Restoring a Fiat 500L Part 7: The Final Build

With all our mechanical parts rebuilt, fitted and tested, the final part is to re-trim and fit the interior and fit all the external trim.

The seat frames were stripped and re-sprayed, before being fitted with new base springs, padding and re-trimmed in the correct 500 L Bordeaux vinyl. This model featured the fluted seat covers and piping.

A new dark blue carpet was laid before the seats were fitted. Then the door cards and rear wheel arch covers before the dashboard was finally built up.

Outside, we fitted new bumpers, with the all-important 500L nudge bars. New lights and badges followed, and finally the roof.

And there we had it, a totally restored Fiat 500 L, in blu scuro with Bordeaux interior.

The car now resides in Norfolk, with a charming Lady and Gentleman who use it for pottering around their village. Is there a better way to get around?

Classic Car Detailing: What Is It?

The aim of detailing a car is to bring the condition and colour of the current paint back to its factory fresh former glory, instead of having a car resprayed. Resprays can be costly and time-consuming, whereas a detail is far more cost effective and takes a fraction of the time. Restoring the paint is achieved by removing the grit, grime and other contaminants that build up over time and stick in the paint, as well as removing scratches and swirl marks. Detailing work requires a keen eye and gentle, steady hand so as not to damage the paint, especially on older classics with no clear coat. Our detailer has been detailing cars for decades, and throughout that time he has honed his expertise and gained an understanding of what combination of product and technique gives the best outcome. Our detailer’s standard detail takes a full day, with a full Concours detail taking about a week. That said, he has done a standard detail on cars which have then immediately gone on to Concours competitions. As a result, he’s picked up a few tips and tricks which he shares with us in this breakdown.

A detail can be split into several phases – the decontamination phase, prep phase, polish phase, wax phase, interior clean, and finally engine bay and wheels. The car he is detailing today is 1972 Citroen DS 20. Prior to the detail, the car was very tidy, but the paint was looking flat and lifeless, with noticeable swirl marks and small scratches around the body caused by repeatedly washing and drying the top layer of grime build up, without actually removing it.


You can see the swirl marks clearly on the boot and left rear passenger door

With this in mind, the initial stage is to decontaminate the paint. Unsurprisingly, the first thing our detailer does is give the DS a good wash. No pro tips here, just two buckets, some good shampoo, a sponge and some pressurised water. After a light dry, he then sprays each panel with Autosmart Red 7, a pH neutral fallout remover. The Red 7 eats away at the iron particles stuck to the paint, changing colour from clear to a deep red/purple. You can see the colour of the water coming off the car in the pictures below.



After leaving the Red 7 to work for just under a minute, the car gets another wash to remove any residue left behind by the fallout remover. He repeats this process, before giving the car a final wash and rinse. Next, he runs a Bilt Hamber clay bar over the paint along with some water, to remove the remaining grit and grime. You can actually hear the clay bar working the grit out of the paint as he moves it, producing a barely audible yet satisfying sound like masking tape being slowly pulled off, or Velcro being pulled apart.


With the paint now decontaminated, our detailer can start preparing the car for polishing. He removes any badges that could get damaged, or cause a build-up of polish/wax around them – in this case, the rear ‘Citroen’ badge. The ‘DS 20’ badge is a simple square, so it can stay.

Next, he uses masking tape to mask off all lights, rubbers, chrome and other trim for the same reason – to avoid damaging them or loading them with polish/wax. He uses a paint thickness gauge on each panel to measure how thick the paint is, which dictates how hard he can work each panel with polish, and what kind of compound pad he will use. The depth of a standard, factory paint finish is roughly 90 – 120 microns. If the gauge reads higher than 150 microns, this indicates that the panel has been resprayed. When tested on the boot lid, the gauge displayed 531 microns, showing two things. First, the boot lid has been resprayed, and second, that our detailer must exercise extra caution as he does not know the depth of the top layer of paint.



Now the car is ready for its 3 stage polish. Based on the paint thickness gauge reading, and the level of correction needed, our detailer begins with a large size rotary tool fitted with a medium density pad. He initially uses CarPro Fixer medium cut polish, to cut the paint back smooth. The polish acts like very fine sandpaper, removing contours in the paint surface to leave a smoother finish. For the second stage of polish, he switches to a dual action Rupes Bigfoot 15, which spins as well as oscillates, again with a medium compound pad, to remove light scratches and swirl marks.

Usually, he would use a soft pad here, but due to the pimples on the roof, he has kept with the medium pad for more cutting effect. For the final stage of polishing, he swaps to a soft pad and applies CarPro Reflect super fine polish. He uses his trained eye to achieve an even paint thickness, giving the panels a uniform shine and smoothness. Our detailer tells me that he uses Carpro polish because it does not contain any fillers such as silicone (as cheaper polishes often do), and thus actually cuts the paint back rather than simply filling the contours. Once he feels he has achieved a consistent polish across all body panels, he uses a microfiber cloth to wipe away any excess paint and polish.



The first stage of polishing

The second stage of polishing, he has switched to the Rupes Bigfoot with the medium pad 


The final stage of polishing, our detailer is now using a soft pad, with CarPro Reflect finishing polish

With the paintwork smooth and clean, it’s time to seal the finish with some wax. Our detailer’s wax of choice is Autosmart wax, which is, in his words, “an underrated gem product [which] gives a fantastic finish; they just don’t market it very well, it looks cheap.”


He uses a soft waxing pad to apply a smooth, very thin coating of wax “about the same thickness as a gnat’s wing.” In other words, thinner than paper thin. The wax is removed with a soft microfiber towel. He must work quickly here, as the heat and direct sunlight can bake the wax onto the paint, making it hard and extremely difficult to remove. The paint on the car now looks dripping wet, compared to the flat, dull colour before the detail, and is smooth as glass to the touch. At this point, he removes all the masking tape on the body, and polishes any exterior chrome and trim with Mother’s California Gold Chrome Polish, which also contains no fillers. 




The chrome is gleaming and the paint looks factory fresh – now our detailer turns his attention to the interior. He begins with a full hoover of the interior including carpets, seats, parcel shelves and storage holes. He then cleans the mats using Autosmart G101 – he says it’s the best product he’s ever bought, it’s really effective. He uses it on the pedals as well, giving them a scrub to remove the build-up of grime. He employs a Concours trick of putting masking tape over the pedals to keep them looking good. Next, the seats are rubbed with a dog hair remover before he gives them a light spray with G101 and wipes down to remove any dust and grime in the velour.

For the vinyl parts, our detailer uses the leather cleaner as he finds the compound is more gentle and leaves a better sheen. Carpro Eraser is used to clean both the interior and exterior glass. He uses this product because it does not contain any chalk, and thus will not leave behind any streak marks. Any overspray on the glass is removed with quadruple fine steel wool. To finish the interior, he dresses all trim with Autosmart non-silicone Highstyle, including the rubber boot mats, to leave a fresh sheen throughout.

Finally, our detailer finishes the detail with the engine bay and wheels. Any exposed electrics that could be damaged by water/cleaning product are masked off. The surface of the engine bay is cleaned with Autosmart Preptone and leather cleaner, to leave an added shine on the vinyl. If the engine bay needed pressure washing, this would have been the first step.




With the engine bay clean, he moves on to the wheels. There is some rust around the chrome beauty rings and the chrome is looking a bit flat, so he sprays them with Sterling Ali Bright wheel cleaner, a pH neutral product so potent that they sell an antidote for it! The Ali eats through the brake dust, oil, grime, and rust incredibly quickly and effectively. After leaving it to work for about half a minute, he washes the excess Ali off and tackles any remaining surface rust around the beauty rings with the quadruple fine steel wool. Now that the wheels are free from contaminants, he can give them a good final wash followed by a coat of wax to protect them. He finishes by applying some tyre dressing to the tyre walls for that extra shine.



To top off the detail, he goes around the car inch by inch, removing any particularly stubborn marks that did not come off when initially cleaned. Below is a blemish on the rear chrome bumper, which he works out with some G101, quadruple fine steel wool, and a bit of elbow grease.

Our detailer has worked his magic on the body of the DS, and the difference is night and day. The paint looks vibrant and dripping wet, the chrome is sparkling, and the interior is spotless. You can see now that the passenger front quarter and door do not quite match, meaning a respray, whereas before this could not be seen with the untrained eye.










Restoring a Fiat 500L Part 6: The greasy bits continued

With the car resting on its new running gear, it was time to fit the new wiring loom. New left-hand drive looms are available, as are old wiring diagrams, but this stage is more complicated when restoring a right-hand drive / UK car. New sections need to be let in around the bulkhead to extend from the fuse box to the steering column.

Whilst the whole restoration process had been going on, the engine and gearbox were being stripped, cleaned, and rebuilt with all new fluids, gaskets and filters.

The engine was in surprisingly good shape, with the crankshaft needing minimal machine work. To ensure longevity, new bearings were fitted, along with new pistons and rings. The head was skimmed slightly, and new valve guides fitted.

New & rebuilt ancillaries (starter motor, coil, leads, plugs, fuel pump, carburettor) were fitted to complete the engine rebuild.

The gearbox was in similar condition, only requiring a new first gear. And a new clutch for good measure.

Dressed in newly blasted and powder coated tinware, the engine and gearbox were ready to be mated and fitted.



With the engine, gearbox, and rear panel fitted together, we put the car on a ramp and then lower it down to fit the engine. The starter, choke and throttle cables were connected, as were the remaining cables from the new loom. Then follows the moment we had all waited for – the first start. With a squirt of easy start to help proceedings, we pulled the starter motor and after a few seconds, our new engine fired and ran!

Restoring a Fiat 500L Part 4: Its all down hill from here!

With the car already sandblasted, all rust removed, and new metal let in, the bulk of the time-consuming prep work had already been done.

A small amount of panel beating, filling, and rubbing down of the initial primer was done, before a good coat of epoxy primer was sprayed on. We used this as it’s a very versatile primer. Its compatible with most other coatings, and ideal for use over bare metal or existing coatings.

We started with the underside. All cavities were wax oiled, and the underside and wheel tubs were stone chipped.

On to the bodywork. After some blocking, and with all of the old dents, rust, and damage removed, we were ready to paint! We decided to use single layer paint, as the car would have had from factory. Single Stage paints still have UV resistance and can shine similar to a clear-coated vehicle if maintained properly. They also allow you to polish out scratches. All vehicles had a type of single stage paint up until the early 1980’s when the basecoat-clearcoat system was developed. We applied 3 coats of paint, to ensure the blue had a deep glossy shine. We chose Blu scuro. This is Fiat paint code 456 and was a paint code used by Fiat from 1957 (beginning of Fiat 500 production) until 1975. It’s one of the few paint colours that spanned all five generations of the 500.



Once the paint had dried in the oven, the team set about flatting and polishing. The job here was to get the paint as smooth and flat as possible by removing all the imperfections. A few runs and dust specks were removed using a nib file. The next stage was colour sanding, using a sanding block (flat form flat surfaces and curved for others), a bucket of soapy water, and progressively higher grit sandpaper to smooth out any minor imperfections in the paint including orange-peel. As we applied three good coats, we could start with a more aggressive sandpaper. At the end of this stage, the bodywork was pretty dull, but the panels felt flat and smooth to touch, with no imperfections. So, on to the final and most satisfying stage, cutting and polishing! The team used a multi-speed rotary machine polisher to gradually smooth out the finish and bring out the lustre in the paint. Similarly to the sanding, they worked their way up from an aggressive cutting compound and pad to a final foam pad and polishing compound. Finally, a coat of hard wax was added, and our little 500 was looking quite the part.

Restoring a Fiat 500L Part 3: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

mms_img504641652-copyWe love the Fiat 500 here at The Classic Car Company and back in early 2014, we were nearing the end of a number of Fiat 500 projects when our head technician quipped “you better get me the next one then”. Whilst the idea of sourcing another project car was a good one, the situation surrounding the search was far from ideal!

This is the third part of our series on Fiat 500L restoration. If you’ve not yet read part one and two head over there to read it now!

I am not going to pretend otherwise, the extent of the work needed to return this ‘cinquecento’ to the road shocked us! An immediate solution or plan wasn’t forthcoming, so our focus moved onto other projects for a few months, and the stricken shell was protected with a light primer and rolled to the corner of the workshop.

mms_img-915144947One day, a few months later, the boxed up parts of the stripped car caught my eye and brought the project back to the top of my mind. I was still determined not to let this project beat us, so I began to tap away at a calculator in an attempt to cost the job! After some serious negotiations with our suppliers in Italy, we decided to revive the restoration! At least we could say this would really be a nut and bolt restoration with every panel of metal being new.

The shell went into the bodyshop, along with all the new body and floor panels. Our welder called us all the names under the sun, some in English, some in Italian, all understood, and claimed he would never get the car straight!

All four wings and arches were removed, along with both sills, floors, and the whole front. The actual shell that we were left with was in pretty good shape. The only area that needed attention was the rear window surround. A section of the bottom offside corner was cut out and replaced with new metal.

mms_img-1222246262-copyAfter that the front was rebuilt. Starting at the front is the key to ensuring that the bodywork lines up straight on a 500.

A new inner front panel & battery tray were let in, followed by the outer front panel, arches and wings. This then allowed the new sills to be lined up correctly, and critically, with the new doors in situ as well.

After that, the pair of half floors and the rear quarters and arches followed suit, and that familiar 500 shape was back!

There was, as always, some skilled lining up to do. But this is the difference between a good job and a fast job. As our welder always says ‘any idiot can fit new panels – the skill is in lining them up and this takes time’. The right amount of time was taken, and eventually, we had a body to move into the paint shop!

mms_img-1369079277-copyWe’ll be posting more about this restoration project in the coming weeks so make sure you are following our posts on Facebook and check back regularly for updates.

Restoring a Fiat 500L Part 2: What have we done?

We love the Fiat 500 here at The Classic Car Company and back in early 2014, we were nearing the end of a number of Fiat 500 projects when our head technician quipped “you better get me the next one then”. Whilst the idea of sourcing another project car was a good one, the situation surrounding the search was far from ideal!

This is the second part of our series on Restoring a Fiat 500L. If you’ve not yet read part one head over there to read it now!

The next morning we unloaded all the parts, washed the car, and took this photograph that flatters the car to no end!

The car wasn't exactly as advertised

We were less than convinced by the ‘recent re-spray’, and what lurked beneath it, so decided to strip the car immediately and send off to the sandblasters.

Good job really, as what came back from the sandblasters was a car needing the following new parts:

  • Front outer panel
  • Front inner panel
  • Front battery tray
  • Front wings
  • Front inner arches
  • Inner and outer sills
  • A pair of doors
  • A pair of half floors
  • Jacking points
  • Rear wings
  • Rear inner arches
  • Rear engine bay corners

This is what we had to work withThe roof was good though!

Again, the second photograph to the right doesn’t really show how bad the car was.

So there we were with a car that needed far more work than we originally thought, and a project that had gone from a rebuild, to a total restoration. The main question at that point? Is this car beyond repair?

We’ll be posting more about this restoration project in the coming weeks so make sure you are following our posts on Facebook to find out more about how this restoration project turned out.

Restoring a Fiat 500L Part 1: Never drink and buy online!

Back in early 2014, we were nearing the end of a number of Fiat 500 projects, and our head technician quipped “you better get me the next one then”. Whilst the idea of sourcing another project car was a good one, the situation surrounding the search was far from ideal!

Lets just say that it was evening time, a few friends were present, the ale was flowing, and the eBay bidding was a little more frivolous than normal – the aforementioned technician may have been present too!

A few days latter, and an email drops into my inbox, congratulating me on winning an auction. What auction……..oh……..b****r……..what have we done? We were now the proud owner of a 1971, RHD, Fiat 500L. The car had recently been re-sprayed, and simply needed rebuilding with the complete and present array of parts, and an extra gearbox! At this point I thought ‘that could have been far worse, this will be easy’. The following day we hitched the trailer onto the Land Rover, and drove two hours north to collect our new project.

Needless to say, the freshly painted, complete car that we set off in search of didn’t materialise. In its place was a rusty, surely incomplete, heap! It was clear and immediate to see that the seller wasn’t prepared to admit that he had been a little ‘creative’ with his description or distant from the truth.

So we got back in the Land Rover, and prepared to head back down the M1. At this point the slightly more jovial seller realised we were really leaving, and reduced the asking price, eventually to a figure that was worth shaking his disingenuous hand for.

So we loaded the aforementioned heap, and headed back, vowing to never look at cars on the internet again beyond 2 beers.

We’ll be posting more about this restoration project in the coming weeks so make sure you are following our posts on Facebook and check back regularly for updates.