Peter Reeves - 1957 3 Litre David Brown Lagonda DHC

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Click here to see a movie clip of the finished car.

8284 PE Ready for TLC after a very long slumber.

I started looking for a new project some four years ago. Though not new to old car restoration, I know my limitations and so I decided to try to find a car that had been part restored but was still needing a reasonable amount of work to finish. Already having five other old cars meant that I had limited space and financial resources. When browsing through car magazines and the internet I stumbled upon a 1957 David Brown Lagonda 3L DHC which met all my criteria. After the usual back and forth negotiating the price, I finally bought the car unseen! (Not to be recommended).

The chap I bought the car from was in his eighties but remembered the work done on it during his twenty eight years of ownership. A full body-off restoration had been undertaken over a fifteen year period.
"It's a 3 litre Lagonda," he said as we made our way to his garage explaining as we walked that he had run out of steam before he could complete the necessary work to get it back on the road and that the car, in its unfinished state, was put in the garage and covered over with soft cotton sheets and left waiting for the TLC needed and to put her back to her former glory.

Impatience, on my part, meant that I just could not wait for the garage door to become fully open and, squeezing through the gap revealed a gloomy, dusty garage full of the usual items that one can't live without. Then I saw a large shrouded shape and with great excitement I rolled back the cover to reveal 8284 PE in her present state of glory. She was gold in colour with a matching soft top and at first glance, appeared to be in pretty good shape. "Yes I'll have her," I said having agreed to pay the asking price. Yes, she had faults as the doors would not close properly, the back axle was known to have a distinctive clunk, the electrics had been on fire and she had a few dings here and there but the engine turned nicely and, in the main, the car was all there. With some trepidation (this is a big car) I persuaded her, with the aid of some passing men, onto my trailer, bid the seller goodbye, and returned home covering the two hundred mile journey at a respectable pace and without mishap.

On arriving home, after a cursory check, I put the beast in 'death row' with my other cars waiting to be fixed in my 'dead car shed'. Over the next few weeks the old girl was prodded and poked as I took stock of what I had bought and assessed what was needed and to what level of restoration I was going to take her. It soon became patently obvious that the previous owner had spent enormous amounts of time, effort and money on his restoration endeavours. The only thing to do and out of respect for previous high standards of workmanship was to complete refurbishment to the same high standards started irrespective of cost and so the work began.

Over the next few months I did as much as possible getting the doors to fit properly, finding out what worked and what did not and searching and finding bits and parts that were needed. I worked slowly and methodically to a point where the car was getting close to needing specialist treatment to the leather, the electrics with burnt out wiring, the paintwork which had become damaged during the long storage period and other refurbishment jobs which needed to be undertaken by people with better skills than my own.

It was about this time that I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. This had to take priority over everything else that was going on in my life and so the car was put onto the back-burner for the second time during its restoration history.

Those who know about the treatment of cancer will understand that it is all consuming, slow and very frustrating and chemotherapy is needed for this and more chemotherapy for that, followed by radio therapy, followed by major surgery, followed by even more surgery and then a long period of enforced recuperation which feels like it will never end. During this difficult period, the car became the one thing I could focus on. This helped enormously in keeping my spirits up and with the will to keep going no matter what! I spent many hours both day and night just cogitating and planning what more had to be done and how I could do it. Slowly, very slowly, I started to regain some of my strength and, after two and a half years which seemed like a lifetime, but never losing sight of what I wanted, the project was once again on the move.

I'd been lucky in finding an auto-electrician who was willing to work on my car as well as store it during the period I was so ill. The store was my first port-of-call as soon as I got on my feet. Over the next couple of weeks, and despite having a large open open wound to my stomach which refused to heal, all the necessary re-wiring and electrical work was done slowly but surely. Eventually, most of the electrics were functioning. However, and there is always an however no matter what we did, we could not get the horns to work and so they had to come off. As we removed the first horn we became aware that it was full of blasting sand which still remained from the day that the chassis had been sand-blasted all those years ago. All that was needed was to empty the sand out and away they went with a high and low tone. Perfect! I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to originality and during this part of the restoration I had put the original French indicator switch down in the workshop with a view to getting it working. However, those damn Gremlins had spirited it away and it was nowhere to be found.

Re-commissioning commenced on the brakes and all the bits that have to be looked at when getting a car ready for the road and the dreaded M.O.T. Work over the next few months progressed at a slow but satisfatory pace until we reached a point where everything was fixed or overhauled and working satisfactorily. We hoped!

The last job, yet the most daunting, was the starting of the engine. Remember, I bought this car unseen and with the engine un-tested. A friend and I did all the usual things like checking the timing, points, plugs etc. and finally arrived at the point when it was time to fit two new fully charged batteries to see if we could get her to turn over or, better still, started. With everything crossed we gave her a try.

Nothing! NOTHING!! The engine was turning over with a good spark at the plugs but she would not start! After confirming that the electrics seemed okay, we undid one of the fuel links to thecarburettors and, though we could hear the twin fuel pumps ticking away, no petrol was reaching this point. After cleaning all the filters along the route of the fuel line, the carburettors and pulling apart the fuel pump, it was discovered that the problem was within the fuel tank itself.

"Just how the hell do you get at the tank?" I heard my colleague exclaim.

After a well-earned cup of tea and a good look around the rear of the car we discovered access was possible through the boot. After a bit of a struggle removing bolts, we finally had a clear view of the top of the tank, the sender unit and the reserve valve system. We removed the sender unit to find that the float had almost rotted away and the unit itself was broken and needed replacing. Fortunately the TR11 had the same sender unit and so a new one was obtained and installed without too much of a problem.

The fuel reserve mechanism was a differrent matter! When removed, it looked like it had been in a beehive over the past years and was totally covered in a thick, treacle-like substance which completely stank the workshop out. Even more alarming the tank was almost full to the brim with black foul-smelling twenty eight year old petrol which had to be carefully drained off and properly disposed of. We also discovered that the solenoid that works the fuel reserve valve was not working. As we could not find a replacement a compromise had to be made and the lower reserve level of the fuel pipe was made the only functioning pipe. In other words, I don't now have any reserve but I have a fuel pipe the pump can use. This accomplished, it was back to starting the engine.

Batteries reconnected? Yes. Fuel pumping? Yes. Plugs and points flashing? Yes. Excitement was in the air as it was time to give her another go. A quick look round and no fuel leaks were found. Everything looked good!

"Go on!" I shouted, full of anticipation, "Give her a spin!". NOTHING!!! "What's the matter now?" I shouted at nobody in particular. I was getting more than a little frustrated. Doh! We had not reconnected the power to the starter motor! This was done. "Go on and give her a try! Come on old girl," I entreated. The engine turned, the engine spluttered, the engine turned and coughed and spluttered again. "She's trying! She's trying!," I said "Stop! Stop!" I shouted. "The choke isn't doing anything!" I manually engaged the choke which caused the engine to cough, splutter and cough again. "YES! Go on. No! Yes! Yes! Yes! Go on old girl. GO ON!" I enthused (it sounded like a dirty movie). Then after twenty eight years of enforced rest, reluctantly at first, but then with great gusto, she burst into life. What a moment of triumph!! Also, it was a moment of great relief too. She was running with no disturbing sounds from the engine bay and soon she settled down to a nice even and healthy beat. "Great! GREAT! Let's take her out!" I suggested. "No! One step at a time," my colleague said calmly. "Let's put her into gear and see what the gearbox and clutch are like". Yes, they seemed okay as did the steering and the brakes. As there were no fluid leaks and the engine was running reasonably for a first time start we were running out of excuses as to why we should not give her a blast (on a private road you understand).

Ho! Ho! Ho! Off we went with all my senses working overtime listening for any untoward sound and checking that we could work the clutch and gearbox and trying to remain calm and keep a stiff upper lip at all times. "Damn it sir, we are British!", I said to myself. Yes, everything appeared to be working fine and so to the next hurdle, the dreaded M.O.T. could be tackled but what was that clunking and banging coming from the rear end from time to time? Damn, I had forgotten about the differential. The problem was fixed by replacing the damaged crown wheel.

The day of the M.O.T. test arrived. Lights, windscreen wipers, tyres and everything else we could think of was checked and confirmed to be working. So, it's down to the M.O.T. station for her test. "Come on old girl, give of your best and don't let yourself down," I murmured.

"Can't find anything wrong with this old girl," came the knowledgeable remark from the old-timer examiner person. "She passes with flying colours and is as good as new".

The only thing to do was to get her tax disc as she was already insured and away we could go into the sunset! Well, the rain actually. (God it was such an anti-climax as at least, I expected the earth to move or something).

Over the next six months the gods intervened again from time to time and I became a little unwell. She only got an occasional outing and was not running or looking her best and was perhaps showing defiance because of not having been brought up to the standards set by her previous owner.

She still needed leatherwork refurbishment to her front seats, carburettors sorting and a full back-to-metal respray. So over this enforced rest period I took the opportunity to have the seats recovered and a respray to professional standards and the carburettors balanced and retuned.

Apart from minor irritations and after being off the road for thirty years since 1978 and with a number of stalled re-commissioning attempts by her previous owner and myself the car is now a fully functioning 1957 3-litre David Brown DHC.

8284 PE rejuvenated at last!!


Peter Reeves