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.
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.