Dodge Restoration July 2009

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I am now at a really exciting (but laborious) stage of the Dodge restoration, and that is the skinning of all of the coachwork in aluminium sheet.

It is exciting because the whole thing is really taking shape, but it is laborious because there is a lot of area to cover, and much of it is quite tricky to get right.  With lots of locker doors and other angles, not to mention the graceful upper curve of the bodywork, it is not something to rush. This article covers both how I went about doing it and mentions some of the things I learned along the way.

The panels are a mix of old and new

I had decided very early on that I would try and utilise original panels where I could.  Not only is that good from a restoration perspective, but it would also keep me honest in terms of the dimensions of things.  Even where the original panel was too far gone to re-use, I disciplined myself to replicate the panel as near as I possibly could in new material, even if that meant replicating one or two anomalies.  As it was there are only a handful of re-used panels:  the sliding doors, the back lower corner lockers and the large panels behind the doors (and one of those has a crease in it that I may regret when it is all re-painted!)


The lockers are a combination of old skins on new frames, new skins on new frames, and lockers from another fire engine adapted into precise replicas of the originals.  The lockers define where the holes are, and the holes define both the layout, and to a large extent, how the bodywork was constructed in the first place.  One of the greatest challenges has been to combine memory, a few photos, some rotten remnants, a lot of luck and rather too much head scratching detective work and from all of that design and build in three dimensions.

One such puzzle was how I was going to get the “sweep” of the top edge of the rear body.  I had the curve of the top of the cab because I had the long panels with the big window cut-outs in them.  So I could be fairly confident that the cab roofline was spot on, but what about the rest.  It kept me thinking for many an evening I must say.  I thought of hundreds of ways it could be done but none of them really gave me confidence.  I knew where the tops of the lockers would be, and could therefore surmise that there was a sturdy longitudinal rail running front to back at that point, but the blades above that were anyone’s guess. 


Then, one evening I had a brainstorm.  I took a piece of 2 inch wide flat bar, maybe 3/8ths of an inch thick and 20 feet long and clamped it to the cab roof, letting it follow the curve of the cab roof for the first 6 feet and then just let it dangle the rest.  I then clamped sheets of ply to that longditudinal and simply drew the curve formed by the steel on the sheets which I then cut out.  The result is superb, and so close to the original that it would not surprise me in the slightest if that’s how they did it in the first place!

Getting the right curve for the body came in a moment of inspiration

The ply sheet basis has proved to be a very good approach.  It is possible to make up a sort of space frame and then skin it all in metal, but I simply skinned everything in exterior-grade hardwood ply first and then, when I was sure that everything was where it should be; all lined up and all the lockers fitted snugly, it was just a case of cutting, shaping and fitting the aluminium panels.  That latter process is still on-going, but every day sees a little more done.  Like most jobs time spent below the surface makes what goes on at the surface easier, and this is no exception.  But it is a big piece of coachwork and it has swallowed sheet after 8x4 sheet of ply and yard (or meter) after yard of timber.  I have not counted the exact number, but I have just purchased another thousand screws and they are still being swallowed up.  By the time I have finished I will be in the market for a new rechargeable drill!

The bodywork has required a huge amount of timber

Having got the timber installed I have done two other things.  Although it is exterior grade timber, I have sprayed all the component parts, particularly the edges and end grains, with clear wood preserver, and then, once that has dried out, the whole thing has received a good coat of paint, again paying particular attention to the joints and end grains.  I will, in the most vulnerable areas, add even more protection with exterior grade caulk and yet more paint, but for now I think there is a good, sound and long lasting basis for the aluminium skin.

Each panel is carefully bent into shape then fitted

Having got the shape sorted out the challenge has been to add the skin.  First on the list was the doors and other areas using the old panels, and then it was out into the unknown with a pair of air shears, a decent straight edge, some good marker pens and lots of patience.  And as can be seen from the photographs, so far so good!

A view of the upper part of the main cab

And the roof of the cab itself

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