He was such a fanatic about it, that when we got to the final installation of the body, we didn't have to re-drill the rivet holes. It was close enough that we could pry or bend, and use all the original rivet holes."
Before they could get to that point, there was much more work to be done. Dave sandblasted the chassis, using fine white sand. "I had a rotisserie on wheels, and I could wheel it in and out of my shop every day I went to work on it," he says. He primed the chassis in Rust-Oleum red oxide primer before applying 3M Body Schutz rubberized coating, for the original factory look, and finishing with black Rust-Oleum semi-gloss paint. "As far as preserving old metal, I feel that [Rust-Oleum] is one of the better products.
"I'd halfway learned to spray-paint--I'm not a professional, but I believe in doing everything I can myself," he continues. What brand of spray gun did he use? "I can't even tell you--it was maybe a $29.95 one," he laughs. "A different body shop owner told me, buy a cheap spray gun to prime; when you're done with it or it acts up, throw it away and buy another one. He said it'll do as good a job as a professional gun. So that's what I did."
Dave and his auto parts employees stripped the aluminum bodywork, using chemical aircraft stripper to avoid damaging the .030-inch-thick skin. They covered the stripper with plastic wrap and let it work for a half-hour or so, scraping off the softened paint with a rubber spatula. Though it's hard to believe from Dave's "before" photos, the paint was the original silver-gray finish. "The only original paint I found that looked good was up in under the dash. There was a little removable panel; I took that out, cleaned it off and that brought out the original color. I had that spectrographed and came up with what I wanted to paint the car."
After Dick had used his hammer and dolly to erase all of the dings and dents in the bodywork, Dave brought the panels to a local shop that specialized in aluminum welding to have all of the small cracks and tears in the bodywork mended. Once the bodywork fit perfectly, the aluminum welder visited Dave's shop to stitch the panels back together again. Then came the final riveting.
More welding was required for the steel frames of the doors, which had rusted away along the bottom. Dick removed the aluminum door skins, fabricated and welded in repair panels for the frames, and reattached the skins, annealing the aluminum with a BernzOmatic torch before hammering the edge around the repaired frame.
Dave brought the Flaminia to Dick's shop for paintwork. It received a coat of etching primer, and small imperfections were filled in with Evercoat's Chrome-A-Lite lightweight filler. "I like the way it works," Dick says. "It doesn't shrink, and it blocks well." Three coats of high-build acrylic polyester primer were applied, followed by much block sanding.
Dick chose PPG products for the basecoat/clearcoat finish. "I like their clears," he says. "They have buffability, and quick turnaround. You can water sand them the next day." He applied three coats of the base finish, and three coats of clear. Although two coats of clear would be sufficient, he likes applying the third coat, so that there's enough depth to allow future damage to be buffed out without having to repaint the car. The paintwork was done with all of the panels--doors, hood and trunklid--on the car.
In the meantime, Dave had carried out whatever mechanical work was needed. He had rebuilt the braking system, as well as the starter motor, carburetors and other ancillaries of the V-6. Parts were ordered from Mike Kristick, an East Coast Lancia specialist. Dave put the engine on a stand and soaked the bores with PB Blaster and kerosene to get the pistons unstuck, but decided not to tear the engine down. "It fired up, and it's been running great ever since," he says. "I've probably only put a total of less than 1,000 miles on it." The gearbox, too, was left as it was, though Dave installed a new clutch kit.
Dave ordered new leather from Hirsch Automotive Products, in the original red. "I told him I wanted the best leather I could get, the softest," he said. The upholstery was done by Larry Learn at Learn's Upholstery Shop in Indiana, Pennsylvania, who had come highly recommended. Though Larry suggested that he could save some money by having the seat covers machine-stitched, Dave chose to have the original hand-sewing recreated. New wool carpeting was installed, as well as new headliner, using matching material Dave purchased from Mike Kristick.
The majority of the car's brightwork is either stainless-steel or aluminum, and could be restored back to its original shine. Dick used an English wheel to remove deep dents from the stainless-steel bumpers, which Dave then spent days sanding and polishing by hand. The transformation is amazing. "Like he said, anything that was built can be rebuilt," Dave laughs. He found a new-old-stock taillamp bezel for the driver's side, and is still looking for a replacement for its pitted counterpart. One of the Superleggera script badges was a Christmas present from a friend.
Six and a half years after he had begun, the Flaminia was completed. Dave first showed it at the 2007 Le Belle Macchine d'Italia in the Poconos; he brings it to Italian car meets, where it's usually recognized for what it is, and almost always brings home a trophy.
Not only does Dave have no regrets about the project, he's since found himself a second GTL, a two-owner car that was in sound running condition when he bought it from a West Coast president of the American Lancia Club. "I'm doing the second one now because I have two granddaughters, and they're both going to have a GTL and a Flavia Pinin Farina coupe," he tells us. "I figure I'll have them done when they're old enough. If they decide to sell, well, they're marketable, and they'll have college money.
"On the second one, I'm being a little fussier. I told my wife, the first one came out good; the second one will be perfect."
This article originally appeared in the August, 2012 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
This is a compilation of articles from a variety of sources and contributors. Attrition and sources are always provided at the top and/or the bottom of the posting.