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09 Nov 2021

A restoration decades in the making

Barry Gale talks us through the much-delayed restoration of his 1969 911T coupe

Today, Club member Barry Gale is dividing his time between enjoying retirement in Chelmsford and being a well-qualified Technical Advisor with the 911 SC Register. Before that, he had a long career with Ford that saw him start out as a Technical Apprentice in 1978 and end up as Chief Engineer.

His career took him all over the world, with spells spent living and working in Germany, Belgium and the USA and adventures in Finland, South Africa and Turkey for extreme environment testing, product launches and the like. When Top Gear asked Ford if they could sort out a Transit van that the late, great Sabine Schmitz could blast around the Nürburgring, Barry was the one who was asked to make it happen.

All that, his collection of cars and motorbikes and family life kept him understandably busy, so he has only recently been able to devote time and attention to a restoration project that began in May 1984 when he came across a lucky find – a 1969 911T coupé. It was a non-runner and one of the previous owners had modified it with what might be politely described as more enthusiasm than finesse but, seeing its potential, Barry bought it and his dad helped tow it home. However, other things got in the way, the project was shelved and that was more or less how it stayed for the next 36 years. The car passed the following decades in storage and even spent 21 years in the same garage.
Thinking that it was high time to do something about that, Barry finally began the much-delayed restoration project last February. On closer inspection, he found a mixed bag; several areas had picked up a fair degree of rust damage over the years and he wanted to change some of the previous owners’ alterations – including the addition of a sunroof – back to how everything had originally been when it left the factory, but enough of the fundamentals were still sound enough to satisfy even a Chief Engineer. The boot floor was in good condition, which was important because it has the chassis number stamped on it, and when he removed the newspapers from 1988 that had been used to wrap components from the dismantled engine and gearbox, he was relieved to find most of them. “I’d hardly lost any parts!” he remembers, with a relieved smile.
With these encouraging discoveries confirming that there was still plenty to work with, Barry settled on a simple principle that would guide the restoration. “I wanted to use as much of the original car as possible,” he explains, as he goes through a presentation about the project he did for R11 in May this year that shows just how much effort has gone into it. While some replacements were truly essential, his instinct was to keep the use of that option to a minimum and he felt that good old-fashioned care and attention to the remaining original parts where that was still feasible would balance that out.
Cleaning it up was straightforward enough but, recognising that the next steps would require more heavyweight machinery than he had to hand, Barry turned to Design 911 who were helpfully just down the road. As the world was gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, they were diligently cutting away rusted sections and stripping the whole thing right back to the frame. Photos taken during the process reveal just how dramatic the cuts were. At its lightest point, you’d be forgiven for wondering if the keys weighed more than what was left of the frame.
In July 2020, with nothing left to be taken away, the process of building it all back up again could begin. By October 2020, a new roof skin to replace the old one that had had a hole cut into it for the sunroof was in place along with a new bonnet. The rear window frames that were originally chrome turned out to have been sanded down and painted black, so the frames and the glass itself were carefully restored and polished up. The seats had luckily survived in good condition apart from being painted black as well, so work began on returning the vinyl to its original tan and Barry reckons the process is about 80% complete at the time of writing. Even the seat belts were patiently refurbished.

By January this year, repainting could begin.  The Kardex – which Barry has and which shows a build date of 20.03.1969 – confirms the car has matching numbers and shows that it was originally Irish Green, but a previous owner had both repainted it and created additional effects with tape. Although he wondered about other colours, Barry ultimately decided on sticking with the classics and going back to Irish Green. Now gleaming and pristine, it also chimes with his wish to resurrect as much of the original car as possible.
But one thing that has seen deliberate changes from the original is the engine. Work on this began as a separate endeavour some years previously, courtesy of Nick Fulljames of Redtek, but it has also seen upgrades that go above and beyond the restoration and the 2.0-litre engine that left the factory putting out 110hp now boasts a more impressive 160hp thanks to the use of E-cams and an increased compression ratio. When the engine was completely rebuilt and the first static test was carried out, Barry himself turned the key and the engine ran for the first time since the 1980s. With the car itself being so light and the tyres being quite narrow, Barry is looking forward to seeing what effect this will have when road testing becomes possible.
The restoration is not far off being finished and Barry thinks it will be complete in time for Christmas. Although it could be over and done with more quickly by just fitting off-the-shelf spares and replacements, he wants to stick to his resolution about keeping as many of the original parts as possible even if it means more time and elbow grease. Besides, it sounds like he’s genuinely enjoying himself. “I do feel very involved with it and it’s nice to be back building stuff again,” he says, ever the engineer.
The end of this restoration might be in sight, but Barry is already wondering about what comes afterwards. His collection includes a 1981 911 SC Targa, a convertible 997 Carrera S that also serves as his daily driver, a Ford Escort RS Cosworth company car that he asked to keep because he loved it so much, an Aston Martin V8 Vantage and a number of Japanese superbikes from the 1970s, so a gentler restoration of his 911SC is on his mind as next year’s project.
“I’ll be fiddling with cars and bikes for a long time,” he says. After all, why stop now?
Barry would like to say a special thanks to Graham King, Dave Jones and the team at Design 911, who he adds have been very helpful and professional and who have made the restoration a pleasure.

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