Rat rod, rusto rod, traditional, whatever you call them, they all require certain style-specific parts. Whitewalls are a must for a traditional rod, as are pinstripes. One item that fits the traditional rod blueprint is the batwing air cleaner. Found on ‘50s Caddy’s, Olds’, Packard’s’ and the like, the batwing air cleaner originally set atop an oil-bath filter element. The oil-bath element while, great for the old dusty dirt and gravel roads, limits airflow. The solution to that is simply put it on a 14” aftermarket base and run with it.
Now the real problem surfaces- you want how much for that thing!?!?!?! In the past few years, the boom in old-skool hot rodding has pushed prices for these carb-topppers into the wild blue yonder. Clean examples of yesterday’s filtration go for $150+ on Ebay, far more than I’d want to pay for stuff that was thrown away up until a few years ago. With the salvage yards and swap meets typically picked of the nice, clean units, there is yet another solution- pay 5 bucks for smashed one.
I recently picked up a dented batwing for the 49 Chevy Deluxe we have been building. The front center section was smashed in about a half-inch and quite mangled, most people would have passed on this one, leaving it for the crusher that would eventually eat the entire field of 150+ cars in backwoods Oklahoma this summer. Not me, I like a challenge. I took this left-for-dead tin can and re-worked the metal to create an excellent topper for the small-block that resides between the fenders of the ’49.
A few special tools made the job easier to complete with professional results. The Eastwood Company has a large selection of bodywork tools for just this type of work. A set of Eastwood’s trim hammers and body anvils provided the miniature shapes and sizes needed to do the detailed bodywork on such a small area.
Once most of the dents were removed, vehicle owner Kyle Ambrose laid down some sick stripes on the refreshed batwing. We left a few dings for “character”. All the details are as follows, use them as a guide to shove the guano back into the bat.
The 50’s batwing air cleaner remains a mainstay for traditional hot rods. This one has seen better days, but with a little work it will soon be fit to ride atop the mighty small block once again.
Since the surface is rounded, I used the rounded side of bumping hammer to bring the curves back.
The Eastwood trim hammer comes in handy for the corners.
The outer surface is nice smooth now, not too bad for 30 minutes worth of pounding.
A few minutes in the sandblaster cleans up the old paint and rust.
Since the batwing has inner baffles that limit access to the outer panels, a couple of dents required some body filler.
The body filler is spread on nice and even, keeping the filler out of the creases.
Once the filler is in the tack stages (not fully cured, still rubbery) the surface is sanded with some 36 grit to knock it down. Note how the filler rolls up, while this clogs the paper faster, it is easier to work with.
Next, work the repair down with some 80-grit.
Some work with 120 then some 220 gets the filler nice and smooth and is now ready for paint.
The entire surface gets sprayed with some of Eastwood’s PRE prep spray and wiped off with a rag. Both a degreaser and adhesion promoter, this ensures a good base for the paint.
Some self-etching primer is in order for the bare metal. This coating keeps the rust away and leaves a smooth tack-free finish.
The entire part is sprayed, inside and out and let to dry for a couple of hours.
A few coats of semi-gloss black strikes just the right tone for our rod. We still need a couple more coats here.
With the air cleaner painted and cured, the time arrives for stripin’. Kyle pours up some One-Shot we got from Eastwood.
Armed with his handy-dandy Kafka brushes, Kyle starts laying some lines.
Using his left arm to brace himself, Kyle works the brushes into a frenzy.
Using an old magazine, Kyle loads up the brush with some white One-Shot for some accent lines
A smooth touch equals smooth lines in this business, it always looks easier than it is.
The classic KA signature completes job.
No more a piece of guano, this batwing flies again!
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).