Design and Fabricate a New Roof, Hood, and Grille on our 1947 Dodge Project Car

Restyled In Hot Rod Fashion, Fabricating a New Roofline, Hood, and Grille.

By Curt Iseli   –   Photography By Cody Walls

This 1947 Dodge Sedan was shuffled between several shops (bearing the brunt of at least one less-than-skilled bodyman along the way) before finally getting back on track at Cody Walls’ Delaware shop, Traditional MetalCraft. Based on a subtle but complete design overhaul by Eric Black at e. Black Design Co., every panel of the coupe is being nipped and tucked to create a profile that’s significantly racier and more aggressive than anything Dodge produced at the time. A car designer and a custom fabricator join up to customize Doug Melson’s 1947 Dodge Sedan.

02 The roof was lowered 1 inch and the front portion is Cleco in place to test the roofline
The hot rod’s roof was lowered 1 inch and the front portion is Cleco’d in place to test the profile. Walls also leaned the backlite forward, improving the flow of the new roofline.
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In our last installment on we delved into the coupe’s history and the somewhat bumpy road it’s traveled en route to becoming a nicely restyled hot rod. Read that here:

After tackling the Dodge’s custom tail end (the rear fender and decklid work we showed previously), Walls moved forward on the body, revising the roof modifications started by one of the earlier shops and reshaping and fabricating the front fenders, hood, and grille opening. It’s a monumental amount of work. Dodge business coupes of the ’40s had a greatly abbreviated turret-top roof that some consider a little out of proportion with the rest of the body.

03 Before the roof was welded in place the windshield surround was chopped to bring it in line with the tops of the side windows
Before the roof was welded in place, the windshield surround was chopped to bring it in line with the tops of the side windows. New sail panels are also taking shape.

When the car landed at Traditional MetalCraft, a previous shop fabricated a new, longer roof, but it was lacking in finesse—and in fully welded seams (beneath the body filler it was simply tacked in place). Those issues had to be remedied, along with integrating a more shapely 1949 Dodge grille and one-piece hood as dictated by Black’s new, custom design.

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Read More: 1947 Dodge Coupe With Hand-Crafted Custom Fender …

04 The sail panels and upper quarter panels were formed using the planishing hammer and a shrinker stretcher Once the rear roof skin is welded in all seams will be hammer welded
The sail panels and upper quarter-panels were formed using the planishing hammer and a shrinker/stretcher. Once the rear roof skin is welded in, all seams will be hammer welded.

The details of those modifications are covered in the accompanying photos and captions. Here we wanted to take a closer look at Walls’ process and the tools he uses to move metal. The cool thing about hot rodding is that there’s a place for enthusiasts of all skill levels, from home hobbyists just starting to learn how to work on old cars to professional builders and the guys who pay them to build cars. While learning the craft of metal shaping takes practice, patience, and the right tools, it’s a skill anyone can tackle at their own pace.

05 From this view you can see how lowering the roof streamlines the profile and then marked for symmetry from side to side
From this view you can see how pancaking the roof streamlines the profile. The sail panels have been marked to check symmetry from side to side.

Fabrication Tools Required

Walls’ arsenal of equipment runs the gamut from the simplest hand tools to some of the biggest and priciest pieces of metal shaping equipment available, and he uses all of them just about every day. “The best way to begin is by working on small pieces—little 4-inch square panels,” he says. “I bought a 1964 Impala when I was 14 and with a set of Harbor Freight hammers and dollies I started fixing the bottoms of the fenders. Then I needed to repair the window channels, so I got a cheap shrinker/stretcher and made these little pieces that I welded in. I was just learning to make basic shapes.”

06 we reused a 1954 Chevy roof skin to form the Dodges new roof then we tack larger panels every 5 inch
A junkyard 1954 Chevy roofline donated its roof skin to form the Dodge’s new roof. Walls tacks larger panels every 1/2 inch, then welds one continuous bead all the way around.
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We’re fortunate that we’re in an age when there are plenty of books, articles (like this one), and YouTube tutorials by amateurs and professionals alike to help guide the way through even the simplest metal shaping tasks. But it’s important to balance learning with doing by grabbing a hammer and a scrap piece of steel and doing some experimenting. “Some people read a lot or watch videos about how something is done, and then they overanalyze it,” Walls says. “Sometimes you’ve got to jump in and do it, mess up a piece of steel, and learn from your mistakes. At the end of the day it’s just metal.”

07 Hammer welding the seams which is striking repeated blows along the bead with a hammer on one side and dolly on the other it stretches the metal smoothing expanses like this roof insert
Hammer welding the seams—striking repeated blows along the bead with a hammer on one side and dolly on the other—stretches the metal, smoothing expanses like this roof insert.

These days the hammers and dollies Walls uses are primarily from Martin and Snap-On, but he’s quick to point out that those less-expensive tools he cut his teeth with will do the job, too. Especially when you’re starting out, any decent hammer and dolly will let you explore how metal behaves—how to raise low spots, smooth high ones, and form basic shapes. The more you work with those hand tools, the more you’ll hone in on the types or profiles of hammers and dollies that work best with your style. Then you can add to or upgrade your tool library as needed and budget dictate.

Read More: How To Install A Custom Chassis On A ‘47 Ford Convertible

08 Walls one pieced the hood and extended it down into the quarters which necessitated fabricating the front half from scratch and A 1949 Dodge Wayfarer grille is also being mocked up
Walls one-pieced the hood and extended it down into the quarters, which necessitated fabricating the front half from scratch. A 1949 Dodge Wayfarer grille is also being mocked up.

Another tool Walls keeps in regular rotation is a ProLine planishing hammer built by the late Clay Cook (now available through Trick Tools). Planishing hammers can be used for shaping, but they’re primarily for smoothing expanses of metal and planishing welds. The latter, known as hammer welding, is the process of striking repeated blows (either with a planishing hammer or a hammer and dolly) along a welded seam to relieve the areas where the heat from the weld has shrunk the metal (commonly referred to as warping). With each blow of the hammer (with the dolly on the backside), the metal along the welded seam is stretched, smoothing the panel back into shape. Hammer welding can be done with TIG or gas welds, but not MIG welds. The MIG process results in a weld that’s too hard to be worked after it cools. With MIG welds, you simply have to manage the amount of shrinking that takes place by welding small sections at a time to minimize heat, and then use a grinder to blend the seam with the surrounding metal.

09 The hood peak was created using the Pullmax while the rest of the hoods front half was formed in two pieces using the Powell power hammer
The hood peak was created using the Pullmax, while the rest of the hood’s front half was formed in two pieces using the Powell power hammer.

Cutting The Sheet Metal

Beyond basic shaping tools, it’s also helpful to have some means of cutting sheetmetal other than cut-off wheels. For straight cuts, there are a variety of shears in different sizes that are available for most budgets. Just be sure to choose one that can handle the material thicknesses commonly used in auto body work. For more intricate shapes, a Beverly shear is tough to beat. They’re relatively compact, they can handle thicker material (in some cases up to 3/16 inch), and their throatless design allows for making intricate cuts in any size sheet.

10 In addition to extending the hood downward to meet the new grille it was extended on the sides and New sheetmetal bridging the gap is Cleco in place
In addition to extending the hood downward to meet the new grille, it was extended on the sides as well. New sheet metal bridging the gap is Cleco’d in place.

Metal Shaping Tools for Hot Rods

With the aforementioned shaping and cutting tools, and perhaps a combination shrinker/stretcher (either floor- or vise-mounted), you can learn to fabricate a wide variety of patches and panels that will come in handy when working on hot rods and custom cars. At the other end of the spectrum are the bigger pieces of equipment designed to handle larger panels at a faster pace. “You can do a lot of metal shaping with those basic hand tools,” Walls says. “But when you’re charging by the hour, you must speed up the process. I really started getting bigger pieces of equipment because they save you time and let you work more efficiently.”

11 The 1949 grille fits nicely but it will require more work to make everything ollow the shape of the 1947 sheetmetal
The 1949 Chevy grille fits nicely, but it will require more work to make everything (like the lower bar) follow the shape of the 1947 sheet metal.

The first piece he bought was a ’59 Pullmax P-5, a versatile piece of equipment that can be used for everything from bending multiple edges to putting thick beads into heavier material like firewalls and heavy-gauge floor panels, as well as roughing in compound curves on larger sheets of metal. Walls often uses composite decking material from the home improvement store to create custom dies to create whatever profile he needs (like, for example, the profile of a hood peak to fill the gap where the emblem once was on this author’s 1941 Buick). The Pullmax is a workhorse that can handle anything you can throw at it.

12 New upper fender sections redefine the hood engine bay opening Walls formed these complex shapes in three pieces per side using the Pullmax and power hammer
New upper fender sections redefine the hood/engine bay opening. Walls formed these complex shapes in three pieces per side using the Pullmax and power hammer.

For shaping compound curves—especially in larger panels—a new Metal Ace English wheel, manufactured by Trick Tools, and a vintage Powell power hammer are pressed into duty. English wheels are available in a variety of sizes, from benchtop models to large, freestanding hulks like the one in Walls’ shop. The larger the wheel, the deeper the throat (and the larger the sheet of metal that can be formed with it). English wheels and power hammers both work on the same basic premise: they apply pressure that stretches the metal in a specific, focused area, creating crowns that form complex curves. The difference is that with the wheel the metal is fed between two roller dies that apply the pressure, whereas the power hammer uses the force of repeated blows to stretch the metal—not unlike an oversized planishing hammer.

13 As with the roof the upper fenders were tacked every 1 2 inch then welded in one continuous bead Start from the front or back of long beads not from the center
As with the roof, the upper fenders were tacked every ½ inch, then welded in one continuous bead. Start from the front or back of long beads not from the center.

“The English wheel is a great tool, but it’s time-consuming and you really need two people involved to form larger panels,” Walls says. “I made the decklid skin for the Dodge with the English wheel, and you can really do some nice work with them. But the wheel puts the metal under a lot of tension and it’s harder to get a nice, relaxed fit to the panel—at least for me. With the power hammer I can get a really nice finish, and I can get it faster—and by myself, which is important because I mostly work alone.”

Read More: How To Upholster Panels On Your Hot Rod

14 Stock the hood and fender contours are a bit clunky Once the 1949 grille is in place coupled with the rest of the modifications the front end will really flow
Stock, the hood and fender contours are a bit clunky. Once the 1949 grille is in place, coupled with the rest of the modifications, the front end will really flow.

Just remember that having bigger, professional equipment won’t instantly make you a better metal shaper. Each new tool you buy, from slap hammers to power hammers, will take time to learn and practice to master. “It’s definitely a misconception that these big pieces of equipment automatically make the process faster and easier,” he says. “In reality you can just mess stuff up faster! It took me six months to really learn that Pullmax, for example.”

15 using a vintage Powell power hammer
Both front fenders needed rust repair. On the passenger side Walls replaced the entire back half with new steel then used the power hammer to planish the welded seam.

Among the equipment at Traditional MetalCraft there are some pieces that are brand new and others that are over 50 years old, so we wondered if there was an advantage to buying older or newer tools. “If I can find a piece of old equipment that’s going to work really well, I get it,” Walls says. “But just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good, and the same can be said for new. You just need to do your research and ask questions. There’s a lot of information out there, especially online. And there are a lot of shops doing metalwork, so you can also pay attention to what tools they’re using.”

16 With one fender finished and hung the front clip really started looking like something Tucked between the rails is a modern 425hp crate Hemi with a Speedmaster EFI system
With one fender finished and hung, the front clip really started looking like something. Tucked between the rails is a modern 425hp Hemi crate engine with a Speedmaster EFI system.

Metal shaping and welding are some of the most rewarding skills you can develop, and no matter what your level of experience is, there’s always more to learn. Right now, the most expensive part you’ll need to get started is the steel itself, but with a modest array of tools you’ll be forming panels and tackling more ambitious hot rod projects in short order. After all, saving as much vintage iron as we can is really the point of it all, right? MR

17 The entire firewall was fabricated using the Pullmax to form the basic shapes and bead
The entire firewall was fabricated using the Pullmax to form the basic shapes and beads. Once installed, areas that need tweaking are planished with a hammer and dolly.
18 Eddie Motorsports 57 Chevy hinges will support the hood
Walls created engine clearance by mimicking the Hemi’s silhouette in the firewall. Eddie Motorsports ’57 Chevy hinges will support the hood.
19 vintage tool for reshaping metal on a classic car
One of Walls’ favorite tools is a slapper made from his great grandfather’s masonry tool from the ’40s. Martin and Snap-On hammers and dollies also see regular use.

20 One of Walls favorite tools is a slapper made from his great grandfathers masonry tool from the 40s

21 The portable ProLine pneumatic planishing hammer can be removed from the stand and taken to your work
The portable ProLine pneumatic planishing hammer can be removed from the stand and taken to your work. This is helpful when planishing areas like roof panels that are welded in place.
22 One of the most versatile of the large tools is the Pullmax P 5
One of the most versatile of the large tools is the Pullmax P-5. Dies are available (or can be made) to form virtually any contour, and it easily handles heavy-gauge material.
23 The deep throat of the Metal Ace English wheel allows for forming large panels like decklid skins provided theres an extra set of hands nearby to help guide panels
The deep throat of the Metal Ace English wheel allows for forming large panels like decklid skins, provided there’s an extra set of hands nearby to help guide panels.
24 Because Walls runs a one man shop the Powell power hammer handles much of the work he previously formed on the English wheel Ear protection is a must with this beast
Because Walls runs a one-man shop, the Powell power hammer handles much of the work he previously formed on the English wheel. Ear protection is a must with this beast.

Source
Traditional MetalCraft
(302) 747-6140
traditionalmetalcraft.com

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