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Body Repairs: Wheel Well Replacement

At one time in this car’s checkered past, both wheel wells had rusted out and the previous owner’s attempt at repairing the damage only made things worse.

On the right side, someone found some donor-car wheel well pieces, fired up the torch and gas-welded them on after carefully matching the bead rolls. Then about 30 pop rivets were applied and some patches were welded to the fender-attaching surface. To finish the outside of the job, a 2-inch layer of plastic and a gallon or two of undercoating was applied. On the inside, more undercoating was slopped on and the wheel well was fiber glassed to the trunk floor.


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On the left side, the existing wheel well was completely cut out and another one welded in. Without bothering to trim the replacement, it was simply stuck on from the inside using pop rivets and then welded to the outside of the quarter panel. Like the right side, lots of undercoating was applied and fiberglass was used to attach the well to the trunk floor.

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Because of the incredibly sloppy repair work, this was the most difficult and time-consuming part of the project. The photo below (not this car) shows how the coupe wheel well was stamped at the factory.

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The Plan

Making this repair required fabricating a new fender-attaching surface and complete wheel wells. Rather than duplicate the factory wheel well design, I decided to install wheel tubs and then make a panel to fill in the remainder of the wheel well. As far as I know, there are no repro parts available for this repair.

The steps involved:

  • Remove and replace the fender-attaching surface
  • Get the rear fenders correctly mounted
  • Enclose the wheel with a wheel tub
  • Enclose the rest of the wheel well
  • Add the lower skirting

Removing And Replacing The Fender-Attaching Surface

My plan was to remove and replace the fender-attaching surface one section at a time. I began by removing a section on the left side.


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Because the rear sections of the surface had to extend into the quarter panel, they would have to be hammer formed. I made a simple hammer form using MDF (medium density fibreboard) with a piece of 1/8 inch steel plate as the bottom surface. The steel makes a sharp crease when the metal is formed over it. I used 20 gauge AKS to form the fender attaching surface.

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Once the piece was formed and it fit properly, I tacked it in.

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The fender-attaching surface begins to "twist" at about the mid-point, and there is no way to hammer form those sections. To repair those sections, I first patched the quarter panel and then plug welded a strip to the inside of the patch so I had a "ledge" to weld on the hand formed fender-attaching surface.

Note: Before the strip was welded on, I cleaned it with DX579 and then primed it with galvanized weld-through primer.


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Mounting The Fenders

I tried to preserve what was left of the original fender mounting surface, but I must have missed, because I had to take them on and off over 100 times before I got them to fit correctly. The rear fenders have to line up with the running boards and the under deck lid panel. It also looks better if they are the same height on both sides of the car. Once the fenders were mounted, I trimmed down the attaching surface and then made a 90-degree bend on the edge so I could mount the wheel tubs.

Installing Wheel Tubs

I ordered a pair of universal wheel tubs from Direct Sheet Metal in El Cajon.


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To install the tubs, I made a template of the trunk floor and cut the bottom of the tub to match.

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To mount the wheel tubs to the trunk floor, I made some "L" braces and plug-welded them to the side of the wheel tub and to the trunk floor.

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Enclosing The Wheel House

Once the tubs were installed, a panel was necessary to enclose the wheel well. I made both sides from 18 gauge AKS and had them bead rolled by Direct Sheet Metal. Before welding in the panels, I formed a 90-degree bend on the edges where the panel meets the wheel tub and the fender-attaching surface.


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Install The Lower Skirts

To make the wheel well look a little more "factory", I had Direct Sheet Metal make some panels that would extend from the trunk floor to the top of the frame rail.


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Conclusion

This repair proves the adage that anything can be fixed. However, I'm sure I could have done the job quicker if I had started with a couple of 4-foot cubes of solid steel and carved out the wheel wells with a die grinder.


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Epilogue

Before I started to repair the wheel wells, I searched the world trying to find some replacement quarter panels or wheel wells. Naturally, after the repairs were complete, the quarter panels shown below appeared on eBay. They sold for $635 on July 26, 2005.


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Sources

Direct Sheet Metal: http://www.directsheetmetal.net

2001-2005 Chariot Software Group

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