By Jay Storer
The adjective is used a little too often, but the "classic" profile of '32 Ford highboy roadster is recognizable from across a car event crowded with other hot rods, which makes the body pretty important and onlookers' expectations high. You don't have fenders and running boards to complete the whole picture, so the eye goes right to the main body. In the case of our Road Tour roadster, we are lucky to have an all-steel reproduction '32 Ford body from Brookville Roadsters.
Brookville Roadsters started using their stamping and forming equipment to make reproduction steel Ford roadster bodies back in 1982, launching with the Model A. In the "A" line they have '28-29 bodies, '30-31 bodies, and roadster pickups. The Deuce roadster body was considerably more complicated to make than the "A", requiring some 100 different dies to make 68 separate pieces. Because Brookville made the effort and investment in tooling to reproduce the sought-after Deuce roadster body they have been endeared to street rodders forever.
You might expect that because our Brookville body is nearly an exact replica of the original Ford steel body, everyone who buys one is going to have a car that looks just like everyone else's. Believe it or not, even with the production schedule at Brookville, there are several options available when ordering your '32 roadster body. The cowl, for instance, can be ordered with the stock cowl vent in place or as a one-piece unit that requires no welding or bodywork to fill in, if your going for that look. The doors can be ordered in six or seven different styles, depending on if you want stock or hidden hinges, the stock raised bead around the hinges or not, or the original hole at the top-rear that was to hold the bottom rod of a side-curtain. Likewise, you can have a deck lid or a rumble seat lid (with or without the hole for the outside handle), flooring to suit your seating arrangement, and a "deck former" strip added to the back lip around the interior if you choose to use a non-stock-style seat or seats.
If you're looking for something that sets your car further apart from the crowd, by the time you read this, Brookville will be offering their Deuce "roadster pickup", which fits the same frame as any '32 body. This is not an exact replica of the extremely rare Deuce roadster pickup, but uses the roadster pickup, but uses the roadster cowl and a new back section that is actually an "extended cab" compared to an original. Just in case your needs require a closed '32 body or parts, Brookville will be finished tooling their new steel three-window coupe next year! This is big news for rodders and restorers both, since this body will precisely duplicate the original, such that the Brookville coupe parts can be used to restore an original. They already have a few of the pieces for the three-window, including new interior garnish molds (very rare to find anymore).
MOUNTING THE BODY
With the help of at least four buddies available for the momentous occasion when you make the first body-drop, position the body on the frame, locating it first on the front body holes in the frame; when these are aligned, rest the body down. Adjust the front of the cowl left/right and fore/aft until the holes in the body are centered over the holes in the frame, then install the bolts and nuts there, but do not tighten them yet.
After all the bolts are in place, the body will have to be shimmed at various spots to align the panels. This is particularly important in the door area of the roadster because there is very little stiffness there when the door is open. A little misalignment and the doors will not open or close properly or fit their openings with even gaps. By using shims between the body and frame, up or down pressure can be applied to the body at various points.
Consider the cowl to be the moveable portion of the body. If you change the above-the-frame distance at the front of the cowl in comparison to the rear of the cowl, you will tilt the cowl slightly forward or back, which of course changes the relationship of the rear of the door to the rear doorjamb. As it sits after all the body bolts have been tightened, if the rear of your door (unlatched) is higher than the top of the rear door jamb, you can tilt the cowl backwards by having more shim at the the front cowl bolts. If the rear of the door is too low, then you would shim the rear cowl mounting bolts instead of the front.
Not to discourage you, but after the car is painted and reassembled, with all the dirty work done, the body is probably going to need reshimming. It may not be as lengthy a process as the first time around, but this something you don't want to rush because misalignment at the doors could mean fresh and expensive paint will get chipped.
The 2004 Road Tour Body
Randy Clark, as we mentioned before, has combined a thoroughly modern drivetrain in our roadster with traditional suspension and body touches that also emulate the past. You'll be amazed at how just a few custom touches on a car can add up to a "style statement," even when utilizing relatively common and widely-available components.
Starting at the front of your car, your
choice of headlights begins the statement. The boys at HR&CS have made
beautifully-sculpted headlight/shock mounts that echo the old-school mounts
made from the severed ends of stock Deuce headlight bars, yet are polished
stainless steel and unique in shape. These are fitted with '34 Ford commercial
(pickup) headlights that are not quite as fat as the big original '32 lights.
The stock lights were stainless, but ours are painted body color, just another
example of the many small details you can choose. Since the lights are mounted
low, the original headlight-wire holes in the sides of the shell were filled,
then new holes were drilled lower and further back on the shell to accept
the nice headlight-wire conduits HR&CS made from rigid stainless tubing.
You have a variety of choices when it comes to a hood: from no hood, to just a hood top, to a full hood (in either three pieces or four!). At HR&CS, a very precise pattern of the desired hood was made from posterboard and sent off to be duplicated in steel. Several layers of posterboard were laminated together with glue to give the posterboard the stiffness needed for consistent measurement and alignment. When the grille shell was aligned with the cowl by the new hood-mount bars on each side, the patterns were cut a little at a time until they fit the car perfectly; even the top was rounded to fit the top of the cowl and shell just like a real hood. Only minor adjustments had to be made to the new steel hood parts when they arrived back at HR&CS.
Space is limited under a roadster cowl, and the HR&CS solution for our car was to actually use two Deuce dashes! One steel Brookville dash is mounted in the stock position on the cowl and is fitted with a new instrument cluster form Dakota Digital. Behind this dash and a little lower, a second dash has been installed that mounts the Vintage Air heating/AC controls, and the two heat/air outlets. Extra sheet metal was added to the top of the second dash to allow it to hang a little lower and still cover up what was behind it. That area between the second dash and the firewall has a lot going on, including the Painless Performance fuse/relay/wiring center, the Vintage Air heat/air evaporator/heater-core/blower case, and the Electromotive Tec3 "brain box" that does our engine's spark/fuel management. It's neatly organized, but busy.
Modifications to the appearance of our Road Tour roadster at the rear include a custom taillight installation and some roll pan-like corner pieces where the body meets the fuel tank. It wasn't enough for Randy Clark to just bolt a pair of repro early Pontiac taillights onto the panel below our deck lid. It was decided to "French-in" the taillights as was often don in the '50s.
This takes some work to do, but HR&CS found a new twist to this old procedure. Some pieces of wood with holes of proper dimensions were cut to make a "hammerform" for the taillight buckets. The wooden pieces were heavily clamped down to a steel table with a piece of sheetmetal captured inside, and metal man Lars proceeded to use a variety of hammers and tools to pound the metal until it assumed the shape dictated by the wood. The end result when the wood form was unclamped was a frenched steel "bucket" that would accept the taillight in the center. Lars also fabricated new "corners" at the back of the body to fill the gaps between the body and the gas tank. This time a "buck" was used instead of the hammerform method used for the taillight buckets. The buck is a series of wooden parts bolted together that are contoured to the shape of the desired part. However, the metal that's being used is not hammered over the wood, it is hammered and otherwise shaped separately, but constantly checked against the buck until it fits exactly on it. If you like the treatment, HR&CS is making duplicates of these in fiberglass for use with glass or steel bodies.
During the pre-paint phase of the project, the installation of the body allowed a number of separate sub-projects to go forward, such as trying out the seat, mounting the battery box, installing the steering column, and making the front floor and transmission tunnel. Many of these steps are illustrated here, and you'll see a great deal more in successive chapters. Now that we've illustrated here the main items of body fitting/customizing, we'll delve into the body preparation and painting process, as done at the award-winning HR&CS body shop and paint shop.
Preparation for Paint
Although our car is a reproduction steel example of the breed, most of what we are going to be outlining applies equally to fiberglass reproductions as well. Body and paint materials are very expensive today, but as with anything that involves a high percentage of human effort, the real cost of a paint job is not materials, but labor. It's been said many times, and whole books have been written on the subject, but when it comes to bodywork and painting "proper preparation is 90 percent of the job."
The entire process of making a car look good begins first with getting the body itself to be flat, then flattening the paint that goes over it. When you get it right the car has that "wet" look and, whatever color the car is, it really looks vibrant. First, the body itself must be flat, and by that we don't mean one without curves, just without tiny highs and lows in the surface. At HR&CS, work on our Brookville steel roadster body started after all the welding and other fabrication work was completed. Brookville ships their bodies with a protective coating of red oxide primer, inside and out, so they don't rust in shipment or storage. Mike Adams, bodyshop manager at HR&CS, likes to start with a bare surface, so the crew dry sands the primer off the outside of the '32 so Mike can make an inspection of the surface.
Even if our body hadn't received the benefit of some customizing and was factory fresh, preparation always starts with an overall "Braille check' of the surfaces. A good bodyman can often detect irregularities in a car's surface that you and I can't even see. Notes are made on any areas that may need work, and the car is masked, cleaned, and shot with two-part epoxy primer, specifically PPG's DPLF primer. Having this as a base on the steel means it is protected, since moisture can't penetrate this tough epoxy.
One of the unique qualities of DP-90 is that any bodywork can be done over the primer. Normally, body fillers must be used over bare sheetmetal only. Two coats of DP-90 were used on the Road Tour car's components and then allowed to cure overnight before being worked on. You can see how this would benefit the average hot rodder or old-car restorer. When you first drag home your scabby swap meet find in which only you see the potential, you proceed to pull everything apart only to realize it has twice as much rusty tin as you thought when you bought it! It can be discouraging to look at this for the next few years, so the ideal plan is to have your parts stripped bare at a shop like HR&CS, then primed with DPLF epoxy primer (after, you can even store some of the stuff outside and it'll be okay, not to mention it'll look better and be cleaner to work with).
Bodywork may conjure up images of gallons of plastic body filler and cheese graters, but we're dealing with a brand-new steel body here. However, as in any reproduction body, there are tiny irregularities that nned our attention, and because our Deuce is also customized, the areas that have been welded and hammered need to be "dressed" for the party (paint). Two types of body filler were used on the Road Tour roadster. The first type, called Mar-Glass, contains shredded strands of fiberglass. Although it is much harder to sand, this produces a very strong material that doesn't shrink.
After sanding the Mar-Glass, the treated areas are further flattened by spreading a thin layer of conventional filler over them. This is easier to block-sand and it fills tiny void in the Mar-Glass. When this filler is cured, the entire body is gone over with a dual action (DA) sander and hand-sanding to level everything in pursuit of the next level of flatness. That pursuit from here on out is determined by the abrasives used. The process of flattening the surface of the car means using progressively finer and finer grits of sandpaper until the tiny imperfections on the surface are truly on a microscopic level.
After all the bodywork was sanded, our Deuce was dusted off and sprayed with two wet coats of NCP-271 corrosion-resistant primer. This is another two-part primer, and once it has been catalyzed it has a one-hour pot life (at 70 degrees Fahrenheit), so do your spraying and then clean your gun right away. When fully cured, this primer coat was sanded using what is known as a "guide coat." Here's one instance when even the pros use a rattle-can! A dusting of black spray paint is sprayed over the light-colored primer surface, showing up well in contrast. Now the block-sanding takes place by hand with finer grits of paper (like 320-grit). As you remove the black guidecoat, the spray paint is left only in the low spots. This guidecoat can locate minute variations in the surface. When you have a surface that shows no more low spots when lightly sanded, you're ready to move on to the next phase of the finishing process.
After our highboy had the benefit of two rounds of priming and guidecoat sandings, we were almost ready for paint. At HR&CS, the next step was to transport all of the parts, meaning the chassis, body, and more, to their paint shop building a few blocks from the body shop. Here, everything was dusted off, masked, and prepared for entry into the big paint booth.
Paint and finish product from PPG were used on the Road Tour roadster from the start, and this brings us to a point that should be mentioned. Whatever brand of products you use, all of it, from your base primer to final clearcoats, should be be from one manufacturer. Today's paint products are part of a chemistry system in which all of the products work with each other. Intermixing different products from various manufacturers can come back to haunt you with incompatibility problems that may show up right now, or months later.
In the PPG line of products, they have a "compliant, wet-on-wet" sealer, called NCS-1990, which was the next material applied to our Deuce. This is a catalyzed sealer that is sprayed on the car or a group of parts and, while it is still wet, the first coats of color basecoat are applied over it. As with other aspects of modern paint systems, the idea is to promote adhesion between the various layers applied to the car.
Today's basecoat/clearcoat finishes involve an application of a basecoat with more pigmented solids than in older paints. When this base is applied it looks flat, but the clearcoat that goes on next not only protects the color basecoat, but also provides a hard shell that can be color-sanded and polished to make a final finish that's not only durable but big-time shiny! The application part that works with the chemistry is the HVLP system, which stand for High Volume, Low Pressure. In other words, these modern spray guns can put down a lot of material without needing high pressure to get even atomization of the paint. The low-pressure (10psi or so) means there is less overspray material falling on a freshly painted panel of your car.
Our yellow happens to be fairly "transparent" for a basecoat, so HR&CS's painter, Ed Bernard, applied four good coats. The body was then lightly sanded with 500-grit the next day and shot with another four coats. In all, some 4 gallons of reduced material was applied, because if too few coats of a color like this are applied, the yellow can look too green. They obviously got it right on the '32, as you'll find out if you see it at a major street rod event-there's no cast, no tint, just bold yellow! This was followed by several coats of two part clearcoat, which is the last element of the paint system, and is the recipient of the sanding and rubbing to achieve final gloss.
At HR&CS, they start with 800- or 1000-grit "wet&dry" paper wrapped around a hard rubber sanding block and go over the whole car by hand. They then proceed with the same treatment, but use 1550- and 2000-grit instead. In wet-sanding like this, you hold a wet rag or sponge in one hand and cause water to flow over the area you are sanding with the other hand. The water makes the sandpaper last longer, slide smoother, and prevents the paper from getting clogged so much. To increase the lubricity, most finishers add a dash of dish detergent to their water bucket. The water in the bucket should be exchanged frequently with clean water.
The sanding and buffing procedure to make a show car shine is the same three-step process it's always been. First, the paint is "cut" with rubbing compound, a fairly aggressive medium, then, the surface is gone over with finer "polish" material that takes the compound scratches out, and last the final glaze is applied. For the STREET RODDER car, the polishing was done with a smooth-faced foam pad. Following this, a waffle-pattern foam pad was used with glaze to get that last, "nth degree" of surfacing.
Beyond this, nothing was left to do to the exterior except apply a coat of good carnuba show-car wax to protect the shine and make the car easier to clean and dust off. Next: carefull reassembly and the fitting and finalizing of some of the car's subsystems.