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Current Restoration

14. More Rust Repair

Article 14 More Rust Repair

Last month, I discussed getting the E-Type body shell up on to the rotiserie so I could access the underside. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea because the underside was pretty grim!

A fine web of cracks was visible in the “re-sale red” paint job that was on the car. In many cases this could indicate excessively thick layers of body filler or “bondo”. I hooked up an aggressive wire wheel to my 7″ grinder and started to cut away the layers of bondo. On the underside of the trunk it was up to 3/8″ thick! What was revealed is commonly described by the Brits as a “bodge”. This loosely translates as poorly executed bodywork! Moving forward to the floor pans, it wasn’t a case of poorly executed bodywork, it was more a case of the undercoating and sound deadener material being the primary remaining structural element, with much of the metal already reverted to its native state of rust. So it looked like major surgery was required.

At this point, I reviewed the approach I would take. The parts houses all have nice pictures showing the body shell consisting of its constituent parts. I understand that the UK firm of Martin Robey has the rights and the tooling to reproduce E-Type body parts. After speaking with some of the suppliers, I found that not all of the parts are available, just the ones that are most commonly requested. This meant that I could order a new trunk floor and floorboards but maybe not some of the smaller pieces. Ordering the trunk and floorboards pre-made seemed like a good way to go since these parts are rather intricate . Other surfaces that I needed on the underside of the car were either flat, or curved in only one direction. I felt that I could best work with these by cutting out the rusted area and welding in a patch panels. I purchased several books to read and from which to gain confidence. One was “How to Restore Classic Car Bodywork” by Martin Thaddeus. Martin is a Brit and all the cars featured in the book are British. The book is well written and has numerous photos. It helped give me some confidence to proceed. At this time, it was apparent that some more tool purchases were in order. As my wife has observed, that is both the beauty and the curse of these projects, depending on your perspective. My first purchases were pretty straightforward. I bought a set of sheet metal hand shears (both right and left handed), an air operated shear for straight line cutting, a set of body hammers, and assorted dollies. I purchased a sheet of both 16 gauge and 22 gauge steel. I purchased a sheet metal brake (a brake is a tool that bends sheet metal at right angles to itself) and a roller, which can bend a piece of sheet metal into a curve. Finally , I needed a way to stick everything together. That called for a welder. There are lots of articles on the internet about welders for the restoration hobbyist. I decided on a MIG welder as being the most practical. I settled on a Miller unit, which is a brand name that I see at work at lot. Since I have 220V AC available at my shop, I went for a medium duty unit that runs on 220V. I searched the internet and found the best price and had a unit shipped to my door.

Now one can’t just start welding and be an instant expert. I obtained a large quantity of scrap sheet metal pieces and proceeded to practice. At first the results were truly awful but after a few days of practice things were looking up. But as soon as I tried my first patch piece on the car, things went to hell again. Working in situ with 40 year old steel adds an element of difficulty, that’s for sure. I have since decided that my ability to butt weld, where the two pieces of metal are placed end to end, is just not up to the task yet. But there is another style of weld known as a lap weld, where one piece laps over the other, where I am able to avoid burning holes through everything. Key to setting up for a lap weld is a tool called a flanger. Simply put, the flanger places a slight offset jog along the edge of the sheet that is about the thickness of the adjoining sheet such that when the sheets are lapped together once side becomes flush (at the expense of the backside, which is not flush). In this way, once the welding is completed and ground down, the two adjoining surfaces can be brought level and with a little work, the joint will be invisible after being painted. Martin Thaddeus goes into all of this in his book. For me, this is the way to go. Another aspect of sheet metal work is the spot weld. When originally constructed, many cars including the E-Type used sheet metal lap joints that were spot welded. In this process, two electrodes are brought together on both sides of the joint and an electric current is passed through between them. The current heats up the metal enough that the two pieces melt together and fuse in a round spot pattern. Its really great for mass production welding and this is probably what you are seeing when you see those pictures of robots hovering over the assembly line and moving in to attack with a great flash and puff of smoke. The problem for the restorer is that in order to remove a complete panel, literally hundreds of spot welds must be broken down and removed so that the two parts may be disassembled. I started by using twist drill bits applied to the center of the weld. This works OK but the result is a fairly large hole left in both parts. A much better tool is available from Eastwood in the form of a spotweld cutting tool. It is basically a small hollow bit with cutters on the circumference. It cuts a circle around the spot weld, into the sheet metal which is generally softer than the actual welded area. If once is careful, you can cut though just one of the two thicknesses. A gentle whack with a flat chisel will prize the two pieces apart. At least one side of the joint remains intact and can be reused. I have now removed enough spot welds in the process of removing the trunk floor and the main floorboards assemblies to know that removing spot welds is not my favorite recreational activity. But it is a necessary evil of getting the job done.

So at this point I’ve bought a lot of the items necessary to do sheet metal work. I’d guess the cost ran around $1500. But based on a recent story I heard about a body shop that charges $5000 a week to do body work on E-Types I’d say I’m still way ahead of the game. Next month I’ll relate more details about removing all the rusty panels and replacing them with sound material.

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