In the late seventies and eighties, adding creature comforts to lesser-equipped cars was huge. All kinds of modifications were made, such as power locks, power windows, and fog lights. Those were all fine and good but if you really wanted to add some panache to a car you would add a sunroof. Yeah buddy, nothing is cooler than an early 80’s sunroof that sits 2 inches higher than the rest of the roof and leaks worse than the Titanic (post-iceberg of course). The reality is that this type of “upgrade” was common place and it really hurts a cars value. The trouble is patching a roof panel is much easier said than done. The large expanse of steel with a very mild compound curve is quite difficult to copy and welding on a roof can cause so many warps you would think it had been used for a tap dance routine. This is not the kind of information you want to hear when you need to repair this kind of problem.
Now that you have been thoroughly scared away from attempting this type of repair, we are going to show you how to do it right. Using a few specialized tools that make the job simpler, and some tools you should already own, the task at hand will become more manageable. As with any automotive job, consult a professional if your skills are not up to the task at hand, it usually costs more if you make it worse.
We found a 1973 Challenger in Ramsey Autobody in Stillwater, OK. This particular model had been treated to a sunroof job that left a little to be desired. The new owners had smartly decided to remove it during the restoration of the car. Toby Ramsey graciously allowed our cameras in the shop to document the process.
One of the unique steps we used on this car was an English wheel and plannishing hammer. While their initial costs might be prohibitve, with a little practice, their uses are immeasurable. Adding a compound curve to a patch panel is not easily done, and matching an existing panel is even trickier. The english wheel can quickly work a piece of steel or aluminum into the correct shape. The plannishing hammer is used to smooth the panel and add the final shape. Since English wheels and plannishing hammers are stretching devices, the possibility of over-stretching is ever present.
To combat this, a set of shrinking jaws are kept on hand to bring the panel back. These tools are not absolutely necessary, but they make thing easier and reduce the amount of body filler needed to smooth out the roof. There will be a good amount of body filler on ANY roof job, so be prepared.
Another trick Toby Ramsey employed was heat shrinking. This process uses a torch to heat the metal to cherry red in the bottom of a dent or warp, then a wet rag is placed on the metal. This shocks the metal and causes it to shrink rapidly, removing the dent of warp. For large warps or dents, a shrinking hammer can be used in conjunction with the torch and rag.
In the end, the roof came out smooth and clean, which is a good thing considering this car is getting painted black. As most of you know, black is the worst color for any body man as it shows every tiny defect. Toby and his crew spent about 4 days working on the roof, getting it perfect before spraying the primer.