There's nothing better than vintage OEM sheetmetal, but sometimes Mother Nature or good old-fashioned blunt-force trauma conspires to do irreparable damage to what is, for the most part, irreplaceable vintage tin. Regardless of how the impairment happened, one option to fix the problem is to replace the entire piece with an aftermarket panel. But if the damage is confined to just one section, then a patch panel is a great way to save the original part. Yeah, you can still find N.O.S. body panels on the market, but they fetch big bucks and can wreak havoc on your budget.
The good news is that going with patch panel is cheaper than purchasing, for example, an entire fender, especially an OEM one. But be prepared, it will take more skill and man-hours to properly graft the patch to the original part. Still, it's the best way to keep as many OE parts on your car as possible.
To see how it's done correctly, we headed over to Hot Rods By Dean in Phoenix to see their fabrication wizards save the front fender of a sweet 1968 Chevy Camaro.
The lower portion of this 1968 Chevy Camaro fender had certainly seen better days, but the rest of it was in great shape.
Hot Rods by Dean fabricator, Wesley Zeller, started by using a straightedge to scribe a line on the fender just below the body line. Using this line as a guide, he then carefully cut through the lower fender.
As you can see, he cut through the skin of the fender but made sure not to cut the inner support brace.
To separate the damaged portion of the lower fender from the support brace, Wesley used a Blue-Point cutting bit (5⁄16-inch).
Modern replacement panels tend to run a bit on the large size. This is due to decades of wear and tear on the tooling. Here you can see the new panel lined up on a T-dolly. The gap you see is how much larger the new panel was compared to the stocker. Wesley then shortened this radius around the wheel opening area.
Using an abrasive disc, Wesley took the edge of the fender down to bare metal.
With the bit, he drilled out the two spot welds.
The area between these two panels is a perfect breeding ground for rust and rot, so this is a great chance to prevent future problems from creeping up.
As you can see, the bottom of the new patch panel didn't come with the necessary cutouts in place. To fix this, Wesley made a cardboard template from the old fender and transferred the shape to the patch panel.
If you're using a MIG welder, then these Eastwood mini butt-weld clamps (PN 19016, $30 for four) are the hot ticket since they leave a perfect 0.030-inch gap. Wesley prefers a TIG welder, so he just employed some specialized tension clamps.
The support was then cleaned and shot with some Eastwood self-etching weld-through primer (PN 12899Z, $15).
The patch panel (PN C-69536-1LH, $127.95) from National Parts Depot (NPD) was much larger than we needed, so Wesley scribed a line on the panel. Note that he made the new section slightly larger than the old section he removed. This was done so he would be able to fine-tune the fit just right.
The front of the patch panel was spot-welded tot he fender with a TIG Welder
The rear of the patch panel was spot-welded tot he fender with a TIG Welder
After transferring the cut line to the inside of the panel, he then lopped off the unneeded section with a bandsaw.
The two panels were then mated together and a mark was made on the new panel where it met the OE fender. The idea was to end up with the two parts butting up together. Once lined up, he marked a cut line on the new piece.
The assembly was test-fit to the Camaro to ensure everything was in just the right spot.
We also took this opportunity to install a new inner wheelhouse from NPD. When test-fitting parts, it's always a good idea to test-fit all of the related parts so no surprises pop up later in the process.
He then went back to the bandsaw and made the final cut through the top of the patch panel.
He then cleaned up the cut and removed any sharp edges and burrs in preparation for welding.
With proper fitment confirmed, Wesley then TIG welded the two panels together.
The weld was then ground down, and the panel was readied for final bodywork on the car.