Part of being a good metal worker is the ability to read a panel and what needs to be done to correct an issue or make the metal do what you want. Once you are “in-tune” with the metal you can correct some pretty crazy damage in a panel. This really comes in handy when you’re faced with body damage. In most cases a smashed up bolt-on panel like a front fender would just warrant a call to a sheet metal supplier, a trip to the junkyard, or an eBay search, that is if you have a “common” vehicle. In this case Sean from Empire Fabrication was brought a real steel Porsche 356 that had been involved in a hit and run. The drivers side fender (luckily?) took the majority of the force and crumbled it in pretty good. Sean decided to take some pictures during the process of reversing the damage and getting the fender ready for a repaint.
Above you can see the damage in detail. The fender was hit hard and caved it in just above the wheel opening. Luckily the panel wasn’t ripped or torn which would have made this process much more difficult.
Here’s the untouched passenger side for reference. The goal is to get the beautiful shape of this classic German fender back on the drivers side.
Sean started by cutting out a few thin strips of metal he would be using to make patterns from.
After cutting out the strips he bent them 90 degrees in the break.
He then used his Eastwood shrinker/stretcher to slowly bend the pieces into the exact shape of the fenders both top to bottom and laterally across the belt line of the panel. Care was taken to get these fitting perfectly so he could get the drivers fender as close as possible.
Above Sean test fits his custom made contour gauges to the passenger fender.
When using his contour gauges on the drivers side fender you can REALLY see how bad the panel is damaged.
Sean then determines and marks out the major points of impact that will require the most work throughout the project
The next step requires some mechanical advantage and some brute force. Sean uses a hydraulic ram kit to force out the major dents in the panel and hammers on key areas with the teardrop mallets to release some of the damage.
With the damage “roughed out”, paint and body filler were sanded off until the damaged area down to bare metal.
At this point Sean has started to planish out that large creases left in the panels next to the major damage. He used a combination of a small pneumatic planishing hammer and the “off-dolly” hammering technique to level the lows and highs.
After getting the panel a lot closer, Sean checks back to the template. He realized he now needed to heat shrink some of the higher spots. The spots are the same he had marked out earlier in the process. Then began the process of slowly planishing out any minor imperfections; using the bullseye pick to take care of any small low spots in the panel.
Once again progress was checked with the template. Here the top portion of the panel is very close to where it needs to be.
The lower portion of the fender still needed more heat shrinking and off-dolly hammering to get it to match the template better. The panel is getting very close though!
After some more time with the planishing hammer and a hammer and dolly the panel was ready to be sanded with a DA sander to smooth out any minor imperfections and to give the panel a uniform finish that’s ready for high build primer. The time to finish this project may not be worthwhile if you’re working on a vehicle that original panels are easy to find for, but in this case it was very important to keep the original sheet metal on the car and a replacement fender would be difficult to find regardless.