Buying a classic car for restoration is always a risk- with one of the greatest fears is that all is not as it appears to be when it comes to the bodywork.

Even the most optimistic restorers cannot reasonably expect that their vehicle will be free of rust and will have taken into account that they will need to carry out some localised repairs to the body.

Even the most optimistic restorers cannot reasonably expect that their vehicle will be free of rust and will have taken into account that they will need to carry out some localised repairs to the body.

Those who have the appropriate skills and access to the proper equipment may even carry out the repairs “ in-house”, making not  too large a dent in their budget.

Only when the vehicle’s bodywork has been thoroughly cleaned can the full extent of corrosion damage be assessed- and sometimes it can make for a horrifying scenario involving replacing entire panels, usually on the floor of the vehicle but sometimes its sills, doors and wings.

At this stage, with the project barely underway, the restorer has found themselves at a crossroads having to make a fundamental decision.

The decision is to decide how far they can allow themselves to continue with the restoration in the face of a potentially massive breach of budget due to the expense of fabricating these panels.

If the model being restored is recent and mainstream, the most straightforward course of action for the restorer is to search the car breakers to find if they have these parts in stock,  with the chances of finding anything worth working with slim.

Another option is to search the web for companies that specialise in the manufacture and distribution of discontinued car panels. Some of these companies offer replacement panels from  UK and European car manufacturers going back as far as the Fifties.

Replacing old and damaged panels with new will undoubtedly save a lot of headaches but can be a costly adventure.

On the other hand, very few non-professional restorers will have the skills and certainly not the equipment to handle fabrication projects even at the smallest scale and will have no option but to farm the work out to metal pressing shop, especially if the panel they need to replace is not available of the shelf.

The best that they can hope for is a lesson on how stages and the complex and expensive machinery involved in metal fabrication.

The first stage in sheet metal fabrication is developing a general structure of the panel to be produced.

For most professional fabricators, the tool of choice for pressing metal is almost always a forming press (known as a “press” in the industry).
There are a number of press designs used in custom sheet metal fabrication, that fall into one of two characteristics: function and mechanism.

A mechanised press can be operated by three different sources of power: Hydraulic, Mechanical,Pneumatic.

In a  hydraulic press, the power is generated by water stored inside the press system under pressure providing the necessary force for the job.

A mechanical press relies on a motor system while gases power a pneumatic press under pressure.

A forming press can execute several functions simultaneously, taking in forging, stamping, press braking and punching sheet metal.

Forging presses both shape and distribute weight across a sheet metal using the same timeless formula used by village blacksmiths for centuries to hammer out metal into the rough shape of a product.

Press braking produces pre-determined bends in custom sheet metal fabrication needed to replace rotted wings and sills.

The stamping process comes into play less often, and if only, it is necessary to create a mold for very specific shapes.

Punching is required when necessary to drill holes in the sheet metal at specific points through which screws or rivets can join two or more metal structures.
Final Forming

Once the fabrication project has arrived at the required dimension and layout,  a further and more precisely-tuned shaping process comes into play, involving more sophisticated forming tools, in particular planishing or power hammers.

These hammers can rapidly and cleanly carry out such essential functions as beading, doming, edging, riveting and shrinking the metal till it reaches its final shape and can be welded onto the vehicle.

While it may have been expensive, the restorer will know that by going to the presses they have made a wise investment on the long journey to restoring their classic car to its formal glory.

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A guide to acquiring, restoring and maintaining UK or European Classic Cars of the Fifties and Sixties- as well as a recollection of the iconic cars of the era and the visionaries that produced them.