At one time or another, I'll bet you, too, have been duped by well-executed metalwork. Custom body modifications need not be conspicuous for showgoers to stop, study, and scratch heads. Sometimes such metalwork can come as a surprise. When a subtle mod gives the impression that it could have or should have been stock; some crafty craftsperson has done their job—not just to showcase their ability, but to enhance the vehicle's existing attributes. The 1956 Ford going together at Hot Rods & Hobbies in Signal Hill, California, is a perfect example of such metalwork.
With a heapin' helpin' of low-key customization, this bare steel Ford F-100 is certain to slow the flow at the upcoming show. The overall view may not scream custom, but this Effie's current body modifications already include a 4-inch cab stretch, downsized (for UV protection) rear glass, 4-inch-shortened bed with double-wall sides, and 3-inch-widened rear fenders, which will soon be further modified. When we caught up with the guys, they were just about to modify the shape of each fender lip, subtly modifying them so that even the most seasoned Ford guys would be forced into a double take before realizing what changes have been made.
Before we proceed, please allow me to set the stage by stating that I've worked in a body shop or two. According to my own observation; not all body men are metal men. Even so, and regardless of one's own expertise, it's good to keep both eyes open 'cause there's always something to learn from observing others at work. Today, we have a special, over-the-shoulder opportunity to benefit from a seasoned veteran's 43 years of experience—as a metal man. Sure, he'll make this job look easier than it is, but it's still fun to watch.
1. The passenger-side fender has already been modified, but do you see it? I didn't either at first 'cause it looks like it should have from the factory. The fat-lip 'round the stock wheel opening has been diminished.
2. On the driver-side, we find Ford's fat lip still in its factory fullness. We're rather confident you'll agree that the custom mod is justified, so we'll repeat the passenger-side mod here.
3. Hot Rods & Hobbies metal men Carlos Gonzalez (left) and Dante Valverde (right) discuss their game plan over this previously cut, previously used, reversible template.
4. With the reversible template held firmly in position, a dull Sharpie will provide the guide as well as denote stopping points.
5. Now, before any serious hammerin' takes place, the fender must be secured. Here, Carlos has rigged a non-jigglin' jig. With the fender held firmly, his hammer-smacks will count.
6-7. We've seen detailed demonstrations of both hammer-on-dolly and hammer-off-dolly techniques within the pages of CCT before, so just know this time that both methods are employed as necessary here.
8. Several minutes later, Carlos has the lip somewhat flattened to a taper. It's important to point out that this is accomplished by working up 'n' down the lip using many light blows rather than a few heavy ones.
9. What our eyes tell us is not enough. We won't know how we're doin' unless we feel the steel. Here, as Carlos suspects, displaced molecules are forming a hump as the lip in theory has not really gone away. That metal has only been ushered to adjacent areas.
10. This is where a shrinking hammer comes in handy. The face of this hammer has a sharp waffle pattern, which we'll all get a look at—just as soon as Carlos puts it down.
11-12. Quick, before he takes off again, let's have us a look at Carlos' hammer 'n' dolly combination of choice. When properly wielded, the shrinking hammer's waffle pattern works to gather metal. The offending hump is indeed shrinking down and tightening up, without heat—no torch, no shrinking disc.
13. Here, a 9-inch body grinder, outfitted with a half-spent 3M, 36-grit sanding disc quickly chases away the hammer marks. With this bit o' smoothing, Carlos will be able to get a more accurate reading. Instinct tells us he's just about to give his work another feel.
14. Seconds later it's confirmed that the area is in need of further attention. This adjustable Vixen file is a versatile tool for pick 'n' file work and even shrinking of small areas, provided it's moved with enough vigor to generate heat. At this time, however, it's only used as a highlighter. Just a few gentle strokes enable us to see the highs 'n' lows.
15. Some of the coolest body tools are the ones we make ourselves. For this particular situation where a small area must be raised, this specific-purpose pick provides more accuracy than a moving pick hammer would.
16. Here, pick meets its target low spot and is held still, in position. Then hammer meets pick. Just a few taps, feel the steel, a few more taps, feel, file, and repeat as necessary—using caution not to move too much metal at once.
17. From fat to flat in about four hours! By midday, Carlos has the upper hand on the first of two lip-reduction surgeries. Notice the smoothness of the transition.
18. A few last strokes with the Vixen file confirm that this section's metalwork is nearly finished—as in metal-finished.
19. Here, 80-grit, 3M Stikit 'paper on a 6-inch DA (dual-action) sander chases away remaining file marks. After a final-for-now feel, it's time to move on.
20. Just below the completed custom metalwork, somethin' just ain't right. The straight-edge don't lie. Somewhere 'long the road, this ol' F-100's bottom fender edge made contact with something solid.
21. Once the appropriate hammer 'n' dolly selection is made, the ol' hammer-on-dolly technique is employed. Granted this is only the beginning, but this should be a quick repair.
22. After feeling the work by hand, a second check with the credible straight-edge tells us that our work here is nearly finished as well.
23. Dent? What dent? While Carlos follows through with finalizing strokes of the Vixen file, he's already lookin' ahead to the fender's front section.
24. As Carlos moves on to repeat the procedure on the last remaining lip, it's time for me to bid my noisy friends an adios-for-now and go. The steps to follow should be similar to those we've witnessed, and providing things go according to plan, this phase will go as easily as the last.
25. Under the lights in the Hot Rods & Hobbies display at the Grand National Roadster Show, we come upon a familiar piece o' work. Obviously, the final phase turned out bitchin, but those less familiar with the lines o' these trucks may not even notice the difference. That, too, could be fun to watch.