Rusty Beauties

by Elin Yakov

My love for Triumphs started late in my life, in my early 40s. I grew up in Bulgaria where in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the influence of USSR made it almost impossible to get a car from “the West,” hence there weren’t any British cars around, only Russian, Czechoslovakian, and Polish.

I don’t have mechanical training, but I fixed my bicycles as a kid and later my own cars whenever they needed repair. I figured out how things worked as I took them apart. I did my work in a parking spot in front of the building I lived in. And once I tried to rebuild the engine of my 1976 Renault 5 in the basement. The motor ran great for almost 30 minutes, and then it seized forever. Only then would I realize that taking two old engines apart and using the best parts from the two, without measuring any tolerances, is not the way to go. Another time I rebuilt a transmission. It ran great, too, until it didn’t anymore. I towed my car home, and when I opened the apartment door, I found the two liters of oil I forgot to put in. That’s how a 20-year-old learns life lessons I suppose. After that I did engine swaps, suspension rebuilds and many other maintenance jobs with more success.

So that was my level of mechanical experience when I moved to Canada with my family and started a new job at a limousine builder as an upholsterer. Wedged in a corner behind the limos and party busses there sat this little yellow car. I fell in love with it at first sight. It was my boss’ 1964 TR4. He had it restored by the people in the shop over the span of 10 years, but there were things that still needed to be done. One day when I wasn’t busy my boss gave me his to-do list for the TR4 and asked me to work on the ones I could, like installing carpet and maybe the dash support. The rest of the jobs were electrical and brake work, and he was not expecting me to do them.

I started looking for a TR4, but the first Triumph I found was a 1966 Spitfire, so I got it and brought it into the shop.

Well, I did everything. I was so happy to work on a classic car that I got carried away and, after researching forums and manuals at home after hours, I fixed all the remaining jobs, including installing the windshield wiper spindles, motor and rod, which for some reason were left out and, with the dash fully assembled, that task seemed impossible. But I did it and the wipers worked. Seeing my excitement with the car, my boss suggested that I take it home for a few nights, just to make sure everything else was working well on it. That was the icing on the cake. Once I sat behind the wheel and pulled on the road, I felt like I was the center of the universe. Everybody was smiling at me, giving me thumbs up and even rolling down their windows at traffic lights and asking what year the car was and whether I restored it myself. It was then that I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to restore classic cars, and since my first experience was with a Triumph, I fell in love with them.

The Toronto Triumph Club holds a British Car Day every year in Bronte Park. It was a few weeks away, and I asked my boss if he knew about it and whether he was going to attend with his TR4. He said he wasn’t interested, but he was okay with me taking the car to the show if I wanted to. He saw it as an opportunity for him to attract customers for upholstery work. We even made a sign for the windshield advertising our services. When I attended the show I was surprised how many of these little sports cars were still on the road. There were over a thousand of them there, most in showroom condition. I had a great time at the show and as soon as I came back to the shop, I told my boss I would restore a British car myself one day when I had my own garage.

A few days later my boss called me and told me he was really happy with my work and I deserved a raise, but he couldn’t afford it, so maybe as compensation he could do something else for me. He would let me use the shop after hours and on weekends if I chose to bring a project in. I knew his offer had a catch, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was that my dream was becoming a reality. Never before did I have a place to work on a project, nor did I have the experience, but I was sure I could learn.

Keith, a subscriber to my channel, donated his GT6 to me, confident that I would finish what he started 30 years ago.

I started looking for a… TR4, of course. I knew I could only afford a step above a “parts car,” and that’s what I looked for. However, the first Triumph I found was a 1966 Spitfire and, since patience is not my virtue, I got it and brought it to the shop. That same night I stayed up till midnight cleaning it (even though it was a rust bucket), taking pictures and videos of it, and just sitting in it and looking at the gauges and the interior, making plans of how I would restore everything.

The car was a mess. It was restored 20 years earlier, but never driven and just sitting in a barn. Worse, the restoration was not done professionally. There were patches over rust holes and tons of body filler. But that didn’t discourage me—just the opposite—it made me more eager to get my hands on it. Since I didn’t know anything about this car, Google and YouTube became my best friends. I was surprised by how much information there was online. By watching YouTube or reading blogs of other people restoring British cars, I felt I knew what to expect before I even started the project. I dove right in and began welding, grinding, painting, and even rebuilding the engine. I never hesitated to take apart anything no matter how complicated it looked. When the car was taken apart to the last bolt and nut, I knew what I had and what I needed. I made a big order to Moss Motors, and when the parts arrived, it was better than Christmas. Holding my new alloy valve cover, stainless exhaust system, shiny chrome mirrors… I couldn’t believe I was ready to assemble my Rusty Beauty. I did almost all the work myself. The only help I got was from a colleague, who finished the bodywork (which I started) and painted the car. The restoration took 11 months, and I was able to present the car on the next British Car Day, which was my goal.

As I was researching YouTube, before I even got the Spitfire, I got the idea of starting my own YouTube channel, “Elin Yakov’s Rusty Beauties,” where I could post videos about my progress. I didn’t know what would happen, but I wanted to try. So that’s how it started. I was working on the car almost every night after hours, filming the process and then going home and editing, sometimes till 1 or 2am. Surprisingly, people started subscribing and following along with the progress of my restoration. The commenters were all really nice, and that inspired me to keep doing what I was doing.

I often say that my videos are not “How to do it,” but “how I do it” videos. My way might not be the only way, the best way, or many times even the right way, but it is my way. I was expecting to have many negative comments, as I kept making mistakes here and there, but with the help and the constructive criticism from my viewers, I fixed my mistakes and learned from their feedback.

As I was getting to the end of the restoration, I started thinking about what was going to happen to the channel when I finish my project. So, I got another project. A 1968 Spitfire, which by the way is still waiting its turn in line to get worked on. It’s been only five years since I bought it…

One day I received an email from a subscriber named Keith who took apart a 1972 GT6 30 years ago. He started restoring it, but never finished. The car was taking space in his garage. Keith said, “After watching your videos, I realized that I will never be able to finish my project, so why don’t you come and pick it up? If I want this car to be together again, there is only one way: donate it to Elin.” That was an offer I couldn’t resist. I drove down to New Jersey with my friend. Keith not only donated the car, but he also gave me many new parts. We met his wife and son and spent a great evening having dinner together before we headed back up to Canada. As we were leaving, Keith’s son reminded me how time flies.

He said, “I’ve never seen this garage without that car inside!” He was 28 years old. When you put a grown-up person next to that timeframe, it hits you like a rock.

I brought the car home and planned to put it to the side until other projects were finished. Well, I just couldn’t wait. I got carried away and was soon deep into the restoration. My second Spitfire never made it out of its storage, as the GT6 took priority over it.

In the following year I made huge progress with the GT6. I did all the metalwork, which was a lot, and primed the body in epoxy. I rebuilt the suspension and assembled the rolling chassis (without the engine), but then life got in the way and the project stalled. That was at the end of 2018. Ever since, I keep telling myself I need to get back to it, but I never find time. I am eager to keep the promise I made to myself to finish the GT6 so I can drive it down to New Jersey and spend some days with Keith and his family again.

And how will I make that promise a reality? I got my own garage! I am finally able to bring all my cars home and work on them whenever I want to without being told I was using someone’s shop “for free.” Also, more and more people have heard that I was now servicing Triumphs at home, and I was busier than ever. My boss didn’t like that, and our little arguments started turning into big arguments, so one day I said, “enough is enough” and I quit. Now I am working full time in my garage. I rebuild engines, transmissions, do brake jobs, install soft tops, and I even have a few requests for complete restorations. I am quite busy, and I am happier than ever as I can do what I love for a living. And since I am filming most of the work, my “Rusty Beauties” YouTube channel has grown more and more, too.

All these years that I’ve been filming my projects has been worth it. Lots of people commented or emailed me saying that my videos inspired them to get back to their forgotten project in the garage or even made them go out and buy a rusty beauty of their own. Those are the messages that make me happy and have encouraged me to make more videos. Along with my YouTube channel, which now has almost 20,000 subscribers, I created the website and recently started a Facebook group called Rusty Beauties. The “Rusty Beauties community” is a great place to be, and I am happy there are so many people who’ve joined me.

Unfortunately, my own 1968 Spitfire and 1972 GT6 are still sitting and I cannot find time for them, but I made a promise to myself that I will start working on customers cars during the day and on my GT6 after hours and on weekends, just like in the old times. Let’s make it happen. MM

Elin posts the most interesting moments of the restoration process on his Youtube channel. There you may find separate playlists for each project.

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