Bodywork & Welding

dodgedoors1

Unbelievably, it’s been 3 years and 9 months since I last wrote an update on this, my Dodge van and only non-Datsun project.  That’s not to say I haven’t done anything on it in that time, it’s that I’ve just done so little that I didn’t bother to document any of it. I’ve completed a few things like re-installing the dash, getting the steering column housing polished and re-fitting the windscreen (which was a nightmare!), but the real major bodywork has taken a back seat for a while. Most of the bodywork is actually done, but I still have four of the six doors and the bonnet to mend, all of which have varying amounts of rust. I want this van on the road for summer so I’m now back on it and I started with the front doors…

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rust_plus2months

It’s now two months since I prepared some samples of an assortment of rust preventative products and left them exposed to the elements. So far the winter has been reasonably mild with only maybe four or five frosty nights and not that much rain. I’ve only subjected the samples to a salt spray once at the beginning of December.  It’s time to take a look and see how they are doing…

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rust_test

Stopping your pride and joy from turning into a pile of flakey brown stuff is one of the highest priorities for most old car owners. Any Datsun owner knows how rapidly these cars can rust if neglected. There are dozens of different products on the market which are aimed at tackling the never ending rust problem but how effective are they? I thought I’d try to find out…
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Rust begone! Finally, the main shell of the van is all welded up and free from the dreaded rot. The last areas to repair were around the front footwells and bulkhead. As it turned out, the left hand front corner was the worst bit of the whole van, requiring two and a half days of welding and fabricating the repair all the rust and previous bodgery. On the right hand side, some repair work was needed inside where the heater intake is located in front of the passenger footwell. For some bizarre reason, this area had been hacked away in the past and a metal plate fastened over the hole with screws. I guess it was rotten but couldn’t be welded due to the plastic heater casing being located right behind. I pulled the heater and aircon out, chopped the whole lot out and welded in a section cut from another van. Pics after the jump…

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My Laurel needed a tow bar. Okay, it didn’t need one but I figure being a decent sized motor with enough pulling power, it’d be handy for hauling other cars about when the occasion arises. But as tow bars are pig ugly things, it had to be built so it was out of sight when not in use. Easy enough… just tuck it up behind the rear valance and make the neck detachable right? Easy in theory so I set to work….

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Remember that classy bit of repair work I found on the drivers side sill? Well, the only way to tackle it was fitting a new sill but as panels aren’t readily available here for old American vans, I had to make it. This was a long sill so rolling a curve into it without a proper set of sheet metal rollers seems all but impossible but I found a way round it that still produces a decent looking sill. The sill structure was even worse than it looked, requiring the bottom three inches of the inner to be replaced along with the strengtheners too. To start, the grotty metal had to come out. I’m not quite certain why there was a bit of perforated Dexion shelving welded in there! The idea was to join the new sill to the original metal along the lip at the edge of the floor pan, where the floor inside meets the side panel. For now I chopped it out a little lower than this so I can carefully trim back to the line I marked later…

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I actually did this job some time ago but figured it may be of interest as it seems many quite capable car nuts are unwilling to tackle the replacement of these large panels, often preferring to just repair the wheel arches on their own instead. If you can get hold of the panels, there’s isn’t actually much more work involved in replacing the entire quarter panel and of course you need virtually no body filler either. Replacing the entire quarter panel also allows you to rust treat and paint areas that wouldn’t normally be accessible. Once you have new rear quarter fitted, you can apply plenty of cavity wax and be certain that there’s no longer any rust lurking and the car will remain solid for years to come. It does seem like a daunting task but in reality it’s no harder than replacing any other welded on panel, much like a sill. Here’s how it’s done…

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Pudding, Plod, Bondo, Bog, Wag or Pon… call it what you will, body filler is an inevitable part of most bodywork and one which personally I dislike immensely. There is a certain satisfaction in getting it right and making a nasty rippled panel smooth again but the process is often a miserable one, especially when you are working with your average cheap and nasty filler from your motor accessory store .

Relief is at hand though, as this ‘Unisoft’ body filler from Polish manufacturer Novol is superb! It’s very soft so it mixes really easily, goes on like cake icing, cures quickly and sands down super smooth. It never drags, has pinholes or air bubbles either. It’s not cheap (this 6kg tin set me back best part of £30 with the postage) but as it’s easier to apply you waste less and it may be my imagination but it seems to make less fine dust when sanded too.

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I’m thankful this van is as solid as it is but that’s not to say it’s anywhere near rust free. Most of the rot is trivial apart from the LH sillarea which has been ‘repaired’ before. i use the word repaired in the loosest possible context here (more on this shortly). I’m determined to chop out every bit of rot I can find as I’m aiming to elimate the future spectre of rust, primarily due to the nature of the paintjob that coming up. Matching up flake and kandy again later is going to be tricky! More random pics of weld-a-thon progress after the jump…

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