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1981 Spirit DL

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SeanHatfield View Drop Down
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    Posted: Mar/13/2017 at 7:19pm
Welcome to the restoration thread for my 1981 Spirit DL. I've owned this Spirit for about 5 years now (I got it about a week before the 2012 AMO National Meet in Auburn.) Throughout the time I have owned it, I admit I haven't done a lot to it, but love it and show it off. Now that I'm out of college, it's time to get started on a restoration. This 1981 Spirit DL is shown in glorious two-tone Cameo Tan and Copper Brown Metallic paint. Over the 5 years I have owned it, it has been mistaken for a Pinto, a Vega, a Chevette, and an "old Honda." I know this car will never be an American Cup or Heritage Cup winner, especially compared to the Concours quality restorations I have seen on this forum, but I feel like it deserves to be treated nicely and restored to a level that will make both me, and the previous owner proud. First of all, let me tell you a little bit about how I came to own this fine piece of art. I was 19 at the time, and I had (a year prior) purchased a 1986 Jeep Comanche. This was my first entry into American Motors Corporation. I know I just skimmed by before the Chrysler buyout, but to me, It still counts. Well, this Comanche was far from a reliable vehicle. A few months after purchasing it, the clutch fork finally gave up (So I found out after trying out 3 clutches) and it was sold to by good buddy in order to get the cash for the Spirit. My buddy Doug (AMCSavers on the forum) told me about a legitimate AMC that I needed to buy locally. Once I had the cash, I inquired about the Spirit. It was owned by a couple of folksingers in town who were the second owners of the vehicle, having purchased it a few years after it was new for the wife to learn to drive on. Boy, did she love that car. When we finally came to negotiating the price (I was firm at $500 and she insisted that she could not take any more than $300, for fear that it needed a lot of work), she handed over the title and told me that she wanted her baby to be shown off and appreciated; not hot rodded (nearly impossible with the little 4 banger under the hood), or beaten on until its untimely death. I promised her that I would be her guy and we went on our merry way. Immediately, I knew it needed some work. The harsh Indiana winters got a hold of the poor Spirit in the few times she drove it in the winter, and the rocker panels needed some attention, the chrome trim piece around the driver's wheel well got ripped off in a car wash, causing rust to form. Now, her husband (bless his heart) tried to do as much as he could to keep the rust from spreading. This consisted of putting spray foam into the holes to stop the spread of rust. Not a good idea... I also needed a driver's front caliper since it was leaking, and some various odds and ends from acquiring a driver Spirit that was 31 years old at the time. With little cash flow in college, I just drove and showed the car as it was, adding a few things to improve driveability and general maintenance. I got the caliper fixed the morning I headed to Auburn, and drove it the hour and a half there with no issues at all. On my way to Doug's wedding, the ignition cylinder gave out on me, so that had to be replaced. New struts to support the enormous weight of the rear hatch were installed. A radiator was put in last summer (not quite in time to drive it to Rockford without a shakedown test.) I did pick up some new wheels for it, but those may change as time goes on. The road was long (and still is) but it brings me to where I am with the car now. A tired GM Iron Duke 4 cylinder, still putting along (albeit at no break-neck speeds), rust that still needs to be addressed, and a slew of other things that I would like to upgrade on its way to the show field. I plan to keep the drivetrain completely original, but refresh it to give it a little more pep. Right now, I am working on the interior of the car, having removed the rear plastic interior pieces in preparation for new paint to match that gorgeous nutmeg interior that the late 70s and early 80s loved so much. My short term goal is to purchase new tires for it, replace the carpet, install sound deadener, repaint the interior pieces that were sunfaded from 36 years of the sun beating down on them, and go through the brakes front and rear. I hope to accomplish all of this before Kenosha so I can show it off there. Long term, I want to work on the body, get it painted in the original colors and paint scheme, then address the engine and transmission and rebuild them. This might seem like a lofty goal, and I am sure I will encounter problems along the way, but in my eyes, it is worth it. I have already invited the previous owner (who I still keep in contact with) to see it at local shows and she is blown away that her pride and joy is being taken care of. I hope to continue to make her proud that she sold me the car for the bargain price of $300 and restore it to the quality that it deserves. 

If you made it this far in the introduction, time to reward you with some pictures of what it looked like when I got it, and what it looks like now; along with some pictures of some of the projects I have done so far. Thank you for taking the time to read through this post and I will keep you updated as funds allow and I hope to see you at Gettysburg and Kenosha! 


A year after I got it. Note my terrible 19 year old sensibilities in buying those mirrors.... They're back to factory now. 



The interior on this car is actually in really nice shape, aside from all of the sun faded plastic and carpet.

Changing the radiator on a 4 cylinder means extra room for my 6 foot tall body to squeeze into the engine bay!

Shifter Knob got switched out after finding a much nicer example in Rockford.


Found these American Racing Wheels at Rockford for $75 with the tires included! What a deal! I will be upgrading the tires to Cooper Cobra Radial GTs before Kenosha though since these are pretty dry rotted. 15" in the rear and 14" in the front gives it a nice stance.

Finally found these mirrors to replace my previous mistake thanks to RebelX on the forum! Great find!

This is the beginning of the latest project for the Spirit. Repairing and refinishing the plastic interior pieces. This is what it started out like: faded from the sun beating down on it through a non-tinted rear window for 36 years. What a mess! It had a gritty texture to it and pieces of it were starting to peel off like a bad sunburn...

This was the result on the back panel after about 2 hours of wetsanding the crap out of it. Finally got it buttery smooth and ready for paint! Notice the other 2 panels awaiting their turn. The process was very messy so I had to do it in the basement to avoid freezing in this strange weather we've been having in Indiana. 

Finally done wetsanding! I think it turned out pretty great for my first attempt. Only time will tell once I prime them and repaint them. But already the texture is much better. I removed all of the old flaking plastic and now it is smooth and ready to be color matched and painted. Does anyone know if SEM makes a color matched dye that looks like this? If not, I'm going to my local NAPA paint shop in the next few weeks to get it color matched there. They should be able to make me a few cans of it to finish it up! Thanks for taking a look and wish me luck as I finish painting the interior pieces and then take on the carpet and the underlying rust in the rear hatch area. One step closer!

Thanks, 
Sean Hatfield ...
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wantajav View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote wantajav Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/13/2017 at 8:19pm
Hey Sean:

GREAT car, great story.  If/when the tired iron duke gives up the ghost, that car is a prime candidate for 4.6 AMC stroker or a 360. You can find a running 360 for less than $500. Tell the prior owner the 2.5 threw a rod. I'd leave the paint scheme and get a rear spoiler duplicolor painted to match.


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SeanHatfield View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SeanHatfield Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/13/2017 at 8:39pm
I've thought about doing an engine swap and tossed the idea back and forth between a big old v8 with a crossmember swap and spring swap in the front and then a change of the axle in the rear, or doing a modern fuel injected straight 6 like a 4.0 from a jeep (potentially stroked out to a 4.7) but I just couldn't bring myself to change the car. Once I finish up this restoration, then I'll get myself into something I can really go crazy with. It took a lot for me to convince myself to keep it stock, especially since I'm only 24 and burnouts are cool. haha. But for now, the plan is to restore it back to original and then we'll go crazy on something further on down the road. Who knows, maybe another Spirit!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote racerkilla Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/13/2017 at 8:43pm
I saw you had posted year or so back interested in side louvers. I figured out how to make sets and have been selling them if you still want a set. Think one set left until next batch now
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote hassyfoto Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/13/2017 at 8:48pm
Nice car story and photos
Love the photo with you in the engine bay, seems to me I have been there once or twice (dozen) times!
Looks like a nice solid car. 
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SeanHatfield View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SeanHatfield Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/14/2017 at 6:25am
Ronny, I might hold off on those side louvers for a little while yet. They do look really nice though and I appreciate all of the time and effort you've gone through to make them. They look really nice! Maybe once I start getting into the body work, I'll pick up a set.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote blumontag Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/14/2017 at 9:47am
Great looking car...good luck!
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DrRambler69 View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote DrRambler69 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/14/2017 at 11:00am
Awesome car, man! Keep us updated!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kirkwood Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/14/2017 at 11:31am
Looking great Sean! Looking forward to seeing the improvements this summer!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mr. Ed Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: Mar/15/2017 at 10:09am
Looking good Sean!

Later!
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