Project Pile House has been an ever-evolving project and like many projects, things start small and spiral out of control and next thing you know you’re detailing the inside of your glove box hinges! Luckily I’m not quite that OCD about my vehicles (yet), but Pile House is now more than just a thrown-together junkyard parts runner like I originally planned. It’s turned into a full blown custom and not much on the truck is original or untouched. After getting the cab, dash, hood, etc. all smoothed out and “roughed in”, the original patched together bed and fenders was bothering the crap out of me every time I looked at it. The fenders looked like boat trailer fenders and were more roughed up than a boxer after a title fight, while the bed itself wasn’t much better. I decided to start dreaming up a subtle custom bed.
The nice thing about building a full blown custom is that there are no rules about what you can do or put on the car, every make and model is up for consideration! After some measuring and a LOT of cruising photos on the web of other trucks of the same vintage, I decided to use 1947-55 Chevy Pickup rear fenders. I liked the shape of them and they covered more of the bed for better proportions. I gave a call to the guys over at AMD (Auto Metal Direct) for a set of brand new repro fenders and within a few days they were sitting outside the shop waiting to be opened! I decided on new AMD sheet metal over used original fenders because used fenders tend to be pricy for anything in half decent shape. I figure I’ve done enough rust and dent repair this far I’d make life easier for once on this project!
Once I had my fenders I could begin building a new bed around the fenders. I decided to use 18 gauge steel and design a bed that had similar proportions to the original, but with a custom twist. I started by removing the old bed, but leaving the original bed floor frame I had built earlier. I then got reference marks made of how the bed sides would sit and temporarily welded in support posts I could cleco them to. We then test fit the fender on the flat “bedside” and got it sitting where we wanted and traced out rough cutlines for the wheel opening and top as well as the bend for the top. I then cut out the wheel opening with the electric shears and drilled holes to cleco the fenders in place. Now that I had the bedside and fenders attached with clecos I could lay out the bedside design.
With the design laid out on the bedsides it was time to roll the beads into the metal. I like to push the envelope and really test our products, so we decided to use the Eastwood Economy Bead Roller with a set of prototype forming mandrels. These mandrels can form a “stepped” design in the metal that duplicates factory stamped designs. We decided to keep the mandrels pretty close together to create a deep step in the metal. This mandrel requires you to push up on the panel as you feed it through the roller, so make sure you take a few test runs to be sure you can make your runs comfortably! We also found that tapping on the bead roller handle when going around tight corner make life easier when turning such a large panel like this in the bead roller.
With the bed laid out and the fender sitting in place we verified that the bend lines were still where we wanted them and we took the panel over to our friends at Palladino Fabrication and borrowed their industrial sized metal brake to bend the 7’+ long bedsides at a 45 degree angle at the top.
The last difficult part was figuring out how to recreate the rolled top edge like found on most old trucks of 1920’s-1960’s. I asked a lot of professional builders and searched all over the web and it seems the only option on a long piece like this (short of finding a 10 foot long slip roll) is to weld a piece of round tubing to the sheet metal. This process is something we thought about a lot and we decided that the best way to do it is to create a valley in the tubing that the sheet metal and filler rod or welding wire could lay in so you aren’t grinding away all of the weld puddle. You could opt to have a machine or fabrication shop mill or laser etch a straight line into the tubing, but we decided to do it the DIY, low-buck way. We took a piece of angle iron similar in size and clamped it to the tubing to create a straight edge down the entire piece. I then used the thick grinding wheel on the angle grinder and ran it against the angle iron as a guide to carve a groove out of the tubing. I used light pressure on the tubing and made 3-4 passes, all at different angles so the recess was shaped like a widened √.
We then clamped the tubing in place on both ends I began running short, quick welds to permanently attach the tubing to the top of the bed. We started at one end and as I worked my way down Mark took the slack out of the sheet metal with his hands and then put a locking welding clamp close to where we were welding. Working from one end to the other will help force the slack out and avoid bubbles (think of applying a decal or sticker!) or high spots in the joint. After the tubing was connected I worked alone welding the seam solid and blended the welds into the surrounding panels with a surfacing pad on the 1/4″ pneumatic angle grinder. The result is an almost invisible seam with only the need for a skim coat of filler for primer and paint.
I opted for chromoly tubing for the top of the bedsides because it was lighter and better for heat distribution when welding versus standard pipe, but it’s still a lot of weight hanging off the bedsides! I decided to be safe and make some small brackets that would support the tubing from underneath. I cut the brackets out with the aviation snips and drilled some countersunk speedholes.. because.. well, it looks cool! I welded and blended the end brackets to the tubing and left the others alone since they’re hidden.
With the bedsides pretty close to finished I made up the corner braces for the bedsides. I wanted to hide these on the inside corners of the bed so they weren’t seen on the outside like the factory bed. This required breaking the ends of the bedsides 90 degrees and tucking 1″x2″ box tubing inside of the bent edges. I then drilled and spot welded the bedsides to the corner braces and bed floor frame to permanently fix it all together using the Eastwood MIG 175.
We then used the same size box tubing as uprights for the front panel. Again I wanted to hide the braces so I rolled two identical panels to sandwich the braces. I then cut a portion out of the same tubing we used for the top of the bedsides to cap the front panels. I slowly “snuck up” on the opening by cutting it slightly too small and carefully sanding the opening until it was a press fit over the panels. This allowed me to only weld the tubing on the ends and leave a clean front panel with no fasteners or welds visible.
Since we connected the bedsides in the front, I wanted to do the same in the rear so we decided to build a rear rollpan for the bed. I first made a paper pattern and then Mark and I bent a 90 on the edges. We alternated between the english wheel and the shrinker to get the shape of the panel to match the bottom corners of the bedsides that I had already rounded off. I then finished the pan up with a set of 62 Olds 88 taillights.
Overall I’m really happy with how the bed came out and it certainly transforms the look of the truck. I still have to make a tailgate and filler pieces to blend the running boards into the bottoms of the fenders, but otherwise the bed is nearly done fabrication wise. The list of metal that needs to be fabricated or replaced on Pile House is getting smaller and I can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel! Stay tuned for the tailgate project coming soon!