With the metal coaxed back...
With the metal coaxed back to form, the body repairs were completed with polyester filler. The filler work started with an initial application that was filed and rough sanded to shape. Additional skim coats of filler were added to smoothly blend the repair area into the adjacent metal.
While this bodywork process seems like three easy steps, making the repairs true to form is key in having a straight and crisp final product. Forty-grit sandpaper was used on an electric grinder to clean the area for bodywork, removing paint and surface rust, while providing a good scuff for the filler to adhere. The actual metalwork takes skill and patience, but the object here was not to achieve a perfect metal finish. Using slide hammers and some minor hammer and dolly work, the sheetmetal was coaxed into shape, getting it reasonably true to form before any filler is applied.
It is a judgment call when determining whether the metal is good enough, balancing the goals of minimal use of filler and efficient use of time. The filler is applied in steps, initially to rough out the shape, cutting the putty with Surform blades to the needed profile. After this initial carving, the filler is board-sanded with a coarse 40-grit paper, and skimmed again with filler for more detailed finishing, sanding in steps through 40-80-180 grits for a smooth contour and a nice feather edge into the sheetmetal. Typically, two applications of the filler are enough to complete the repair, but in some cases additional applications may be required before the filler will show a clean and perfect fill. Sean handled most of the heavier bodywork, working the damaged spots one at a time, and sealing the repair with Eastwood’s aerosol primer to hold surface oxidation at bay as the project progressed.
Eastwood’s aerosol primer...
Eastwood’s aerosol primer was used to seal and protect the repair area as work progressed on other areas of the car. All of the visible body damage was repaired using similar techniques. Often the body repair process is spread over an extended period of time, and the aerosol primer offers convenience when a compressor and spray gun are not available.
Once these spot repairs were completed, the prep continued to the rest of the body’s exterior, this time aiming at removing the vinyl top and assorted trim. The original top material was heavily deteriorated, and it was quickly dispatched by removing the trim and peeling the material from the roof. The difficult part here was contending with the glue that remained. There simply is no easy way to get it clean, especially when the glue consists of equal portions of hard-dried and crystallized adhesive and gummy residue. Coarse sanding proved to be the most viable approach, though the process was messy and time consuming. Between sanding and wiping down with solvents, the top was cleaned after considerable effort.
Removal of the top and belt molding trim, as well as the factory emblems, left a variety of fastener provisions to contend with. Much of the trim was fastened from clips mounted to welded studs on the bodywork. These were attacked with an angle grinder, cutting the protrusions flush with the surrounding metal. As is usually the case, at many locations the brightwork was attached via fasteners that pass through the sheetmetal, leaving numerous trim holes to fill. These were simply backed up temporarily with tape and filled with JB Weld epoxy, and then finished with a skim of conventional body filler.
The decades-old vinyl top...
The decades-old vinyl top was definitely showing its age. For a cleaner look the top would be deleted in the LeMans’ rebirth. The trim was removed and the top peeled back from the roof. Fortunately, there was no rust damage under the vinyl fabric, as is all too often the case.
You might note that everything done up to this point could be categorized as initial body prepwork that can be accomplished with a minimum of specialized tools at home. The plan was to get the LeMans prepped and ready for primer, and then hand the car off to a paint shop to have it professionally sprayed with the primer coats. With the bulk of the bodywork done, the next step was to remove the remaining trim, including the bumpers, handles, lights, bezels, and grille. These bolt-on items were removed, including the nose panel and valances, and the car was given a final overall sanding of the original paint with 180-grit sandpaper on an orbital sander.