Repair or Replace? It's a question asked a hundred times during any build of a vintage hot rod. The answer is influenced by many factors and the answer to the same question, on the same car, can vary according to the owners' personal preferences.
Dean Livermore at Hot Rods by Dean is building a 1955 Chevy gasser for himself (yes, hot rod shop owners still want to build a car for themselves), and this is going to be a real-deal gasser. Straight axle, Hilborn-injected small-block and a four-speed, old school all the way. When it came time to assess the damage to the driver side rear quarter-panel Livermore went to the head of his sheetmetal team, Sean Rosic, and between the two contemplated whether to repair or replace the panel.
Sometime in the past the driver side quarter-panel had sustained considerable damage. The sheetmetal had been hammered back out and badly stretched. "Oil canning," the ability for a panel to buckle with slight pressure, was a problem, and while the skilled fabricators at Hot Rods by Dean could have repaired the panel there was the replacement option to consider. First is availability. As it turns out Golden Star Classic Auto Parts produces very nice sheetmetal for Tri-Five Chevrolets, so finding replacement parts was simply a click or call away. Obviously if you're working on a 1948 Tucker and no parts are available your only choice is repair. The second consideration was quality of the repair. Getting behind the panel on this car was between difficult and impossible so metalworking the piece would have been an involved process. Replacing the quarter-panel would do two things, provide perfect new sheetmetal, and allow the team to look behind the quarter-panel for any other rust, rot, or body problems. The third and final consideration was efficiency. Repairing the panel could take considerable time as the repair may have involved cutting out the damaged area, forming a contoured piece and welding it back in place in the middle of a relatively flat panel, a challenge even for the most talented metal man. Replacing the quarter-panel would allow the team to locate the welds on the rounded upper portions of the quarter-panel where controlling warpage would be quite easy. The time saved on the welding and metalwork would more than cover the cost of the new quarter-panel and provides a superior job as well. And so the decision was made and a new Golden Star Classic Auto Parts driver side quarter-panel was ordered for the car (PN QP13-55LOE).
The new quarter-panel is designed as a full quarter-panel just like the factory used to assemble these cars in 1955 (and yes, they have 1956 and 1957 quarter-panels as well). The full quarter-panel includes the side quarter window that would be joined under the driprail on the roof. Since there was no damage to the window area the decision was made to simply use a partial quarter-panel.
The cut line for joining the two panels was determined by locating a rounded area that would also be accessible from inside the car. The Golden Star quarter-panel was cut slightly oversized from the preferred cutline. Likewise, the old quarter-panel was removed using a pneumatic saw, but leaving a couple extra inches of metal still on the car. The oversized new panel can now be fit over the original quarter-panel. Holes are drilled through the two panels and Cleco fasteners hold the two panels in place. Alignment of the new panel is carefully checked as the fasteners are used to hold the two panels together. If an alignment problem is found, simply remove the Cleco, adjust the panel, and drill a new hole. Satisfied that the new quarter-panel would be a perfect fit it was time to prepare the panel prior to the final cutting and welding process that would result in a perfect butt-welded seam.
Three pieces were salvaged from the old quarter-panel, the inner bumper brace, the gas door and mounting bracket, and the small splash pan panel that wraps around under the taillight and behind the bumper. These pieces were removed from the original panel by drilling and/or grinding the factory spot welds off. Once removed, the pieces were sandblasted clean to prepare them for their new home on the Golden Star quarter-panel.
Livermore also ordered the tail pan to quarter-panel sections for the car from Golden Start Classic Auto Parts (PN QP13-552 L and QP13-552R). These pieces go between the trunk opening and the inner quarter-panels. Of course before we could fit these panels we had to remove the old panels. A torch made quick work of melting the factory lead out of the seams and from there it was just a matter of cutting out the old panel using a small pneumatic saw and/or a cut-off wheel in a die grinder. Once again there was a piece to be salvaged from the original panel. In this case the taillight bracket that attaches the taillight to the quarter-panel was removed from the original panel and will be spot-welded inside the new panels to attach the taillights. More on that later.
We began by mounting the bumper brace, and decided to attach this support piece with modern two-part panel adhesive. Mix it up, apply it between the two pieces and hit with a heat gun and the brace was permanently bonded to the new quarter-panel. Due to time and space we'll stop here with all the old metal cut off, the new quarter-panel cut down, and the bumper spacer/brace bonded to the new quarter-panel.
Next up we will address attaching the gas door and bracket to the new quarter-panel, along with the other finishing tricks. We'll address all of that and more in the next segment of this story when we finish hanging a new quarter-panel on this soon-to-be quarter horse.
Photography by Brian Brennan