When your fabrication and welding skills start to progress you’ll get to a point where not much scares you as far as repair goes. Whether it’s rust or just old body damage anything can be fixed with enough time and skills. Over the past few years I’ve started to get myself to that point where I often have to approach a rusty panel with the question “Is it worth my time to fix it?”. The answer can differ for many reasons. Is the panel easily available aftermarket or good used? How expensive are the panels? How soon do I need it versus how long it takes to get a replacement part? In between my 5 other projects I decided to start saving a rusty 1929 Ford Model A Roadster body I scored for cheap a while back. I just wanted to throw this together when I was in between other projects and with parts I come across for cheap or already have laying around. The key them is “cheap”. While I could buy all of the body panels brand new from a body company I wanted to throw something together that was fun and cheap. Along the way I’d also be using it as an exercise for repairing and making new panels. While repairing the deck lid for the car I decided it would be a good time to show the steps it goes into repairing a panel and things to keep in mind that can change the job from a simple repair to a trash can item you only use for a pattern.
This little car came with most of the body panels but was (of course) missing the rear deck lid. I’ve been on the look out for an affordable replacement but it seems that for some reason every 20’s-30’s car had the deck lid stolen. Not sure if the kids were using them for sleds in the snow or what, but it seems like every “project” car Model A or similar era car is missing it! This means that nice originals go for a premium and still need some repair work. While helping a friend pick up a project car I found a rough one in the sellers basement. I made a fair offer and I got it just thinking “oh it just needs the bottom couple inches replaced like they all do”. I should have examined it better, but luckily the price was about a 1/3 of what they go for in good shape. And again as I mentioned I wasn’t in a hurry or looking to spend big money on this jalopy.
Once I got the deck lid drug out and started looking at it I realized I was into this for a LOT more than I initially thought. The entire skin was rusted around the perimeter and was close to coming off with little effort. The rust around the edges has also gotten to a lot of the side structure of the deck lid and was at the point that there wasn’t much left of the flange where the skin folded over. At this point I was almost at the point of throwing the entire piece away but I decided to really look at the part and see what it would take to rebuild it from scratch versus new or buying another.
Now I could build a simple universal style deck lid by forming box tubing or channel to fit the trunk opening and then building a skin to match. That method does in fact work and when the trunk is shut will look the part. I like the look of the original stamped inner structure so I knew that method wasn’t going to work for me. The stamped portion of the inner structure wasn’t something I could easily replicate as a whole with DIY home type tools, but luckily most of the damage was outside of those stamped areas. It’s always best to try and read a panel and figure out the best way to make a repair where you are saving or working around a stamped area you can’t easily replicate.
On this one the bottom indents and beads were rotted away along with the lower portion of the skin, but making those small indents again was something we could do by hand and they also were integral to how the lid functioned so we could take some minor creative license if we wanted.
I started by measuring out all of the bends in the bottom of the inner structure first as it was going to be the most difficult. I cut the patch a little large at the top where we’d be welding. I then used the Versa-Bend brake to bend the steps that the panel had in it including the upright flange where the skin will wrap around. I then ran a center line down the patch part and on the deck lid along with reference marks so I could continue to put it in the same spot each time I was working on it.
The end sections had a rounded corner and bends going two different directions which were stamped originally. I decided to cut a slit in the corners so that they could come together and I can weld them up in the end to look like all one piece.
I laid the corners over the existing metal so I could drill holes on either side and fix the panel in place with clecos. I then could line up where I needed to put the indents or pressed in shapes that were going to bet cut out and replaced.
The center beads were quite wide and not something I can make without making a custom die for the bead roller, which wasn’t necessary for this small of an area we were replacing. Also the indented areas were something that only could be done with a reciprocating hammer which we didn’t have. I decided to show how to do it the most basic way; by hand. I marked out my indented areas and took the panel to the sandbag and used the smallest teardrop mallet to pound each shape into the panel. This method isn’t going to leave a sharp, defined impression like a stamped part, but it will give you the stretch you need in the panel to get yourself started. I then flipped the panel over and set it on top of the flat area of a forming dolly and hammered the excess raised area down. I then used the chisel end of a body hammer to carefully tap around the defined edge I had drawn on the panel. this allowed me “press” a defined line in the shape like it had originally. You can also sharpen up a piece of hardwood or use a brass chisel to put the line in the panel. Either way hammering on top of a hard surface is key so that the panel is supported and doesn’t get too distorted.
With my shapes hammered into the panel I was able to sit it down over the existing part and scribe out the area I wanted to cut away. I then set the panel in place with a series of stitch weld magnets to hold the panel flush with the original metal. I jumped around with the TIG 200 adding tack welds every few inches. As I went along I adjusted the panel and hammered the seam to get it sitting how I wanted. In this case I had to deal with filling some minor rust pits/holes in the edge of the repair area as they were too close to the pressed holes in the panel I couldn’t easily replace. This will just cause some extra sanding and hammer/dolly work in the end when finishing the repair.
I then moved to the top corners of the panel and found that both were extremely rotten and also needed to be reconstructed. These had some stamped in shape in them but we could get away with repairing in a mild curve of the stamped section and I didn’t have to replicate the entire complex shape on that corner.
I made a pattern out of paper stock and transferred it to metal. I needed to make the flanges on these corners but doing so in the brake would be difficult because of the size of the panel and the corners that needed to be bent together. A box and pan brake could tackle this, but again it would be tough on such a small piece. I decided to make a quick edge braking tool to set my bend lines in this small piece. I use some 3/8″ flat stock and cut slits in each end at lengths that I commonly used for flanges on panels. I added 3 to one side and another to opposite end. By making the cuts in our tool a certain depth I can easily slide it into a piece of sheet metal and tip the edge as I go putting a flange in the panel that’s the same throughout. After I got the bend line set in the patch I could come back with a hammer and dolly and fold it over with a heel dolly.
I then used our sand back method again to stretch up the center of the corner sections to match what was there on the original corner. I then welded the corners back into the original panel.
Once the bottom panel was mostly weld in place and the top corners were mostly welded I left the end sections only tack welded where they met the inner channel on the sides of the deck lid. This is because I found that the metal on either side in the “channel” was also rotted. In fact once I started sanding the panel it more closely resembled Swiss cheese. In order to reduce the complexity of the part I sanded back these areas until I hit good metal throughout. Luckily it seemed as though it was only the L shaped section of the flange was bad and I could do the repair down inside the flat channel where the repair would be fairly simple. The one section only required a small patch which didn’t have much shape to it, but the other side needed about 70-80% of the channel replaced which had a large curve in it. This curve was very important as it is what the outer skin would sit on and had to match the curve of the trunk opening.
I started by cutting a strip of metal that was LONGER than I needed for the one side. This would give me some room for adjusting the patch within the curve of the of the original channel. I started by braking the edge with the Versa-Bend brake and marking out where the majority of the curve was on the piece. I then took it to the shrinker and I did a light round of shrinking to the edge of the patch.
As you can see this got our flat patch going in the right direction, but still needed more to get it fitting down in the original channel. I did another round of light shrinking in the same areas to get the panel close. I then trimmed the patch down and started marking out the spots on the ends that needed a little shrinking to bring them up from touching. I always tried to “blend” my shrinks into each other so the curve flowed and there weren’t any peaks or valleys in the patch.
Once I had the patch fitting pretty closely to the original I scribed the original panel and cut it away. I then test fit the patch panel and did a little more work with the shrinker/stretcher to get it fitting the curve of the panel exactly. I then clamped the patches in place with panel clamps and welded it all up with the TIG 200.
After a round of grinding my welds and hammer-dolly work I it is starting to shape up and gives me a pattern I can build my deck lid skin off of. I’ll do some final weld dressing before welding the skin to the structure, but it’s MUCH better than when we started.
All in all I had a week of small sessions of work on the repair of the inner structure. Could I have thrown this part away and bought a nicer one or a new one? Yes, but I saved myself $400-500 that I can spend somewhere else that I can make or repair (like suspension or engine parts). Plus I already have all the tools and skill to do it, why not save an old part and let it live on!
The moral of this article is that sometimes a heavily rotted part can be broken into small repairs that don’t seem so bad and can save an entire panel with some patience and time with the right tools. As always, use this as a jumping point for your next rust repair project, there might be a better way, but this is what worked for me with the Eastwood tools I had on hand and saved me money along the way!