This is Part 2 of a series covering the restoration of an eBay purchased 240SX Convertible. If you missed Part 1 you can find it here:

When we last left our project car it was up on a lift at the tire dealer and I had just been shown some rather disturbing damage to the radiator support and suspension. Seeing that my, admittedly overpriced, purchase had just been rendered worthless, I made the decision to attempt to repair the damage myself. This is not a decision to make lightly.

My reasoning behind this insane decision was that since I had already wasted my money on this car, then if I failed in my repairs I would have lost only the additional funds I chose to invest. It still would have ended up at the junkyard for scrap. However, if I accomplished my repairs I would have the car that I thought I was buying to begin with. Most importantly though was the realization that no matter the outcome, I would learn something.

The Surgery Begins

With my decision made, I drove the car back home and promptly parked it in the bay not already occupied by a work in progress 240SX. That very evening my father and I began the work of tearing down the car. Little did we know the hard work ahead of us.

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The tear down begins.

I must take a moment to admit that at this point in my life I was still living with my parents so I had access to all of our tools and a skilled assistant in my father. Without his help, as well as the help of many others, this project wouldn’t have happened.

As the body panels began to come off of the car, the demons hidden under its skin began to show themselves. Removing just the nosecone revealed a collection of questionable engineering decisions. In addition to a completely superfluous external transmission cooler, the previous repair crew took the time to install what I assume is the worlds first perpetual motion cooling fan.

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I’ve already applied for the patent on this. Torchinsky is too late.

Each night as I removed stock and aftermarket parts alike and worked towards isolating the damaged frame I found myself more and more thankful that my girlfriend and I had survived the drive home from Ohio. As bad as the frame damage appeared when the car was on the lift, the wiring I found hidden in the engine bay was even more terrifying. The saying goes that some secrets are better left unknown and to this day I am afraid to ask just what was going through the minds of the people who tried to fix this car the first time.

I work for a connector manufacturer. This is not a standard connector.

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After a few nights of progressively deeper digs into the car, my father and I had finally found the location where the frame damage stopped. At that point a plan was formulated. We would find a replacement frame, remove whole sections of sheet metal as best we could, and use the spot welds as markers to help with alignment. A plan in hand, our major task became how to find the requisite replacement frame.

Luckily, in the world of import cars, there exists something know as a front clip. The short explanation of a front clip is that the valuable JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) parts are usually the front bodywork through the dashboard. To make shipping these parts easier, importers will literally clip the front of the car at the A-pillars and across the front floor, separating the valuable parts in one assembly from the rest of the body. This allows all the important parts to be shipped back to the US without the labor of trying to remove them from the car in Japan as well as letting the importer fit more valuable parts into a shipping crate versus trying to ship a whole car. Once the front clip is back in the US, the engine/transmission, bodywork, dashboard, and even firewall are removed from the clip leaving a bare frame. A call to Elite|JDM in Philadelphia netted me a white frame at a reasonable price.

Example of a Front Clip (Photo: teamorange2 ebay.co.uk)

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With the replacement frame in hand and a set of spot weld cutters given to me by a coworker, the metal cutting began. All of the damaged metal was removed, one sheet at a time, until we were left with only virgin metal as well as the frame section that was poorly repaired by the previous owner.

Upper radiator support and fender well removed.
Old upper radiator support (upside down).

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Probably not a dealership repair.
Just keeps getting “better”.
Pretty sure this photo appears in welding text books as a warning.

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Let’s call this “Weight Reduction”.

Now that the majority of the front end had been removed, we had to replicate the cuts on the front clip so that I could marry the two together and have a finished car. Attention to detail and repeated measurement at this point was critical for the success of the project. After all, I intended to drive this car as a summer daily driver, if the frame wasn’t straight the best case scenario is that I’d regret it for years. The worst case scenario was that I’d only regret it for a short time, until I was killed in the crash.

Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together

Once the front clip had been cut and trimmed close to match the missing components on the car, the test fitting began. Placing the front clip in place for the first test fit made my heart sink, however. The radiator support fit beautifully, but the interface on the frame rail had a misalignment. The new frame sat 1/4” too high. I had put in hours upon hours of hard work tracking down parts, cutting sheet metal, measuring multiple times, and in the end I had a misalignment of 1/4”. I was crushed.

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Not what I expected to happen.

That misalignment should not have happened, not after all the work put in to making sure everything would line up. My will to continue thus depleted for the evening, I decided to call it a night and dropped my gloves onto the frame rail. However, instead of the soft smack of leather I expected to hear, my ears were greeted with a heavy and metallic “thunk” as the rail sections dropped into perfect alignment.

With the frame sections lined up correctly and not willing to risk my luck any further by trying to re-fit everything the next day, my father and I began the welding right then and there. A major concern was how to improve the strength of the frame rail where the old and new frames met. Not willing to trust just a simple MIG weld, we fabricated a bracing plate for inside the frame. This plate was welded in place between both frames to add extra strength to the joint. After the brace was welded in place, the exterior of the frame was welded, followed by welding in the old spot welds. Soon the frames had been married together and the car was once again whole.

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Brace plate in place.
Measure 30,001 times, cut once.
Fender well cap in place.

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Cap welded and ground.
I swear this is an “after” picture.
Looking solid.

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The Final Details

With the frame repaired, and everything measuring straight and square, all that was left was to paint the engine bay and re-install all the missing bits. We masked off the engine bay and gave the area a fresh coat of white paint. I re-installed the radiator and a factory mechanical fan and shroud that I had sourced from Harry’s U-Pull-It in Hazleton Pa. No more shoddy wiring, no more perpetual motion fan, no more useless transmission cooler. All remnants of the previous owner’s failures were finally washed clean, leaving the stains of his failure lodged forever only in my memories. The final step was a trip to the tire store to finally get my new tires mounted and a proper alignment.

No more blackout paint job.

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Looking factory.
Adding all the bits and bops.
You’d never know what work went into this.

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Waiting on the nose job...
All complete.

After dropping the car off at the tire store, I went for lunch. My heart was in my throat, waiting for them to call me and say it failed the alignment. I managed to eat my lunch, though it took way too long. Burger King is not always the most appetizing food, but when you’re nervous about a major project, it’s even less appealing than normal. Finally an hour after I had dropped off the car I received the call I was dreading. With great anticipation I answered the phone and was greeted with horrible news, it was time to finally pay money for the new tires. My wallet screamed in agony, as if a large amount of money had cried out at once and was instantly silenced. The car had passed the alignment with only minor adjustment needed and I was good to go. Soon I was out on the road enjoying the freedom that comes with owning a convertible. I enjoyed every minute of driving, especially with the top down, completely unaware of the demons that had not yet been exorcised from the car.

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Final Thoughts

In the end this section of the project was an incredible amount of work and a task not for the faint of heart. Cars have seen the crusher for less damage than I had uncovered and, in all honesty, stubbornness drove the project as much as a desire to fix the car. It took the efforts of my father and myself over many nights and weekends to complete the work as well as countless hours tracking down components, going junkyard diving, and calling in favors. I do need to take a moment and thank my co-worker Dick Malehorn, who provided me with a set of spot weld cutters that made the whole project work.

The car in all its repaired glory

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Fully assembled engine bay. Shout out to my father for the exhaust heat shield.
You’d never know that 40% of this metal was from a different car.
Top down with the tonneau on.

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Keep an eye out for Part 3 where I cover the next set of gremlins to rear their ugly heads. Yep, we are just beginning this ride. Might want to grab some popcorn.

Part 3 is here: