How to Replace the Outer Wheelhouse on a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

Outer Wheelhouse Rehab - The rust repair continues on our ’55 hardtop as we replace a rust-eaten outer wheelhouse.

Patrick Hill Jul 7, 2014 0 Comment(s)
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One of the least fun jobs when restoring a classic Chevy that’s 50-plus-years-old is having to correct the mistakes of those in the past. The long-ago past.

We knew our ’55 Bel Air had seen some sort of major collision on the driver-side quarter back in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Considering this was a $500 beater back in the day, whoever owned the car wasn’t going to pop for a full quarter replacement. Unfortunately, whoever repaired the car used pieces of galvanized steel to patch it back together, along with some donor pieces from another vehicle.

This wreaked havoc on the inner structure because the two dissimilar metals (the car’s original steel and the galvanized pieces) reacted and galvanic corrosion occurred. We’re not gonna bore you with the full breakdown of the process. If you want to know more, Google galvanic corrosion; it’s actually an interesting read.

Anyway, when we pulled off our driver-side quarter, we found a lot of rust caused by the corrosion process. It had basically turned the area of the outer wheelhouse into Swiss cheese at the very top of the piece, and it needed to be replaced before we could install a new factory full quarter from Real Deal Steel. This means we also got a new outer wheelhouse while picking up our new quarters.

Now, on to the actual install.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Map Torch 2/14

1. Before doing any cutting to remove the old wheelhouse, we used a MAP gas torch to melt away all the old undercoating and heat up the metal, so separating the wheelhouse from the inner quarter would be easier.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Heat Brass Plugs 3/14

2. We found brass plugs like these where the wheelhouse had been repaired in the past. Heating the metal with the torch, we were able to grind away the old welds without inflicting further wounds on the inner quarter.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Spot Weld 4/14

3. The top of the wheelhouse is spot-welded to the bottom of the down brace coming from the roof structure. We used a combo of heat, gentle prying, and our Eastwood skip-proof spot-weld driller (PN 11276) to separate the wheelhouse from the brace.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Rust 5/14

4. Here you can see how badly the old wheelhouse was eaten up.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Inner Quarter 6/14

5. Because the inner quarter was thin around the area where the wheelhouse attaches to it, we had to be careful in removing the old piece. We couldn’t use the spot-weld driller here, so we broke out the cutoff wheel and sectioned out the old wheelhouse, then used it to grind out the old spot welds and gently pry the metal off the inner quarter.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Removal 7/14

6. Here’s how it looked once the old wheelhouse was completely removed; the new wheelhouse is sitting in front of it.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Corrosion 8/14

7. When built originally, this area of the car had no real corrosion protection aside from whatever overspray from the priming and paint process could reach it. Once we have the new wheelhouse in place and secured, we’ll clean off the rust and scale, then hit the area with Eastwood’s Rust Encapsulator. Once scale is removed, you can paint right over rust. The encapsulator’s chemistry neutralizes the oxidation and seals the metal so any further corrosion is stopped. It can also be painted over when necessary.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Eastwood Etching 9/14
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Zinc 10/14

8. Before setting the new wheelhouse in place, we had some more bits of metal to clean off the down brace and some other general cleanup work. On the surfaces in which the wheelhouse would be welded to the brace and inner quarter, we used Eastwood’s self-etching weld-through primer. It’s enriched with zinc, so it can still be welded through, while protecting the surface from corrosion.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse New 11/14

9. After some metal surgery on the inner quarter, we set the new wheelhouse in place and got it lined up.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Panel Holding 12/14

10. To hold it securely in place, we used Eastwood’s Panel Holding system, PN 19074. This way, we wouldn’t have clamps getting in the way of our welding work.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Mig Welding 13/14

11. To finish-weld the wheelhouse to the body, we used a combination of stitch welding and our Eastwood MIG Spot Weld Kit, PN 13901. Its special tip fits any MIG welder and helps simulate factory spot welds. We’ve used it in several installs in past issues, and found it works excellently.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Wheelhouse Installed 14/14

12. And there you have it. After we tidy up this area some more, we’ll affix a new gasket seal to the wheelhouse, and get ready to install our new quarter-panel.

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