2 year's restoration to 2 minute's disaster

(David) #1

Anyone that has or is devoting their time to undertaking a classic car restoration take WARNING !!

After 2 years of restoration on my 1948 MK IV the end was in sight with the final panel assembly in my garage. With precautions and safety observed at every stage in my workshop and testing of every part carefully undertaken and pre assembled on the work bench and re-tested back in situ in the car everything seemed perfect and OK. All the dangerous aspects like welding, grinding, chemicals, etc had been done and packed away. What could possibly go wrong?

Well expect the unexpected. My very last task of the restoration before it’s maiden drive was to connect the main battery lead ready for the big start up. By the time I had tightened the clamp to the terminal I started to smell that sickly toxic odour of burning electrics, and a glance through the front windscreen revealed smoke rising from the dashboard inside the car. By the time I had removed the cable back off the battery it was too late - the dash board was full of flames and the black smoke was choking me.

My saving grace was my fire extinguisher - one of several I have in my workshop and in my garage, but never to date had to use one. Well this time it literally was a life saver - not just for my beloved car, but for my home, and more importantly probably my life. Within 2 minutes the fire was out and I crawled out of the garage to fresh air.

So my advice and warning - make sure you have a good working fire extinguisher at arms reach all the time. You simply never know when you might need it.

I have today found what caused it. Well, I decided last week to fit under the dashboard (as my last job) an isolator key switch as an anti theft device. I had not realised that in fitting it back under the dash the choke cable must have pushed under one of the terminal’s rubber caps. The disaster was that the metal outer sheath of this choke cable (being effectively at car body earth) was up against technically the main connection to the battery feed - hence when I connected the battery cable and before I even went near the ignition switch there must have been sparks and heat generated against the wiring loom, and the resulting BBQ conditions.

So back to the stripping down stage once again and with a learning experience I don’t want to repeat but would like to warn others to take precautions no matter what you are doing.

(Peter Scott) #3

Better than a fire extinguisher or a slack battery terminal is to use a current limited power supply before you try connecting the battery. Any short circuits will simply shut the power supply down without damage to anything.


(Rob Reilly) #4

Ouch! My sympathies, David.
Everybody, check the pressure status of the extinguisher in your garage. You all of course have one…
I always have a fire extinguisher in the XK120 within easy reach in front of the passenger’s seat.
At classic car shows it is very common to see people set an extinguisher behind their front tire, so even if they’re not nearby, some kind soul will jump to the rescue.

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(Jerry Mills) #5

Thanks for posting this David.
You have most likely saved some ones car and maybe life.

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(Karl) #6

So sorry that you suffered that misfortune. Very glad you saved your car and yourself. Don’t let it put you off. Sooner remedied, the sooner forgotten.

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(Jag-ur) #7

Rob I suggested to a JCNA club in my region that there should be mandatory ‘fire stations’ at every concours… which should be part of the on site safety precautions… to put it mildly I was shot down in flames… so I quit the club. Your thoughts ? Just FYI using a standard ABC extinguisher is NOT the best solution… Halon or a halon equivalent is far superior… as for example if a CO2 extinguisher is used on a hot block it could crack the block.

(Graham Jordan) #8

That is a shame David. It’s not what’s lost it’s what you saved. You will soon have it cleaned up and back on track.

(Robert and Darlene Stevenson) #9

Darlene and I showed cars at 3-5 Concour’s per year in the NC region for the better part of 20 years and are not aware that there was a “fire station” at any of them but we also did not see any fires. With the various problems that many/most of the car clubs are having today it seems, to me pretty drastic, to quit a club over, what in reality is a minor issue. As far as a "fire station” goes I’ve always carried my own.

(Jag-ur) #10

ever been through a fire? I have and it is not funny

(Ed Nantes) #11

Although the odds of it happening at a concours where the cars are stationary seems lower on the risk scale. Even though the VSCCA calls them " polishing races’
At Speed competition events here, we are obliged to carry an extinguisher within reach of the drive… or no start.
The extinguishers are checked for date [ I forget the ‘use by’ off the top of my head. but they must be a 1 kg.
David might be wise to wash the residue off the paint soonest as it can affect it.
I always had a homespun idea that alarge bottle of coke would be handy as an extinguisher. Lots of sticky foaming CO2 bubbles. Never had to try it though as once the CAMS extinguishers reach their use by i still keep them lying round. They have a " charged"’ gauge on the top.

(Larry Trom) #12

So so very sorry for you. Your experience however terrible is was, has been instructive to us who don’t think of this. I have an extinguisher in the garage, but probably need a couple more and certainly need to get one for the car

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(Paul Wigton) #13

One CAN NEVER have too much fire protection…

In Tweety and the Rover, I carry a 10BC extinguisher, and in my shop, I have no FEWER than 6 fire bottles, a couple of them 14-pounders.

(Mark Lee (Pay Pal Patron)) #14

OMG! my heart aches for you, your efforts, and your lovely Mark IV.

I’m going to run out and purchase several fire extinguishers. I’m in the midst of metal work grinding, cutting, welding & such; I think about having a fire extinguisher (like I do in my XJS’s) but that’s about the time I’m about to lite up the torch - then is gone by the time I put the torch down.

I’m truly sorry to read your post, but I am grateful for the reminder to me and anyone else who reads this post.

My sincere condolences.

(Larry Trom) #15

As my garage is under the house and I can work in any of the bays, the more I think about it, I definitely need more extinguishers


Larry Trom


Angel Fire, NM

(Paul Wigton) #16

Might want to give serious thought to a Halon system, in your case.

(Larry Trom) #17

I’m afraid I’d need to sell the Jag to pay for it😁

(- 1950 MkV, 1959 XK150,) #18

Just tie hundreds of water balloons to the joists of your house… Home made suppression device? - Sorted.

(Biskit) #19

Another warning is the use of solar powered battery chargers. I had one connected to a Healey with the wires running to the negative connection on the solenoid & the positive to the block in the engine bay under a car cover. I must have brushed past the car & somehow dislodge an alligator clip under the bonnet. Luckily I was working in the garage & not passing through as shortly after I smelt burning which is unusual for me as my sense of smell is non existent. The car cover was melting & the wires were welding themselves to the paint work. Luckily no flames.

(Larry Trom) #20

Water balloons Hmmm. Not sure they will pop. Ever place a water-filled paper cup into a campfire? It’ll only burn from the top down as the water evaporates as below the waterline the paper remains below the ignition point. If I had a balloon I’d try it. Anyone care to test this out? I’m curious

(David Jauch) #21

Balloons won’t last long. If hung with a small air cavity they might do the job for a day, but obviously not good anyways as the fire needs to engulf the whole balloon (more or less) until it pops. By then maybe a tad late?
Also a huge mess when they give out after a few days.

Very, very sorry about the mishap. I know where my fire extinguisher is, even when in the co-drivers‘ seat and deeply asleep, and always take one with me when I‘m insecure (fuel, electrics, welding). Sometimes you’re not quick enough though… I hope the hidden damage is not too expensive and you can get around most of the paint, etc.