How many of us bought that dream car years ago to do a frame-off restoration, only to bring it home and put it in the corner of the shop, or worse, outside under a tarp, all the time buying a chrome piece here and there, interior material, and maybe some hub caps. Meanwhile, the car just sat there deteriorating. This is what seemed to be happening to our 1941 Packard LeBaron Sport Brougham (my favorite of the '41's). It is a semi-custom car of which only 99 were made, designed for Packard by LeBaron before LeBaron was bought by Chrysler. We found the car in Boston, complete and running, with solid frame and floors, but every body panel was badly rusted. The body had been stripped with aircraft paint remover and primed. Not sand blasting it was a good idea, because from the cowl to the trunk, these cars have a lot of lead covering the seams where the car was customized at the factory. Sand blasting could have blown away the details. When we got it, we stripped it again and made photos of where the lead was, as well as checking for any body filler that might have been covering up rusted areas. We then spent several hundred hours cutting out and putting in patch panels. In short, we savedthe car. The drive train was rebuilt, along with the front end and brakes (see www.southernwheels.com and click on our Archives section), then put the car in the corner of the garage with its fenders and doors off and its parts in boxes, moving on to other projects. At this point, we had a lot of time and money in the car, but there were other cars we wanted and had the opportunity to buy. There were other reasons, too, for stopping work: The lower right front door was severely rusted and the lower hinge was broken, and there were a lot of small rust holes in both rocker panels. We were going to make new ones (this really wasnt necessary) and it would have taken a long time to re-create the concave and convex curves in the panels. Also, the doors still needed a lot of work.
We currently have seven restoration projects going, and all are farther along in completion than this car, with two being scheduled for completion in the next 9-12 months. As I worked up project schedule sheets on the cars, I realized that the 41 would probably not get done for another 8-10 years! I'm 58, so that would make me 68 before I would be able to drive the car, and, although thats not old (I have a friend that just completed rebuilding a 1948 Packard 356 engine at age 83) still, many of us are faced with certain baby boomer problems that we didnt have when we bought our dream cars. When we planned the frame-off resto, we were jogging five miles a day with no aches or pains. It became clear to me that what I wanted to do with the car was to (1) preserve it and (2) drive and enjoy it. Pebble Beach was not in its future! So I set up a more realistic restoration approach that would let me drive it while it was being completed, and by having it together that would make its value more in line with the time and money I had in it and for which it wa s insured. The plan was to finish welding all panels, do body work to the point where all that would be needed was final finishing, paint all door jambs, firewalls, etc., using its body color, French Gray Metallic (I like to see a little of the final color while Im working on it), then put the glass back into the doors and hang the fenders.
THE TEAM: We set up a 3-man team to get the panels ready to put on the car, calling in our buddy Odell Hancock from We Do It All Restorations as the welder. Odell's job was to weld up each panel, fixing stress cracks, making new edges, etc., and grinding the welds ready for fiberglassing. The panels went next to me, where I metal-prepped, primed and fiberglassed and shaped them, before moving them along to Joe, who finished shaping them with body filler, sanding and re-priming them. Within a couple of weeks, we had the panels ready, but before putting them on, all mounting holes were checked and drilled if necessary. When we held the rear fenders up to the car, we noticed that some of the cage nuts were not in the body. To replace them, oversized holes had to be drilled into the rear door jambs to allow the cage nuts to be pushed into place, so the rear fender bolts could be screwed in from the other side. To fill the holes, we used a 2-part steel epoxy and let it sit for 24 hours, then sanded and shaped and primed it. It looked nice! (The epoxy is available from KBS Coatings.) We also used KBSs Rust Sealer to seal the small holes in the rocker panels before fiberglassing. The fenders were then mounted to the car. Of course, they will come off for final body work, then will be painted and put back on with fender welt. For now, the fenders are straight, in primer, and are on the car!
The doors were mounted without incident, except for the right front hinge that had been broken. We found that the new replacement hinge was correctly made, but not totally finished. Joe had to cut it to the correct length using the hinge on the other side as a guide, then put the hinge in place to mark the holes for drilling and tapping. When the door was put on the car, we noticed that it was sagging at the striker plate. A close inspection of the other hinge indicated that we would have to heat the replacement hinge and bend it. The bend was necessary for the door to align properly. Now with the doors and fenders back on, we had a car again!
This will continue to be a work in progress for some time, but the good news is we can now drive our '41 to get gas and on short trips around the neighborhood, having fun with it while restoring it! The completion date is now in sight, and the original restoration budget has come way down. When this car is completed, it will be a very nice driver and really, thats what its all about.
So pull off the car cover, keep it simple, and get the car back on the road! Watch for Mixing and Matching Paint in an upcoming issue. Keep 'em driving!