Happy New Year! The most recent posting of the Isetta Saga was Chapter 13, way back in May 2018 (it was a busy summer and fall). It’s time to resume the Saga, with intentions to post subsequent chapters more consistently through the winter months.
Chapter 13 ended on a high note: I had found a somewhat local body repair place in Maplewood NJ, “The Shop”, run by Jody Fitzpatrick, who agreed to take on the job. Jody and I had a verbal agreement that for $4,000 in materials and labor, he would perform all needed metal repair work, plus prime and paint the exterior and interior using a single stage paint. (He offered to clear coat it, but I declined, wanting to keep to the factory appearance.)
Notably, for that price he would NOT paint the underside, and his interior work would be limited to paint only. He would perform no metal prep to the interior (and it really didn’t need it), nor would he cut and buff the interior paint.
He suggested that my prep of the shell should include removing all glass, sunroof, and trim; removing the existing “tar paper” soundproofing; priming the interior panels; and painting the underside with whatever top coat color I chose.
Jody estimated that this body and paint work would take about three to four weeks. If I got the shell to him in June, I’d have it back sometime in July, giving me all of August and September to complete the reassembly of the car. In the grand scheme of things, I envisioned an “Isetta Party” for some time in the autumn. There was a lot to do, but it seemed within reach.
Stripping the body of its mechanical and trim pieces was straightforward. I had had practice with the two other body shells which got similar treatment through the years. Out came all the glass, followed by the bumpers, headlight and tail light buckets, and steering wheel & column. Then the wiring harness was removed as a complete assembly, taking care to tag as many of the terminal connections as possible.
The interior was tackled next. The heavy black tar paper lining the inside of the shell was certainly original. The 38-year-old glue gave me a fight, and I fought back using a heat gun, a putty knife, and lots of grunt work. The final bits were broken loose using a wire brush chucked into my trusty Black & Decker electric drill. Given the age of the car, I went so far as to remove the paint from the floor and wheel wells, so that fresh paint could be applied to bare metal.
The only rust-through in the entire body was a hole in the battery box (as the lowest part of the interior, any water which leaked in was going to settle there.) Since this wasn’t an appearance concern, and I’m no body man, the fix was a thick piece of sheet metal stock, bent to shape, glued and riveted into place from the inside. This was done as opposed to covering the hole from the outside in order to provide support for the battery.
Once the inside was stripped down to bare metal, the body was tipped up onto its door opening (door removed of course), which provided full access to the underside. I’m not sure how the factory finished off the bottom of the body (if they did at all), but I faced a floorpan completely covered with old paint and surface rust. Like the interior, the underside was brought down to bare metal with wire brushes mounted in an electric drill; tedious work, to state the obvious.
I decided on a multi-coat approach to provide maximum protection for the sheetmetal. Certainly the car was not going to be driven in inclement weather, but there would still be times when it would be outside in damp and humid conditions.
First coat: Bill Hirsch zinc paint prep/converter, to neutralize any remaining rust, and to help convert the surface to accept the paint:
Second coat: Bill Hirsch’s Miracle Paint in sliver (2 coats):
Third coat: Rust-Oleum primer in brown.
Fourth coat: Rust-Oleum red gloss top coat.
The body (along with the door, headlight buckets, engine cover, and instrument panel, all to be painted the same red) was ready to head to “The Shop”. I bought two 2x4s, glued strips of carpet to them, and bolted them to the underside of the shell using existing mounting holes. I then bolted the 2x4s to the wooden floor of my trailer. It was secure. Photos document my dear departed friend Chris Beyer who so graciously and generously accompanied me that day.
My Isetta log book contains this entry for Saturday, June 24, 1995:
Took body to “The Shop” in Maplewood NJ for body restoration. Est. time to complete = 3 wks. Est. price = $4000.
Now it was up to Jody. I think I went home and had a stiff drink.
All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.