Over the last 4 years I have been restoring my 1991 Chevy Caprice, and keeping my other car, a Dodge Neon, running. The most helpful tool in this without a doubt is the wire welder. Restoration work just is not possible without a welding rig. With the advent of supercapacitors and high-power transistors, they’ve gotten really cheap. I picked mine up for $300 new. Granted it can weld only 3/16″ steel, but how often do you need to go thicker than that on a car where you can get at it from only side? Unless it’s a box frame, not often. For sheet metal work up to 16-gauge, it’s been plenty adequate. I’ve evaporated my share of steel in that time.
I started work on the car simply because I like body-on-frame construction. It gives a ride isolation in the cabin that unibody construction just does not have. I started this journey expecting to fix sheet metal. Little did I know that structural work was waiting for me. Just so you know, this is not “restoration” work as this car will be returned to daily driver status, not a show car.
The first piece I tackled was the right rear quarter. Caprices were getting pretty scarce, so I had to take what I could get, and this one wasn’t in great shape, but I got it for $20, cut your own. This is the rear of the wheel arch with a bit of the trunk floor and the “downsheet” tied in. I ended up separating these and using the old downsheet (whatever its proper name is), and then turned my attention to the quarter.
I started small with this little rust-out at the top of the arch. These were my first welds. I believe in diving right in. Practice is for students, and I was getting serious right off.
The second patch took a bit longer as I had to bang this one out of sheet metal. Luckily, a person parked his Caprice at the curb, so I was able to get some measurements off an unmarked quarter. I had most of them, but I needed to know how long the crease ran in the metal before it blended into the curve. I got the key measurements, cut it out a little large, and started tacking it in.
The next job was getting the old metal out of the way, so I trimmed it at the bottom of the body molding. This let me see that the fender was really in bad shape, so I was able to reuse some of the fender that along with the replacement quarter. I wasn’t confident in my butt welding at this point, so I overlapped them and welded both sides. I then welded in the downsheet from new quarter, after sandblasting and cleaning up the rust, including a dip in naval jelly. I welded that and the end plate of the quarter to the existing metal. I lost the ensuing photos in a phone theft, but I did get the quarter panel welded on.
From the quarter, I turned my attention to the trunk lid. I had a few patches of rust, one on the left end under the dealer’s sticker, and another across the right bottom, as seen in the photo above. As I started cutting into it, I found more and more diseased metal underneath and eventually ended up cutting out the entire center section of the trunk and a good deal of the curves too. This was the last of the work for 2016, and I did succeed in getting it sealed up.