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Replacing the 1955 Chevrolet Quarter-Panel

Gerry Burger Apr 24, 2017
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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

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 1 2/53

Dean Livermore, of Hot Rods by Dean, is assembling this '60s-style gasser for his own personal ride. The car will be pure gasser from the Moon tank and Hilborn-injected 327 to the Speedway Motors straight axle and cheater slicks.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 2 3/53

Like most old cars even the "good ones" need work. The driver side rear quarter-panel on Livermore's car had taken a hit some time in the past, and the repair work was less than desirable.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 3 4/53

The pneumatic saw made quick work of removing the old quarter-panel. This cut leaves extra material that will be removed later in the process. Likewise the panel cut does not have to be perfectly straight.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 4 5/53

After close examination and evaluation Sean Rosic decided the prudent approach was complete quarter-panel replacement. With the decision made, it was time to remove the damaged panel. The cut was made through the rounded portion of the upper quarter-panel as it would be a more stable area for welding.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 5 6/53

Here's the original quarter-panel cut free from the car. Save this panel as we will be reusing things like the gas door, gas door hinge bracket, and the inner bumper brace.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 6 7/53

A closer look at the damaged and poorly repaired area shows stretched metal and damage that extends into the gas door opening and all the way down to the lower quarter and out above the wheelwell.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 7 8/53

An examination of the inner structure of the body showed no signs of damage or structural rust. The surface rust can easily be cleaned up and a coat of your favorite rust-converter paint will help you sleep at night.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 8 9/53

Likewise this view of the panels behind the wheel reveal a very solid 1955 Chevrolet. No work will be required to the inner panels.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 9 10/53

One look at this perfect new quarter-panel proves replacement was the proper method of repair. This a full quarter-panel from Golden Star Classic Auto Parts, but Rosic opted to use a partial quarter-panel replacement.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 10 11/53

The tape line is our cut line for the partial quarter-panel replacement. Basically we are simply removing the window portion of the panel. Of course Rosic will keep that window piece around; it could come in handy if a future customer wants to chop a 1955 Chevy.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 11 12/53

Here's the new quarter-panel after trimming off the window area. This will replace the damaged area without having to hassle with fitting the window into the upper driprail.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 12 13/53

Here the old quarter-panel is lying on the floor. Note how the panel has curled upward, this is the result of stresses caused by the stretched metal from the earlier low-quality repair.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 13 14/53

Rosic decided to replace the tail pan to quarter-panel sections on both sides of the trunk. The first step to removing this panel is melting out the lead. A torch makes quick work of melting the lead.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 14 15/53

With the lead gone the panel was cut free using the same pneumatic saw. It's imperative that the trunklid is fitted to the car prior to installing the new panels as setting the panel gaps is a big part of the job.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 15 16/53

Here we can see the passenger side tail pan to quarter-panel section is installed. The driver side panel cannot be installed until the new quarter-panel is in place. We'll deal with that and the new tail pan panel in part 2 of this story.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 16 17/53

This small bumper mount, spacer/brace, reinforces the quarter-panel and spaces it out the proper distance. This piece must be removed from the old panel and added to the new quarter-panel.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 17 18/53

To remove the spacer/brace from the old panel, Rosic uses this handheld, mini-belt sander with quality 3M belts. They cut clean and this tool is great for shaping internal holes in metal or wood, too.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 18 19/53

Starting on the outside of the panel Rosic uses the belt sander as it cuts through the spot-weld with ease. Note the small splash panel on the corner of the panel. This piece is also removed and reused.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 19 20/53

Using the same tool on the inside, the spot welds finally let loose, like everything in hot rodding, best results come from patience and careful work. Spot welds can also be drilled out with a special drill, but it is often difficult to cut the entire weld without damaging the brackets.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 20 21/53

And here's the spacer/brace cleanly removed from the old panel. Sand blasting the piece on both sides prepares it for a new-age installation.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 21 22/53

The inside of the new quarter-panel mounting area is cleaned to bare metal with a 60-grit Roto-Lok sanding disc on an air grinder. Bare metal is the best for our adhesive.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 22 23/53

Rosic uses 3M-08115 panel adhesive to permanently attach the two pieces. The special gun mixes the two-part bonding agent in equal parts for the perfect mix every time.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 23 24/53

Beads of adhesive are applied to the back side of the spacer/brace.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 24 25/53

Likewise, a bead of adhesive is applied to the bare metal on the inside of the new quarter-panel and the piece is pushed firmly into place.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 25 26/53

Rosic uses a heat gun as it speeds up the activation time and once heated and cured the spacer/brace it permanently bonded to the new quarter-panel. There's no metalwork required on the outside of the panel caused by conventional tack welding.

Replacing The 1955 Chevrolet Quarter Panel 26 27/53

Here's a sneak preview of part 2 coming next month. We'll deal with locating the gas door, the taillights, and the tail pan, so stay tuned.

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