In Part 7 of our series of Power Wheels Magazine Project Car stories, the green light was given for our 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST project car to undergo a full restoration. It was disassembled to the last nut and bolt by the technicians at JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works in Marulas, Valenzuela City, who found more corroded parts hidden under the bodywork as they removed each panel. All the rusted parts were cut out, and new parts were fabricated from fresh steel. The restoration of the Celeste was commissioned by Aldous Rex Alingog as a birthday gift for his father, ROPALI Chairman Roberto “Bob” P. Alingog, but as the work progressed, we were beginning to doubt that we can finish the car on or before May 12, 2019.
By end of April 2019, the JSK body shop technicians were still working on the Celeste, removing the rusted parts off the shell, and then replacing them with new parts that they fabricated in-house. We reported to Aldous that our time table was moved back by several months because of all the work needed to remove and replace the rusted parts, as well as beating the rough sections of the body panels of the donor car that we got to replace the badly-rotted body of Bob’s ’76 Celeste. Aldous conceded that we should ensure the integrity of the car body and the safe operation of the Celeste before he presents it to his father. He decided to move the presentation of the restored Celeste to his father to a much later date.
Getting It Straight
By the middle of June 2019, all the fabrication and metal work was done, except for the hood. Since we can’t find a nice, original hood for the Celeste, the artisans at the JSK body shop separated the rusty and pockmarked metal skin of the donor car’s hood from its frame and fabricated a new hood skin using the old metal as a template. While the shell, doors and most of the panels were covered in yellow primer, the body shop technicians temporary installed the doors, fenders, bumpers, headlights, grill and taillamps to check their alignment and fit.
The fabrication of the new hood was done in early July 2019 and it was test-fitted along with the other components of the Celeste for another series of trial fittings and alignments. The front frame repairs were finished and smoothened after a suitable power steering pump was located. Meanwhile, the rough body panels were beaten and massaged repeatedly until it was as smooth as the body shop guys can possibly make them. Because they often enter their customer’s cars in competitions and car shows, JSK artisans use very minimal body filler as needed to get the panels straight. Johnson Tan, the proprietor of JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works, treats all of his shop’s restoration projects like they will be entered into a competition or show, and the Celeste is no exception.
Base Coat and More Alignment
After the JSK body shop guys were done with the Celeste by August 2019, the car was moved to the shop’s paint section for the application of its base coat. The light colored base coat is sprayed on the car for a couple of purposes: First, it serves as the bond between the metal, primer and top coat. Second, it helps the technicians see the alignment of the panels and the character lines more clearly, especially when they spray a thin coat of black “guide paint”, which will be sanded down to show the lines.
However, when the rear hatch was test fitted, the JSK technicians saw that the panel gaps between the hatch and the rear quarter panels were not consistent. When the top half was aligned perfectly, the panel gaps at the trailing edges near the bottom of the hatch was quite wide. When the hatch was adjusted to make the panel gaps equal, the latch on the rear panel won’t align with the striker of the hatch lock. The technicians opined that the rear panel had been repaired before, probably because of a big dent from a rear end collision. It had to be beaten, massaged and painted again to get the alignment right.
Let’s Paint the Town Red!
While the Celeste was getting its base coat, Aldous called us about how he wanted its final paint finish. At the start, he wanted the Celeste painted in its original factory finish of Bone Red. He wanted the car to look exactly as how his dad, Bob, bought it in 1976. But after seeing the 1965 Ford Mustang show car that JSK entered in the 2018 Manila International Auto Show and 2018 Trans Sport Show, Aldous wanted the Celeste painted in the same metallic pearl red.
When we told Aldous that the same show car custom paint job, which JSK is famous for, will take a lot of prep work and a longer time to finish, he was initially unperturbed. We informed him that there are additional steps involved in achieving the same finish, like the spraying the first coat of black base coat, then the base red coat, then the cherry red metallic coat, then the pearl coat, and several layers of clear coat afterwards. We also informed him how difficult it is to match the paint in case of scratches or dent repairs. However, when Aldous learned that the paint alone will cost a whole lot more on top of the restoration and parts we still need for the Celeste, he wisely went with a finish that’s close to the original factory red, albeit with several layers of glossy clear coat.
Fresh From The (Paint) Oven
The final paint coat of the Celeste took a little while before it was sprayed. The JSK paint shop had to wait for the body shop to finalize the adjustment of the rear panels and the hatch to align the panel gaps. Also, the paint shop avoid spraying final finishes and clear coats during rainy days, and the months of August and September 2019 proved to be quite rainy. But, despite their busy schedule organizing the 9th JSK Auto Fun Run, which was held at the Fontana Resort and Casino inside the former Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga on November 7, 2019, Johnson Tan and his team were able to finally have the Celeste painted in its final coat of high-gloss red.
Afterwards, they started reassembling the Celeste and attaching its front and rear suspension, brakes, front windshield, engine, 3-speed automatic transmission, driveshaft, front grille and headlights, rear tail lights, doors and related mechanisms. When we visited the shop in January 2020, it looked like a Celeste again instead of a shell, but it was far from finished. It was temporarily fitted with four under-spec tires mounted on different rims. The paint was going to be cut and wet sanded for additional sheen, shine and gloss.
The Car Is The Star
Before the polishing of the paint was started, we took a closer look at the engine compartment and took note of the work that was done to make the hydraulic pump of the power steering and its attendant brackets, pulleys and belts look like it was installed at the factory. We were reminded of the green 1982 Lancer SL that gave up its owner-installed power steering system as well as its 3-speed automatic transmission for this project and hoped that the box-type Lancer could be a future Power Wheels Magazine Project Car.
However, after seeing how far we’ve gone into the restoration of the Celeste, we also looked at how far we’ve exceeded the timeline that we were given to finish this project. It took us a year and a half, from July 2018 to January 2020, to get to this point and we still have a long way to go before we can finish the car. Johnson advised us that after the car is fully assembled and thoroughly road-tested, it will get FREE detailing by a team from Meguiare’s car care products, courtesy of JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works, before we deliver it to Aldous and his dad, Bob.
Tune in next time as the mechanics at JSK Custome Paint and Auto Works continue to work on Bob Alingog’s 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST. In the mean time, we created a YouTube channel, Power Wheels TV-Cruise Control, where we will feature this Celeste among other new vehicles and classic cars in short videos, where the car is the star! You can watch it here: