Model A Ford Front Fender Repair Hints.
I have the usual pile of fenders. All needed rust work and other help. After some asking around I found what I thought were real nice rust free fenders. Well they were rust free. After removing the paint I found that they were both accident victims that had been repaired by someone that had a clue about body work. They did not fit in any direction. They were repaired off the frame with no regard for fit. What follows are some recommendations for attempting fender repair and they are based on help from some friends.
Next time you are at a show look closely at fenders. You will start noticing few are without problems. Frequently the crease is just not starting or ending correctly and the bead is just weird. I am not saying all these people are terrible at their restorations, quite frankly I have to admire how some have manage to get a useable fender knowing they must have started a bad fender. It takes a fair amount of metalworking knowledge and experience to make a fender real nice, quite frankly fenders are advanced body work. Mine are not going to be perfect, but I am attempting to get them real nice just to see if I can. I hope to give others hints that will improve their final product.
Front fenders should scare you. They are the first thing everyone sees and you need to make them look balanced and straight. They are several complex curves that are all interconnected. What appears to be a problem at the front may be because of problems at the rear of the fender. You need to understand that dents can cause shrinkage that will make the complex curves move in odd ways. You need to take your time experimenting with how they move and be ready to give up and walk away till the next day when your mind is refreshed. Do not try to learn body work on fenders that you want to be really nice as you can really mess them up beyond your abilities to fix them.
You must do the fender repairs on a straight frame with running board brackets that are correctly located. It is helpful to have a pair of running boards that are close to correct for rough in and then the good ones for final fit.
You also have to have the headlight bar and fender brackets set up so they fit together. You have to be able to easily get the bolts in the headlamp bar through the fender brackets. Usually the fender brackets need to be bent up wards some. I found an easy way that just needs a large pipe and a solid bar. The pipe fits over the bracket and you put the large bar in the pipe and bend up. You should not bend the brackets cold on the frame, you should heat them if you need to do it on the frame. I own a very heavy vice attached to a decent table and that is where I bent my brackets. I originally used heat, but I had this large heavy pipe that fits over the bracket laying around and something popped into my head to try it cold. I found I had very good control over the bend cold and it was quick. The bar I used for leverage was a 5/8" steel X 5' long I had laying around in my shop. Keep in mind we all may have a problem in that we are dealing with fenders, brackets and headlight bars that are all out of wack. Since they are all out of wack you have to do your best guess at what might be right and be ready to realize later you were wrong and have to do a lot of changes to make the fenders look right.
I also needed to play around with bending my headlight bar. It had an obvious flat spot in the arch and it had a slight fore aft bend that was visually obvious. I made the bar and bracket such that they touched at each bolt hole. Keep in mind the 30-31 fenders should not have a rubber gasket where the headlight bar sets. The headlight bar should only touch at the pads and you should be able to pass a business card all around the bar. I have to admit I cheated some and used a dremel to trim the edges of the headlight bar pad for more clearance. I believe some headlight bars have the stand off pads worn or rusty and are not tall enough and will need some trimming for fit.
Once you have the brackets and headlight bar fitting, a pair of running boards on the frame, and some frame welting then you are ready to set the fender in for a test fit.
Put the fenders on and flat edge that lays on the fender welting (where the hood latches screw down) must be lined up with the inside edge of the frame. Just put a couple of screws in to hold the edge of the fender so that it lines up with the inside edge of the frame. Then put, or attempt to, the headlight bar on and tighten the bolts down. I have to say at this point you could have a problem with the fender brackets and fenders just not fitting. The truth is you may have to play quite a bit to get some kind of a reasonable fit, I do not have any good hints on what to do at this point as I had problems. Do not worry about getting the outside fender bracket to fender bolt in yet, that may not be very close to fitting.
Now step back and see how it fits.
In mine the front edge drooped down at the front outside corners and the running board fender interface was off by many inches. Now use your hands and grab the fender and see what has to move to make the fender appear to move in the right direction. You also want to sight down the bead line. Keep in mind that the bead should be in line with the edge of the running board and straight from the bolt in the front all the way to the bolt on the rear fender. Beyond the bolts the bead has to flair out some to make the transition to the the tight bend at the front and the rear.
Here is where I start to run out of quick instructions. This is were I had to use every last bit of metal working skills I had learned and then I still had to get help from some friends. I wanted to give up twice and say good enough, but then I got encouraged and a few more bits of advice from some friends. One tool I wish I had is an english wheel as I know that would help some of my problems.
You will notice that there is a crease running along the fender (To see some fender details click this). This crease is an interesting feature. There are at least two known variations. The crease ends at different points at the rear of the fender. One is sort of long ending about 6" from the running board flange. The other tapers off just a bit before after where the front edge of the splash apron fits in to the fender. This crease is well defined and is easily lost in doing body work or when the fender is damaged. It is a straight line front to rear. It is hard to draw on the fender with conventional rulers or strings, but you can use a laser level above the fender to make a line if it has disappeared. To put the crease back into the fender or make it better defined you need to dull up a 1/2" chisel and put round corners on it. I use a light machinist hammer and mild hits to increase the definition of the crease. The crease also affects fender fit so it is an important detail to recreate.
For the bead work I found the simple tools work best. For major bead moving I used a sledge hammer and chunk of wood. For minor stuff I used some C clamps and piece of long wood with two blocks velcroed to it. I could set the velcro blocks at the edges of the bend and then use the C clamp to pull the bend out.
My ultimate tool that make bead work easy is what I call the can opener. I made it up out of scrap metal and I can move the bead and line it up in no time.
Bear in mind that you will be taking the fenders off and putting them back on many times. They still need to be bolted down tight each time. For actual body work any tool goes. A pair of strong hands can do a lot of the alterations. A shrinking disk is a wonderful tool for leveling the many small dents you will find or make. A crease is an area that is shrunk, you will need to do hammer on dolly work to fix the problem. Remember any weld is a shrink point that must be stretched with hammer on dolly work, no exceptions.
These is more I need to write. I have been meaning to get some of these details down for a while and someone on Fordbarn is asking questions. So rather than do an email I thought I would throw this together. I hope this helps.
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