Body Work Begins!

Hard to calculate the time for body work, however I'd estimate that about 100 hours of work went into the door skinning and patching the sills etc. This was done over June July and Aug 2002.

The rear fenders were rippled pretty badly, I have no idea how the fenders got this way, but it was clear that a previous repairer had done quite a bit of hammering on these before covering the entire mess with bondo. I'll be leading these later in the body work process.
Mig welding is the way to go for this kind of project. I chose the lincoln SP-135 Plus. It would have been impossible to do most of this work without it. It has variable tap power so it can be adjusted to the voltage level avoiding burn through. I find that for 20 gauge steel just below D and 5-6 on the wire speed is the perfect setting. For thicker sheet metal like roof rails etc. I use the E setting and 7 on wire speed. I've done 1/8" thick work before with it set to G or H. I use it with argon shield gas, and .023" wire. Interesting to note. The argon goes pretty quickly I use about three 150 pound tanks for every 3 pound spool of wire at 20-25 cfm.

Before sandblasting the damaged areas in the sills were cut out, giving access to the inner sills. The blaster removed all of the rust and old paint and I repainted these areas with POR 15 and then waxed over the paint before welding in patches. Previous repairers drilled and pulled dents out in these areas, stretching the metal beyond practical repair. It was nice having the sills open so a complete inspection could be made of the inner sills and any rusted areas discovered. Fortunately there was almost no rust on the inside of the sills.

The patches for the Sills will be cut out of 20 gauge steel and rolled into shape by hand. I cut a cardboard pattern for each hole, then scribed the outline on to the sheet metal stock. To get the right shape I used the sill as a template. Just lay the metal down on the sill and bend the curve until it matches. I annealed the sheet metal first so it would bend by hand with little hammering. To anneal, just use a torch to heat the steel up to around 1000 degrees. It takes a little practice, but you can tell when the steel is right as it bends freely without spring back.

I used standard tin snips for most work, I have an air nibbler and electric cutting wheel, but find them harder than the snips. I usually cut the panel a few mil larger than I need and then grind it into perfect shape with an angle grinder. The goal is to get the panel to fit with 1 millimeter gap. This is easily filled when welding in the panel. Larger gaps can also be filled with the mig welder, but these make weaker welds and require more grinding. Its not an exact science but the better the fit the better the weld, and the better the final finish, meaning less lead or plastic filler to cover the seams.

Here is a panel freshly welded in. When welding sheet metal, always stitch weld. Weld small areas less than an inch in any one area at a time. Let the metal in one area cool while doing another part of the weld. I usually start by tack welding in the panel, then put more tack welds are two or three inches apart, then go around and fill each gap a little at a time. If you overhead the panel it will warp, especially on the body side, this makes more work filing and filling and overall a worse job. Use the discoloring as a heat guide. try to keep the discoloring as localized and small as possible. Turn the heat down on the mig welder to C if needed, especially if the surrounding metal is thin from grinding.
After the weld is done, wire wheel the area to clean the welds and to see how solid they are, often you'll find pin holes in the welds which need to be filled. after you fill the obvious holes grind down the welds and inspect again. Try not to grind the surrounding metal as it will become thin. I tend to use 36 grit flap disk on a four inch angle grinder for this. after I've got the grinds down to about the level you see on the left, I use a 60 grit wheel to finish up. Avoid burning the metal, or thinning out the panels. Often after you grind down the welds you find more areas which need to be touched up with the welder. make one or two more passes through this to get it looking good.
Here is the patch after several welding and grinding passes, ready for lead work. Its hard to avoid some dishing of the area around the weld, so plastic or lead filler is used to bring up the low spots, Use a pick hammer to bring down any high spots. I'd estimate tat this patch took about four hours to get to this point. Slow work but very enjoyable.
Here is the same patch after lead work. I usually save up all the lead work until I'm sure that I'm done welding. Lead melts at around 400F so welds anywhere near it will ruin any lead that's been put down. Its hard to get lead perfect, so use a high build primer or plastic filler to get the minor imperfections out.
Flash rust is a real problem on bare steel, even in a dry climate like California. I found that after a month or two,I started spending more of my type trying to keep rust from starting than working on the car. I decided to prep and paint areas of the car which were ready along the way. After knocking out all the dents and sanding down the metal in any given area I cut any remaining seam sealer out, and thinned down POR 15 seeping it between all the panels. POR 15 bonds with rust and will prevent any rust which is in between the panels from spreading.

After the POR15 I sprayed the area with PPG DP40, an epoxy primer, and applied fresh 3M seam sealer (not shown). The metal prepping process before paint starts with a good cleaning with a scotchbrite wheel on an angle grinder, then is followed by cleaning with a Oil, grease and wax remover. This product is basically naptha, with a couple other additives. After the oil and wax remover, its time for a complete wipe down of with metal prep. Metal prep is a weak acid that opens up the pours of the steel, and gets any remaining non oil, or wax type dirt off the steel. It is water based and is available at any Automotive paint store in concentrated form. usually it is mixed 3:1 with water. I put it in a spray bottle and mist the area, let it stand on the metal for 2-3 minutes, and wipe off with a clean rag. Make sure you wear rubber gloves and eye protection when using all of these products, they are really hard on your hands.

Here is the finished repair to the inner sill. I ended up getting all but about 1/8" of the dip out of this area. Started with over 1/4" dip. Then it was leaded to fill the remaining space. Looks like new, ready for paint. Notice the inside of the body is painted and I used small amounts of glazing puddy to get out minor low spots. I don't recommend it for any major low spots as it takes forever to dry and shrinks as it dries In these cases it was used to fill dips that were no more than 1 Millimeter deep. I let the puddy dry for at least a month before sanding. I'll use plastic filler or lead to surface any other dents which are to hard to ding out.
The bottom of the car and firewall are now ready for priming. clean, prepped and dry. I used a small amount of tape to mask off the areas where I didn't want paint. I use a touch up paint gun which is easy to control over spray isn't a big problem. In this round of painting I did the firewall, inside of the car and exterior floor. It consumed about a quart of paint.
Here is the bottom after paint and with a little filler. Having this part of the car primed stops the flash rust cold and lets me focus on the upper body work. Unlike the high end professional shops my garage isn't climate controlled so as the season turns from summer to fall, risk of rust increases.
Another shot of the same, some minor dents in the floor rails were hard to get out, but I'm expecting that after a high build primer it will not be noticeable.
This shot of the inside of the car is just before painting. I did the same seeping of POR 15 into all the joints, shouldn't ever rust again if this stuff is as good as they say.
Another shot of the inside of the body after prime. A few dots of primer on the main cross member. The lack of major rust on this car helps make up for the substantial body damage I painted all of the inner boxes as well in the dash with a combo of POR15 and Epoxy primer, then shot a coat of body wax on top.
Primed the rear suspension frame at the same time, it will later get a coat or two of gloss black epoxy, for now it goes into storage.
Had to include this shot of the passenger side cowl. This had a large hole cut in it presumably to allow access to the transmission bolts. I cut out the mangled area and welded in a patch, then ground it down. Without use of any filler I was able to paint it. Can't even see its there unless you really strain.
Door shells are now ready for re skinning. I will sand off the paint in the weld areas and put a weld through primer on first. Then install new skins.
The new shells from Martin Robey were about $60 each. I ordered a batch of sheet metal, including new cowl, sill ends, door skins and floor pans, All of which was around $400. Condition of the parts was good, and service was prompt and professional.
The first order was to test fit the skin on the shell to see how everything lines up. I sanded the paint off of the inside of the door where the welds would be, and dressed the shell to get out all of the high and low spots which later could cause problems. This process took about 2 hours and ten or fifteen trial fits. Vice Grips are a must when doing fitting like this. I have several pairs of large welders Vice Grips which were large enough to reach around the shell and lock the entire skin in place on the frame.

I removed the drip tray from each door and bead blasted it. These are riveted and brazed on so a torch is required to remove them. After I cleaned up the parts I refit each and painted the hidden areas with POR 15. I mig welded the parts back in place vs brazing, unless you are really good with a torch, stay away from thin sheet metal. I use a dremil tool to dress the welds in tight spots like this.

After everything perfectly fitted, Spot weld the inner braces to the skin. I use my mig welder and drill holes in any place which needs a simulated spot weld. I've considered a spot welder, but so far haven't really needed one. I get pretty good results with the mig welder, not quite factory in appearance, but pretty close, and so far all the welds are hidden.
Here the skins are starting to fold over. This is a touchy process, and really requires a door skinning hammer. Door skinning hammers have a hooked head which is wide and crowned so it gives just the right type blow to fold over the metal. After each side is folded over I flatten out the edge with the same hammer and a dolly, and then drill every inch and weld the skin on the frame.
The compound curves on this skin require a few extra cuts along the edge to avoid problems. Tin snips work well for these, but as usual some trial and error is required.
One part of the process I didn't take any pictures of was the making of drip covers on the bottom of the door, there are two on each door, I used the old parts as patterns and cut and shaped new ones from light gauge sheet metal scrap. The doors are still in rough shape but are ready for trial fitting on the car, For now I'll leave them this way, but later will be trimming them down and cleaning up low spots as the door area is leaded in. First I need to put the cowl on.
Not quite there yet but nothing a couple dozen more hours of labor won't fix. So far I have about 8 hours in each door and who knows how many hours in the rest. at least a hundred hours in body work I'd guess. Next the cowl goes on, the roof gets cut out and the floor pans are installed.
More Body Work!

Author: Bill McKenna