Do It Yourself Restoration Body Work

This article by Ray Latremouille appeared in two parts in the February 1990 and March 1990 issues of the Ontario Jaguar
The following article is from Ray Latremouille in Samia and is the first in a series of restoration related articles to appear in future issues of the bulletin. Thank you Ray for taking the time to write to me I hope it inspires others to do the same!
- The Editor.
Most amateur restorers usually limit their efforts to an engine rebuild with the help of a local machine ship, or perhaps replacing gears or synchros in a four speed, brakes, suspension work, and of course cosmetics are also well within the capabilities of most of us. But when it comes to body work most car owners panic. A visit to a local body shop or reputable professional restorer can stop the project in it's tracks. With shop rates around $40 to $50 an hour and some cars needing hundreds of hours of labour for body work alone - well it is simply out of reach for many of us. The only alternative is to do it yourself, and IT IS possible for the most unskilled and inexperienced restorer to do a good job on the body of a Jaguar if he or she is willing to take their time, learn a few basic skills and not be intimidated by the project.
Assuming you have some basic tools such as wrenches, hammers and a set of sockets, there are some other non basic pieces of equipment essential to doing car body work.You are going to need welding equipment. The simplest welder which you can learn to use in less than an hour, is a M.I.G. welder, also known as a wire feed welder. They are incredibly simple to operate - cost $450 for the most inexpensive to $1000 for top of the line - you get what you pay for.
The second choice of welders is an oxyacetylene outfit. It is less expensive around $300 for average quality but you have to rent two tanks of gas (only 1 for a M.I.G. welder), and buy the gas to go in them, plus welding rod. But the down side is that gas welding is the most difficult to learn being a two handed coordinated operation, as compared to M.I.G welding which is one handed and almost as simple as drawing a line with a pencil.
If you don't already have a floor jack you will need one. Don't bother with the $50 dollar ones buy one with a good long handle and with at least two ton capacity. You will be ge glad you did and it should cost around $200 dollars. You will also need four axle stands. Buy the ones with The notched teeth in the vertical member, the ones just with a pin in them can give you problems if your floor is not even. Cement blocks? - No way! Other tools essential to the job are body hammers and dollies. You really don't need a full set of hammers, a small ballpeen hammer and a picking hammer with at least a 4" pick will do, and two or three body dollies, but you can manage with one universal type.
Absolutely essential to body work is a high speed angle head grinder. I do not recommend the large 7" size they are too heavy and physically big. I find the 4" size grinder the most useful. Here you don't have to invest in the best, the Black & Decker or Makita models are good value for the money.
Another piece of equipment which I consider essential is a compressor. You can probably manage without one for the actual body work but you will definitely need one to prepare the body for painting even if you farm out the final paint job. The horse power of any compressor you buy is not really important. What really counts is the C.F.M, - the cubic feet per minute output, the higher the better. Any compressor with a C.F.M. output of less than eight is not going to be much use except possibly for painting. The P.S.I., pounds per square inch should not be less than 100 and come from a tank of no less than 20 gallons.
There is a problem though. Most compressors approaching the above specs. come with a 4 horse power motor or higher and usually requires a 220 volt service. So if you don't have a 220 volt service available then try to get as near to the above specs in a compressor that will operate on 115 volts service. But again a compressor is not essential for the body work. It is nice to give those panels a coat of paint on the inside before you install on the car. Furthermore you will find that air tools are less expensive than electric tools. For cutting out rust or removing badly rusted or damaged panels a high speed air driven pencil grinder does a very neat job using cutting wheels. There is no distortion in the panel and the cut edge is very clean, ready for repair.
I have probably missed a few items ut I think I have touched on the major pieces of equipment you will need so lets get on with the body work.
This article and subsequent articles are not intended to be a complete course on body work but just a few pointers to get you going and make the job a little simpler and affordable. It is assumed you have the car stripped for a full restoration with all parts labelled, including front or back, up or down, right or left. Believe me you will forget if you don't. Place the little bits and pieces, even if you intended to replace them with new, in plastic refrigerator bags and label the bags. Get some cardboard boxes, put everything in the boxes and store them in a dry place and forget them.
Let's start with patching. If a panel is fairly solid with a few small rust holes, patching is quite acceptable. An example of this would be the lower comers of the fire wall, the floor of the boot, on the lower edges of the doors.
You will need some sheet metal. Auto body metal ranges from 24 gauge to 20 guage. The lower the number the heavier the metal. I personally use 20 gauge but 22 gauge is suitable and easier to work with. Most E Type Jags left the plant with 20 gauge and most replacement panels you buy today are for the heavier material.
Back to patching. Clean up the hole getting rid of the jagged edges with snips, cutting wheel, or a nibbler if you have one. Cut a piece of sheet metal so that it overlaps the hole by at least 3/8" all around. Place the patch over the hole making sure you have good metal to metal contact all around and make a spot weld in the middle of one side, then a second weld directly opposite on the other side. Assuming the heat has not warped the patch away from the car proceed to make spot welds about half to three quarter inches apart on each side - alternating sides until you have completed two sides, then do the same to the two remaining sides. Always, whenever possible, try to work from the middle of the patch towards the ends, this allows the metal to expand as it is heated. Tacking the ends will cause it to warp up in the middle and you will never get it down. Do not work too quickly. Make two or three welds on each side and walk away from it for a few minutes, this will cut down on distortion in the whole area and allow it to cool. So now you have the patch tacked down all around the edges. You have a choice here. After lightly grinding your welds to take off the high spots, you can caulk both sides of the joint with good quality automotive sealer or weld in seams between the spot welds for a completely welded in patch. Of course the latter is stronger and is what you must do if it is on the outside of the car. But once again I must caution you to work slowly because an excessive build up of heat can cause warping or, "oil-canning", and it can be very difficult to return the panel to its proper configuration because of heat stress in the metal itself.
I should mention that it is important to remove upholstery panels, carpets, underpads, old sealing materials and old undercoating before welding any panels. Your car can easily catch fire and we wouldn't want that would we?! I have had it happen.
If you have difficulty keeping metal to metal contact between the patch and the parent metal it is acceptable to pin it down with sheet metal screws until you have completed the patch. If the patch is being applied to a vertical surface and you have to find some way of holding the patch while you make the first weld, a sheet metal screw or two solves the problem. If the patch is small a strong magnet will also do a good job - but keep in mind to heat away from the magnet - heat will demagnetize it temporarily.
Just as common as rust on most project cases are dents and pushed in panels such as occur in parking lots. Be aware that most metal, after initial impact, assuming it hasn't been hit so hard as to stretch the material, retains a "memory" of its shape before impact. Very often, if you have access to both sides, a sharp blow with the heel of your hand can pop it back to near its original shape. If you can't get a clear shot at it with you hand, gentle prying with a pinch bar or even a flat piece of wood will sometimes work. It will often come out with a pop and be 80 or 90 percent back where it should be. Then take your hammer and all purpose dolly and carefully flatten out the small wrinkles around the circumference of the area. Be careful with the hammer, hitting too hard will most certainly stretch the metal and then you will have to shrink it with an acetylene torch - tricky to say the least.
If you can't get at the back of some of these pushed in panels there are not too many options left. The body shops will sometimes use a slide hammer to pull the panel out. A slide hammer is a rounded bar with a handle on one end and a weight which slides on the bar. A hole is drilled in the center of the panel, (about a 5/32 drill), and a large sheet metal screw partially screwed into the hole. The screw is then fastened to the end of the slide hammer bar and by simultaneously pulling on the handle and sliding the weight smartly against a stop in front of your hand the dent should come out. If you do not have access to one of these hammers try grabbing the sheet metal screw with a pair of vice grips and pull it out, the panel that is. The panel will rarely come all the way out and what is left is never pretty. But a little putty and paint makes a thing what it "aint so". What is left of the cavity should now be ground until you have bright metal and filled with either lead or body filler and prepared for painting.
A word is in order here about filling. It is absolutely essential that the metal be clean before filling a low spot with any material either lead or body filler. I will cover this in a subsequent article dealing with preparation for painting.
Well this by no means exhausts the subject of auto body repairs. Next issue I hope to touch on panel replacement, M.I.G. welding and metal forming.
Auto body repair is certainly not easy, it could even be called hard dirty work, but it is more labour intensive than skill oriented. If you recognize a true curve or a straight line, a high spot from a low spot, then you can do body work. Learn to use you tools, don't be afraid to improvise and keep at it until you have what you want.

Restoration and Auto Body Repair

by Ray Latremouille

Part 2

Before proceeding further on the subject of auto body repair, it might be in order to discuss some of the hazards involved. During the process of bringing a car body from basket co to prime coat you will handle a variety of chemicals and materials. For most of our readers this warning is probably not necessary, but if you have never done body work before, some of the chemicals and materials encountered will be quite new to you and quite hazardous.
As you dismount the car you will have to remove heat shields such as are found between the brake reservoirs and exhaust manifolds on E Types, or between the mufflers and body, or the master cylinder and down pipe of an XK 120. These shields were usually made of asbestos and should be handled carefully - wear gloves and a good quality dust mask and wash or discard the gloves when you are through.
If you remove the old body paint with a stripper, do so in a well ventilated room. Paint remover fumes are very toxic, accumulative and the substance itself very corrosive to the skin so wear gloves.
When I can get at them, or when installing new body panels, I always apply a coat of rust inhibiting primer on the inside before the finish coat of enamel. Yes enamel on the inside of the body panels not undercoat. Most of these rust inhibiting primers and paints are a two or three part mix i.e. the paint, a hardener and a reducer. The primer I use on the inside of the panels that are going to be exposed to the elements is Glidden Glid Guard tank and structural primer. It sprays nicely, has good body and does not tend to run excessively, but both the primer and its reducer are extremely toxic when inhaled and very explosive if the fumes become concentrated in a small enclosed area where there is an open flame such as a pilot light or any kind of switch.
Even regular automotive primers which are a mix of one part primer to one and a half parts lacquer thinners are toxic to inhale and handle,as well as very explosive.
The most popular automotive finish today is acrylic enamel. The additive used to harden this paint is usually a cyanide compound or contains a cyanide compound, so handle with care, good members are just as hard to find as restorable Jaguars these days.
I agreed to talk further about welding this month. I certainly cannot teach you to weld via these articles but a few additional facts about mig or wire feed welding. The main reason it is the way to go for body repairs is because it leaves the weld and the surrounding body material so much cooler. The wire is fed out a long tube with the press of a button. As the wire leaves the tube it is surrounded by an inert gas such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide or possibly some other inert gas. This gas surrounding the weld not only serves to cool the weld in the physical sense but excludes atmospheric oxygen from taking part in the process as it does with gas and stick welding (arc welding).
So all you do to mig weld is to touch the tip of the wire to the spot you want to start your bead, press the button, the wire tip will arc, then just move the arcing wire slowly along the line you wish to weld. The only critical concern is the temperature setting on the machine - low setting for thin metals - higher for thick. You have a setting for wire speed too but that is not as critical I keep the same wire speed setting for most welding that I do.
Presently working on a 120 Drop Head Coupe, rather than replace original parts with after market quality, I have successfully repaired a number of original hose clamps (they are quite unique), fabricated a motor mount, welded back a comer of the waterpump and even welded up a big spring in the windshield washer bottle, besides new panels on the front wings.
MIG is indeed the only way to go!
I discussed patching in the last issue. Further to that subject, I also try to whenever possible to put the patch on the inside and thus have only to fill a cavity very little deeper than the thickness of the sheet metal and still retain the original exterior profile.
Patching on the outside requires that you build up a large area around the patch so that it doesn't show up as a bump in the contour of the body. But sometimes you have no choice.
Now a good question is "when is body patching acceptable procedure and when not". It of course depends on what part of the car you are repairing.
Most Jaguars since the XK series had no frames but were built on the monocoque or semi- monocoque principal. Simply started it is a box fastened to a box fastened to a box etc. When all these components are welded together you have an extremely stiff structure capable of supporting great loads and resisting torsional stresses. The huge sills or rocker panels found on Jaguars perform these functions. Unfortunately because it is difficult to protect these sills from corrosion they are one of the first places to show deterioration.
The first signs of rust appear along the lower part of the sill just where it curves to go under the car. If it has not rusted through the car. If it has not rusted through it is possible to clean it up with a grinder, treat it with metal prep (acid), wash it, prime it, and paint it. But this is a band aid solution to the problem. Obviously the process has started, from the inside, and very soon there will be holes and you can be sure your beloved Jaguar is losing the great strength and stiffness so inherent in its construction when it was new.
But I digress.
We were talking about patching. I personally do not recommend welding patches on the sills of a Jaguar. It is a short term solution and simple postponing the inevitable. The inevitable being replacing the sills. This is major surgery but if you are lucky you may get away with just having to do the outer sills only. You can check this out by peeling back the carpet just inside the door, you may have to remove the seats in some models, and using the point of your pick hammer gently tap the sill along its full length, if the hammer goes through - it is rusty, if not just leave them and when installing new outer sills you can treat the inside of the inners with rust inhibitor and perhaps never have to replace them. While you have the seats out is a good time to check the floors in the same way. Tap lightly but firmly with the pick hammer and try very hard to find rust, most often in the comers.
Next month I will deal with the relative merits of lead and body fillers and the many steps necessary to cover up you body work and bring the car to the point where it is ready to paint.
Sept 16, 2011 by Webmaster