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TECH: Goin’ For Gaps

Door Fitment Procedures for the Forty Ford Tudor

 By Rotten Rodney



It’s been said a time or two lately that “gappin’ don’t just happen.” Who do you suppose coined the phrase? Oh, almost enough about me—what’s more important is the meaning of the new old adage.


When goin’ for gaps on elderly automobiles, there’s only so much that one can accomplish with factory-provided adjustments and shims. So, if and when you see—say, a 1940 Ford Tudor that actually fits, you can be sure that someone worked hard for that. For those who’re desirous of fitment perfection, there’s really no gettin’ around it—you’re goin’ to have to cut things up—meaning metal must be added and/or subtracted as necessary.


For widening—say, a door-to-quarter panel gap, or door-to-cowl panel gap, two fairly common approaches quickly come to mind. One is to create a slice, near to and parallel with the jamb of the quarter or cowl, using an appropriate width cutoff disc. The jamb’s edge can then be hammered back to meet the panel before a stitch-weld reconnection is made. Other times a gap can be widened by grinding a panel’s folded edge—like the folded edges of most doors and decklids. In such cases after stitch-welding, the relieved edge’s final trueness comes by way of cautious, accurate grinding, filing and so on.


On the flipside; when and where an existing gap must be narrowed, the addition of metal (oftentimes 1/8-inch steel) is a popular method of choice. To give a couple examples: let’s just go ahead and—say, like when a door or decklid’s edges must be extended.


Hot Rods & Custom Stuff body man, Ricardo has been down this ol’ familiar road more times than he can even recall. But even so, he’ll have to work for the desired effect, as no two panel alignment jobs are exactly alike and each one presents a certain number of unique-to-the-project challenges. From here you’re all invited to follow along as Ricardo makes every step of the job at hand look a little easier than it actually is. Y’all remember now; “gappin’ don’t just happen.”   


Now before we just plow on into the technical portion of our story; has anybody wondered how certain words wiggle their way into the Body-Speak language? The word “fitment” for example, is new. You can google up a definition which blathers of home furnishings, but you won’t find fitment in your 1944 Funk ‘n’ Wagnall. Amongst panel pounders, the word fitment is a modern-day synonym for panel alignment.


Anyway, when dialing-in door gaps, it’s imperative that the weight of the car be on its suspension. With that in mind, the car is elevated to a comfortable working level. At this stage, the body rests on new rubber mounts. New body bolts are torqued evenly and body-to-frame shimming is done.


Given the limitations of factory-provided adjustments, the doors of this ol’ Ford fit good, but not good enough. Sometimes further adjustment can be gained with the addition of door hinge shims, like this one that Ricardo fabricated from sheet brass. Still, having been-there-done-that, Ricardo knows he’ll be grinding door edges soon.


When it comes time to mark for cutting and/or grinding, there are choices to be considered, as there’s more than one effective method. For the job at hand, premium quality 3M masking tape (3/4-inch in this instance) will adhere well and withstand a good deal of heat.


The tape lines are the visual guide for trimming unwanted door edge metal where gaps should be widened. More often than not, metal is also added in areas where gaps should be narrowed. Our mission is to achieve uniformity with the desired width gaps all the way around—in this case the width of one, specially-selected, wooden paint stick.


As a gap gage, a wooden paint stick can work nicely. However, wooden paint sticks are not designed to function as precision instruments and close examination reveals that they vary in thickness. Therefore, we’ll choose one stick to—um, stick with throughout the entire job.


Accurate grinding can be difficult near door hinges. Here Ricardo chooses to address the difficult areas first. A small 3-inch 3M Roloc disc on an angle die grinder is helpful for reaching in close to hinge recesses. Some small spots can only be accessed from the inside, so numerous checks are made during the process.


When it’s time to stitch-weld the separated areas of door skin, Ol’ Faithful—the ol’ Millermatic 135 wire welder is up to the task as always. Now we’ve all seen close-up welding photography in tech articles before, right?


Aw, for cryin’ out loud! Y’all knew what was comin’. Wouldn’t you think you folks would remember to flip down your helmets by now?


Anyway, with the welding chores finished, it’s time to true-up the welded edges. This is where our specially-selected wooden paint stick (gap gage) comes into play. With a thin coat of rattle can black dusted on the door’s edges, Ricardo uses the stick and a scribe to precisely mark the desired gap width.


For finalizing the straight sections of the new gaps, Ricardo uses a 5-inch grinder. In order to prevent the tool from obstructing his view of the scribe line, a 3M, 36-grit body disc is installed on the B-side of its backing pad. There’s always something to be learned by observing the experts.  


With the help of a Vixen file, sharp edges have been rounded, and as necessary filler work nears completion, another specially-selected wooden paint stick becomes a handy tool for clearing the gaps. Once again; wooden paint sticks vary in thickness. In order to compensate for the thickness of folded 80-grit sandpaper, a somewhat thinner stick is used here.


It’s been a long, tedious haul, but at this point all of this ol’ Ford’s door fitment inconsistencies have been remedied. After this primer and guidecoat application, we’ll have ourselves a closer look.


Y’all remember now; “gappin’ don’t just happen.” And just as we’d predicted, Ricardo has indeed made every step look a little easier than it actually is. That said; we at HR&CS feel that these steps are well worth the effort. In fact; many of the show-goers that we’re personally acquainted with focus on panel alignment—first.