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Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits- Installing Quarter Panels

Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits- Installing Quarter Panels Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits- Installing Quarter Panels

On practically every car, no matter the vintage, there is one section of the body that is the bane of existence for its owner, the quarter panels. It never fails, drive a car long enough and the tell tale signs of rot and rust begin to show themselves in the quarters. When it comes to project vehicles, it is much like rolling the dice, you never know what exactly is under the paint until you get it home. I have seen quarter panels that looked flawless only to get the car home and find the entire area riddled with rust, bondo and shoddy repairs, even though the trusty body filler magnet showed otherwise.

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While there are quite a few specialty dealers that manufacture reproduction quarter panels for niche vehicles, there are many more makes and models of classics that do not have this benefit. Owners of these less-fortunate cars are out of luck when it comes to buying fresh sheet metal. The early Sixties-model Oldsmobile Starfire is one such car.

The question is what to do about it. If the panel is not too bad, a good paint and body guy can bend up some patch panels and weld them in, but if a large section of the panel is shot, especially if it involves a body line, then other means must be sought out. For our 1962 Starfire convertible, this meant finding a donor car.

This is not an uncommon practice; the entire salvage industry is based on it. The trick is finding a decent panel for such a rare car. Through our research, we found that the ’62 Olds 98 has the same vertical dimensions, trim panels and body lines as the Starfire. The big difference between the two panels is the 98 quarter panel is 6 inches longer. We were able to locate a pair of 98 panels and had them shipped to us. We received the entire quarter, including the inner trunk section, wheel house and all. They then needed cut down for what we wanted. While these quarters were quite clean, they were not perfect, so don’t order a set of quarters and expect perfection.

With two quality panels in hand, the repairs could begin. There are a few tools that take a lot of the pain out of this type of procedure. A body ripper attachment for an air-hammer is a cheap and easy way to remove the old skins without creating a lot of warpage. This method is much faster than a cutting wheel, especially on the long straight sections; you will still need a cutting wheel and die-grinder though. Another extremely useful tool is a combination punch\flanging tool. This unique tool creates a 1\16” deep, 1\4” wide flange with one side of the head, and a small 1\8” hole on the other, with each press of the trigger. This makes blending in the patch panel much easier, reduces the amount of body filler used and also creates a great hole to recreate spot welds. With a cost of around $75, it is worth its weight in gold.

There are also a couple of techniques that help ensure a quality job. When welding a panel, especially a long panel like a quarter, using the stitch method will reduce warpage. Welding creates a lot of heat and the sheet metal will twist and bend away from the heat. The stitch method involves first making a few spot welds to hold the panel in place, then adding short 1-inch stitch welds, skipping about 4-5 inches, then another and so on. This reduces the amount of heat each area is exposed to. Using a airgun to cool the area reduces the heat effect even more. Another good idea when replacing any type of sheet metal is using weld-through primer. This high-zinc paint helps protect the backside of the sheet metal from rusting, a very important step in the restoration process, this is something most people forget, and they end up with rust bubble just a few years down the road.

Having spent the last 10 years restoring classic rides and muscle cars, Toby Ramsey of Ramsey and Son Automotive, in Stillwater, OK, has built a solid reputation when it comes to sheet metal work. The result of his knowledge and experience is evident in the completed repairs on the Starfire. Quarter panel skin replacement is not an easy task, and can seriously challenge a novice builder. It is very easy to make a simple mistake and ruin an otherwise good skin. The key here is patience and when in doubt, seek professional help.

The Starfire looked fairly straight from a few feet. The only tell-tale sings of rust was only visible from about 6-inches. Very deceptive.

The Starfire looked fairly straight from a few feet. The only tell-tale sings of rust was only visible from about 6-inches. Very deceptive.

A little investigation with a die-grinder revealed the truth- almost a 1\2-inch thick layer of bondo was covering the hideous, amateur rust repair.

A little investigation with a die-grinder revealed the truth- almost a 1\2-inch thick layer of bondo was covering the hideous, amateur rust repair.

 This shot shows the reality of it all- the previous work consisted on brazing flat sheet metal to original quarter panel. I think the previous owner must have been a plumber.

This shot shows the reality of it all- the previous work consisted on brazing flat sheet metal to original quarter panel. I think the previous owner must have been a plumber.

The final reveal- the entire lower section of the quarter, front and rear was completely wasted. This is the danger of buying a project, you never know what you are going to get.

The final reveal- the entire lower section of the quarter, front and rear was completely wasted. This is the danger of buying a project, you never know what you are going to get.

The Olds 98 quarter panel came as a complete side of the car. Which is nice if the wheelhouses are bad.

The Olds 98 quarter panel came as a complete side of the car. Which is nice if the wheelhouses are bad.

Using the body ripper, the long straight section of the outer skin was sectioned from the panel.

Using the body ripper, the long straight section of the outer skin was sectioned from the panel.

The backside of the panel following the curves of the wheel well required the grinder with a cut-off wheel. This is slow, tedious work, especially on a large panel such as this.

The backside of the panel following the curves of the wheel well required the grinder with a cut-off wheel. This is slow, tedious work, especially on a large panel such as this.

The air hammer once again comes into play, this time with a spot-weld breaker. Even though this panel is straight and clean, it still has some rust issues. That is the price you have to pay when building a niche-market car.

The air hammer once again comes into play, this time with a spot-weld breaker. Even though this panel is straight and clean, it still has some rust issues. That is the price you have to pay when building a niche-market car.

With the replacement quarter trimmed out, the car’s quarter is trimmed out to match. The rust is never ending in this car, all of this has to be fixed.

With the replacement quarter trimmed out, the car’s quarter is trimmed out to match. The rust is never ending in this car, all of this has to be fixed.

The replacement panel was test fit for final trim adjustments. This is an important step in the process.

The replacement panel was test fit for final trim adjustments. This is an important step in the process.

With everything trimmed and ready, the inside portions were cleaned up with a wire brush to remove all the surface rust.

With everything trimmed and ready, the inside portions were cleaned up with a wire brush to remove all the surface rust.

The edges of the car were taped off, then the inside panels were sprayed with rust preventative and then undercoated to stave off future episodes.

The edges of the car were taped off, then the inside panels were sprayed with rust preventative and then undercoated to stave off future episodes.

The replacement panel is flanged so it will sit under the original panel and the outer sections will be flush. This is the best tool in the toolbox for installing patch panels.

The replacement panel is flanged so it will sit under the original panel and the outer sections will be flush. This is the best tool in the toolbox for installing patch panels.

The replacement panel is also sealed, undercoated and sprayed with weld-through primer. This primer keeps the welds from rusting in the future.

The replacement panel is also sealed, undercoated and sprayed with weld-through primer. This primer keeps the welds from rusting in the future.

The panel was slid in place and tack welded about every 8 inches.

The panel was slid in place and tack welded about every 8 inches.

Then each section was stitch-welded inch by inch with at least 6-inches between each stitch. An air-gun helps keep the metal cool so it doesn’t warp.

Then each section was stitch-welded inch by inch with at least 6-inches between each stitch. An air-gun helps keep the metal cool so it doesn’t warp.

The welds were ground smooth with a grinder. The welds must penetrate both panels so they can be ground low enough and still remain intact.

The welds were ground smooth with a grinder. The welds must penetrate both panels so they can be ground low enough and still remain intact.

The entire seam is wiped with Duraglass, a fiberglass-reinforced polyester body filler. This step helps fill the micro-pinholes in the welds, and seals out moisture, which would eventually cause regular body filler to bubble.

The entire seam is wiped with Duraglass, a fiberglass-reinforced polyester body filler. This step helps fill the micro-pinholes in the welds, and seals out moisture, which would eventually cause regular body filler to bubble.

With the Duraglass sanded smooth, the panel is ready for body filler.

With the Duraglass sanded smooth, the panel is ready for body filler.

The panel is wiped with premium tack-free body filler and then sanded with progressively finer grit sandpaper. Starting at 36, moving up 250.

The panel is wiped with premium tack-free body filler and then sanded with progressively finer grit sandpaper. Starting at 36, moving up 250.

Then the car is wrapped up and ready for primer. This is primer-sealer, which seals the metal and primes it for sanding primer (seen on the above section in gray). Soon the entire car will be ready for paint.

Then the car is wrapped up and ready for primer. This is primer-sealer, which seals the metal and primes it for sanding primer (seen on the above section in gray). Soon the entire car will be ready for paint.

About Jefferson Bryant (205 Articles)
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).

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