RESTORATION SHOP PROJECT – SPRING 2008
The 1950 Martin Stationette
(click here for a full description)
The work of restoring a car such as this is a process that requires countless hours of research and documentation prior to turning the first wrench. The Martin Stationette was no different. In the following photos, you may see a chronological progression of the car, from shortly after its arrival, thru the dismantling, and then the rebuilding process.
Although it may appear that the photos are out of order, that is the nature of reconstructing a car such as this – everything must go together in the same order it was removed, but in order to fashion new parts, or check the fit of old parts, one must practically reassemble the entire car, then remove it all over again. Repeat as necessary.
Our restorers, Greg, John, and Michael, have all contributed enormous numbers of man-hours to the restoration of the Martin Stationette.Greg’s role was as lead restorer, and also handled powertrain, interior, and some of the structural metal work. John’s contribution was mainly in the wooden structure, much of it unseen in the completed vehicle. Michael came late to the party, but was instrumental in fabricating many of the metal components and sub-structures, and also was responsible for much of the paintwork.
from L-R, Michael, John, Greg
1. The Stationette was pretty rough when the Museum acquired it in July, 2005. What were your thoughts when you first saw it?
G) Burn it down! I hate to say it, but that was really my first reaction.
J) When I first saw the Stationette it was already partially disassembled in the restoration shop at Lane Motor Museum. It was a complete mess! I couldn’t distinguish what kind of wood it was, unless it was greasewood, or rusty-dirtwood. Seriously, it looked like a challenge and I was in the mood for one, although I didn’t expect the challenge to be quite so large.
M) I only saw the pics and the remains of the floorboards. It looked like a cabinet that had been sitting in the rain for 50 years. Which it basically did. A wonder that it kept together at all and John could use the remains as templates to make new parts.
This used to be the roof
2. The car has obviously been taken completely apart. Did you find any surprises – mouse nests, gold coins, old cans of termite spray?
G) The car itself was weird enough, a real collage of pieces and parts from many different sources. One of the strangest things was the presence of safety glass used as the side windows – this was not a flat sheet, but formed safety glass. Nobody did that, or if they did, we haven’t found out who. Martin must have had a source (aviation related?) that could produce it cheaply; today’s cost to reproduce it would be upwards of $100,000 just to fabricate the molds and make a production run of two whole pieces!
J) Unfortunately no gold coins, but there was what looked like a mouse family’s winter food store. The biggest surprise was how some parts of the car could be in such terrible shape while some parts were relatively unharmed.
A warm winter home for… something!
M) I was not around when it was disassembled.
3. When you started “your piece” of the restoration, did you think it would take this long? Was the car in better or worse shape than you initially thought?
G) Most of the mechanical bits were in far better condition than outward appearances led us to believe. For instance, we were told that the engine was seized. The problem turned out to be a simple rusty distributor shaft. We pulled the distributor out, and the engine turned over easily! It obviously had not endured the reported 100,000 miles previously believed, but it was clear that it had seen some use. Internally, the engine was near new, so that was one clue. However, the front wheel tubs showed signs of repeated failure, repair, reinforcement, failure, repair, etc. I believe it is possible that multiple and inherent design failures like this may have led to the Stationette being taken off the road and “put up” for many years. This is borne out by the condition it was in when we received it.
The transmission was almost new inside
J) I expected it to take a year, maybe a little more, but it’s taken at least twice as long as I figured. While the underlying frame required a complete rebuild, the hard maple rails and stiles were in surprisingly good shape. Much of the damage was in the joints and places where water could get in but couldn’t get back out. All of the plywood was done for and I expected that, but some of the solid wood fell apart during disassembly and what looked okay to begin with turned out to be floor sweepings.
M) The “spot-on-time-straight-forward” job is rare when you restore unique vehicles. The Stationette is no exception. The wheelwells took longer ‘cause we improved the design, and their fitting had to be perfect. And along the way you always find more things that need attention.
Test fitting the new wheel tubs
4. Are there many pictures, drawings, or documents that helped with your research?
G) We had a few fuzzy photos, and fortunately a set of blueprints! (see John’s comments below about that) One of the best resources we have is an article in Special-Interest Autos, March-April 1974. An overview of the history of Martin Automobiles gave some insight into the man and his creations. A few paragraphs and pictures on the Stationette didn’t hurt, either!
The Stationette in the 1950s
J) There are a few pictures and some blueprints that I used to rebuild the frame, but the most valuable resources have been the pictures we took during disassembly and the car itself. The early photographs were taken of the finished car, not the construction. Also, the Stationette wasn’t exactly built to plan and paying too much attention to the blueprints nearly proved to be a mistake.
M) Pics of the Stationette are really rare and don’t show much details. We discussed days over the hubcap design, because the pics we have are quite blurry. This is a fifty-plus years old one-off car, so your local Napa store doesn’t help much.
5. Restoring a one-of-a-kind car is always a challenge. In the case of the Stationette, even identifying the wood species and matching it up to currently available materials created quite a problem. What was your biggest headache to create, find, or restore? Did anything surprise you by being easy to source?
G) Well, the gas tank and passenger seat were both missing, but otherwise, the car was amazingly complete. Since only the “ghosts” (discolorations in the wood, holes where mounts used to be, etc.) remained of them, we can only make educated guesses as to the appearance of the seat and fuel tank, but we believe we are very close. Fortunately, we had the driver’s seat, and we can use it as a pattern, adapting it to the size and shape of the passenger area.
Every hole here has a purpose
The chrome, especially the massive front and rear bumpers, was created in an unusual fashion. Most cars would have used flat steel, hammered or rolled into shape, smoothed and then plated. The Stationette, on the other hand, used many small flat sections, crudely shaped, and brazed together. These lumpy creations were then chromed and hung fore and aft. Upon arrival at the museum, the bumpers were painted brown – perhaps to conceal how truly crude they were. Later, after seeing the photographs, it is clear they were chrome, so to the chrome plater they go!
Surprisingly, the Hercules engine was in remarkably good shape, and an antique marine engine supplier was able to supply everything we needed to get it running again.
Engine is back in
Other expected hard-to-find items were the nickel-plated lead tack strips used on the roof. A few calls to automotive restoration suppliers and we had what we needed – apparently still in use today – albeit at a price: about $10 a foot! And even though we have enough, any mistakes learning how to apply them will be costly in terms of both time and money.
My biggest headache, though? No question, the hubcaps. There is no mention of them in the blueprints. The photographs are just not clear enough to be certain what was used. And, of course, they were both missing! (the rear wheel is wire-spoked) I think I know what was used, but again, without having some hubcap manufacturer retool for a run of two hubcaps, we’ll have to improvise. (it’s not like there’s a big market on eBay for Stationette hubcaps!)
J) Modern plywood isn’t as thick as the old stuff so replacing it presented some difficulty. Also, it wasn’t until we removed some of the finish from the maple that we realized it was, in fact, maple.
We first thought it was mahogany and we were a little concerned about the sourcing for it, but in the end it turned out to be no big deal. I’m currently working on two pieces of white oak that are compound-curved and about six feet long. Just gluing up the blanks is a headache.
Woodworker’s clamps on an auto body?
M) The fuel cell was tough, ‘cause it was missing. I could find some imprints of it on the old floorboards, but it was a rather crude bucket. So I redesigned it and tried to blend it in more with the looks of the whole car. I used the same material as the wheelwells, aluminum, and fitted it lower into the frame. This gives more access to the engine and increased the fuel capacity. Still, it looks period correct.
6. How many different trades, suppliers, and specialists have you had to enlist in the restoration? (include those that were approached but not used)
G) Easily dozens. For every successful contact, there are probably a half-dozen or more that didn’t pan out.
Soon to be a wiring harness
The car used bits and pieces from several different manufacturers, even motorcycles, and in the case of the suspension, aircraft bits.
The front suspension, awaiting the bungee cords
For instance – did someone select the Harley-Davidson transmission, or was it just laying in a corner and someone said “Hey, that’ll fit!”?
The front and rear glass is Studebaker, but the seals are Chevrolet. The dashboard instruments? Stewart-Warner, but not automotive. No, that would be too easy. They are marine gauges. The whole car is like that.
J) I’d say about ten or fifteen so far, but I’ve used a few new ones this week alone.
M) (see above)
7. You’ve had the opportunity to examine and work on other Martin automobiles at Lane Motor Museum, all one-of-a-kinds. With over 20 years between the Martin Aerodynamic (1928) and the Stationette (1950), what do you think of Martin’s progress in the automotive design field?
G) Martin was obviously a “forward thinker”. Perhaps his exposure to odd European cars during The Great War had given him a unique perspective on automotive design. The Aerodynamic of 1928 explored the use of exotic materials, aerodynamics, and unusual engineering decisions, such as the water-cooled, rear-engined pusher design. The Stationette, on the other hand, seems a step backwards, or at least sideways. After 20 years, one might expect to see great advances, but it appears, at least to me, that the car was rushed to completion, major inherent flaws were recognized, and the car was taken off the streets. It was, however, an unusual step for a manufacturer in this country, given the products of the major players of the time – bigger, faster, heavier was the recipe for a successful car in 1950’s America.
J) I admire the vision it takes to put a design into reality, but Mr. Martin seemed oblivious to the progress the field was making around him. His final car being built of wood is a perfect example. That being said, he was ahead of his time in attempting to increase fuel economy and reduce weight as well as using renewable resources.
M) Hmm, the Aerodynamic had a lot of forward thinking, like the aerodinamics and the front radiator for the rear engine. The Stationette has a lot of… detail problems. But then again it sports a transverse mounted midship engine. It took Ferrari (and all other car manufacturers) much longer to build cars with that layout. Even the Formula 1 cars of the early fifties still had front engines.
More test fitting of components
8. The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is usually the first major show each Spring. This year it’s in early March. What do you think – “Plenty of time to be finished.”, or “We’ll be working on it in the trailer!”?
G) Ha! Not a chance – we’ll be working on it in the trailer!
Greg really gets into his work!
J) I’m an optimist, but we’ve got some work left to do and it’s gonna be tight. It’s also gonna be a lot of fun…on the trailer, perhaps?
M) The latter, that’s the nature of the beast. Of course you always try to finish earlier, but I’ve never seen that happen. So burning the midnight oil is business as usual!
No time for standing around!
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DOWNLOAD THESE RESTORATION PROJECTS AS PDF FILES:
Restoration of the 1950 Martin Stationette
Restoration of the 1946 Hewson Rocket
restoration of the 1934 McQuay-Norris Streamliner
Restoration of the 1932 Helicron (France)