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1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST Part 7: Too Close To Call

In Part 6 of our Power Wheels Magazine Project Car series, the technicians at JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works have stripped the donor car of our 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST project car to bare metal. After its restoration, the Celeste was supposed to be a birthday gift from our good friend, Aldous Rex Alingog, to his father, Roberto “Bob” P. Alingog, who has owned the car since he bought it brand-new in 1976. Our original target date to complete the restoration was before the Bob’s birthday on May 12, 2019 but after we found that the forward part of the Celeste’s frame was weakened by rust, Aldous ordered us to strip the paint off and scrape the panels to bare metal to see what other rust problems were hiding underneath.

Unfortunately, we found a lot of rust holes and shoddy repairs that were hidden by the donor Celeste’s glossy red paint. The hood was like Swiss cheese, the fenders had been patched up in square portions, the rear quarter panels were rough, and the edge of the roof over the driver’s side had been penetrated by rust. All of these problems were covered with a thick layer of body filler and finished with a glossy sheen of Resale Red. When we reported our findings to Aldous, he became quite disappointed with the entire project and worried with the idea that we might not finish the car in time for his dad’s birthday.

Reassessing the Situation

Aldous decided to pause for a while to reassess the situation. He decided to acquire a donor car because he found that their old ’76 Celeste family car was left exposed to the elements and had rusted extensively that the chassis had become too weak. Because he was told that we found a nice, rust-free ’78 Celeste donor car (which we thought we did), Aldous already had their old ’76 Celeste dismantled, the rusted shell scrapped, and the few good parts harvested and shipped to the JSK workshop to be used if needed by the donor car. He was beginning to question his decision.

Aldous already had their beat-up and rusted old ’76 Celeste dismantled, the rusty shell chopped and scrapped…

… and whatever useful parts were sent to the JSK garage for use in the restoration project.

Initially, Aldous wanted to save his father’s rusted old Celeste and we told him that it was possible because we’ve seen other project cars that were in worse condition than theirs. We cited the case of the 1940 Cadillac Series 62 used by former President Manuel Roxas, which is on display at the Museo Ng Pampangulong Sasakyan (Museum of Presidential Vehicles). The Cadillac, which was incorrectly labeled by the museum as a “1947 Fleetwood Series 75“, was a basket case of rusted parts when it was received by the restoration shop. It took a lot of time, money and effort to turn the rusted heap into the regal presidential limousine that’s on display at the museum. But, because of time constraints, Aldous decided on getting a donor car instead because he really wanted the Celeste done on his dad’s birthday.

A local restoration shop took the rusted and twisted remains of former Philippine President Manuel Roxas’ 1940 Cadillac Series 62…

… and returned the car to its former glory, worthy of a spot in the Museo Ng Pampangulong Sasakyan.

There’s No Turning Back Now

American TV evangelist Robert Schuller was quoted as saying that “problems are guidelines, not stop signs”. Aldous must have been guided by these wise words because when he returned from his business trips, he instructed us to disassemble the Celeste and subject it to a full restoration instead of just a paint job. He was gambling that the car won’t be finished before his father’s birthday but he’d rather give his dad a fully restored, shiny red 1976 Celeste than a mediocre one. He’d rather solve the problems with Celeste now than have the problems crop up later when his dad is enjoying a drive with the car.

By March 2019, the Celeste was stripped of its entire drivetrain, suspension and brakes, most of the glass and the interior.

We were shown the rusted part of the left side of the frame that was welded with a thick temporary plate to mount the power steering box.

The bare metal was coated with yellow etching primer to keep surface rust out and to show the rough spots that the body guys will have to smoothen.

The metal of the right rear quarter panel needed to be massaged up to the roof.

As the JSK technicians began tearing through the ’78 Celeste donor car, it turned out that the only area that didn’t really need a lot of work was the floor, which the unscrupulous seller intentionally left uncovered so the buyer, which in this case was us, will be fooled into thinking that the car has minimal rust. We should have seen through the ruse, given our lengthy experience working on project cars that are more than 40 years old, but we guess that we were lulled into complacency by the time constraints of the project, the shiny red paint, and the seller’s good manners and pleasant demeanor. Lesson learned!

At least, the engine bay, right lower frame and strut towers were solid, compared to Bob’s rusty ’76 Celeste.

A huge chuck of the right bulkhead was removed and a replacement was fabricated from fresh metal to ensure its strength.

With the paint and thick filler gone, the right front door post that mounts the hinges was found to be rusted at the bottom and dangerously sheared from the lower rocker frame.

The Metal Whisperers

We returned a month later to find that some of the panels have already been grinded, beaten and massaged as close to their original shape as possible so only a skim amount of filler will be used to smoothen the body lines. Since JSK regularly participates in show car competitions, the artisans at the JSK garage have become adept at getting the shape right without using a lot of filler because they know that show car judges deduct points for these short cuts.

After the engine bay was stripped of paint and cleaned, it was sprayed with yellow primer to keep rust out.

The front frame and radiator support structure was solid and straight indicating that our donor car has never been involved in a front collision.

We wondered why the temporary bracket for the power steering box wasn’t fully integrated into the frame and we were told that the JSK mechanic was looking for a better, smaller steering box.

Because JSK has been winning awards at car shows and competitions, the number of customers’ cars going into the shop kept increasing. And like any other paint and body shop, JSK occasionally experiences temporary setbacks when employees get sick, resign, or just leave without notice. The situation gets compounded when there are a lot of cars in the shop and there are few workers. During times like these, technicians are rotated to several assignments until a suitable and competent worker is assigned to focus on a vehicle under repair or restoration in the shop. Johnson Tan, the proprietor of JSK, makes sure that technician working on a certain aspect of the Celeste’s restoration is always up to the job.

An experienced bodyman massaged the rough rear quarter panels thoroughly that only a skim layer of body filler will be needed. This is still metal WITHOUT filler.

The rear end of the car didn’t show any signs of previous collision repair but there were small areas that needed rust repair.

The panel beaters were working on this side and took a break when we took pictures. Such shy guys!

We’ll Never Make It

At one point, we were beginning to sound like Glum, the gloomy Liliputan in the 1968 cartoon series Gulliver’s Travels, who always says, “It’s hopeless. We’ll never make it“. It was nearing May 2019 and the Celeste was still in a gazillion pieces. We informed Aldous that we might not make it to our May 12 deadline and luckily, he understood what it takes to fully restore a car from the ground up since he also has other project vehicles that he’s working on. And unlike American muscle cars and European classic cars, there is no dedicated supplier of restoration parts for the Mitsubishi Celeste nor are there dedicated dismantlers where we can just simply order parts from. So, we had to make do with what we have, or we try to source or find the needed parts through the internet, old school car enthusiasts, forums, and one-make clubs.

The driver’s side door was repaired, massaged and painted with yellow primer…

… same with the door on the passenger’s side. Both doors were set aside and occasionally test fitted while the frame is being repaired.

Yup. This is the uncovered floor that fooled us to think the car was almost rust-free.

To save time, Aldous asked us to look for a nice original hood to replace the ’78 donor car’s hood that was filled with rust holes. We found one in a local special interest automobile website, got in touch with the seller, got the seller’s verbal assurance that the hood was all metal and original, and we verbally committed to purchase the hood if it is as advertised. We immediately drove from our base in Project 8, Quezon City to the seller’s address in Alabang, Muntinlupa, which is a two-and-a-half-hour North-to-South drive in heavy crawling Metro Manila traffic.

We drove southwards for two-and-a-half hours to look at this blue hood that was advertised to be all metal and all original.

In hindsight, we should have examined the picture more closely. Those rough spots aren’t supposed to be there!

We went through all that effort and crawled through traffic going to the seller (and afterwards, driving back home) only to find that the hood for sale is so full of Bondo that it’s like fiberglass. It’s also extraordinarily heavy that we’re afraid it will bend the hinges and dent the fender of any Celeste it gets mounted on. (An appeal to online sellers: Please be more honest with your ads! It doesn’t cost you a centavo to transact online but it costs your buyers time, money and effort to drive to your location! Please be more considerate!) After learning of our failed transaction, Johnson ordered his boys to fabricate a new hood skin from new metal using the old skin as a template.

The front fenders from Bob’s ’76 Celeste were in better condition than the one on our ’78 donor car. These fenders will ensure that some parts of Bob’s old car lives in the restored Celeste.

Will we ever get to finish Bob Alingog’s 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST without frustrating his son Aldous? Find out in the next chapter of this compelling Power Wheels Magazine Project Car series! Stay tuned!