Kerry's 1957 Imperial Restoration - part 17

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I've been on the road some more and things sure slow down when one is gone all week. The Honey Do's seem to eat up the weekends.

I also misplaced my photos for this chapter. When I find them I will post them.

Last weekend, I had about half a day in the shop and beat on the rear fender some more. I'm just trying to bring up some low spots. It is almost ready to hang the lower quarter and mig weld it back on but I'm going to wait a while. It is fairly awkward so I tap on it every once in a while until my arms get tired.

After my arms got tired, I decided to try and grind some bondo out of the dents in the door and front fender. Using a carbide bit in a die grinder, I carefully ground out a lot of bondo without taking out much metal. The door looks worse and worse. The leading door edge had at least 1/8 inch of bondo building up the edge. One thing I'll say is that I have NEVER seen bondo hold up as well as this did. Normally you cannot do an edge with plastic filler without it cracking.

After I got down to it, I realized that the reason that the previous repair was so bad was that the biggest dents were on top of the hinge brace and there is no way short of taking the door skin off to get them out.

No way huh? I just love a challenge. What if I...maybe I could weld some washers and use my slide hammer...Oh heck, other people can do door skins, why can't I. Six bolts later and the door is laying on some saw horses. Now I can see how really bad it is. Even the inner frame is bent up badly, very badly. This old girl took a real lick on the passenger side!

I have never taken off a door skin so this will be a first but I cannot use the door the way it is so if I mess this up I'll have to get a new door from Bob Hoffmeister. Door skins are held on by the crimp over the frame and are welded occasionally. Actually I was very surprised to find that it was BRAZED, not welded. Not only that but it appeared to be hand braised, not done on a machine. Perhaps the Imperials were really very much hand made? Anyone know?

At any rate, you pull the door skin by bending up the lip and cutting off the welds. It wasn't too hard and only took about 1 hour. When I got the skin off, I simply laid it on a piece of wood and gently tried to tap it back into shape. Surprisingly, it went very well. It was much more of a problem to fix the inner door frame and finally I decided to cut it out and create a patch because the old metal was way to folded up to straighten.

After I had the bent up frame cut out, I placed the skin back on the door. Using my 18" contour gage, I compared it to the other "good" door. Actually it was pretty close. However, after studying the door I decided to cut out about a 6" X 6" piece and make a patch panel because the straightened metal had some major tears that just would not do. Besides, there was not enough of the old metal to make a lip over the rebuilt inner frame.

The Imperial uses 20 Gauge metal (modern cars use 28). I have several pieces of various gage paint grip sheet metal for this very purpose so I cut out a piece to about 3/4 inches oversize on all sides. Several months ago, I had ordered a 'panel beaters' sandbag and teardrop mallet from Eastman. Because the door skin was slightly convex, I gently used the mallet to shape the patch until it matched the contour of my "good door". I then trimmed the patch to something less than 1/2 inch larger and used an air flanging tool to "step" the patch down the thickness of the metal. This allowed me to use a mig welder, have a good bond, and not have to grind off all the weldment to get it flush. This approach also keeps down on the warpage. I was all ready to weld but lost my energy and had to go pack to go to California.

Saturday 19 June. Dang it's hot! Thank Goodness for AC! 90 degrees and 90 percent. I have the portion of my shop where the lift is (and the Imperial is) hooked up to an old 5 ton AC unit which keeps things very pleasant if I close off the rest of the shop by hanging some plastic over the doors. Unfortunately, I did not have any plastic handy so I turned on my big fan and worked in front of it until I melted down.

The trick to welding body patches is to make a series of "spot" welds and jump around so no one spot gets too hot. If it does, it will warp and believe me, you do not want to deal with the warp. Major pain. After using some clamps to hold the edges tight, and pushing up on the inside with a body spoon, I had a nice tight fit. After all the welding was done, I ground off the high spots and checked it out. Actually it is very nice. I will have plenty to bend over the flange once I have rebuilt it also. Some of the edge may have to be rebuilt using a wire rod to get the spacing correct because a considerable amount of the leading edge did not survive.

A comment on mig welding. It is VERY easy, nearly idiot proof. I don't think I would do suspension parts but other than that it's hard to mess up. I have an older 90 amp Miller Cricket XL. It will do up to about 3/16 metal which is enough for almost all automotive stuff. Another nice thing is that it is 110v and very portable. They have a newer model which is slightly more powerful for the same money as I paid for mine.

I like to weld, the only hard part is trying to see. The old style helmets even with the large glass still have to be flipped up and lowered. A pain. Last year I bit the bullet and bought one of the electronic darkening helmets. About $200 bucks but very handy. You can see your work and as soon as the arc starts 1/2000 of a second, it darkens automatically. Why did I wait so long? It makes welding twice as much fun.

Before I put the skin back on, I needed to do something about the surface rust inside the door skin and door frame. Opening up a new can of Corroless (Eastwood), I painted all the rusty areas. I made a point to stand upwind because the paint can says "Prolonged exposure causes permanent brain damage!" I had a bad respiratory problem once due to paint so I'm pretty careful. By this time I was melting and tired so I called it a day to let the paint dry. Sunday was Fathers day and I goofed off. I'll get some plastic so I can use the AC next weekend. I'm eager to hang the door and see how much trouble the leading edge is going to be. Also I still have to reinstall the door skin but I think that will be ok. The good news is that 20 gauge is very forgiving. More to come... Kerry

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