I’m not a big fan of what is known in the UK as a “day van”. These are invariably based on Ford, Dodge or Chevy full size vans and come complete with arch flares and running boards, tacky stick on bits of trim and are usually bedecked with American iconography such as eagles, native American Indians and/or wolves. They also have lots of seats and lots of windows. Too many windows.
My van started life as a panel van with the USAF but at some point, somebody had started to convert my van into one of these trashy heaps but thankfully either lost interest or ran out of money (or were sectioned under the mental health act) but not before they’d gone one step too far with the installation of windows. The dual windows at the back I can live with. They have a nice period custom van look but that one up behind the drivers door had to go. Taking it out would obviously leave me with a huge hole to fill but this seemingly daunting task is not insurmountable as I’ll show…
Having pulled the window out I was pleased to find they’d at least made a half decent job of cutting the hole neatly. The first step was to de-burr the hole and sand the paint back all round both inside and out.
The metal needed to fill the hole had to be fabricated by hand. The metal in the van is quite thick so I found some steel sheet of a matching thickness and cut an oversized piece. I couple of measurements gave me the position of the crease and curve needed and this was foled and bent in by hand by initially clamping the sheet between two bits of angle iron to fold it, then by bending it back over a 30mm bar in order the get the tight curve. The gentle curve above the body swage was done by eye, by just flexing the sheet.
Next, once the panel had been pulled, bent, hammered and tweaked until it was more or less right, it was placed over the hole and held in place with a few self tapping screws. Don’t worry, this isn’t how it’s installed! This was just to hold it while I went inside and marked around the perimiter of the hole onto the panel with a pencil. Having done this the sheet could be removed and trimmed to the right size, that being 10mm oversize all the way round. Why 10mm? This was needed as I planned to form a swage around the edge of the panel using a joggler, so that it may be overlapped inside yet the panel be flush with the surrounding metal outside. An overlap like this makes holding the panel in place while welding simpler, but also gives a stronger joint and a better join to weld. My Joggler forms a swage a little over 10mm across hence the oversize needed.
Working a swage into the edge of such a big piece of steel was a hand crippling process. Note to self… buy and air powered joggler! Anyway, having formed my swage, the metal was cleaned up (yeah, I know it’s a bit surface rusty but it was all I had!) and refitted into place but now from the inside, using the same self tapping screw holes as before.
It was pretty important to get this panel fitting right. It really did need to be as flush as I could make it with the surrounding metal, otherwise it’d take a tonne of filler to hide the repair! It’s inevitable that some filling will be needed somewhere but I really don’t like to use any more than a couple of millimeters if I can help it. A bit more pulling, pushing and hammering and I had it screwed and tacked all the way round.
With the panel held firmly in place, I gave the panel a good sanding off to remove the surface rust. This sheet metal was new not long ago so the surface rusting was mercifully light. Welding the panel in was done very slowly, using tacks spaced far apart and the whole lot allowed to cool before the next lot of welds. I also ground back the welds each time with 60 grit 2″ Roloc discs on a Blue Point mini-prep tool (highly recommended!) so that I wouldn’t need to grind off a huge great load of weld at the end.
Welding completed and the panel looked great although there inevitably was some distortion. Welds only on the outside of the join had served to pull the whole panel inward slightly. I could have limited any chance of distortion by just tacking the panel in instead of welding it continuously all the way round, however I do so for good reason. If it was just tacked and filled over, should any moisture enter the overlapped seam from the inside, it could go right through and cause rust under the filler. With a continuous weld this can’t happen plus there’s less possibility of filler cracking, especially important on such a big flat area. The distortion was addressed by going all the way around the join inside whacking it with a body spoon to force the panel back out flush. It took a bit of time and effort but worked well. Now all that was need was a skim of body filler where neccesary and a coat of frimer to finish off.
Done! This is just a fairly thin coat of etch primer but once the rest of the van is ready for painting, it’ll be sanded back ready for some epoxy high build. On with the rest of the prep…