Coachbuilding a Hot Rod In Corona Lockdown

Handmade Car Wing

Coachbuilding a bespoke steel wing isn’t easy and I had the additional problem of never finishing the front section of my buck. Therefore everything to the left of the headlamp is freehand.

Being in covid-19 lock-down gas was running out, the steel stockists had been shut for weeks and even getting help was off the cards. 

Bespoke Steel Wing for a Hot Rod

I’d watched my Ron Covell DVD a few times, but I’d never attempted anything like this before, so a wing could go one of two ways….
It certainly wasn’t going to look like the shiny one in Ron’s video.

Ron is a metal-working guru with decades of experience, whereas I’m a newbie using second-hand rusty steel that was once a failed bonnet attempt.

On some Hot Rods the wings simple butt up the the bonnet and grille at right angles. However, I’ve rounded the edge and tried to sweep everything in.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
When I made the wooden buck, I didn’t know the correct angle for the R51 Mini Headlamps. I’d simply taken an approximate angle from some photos. It turned out from the side I was only 0.8ºdeg off. However, what I didn’t realise was on an actual Mini they were also twisted and slightly tilted to the side – so I wasn’t that close.
Phew, that’s the freehand bit done!

Headlamp Jig

Being in furlough lock-down, I rescued some rusty scrap to make a jig from a crashed and scorched ’02 Mini. I used the dregs of my pub gas and turned the pressure right down. – splatter splatter!

Crashed 2002 R51 Mini headlamp Jig
In the photo above, you might be able to spot the curve on the bottom of the headlights is closer together than their top equivalent. You’ll also see the bracing plates are slightly triangular, as the headlight bezels point outwards.

All of these tweaks had to be incorporated into the front wings. As my guess with the buck was reasonably close, I decided to do the infill bits ‘freehand’.

Small sections of the R51 Mini bonnet will be cut away and finally welded into the wings; once they are both finished. These small sections will basically contain just the rounded edge around the headlight and all the internal bracketry.

BIVA Headlight Height and Width

When I positioned the headlights I made sure they were too far from the outside of the car, plus too low to the ground to fail a BIVA test.

Westfield World Front lightingIf you’re wondering why I’m showing a Westy, it’s because underneath all the custom steel, mine has a very similar chassis.

Headlight Buckets

I start most of my steel panels by making sticky tape and newspaper templates. Once covered, I’ll use a sharp knife and scissors to trim out the section I want.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
I then flatten this template and transfer it to steel. I’m trying to tack weld everything but I keep forgetting to conserve gas and often get carried away.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
The raised headlamp panels were cut over-sized. I then used my crude jig to trim it a little closer.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
As I make these panels, plans, angles and lines constantly change. Originally I started this project in 3D CAD. Now I’ve moved back in time and gone ‘old school’. Lines that were straight are now arched and panel are constantly being extended or shortened. I’m forever tweaking things to makes edges line up. – The front 6″ of the bonnet sides and bonnet edge need tweaking in the above shot.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
Originally the ridge line one top of the light peak was straight, but because the headlamp is canted, I’ve curve that line. I actually prefer the curve as It matches the intersection with the wing.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
I’m going to cut the headlight buckets from the R51 Mini bonnet and weld them into my wings. By doing that, I’ll have perfect rolled edges and all the correct mounting hardware.

If at first you don’t succeed….

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel WingThe panel on the left of the headlight sits flatter than the right. From most angles it’s OK, but from some angles it catches the light wrong. Unfortunately the lower bit I simply tack welded is good and the higher bit that I fully welded needed cutting and lifting at least 10mm.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
The middle section was cut with plenty of extra spare steel. A plumb bob was used to make sure the ridge line down the centre of the wing is parallel to the centreline of the car.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
With the wooden buck removed and the wheel in place, I could trim the steel back.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
In the shot below, I’ve cut, stretched and re-welded the panel to the left of the headlamp. It actually sits 15mm higher up the headlight bulge. I added in a 10mm wide triangle section.
Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
Without the extra steel you can see that the steel has a tendency to flop just above the tyre. It therefore needs a little bit of stretching on the English wheel to restore the natural arch. It was also too close to the tyre. I reckon it needs a good 10mm of stretching.
Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing
From this angle, it looks like the headlamp looks outwards. I figure that I never realised the Mini had headlamps looking outwards so hopefully it’s not an issue. Nobody wants a car like a boss-eyed Morgan Aero.

Steel Wing Wheelarch Section

I used the wooden buck to make another paper and tape template.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel Wing

The curve below the headlight is going to be tricky and will probably need to roll several inches further in.
Coachbuilt Bespoke Steel Wing

A lot of hammering and wheeling latter, I had the rough shape of the front section done.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel WingOne thing I couldn’t do with the wooden buck was check whether the tyres would rub on the arch at full lock. Unlike a normal Haynes Roadster, this one has 19″ wheels and cantilever push rod suspension. This means it has 5″ of travel from a 3″ shock. OK, It’s highly unlikely I’m going to be at full lock and full compression, but there maybe a curb or bump involved.

The plan was to leave 1¼” between the tyre and the edge of wing. Unlike modern cars that have a right angle return on the wing edge, I was going to weld on some tyre-friendly 5mm round bar.

Hot Rod Bespoke Steel WingThe tyre clearance is exactly the look I’d calculated all those years ago when I’d carved the wooden buck. Unfortunately at ¾ lock the tyre rubs on the arch. I have two choices, space out the wheel arch at least another 1″ or trim some off the edge of the arch – or subtle combination of both.

The R51 headlamps should hopefully clear the tyres. I’ve held them in place and they do, but there is the question of their associated bracketry. Unfortunately I can’t answer this question until I weld the headlamp buckets in. I can’t do that because I need to make a jigsaw style buck that I can disassemble and reverse to make the right hand side wing.  The bracketry that holds the headlamps will need bracing to the inner wings and possibly the chassis as currently the wings, even with no weight on are rather bouncy.

Steel Wing Paper Template – Rear Section

Bespoke Steel Wing Paper Template

Although I made the paper template for the rear section in one piece, the steel version had to be from two. To make it from one piece would require an enormous amount of shrinking and stretching on areas that end up 100% flat.

Bespoke Steel Wing Paper Template
The paper template was handy in that it showed I needed to extend the sides downwards. The bottom edge of the wing sat 7″ from the ground: that’s with the arch dropping under it’s own weight. I added an extra 2½” to the bottom of the template.

Coachbuilt Hot Rod

When I made the front and rear sections, I deliberately made them oversized. Firstly it allows a little turning room on the English wheel, but also the area where the two panels meet can be problematic. Having some overlap ensures the two pieces cup each other exactly and this excess steel will get cut off before joining. Without this little trick, I could end up with a ridge or a dip where the two meet.
How to make a car wing
Even once though I’d overlapped and the panels seemed tight to the wooden buck, once welded there was still a minor amount of bulging to the rear section. The panel needs some shrinking and a light pass through the English wheel to correct some of the curves. You can see in some of the shadow lines, that that the curves don’t flow and have wobbles.

Handmade Car Wing
With the section Cleco’d in place, I could mark radius lines from the centre of the wheel to help me trim the wheel arch and also to mark guide lines for wheeling. I also ran a steel bar between front and rear wheels to make sure the edge of the wing aligned correctly.

What’s Left?

Quite a bit…

  • I can’t fully weld anything until the gas supplier opens again
  • There is a bead roll to be made around the bottom edge
  • Weld in Mini R51 headlamp buckets
  • 5mm bar around perimeter
  • Simple internal framework to prevent weight of headlamp causing saging
  • Correcting some of the curves
  • Holes for Lucas L732 indicators


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