Passenger area completed

The main tub is now pretty much complete with the outer skin  welded to the bottom of the frame, rolled over the top tube and generally cleaned up. I am rather pleased with the result, the body is full of subtle curves and the lines flow beautifully around the top in a seamless fashion. It is hard not to run your hand along the top rail. To me this 4 seater touring body looks very clean yet has a decidedly rakish feel about it. Thank you gentlemen for transforming my vision into a reality!

In the picture below, you can see the beginnings of how the aluminum is rolled over the top tube and is slowly beaten into shape, it requires shrinking the metal in some places, stretching it in others and much hammering. The metal is annealed first to soften it and over time it will go hard again. The soot marks are the first step of the process, further localised heat is applied burning off the soot which is used as a tell tale to show where the annealing process has been completed.

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Below is the finished cowl beautifully smoothed and welded into the adjacent panels, also tucked over the front part of the frame which will form part of the bonnet shut which has yet to be constructed.

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And here it is the completed passenger area. The tube seen spanning the middle of the tub is temporary whilst the skin is formed, it is providing additional rigidity to the space frame during the process and will be removed shortly.img_2932img_2935

The next steps are the instrument panel supports and the main bulkhead which will close off the area between the engine and the passengers. This will consist of a firewall panel, close to the engine, a closed in ‘shelf’ for purposes yet to be decided and the actual bulkhead. There were a few design decisions made at this point but in general the Artisans are back on home ground, the bonnet will be created with influences from numerous race cars but none of the features or the construction will be totally unique. It will merely contain all the features that I think the car needs.

The exhaust is one of those design decisions. Traditionally many works sports-cars utilised a tubular exhaust manifold exiting straight out through the side of the bonnet which then ran down the side of the passenger area (hence why there are no doors) or it could follow the normal under the car route. No prizes for guessing my choice. I am not entirely sure why vintage race cars had the external systems other than perhaps to try and keep the flow of exhaust gasses as straight as possible for improved flow but it is a common feature and one that i wanted.

Luckily at the side of the workshop was the exhaust system from the Artisans supercharged Bentley ‘The Dreadnought’, so I borrowed it to see how such a system would look before they bent any metal in anger. It should be mentioned that the tubing in this system is noticeably fatter than will be used on my car and it will be a little lower down but you get the basic idea. It will of course be wrapped with insulating bandage because it will get warm and cooking passengers is not the idea.

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It is fabulous witnessing the birth of a sport-car 🙂

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Bodywork skin part 2

The cowl in front of the driver has been completed but like the rest of the bodywork, not yet fitted. In the pictures below you can see the transition from a loosely shaped piece to the fully formed shape. At one stage the panel is quite clearly hammer formed then smoothed out by the English wheel.

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It still looks a little strange for a moment because there is around 3″ of spare material that will at a later stage be formed around the tube, for now you will have to image that there is no 2nd slope in the cowl…

Bodywork -skin part 1

The body-frame is now fully welded and the joins made smooth. Unfortunately for the Artisans, their TIG welder (Tungston-inert-gas) decided to malfunction preventing them from completing any further welding of the strengthening fillets / trim plates – a new trigger head is on order which will see them underway again shortly.

Clearly the body-frame is the time intensive part because its shape dictates everything about the look of the car. It has to be just right, the aluminum outer skin can only take on the contours of the frame it cannot make up for any errors created by a bad frame. However now that it is only being strengthened, rather than waste time, they shifted attention to initiating the actual bodywork. A lot of the passenger area (lets call it – the cockpit) is almost flat metal. I say almost because there is not too much of it that is actually flat, most of the panel work has a curve somewhere but only the back of the cockpit and the cowl in front of the driver requires complex curves which will be achieved with an ‘English wheel’.

Below you can see the rear panel that has been shaped but not yet fitted. It is made up of 3 shaped sections which are then butt welded together so that it looks like a single seamless  panel. All the other cockpit pieces will be shaped and all welded together until the entire body-tub is all one piece of metal. This will then be welded to the frame making the entire tub very strong.

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Below you can see the rear panel from the inside, the top 2″ will be rolled over the top of the tube which once complete will render the top tube invisible to the eye. Naturally this will be done by hand.img_2915

Below you can see the very loosely shaped side panels which will again be rolled over the top tube.img_2904img_2903

At this point Chris offered me a lesson on the English Wheel which was an opportunity that i was not going to turn down. For the exercise Chris chose to show me how he was going to shape the cowl/fairing just in front of the driver. This panel has so many curves going in so many directions that it is ridiculous. He said it was fairly straightforward but I rather suspect he was playing down the skill it requires. He explained that to make this panel there needs to be a section in the middle that must never be touched by the wheeling machine. This is because stretched metal is forced to rise up away from the untouched section and you keep stretching the metal up until you have the shape you want.

This is not the greatest of drawings but you can see the panel we were going to make. You will see that one side of it has a MUCH higher curve than the opposite side and that intense curve needs to slowly diminish as it heads toward the front of the car. But that intense curve is only in part of the panel too so the cowl/fairing is like a hump in the middle of a sweeping curve… and all from a flat piece of aluminum.img_2916

The numbers are the mathematical formula for the work required. For every push or pull of the wheel in the section with a ‘1’ in it, the higher regions require a much higher order of magnitude of effort to achieve the curve. I.e. for every one push in the lower section, the highest section requires 8.. that soon multiplies up to a lot of effort to make a hump in the panel.

220px-englishwheel-with-rollersThis is an ‘English Wheel’

Basically, the operator of the machine passes the sheet metal between the top wheel and the rolling ‘Anvil’ wheel just below it in a push-pull motion. This process slowly stretches the material and causes it to become thinner. As the material stretches, it forms a convex surface over the anvil wheel. This surface is known as “crown”. A high crown surface is very curved, a low crown surface is slightly curved. The radius of the surface, after working, depends on the degree that the metal in the unworked middle of the work piece stretched relative to the worked edges of the piece. This is because the unworked area essentially holds the original shape in place. Simple isn’t it <coughs theatrically>. It made more sense when he showed me.

Chris marked out the no-go area of the panel and showed me the basic technique advising you need little force to push the metal between the wheels but that i needed to apply a slight lift to the panel when wheeling which teaches the metal where it needs to go. ‘And stay out of the no-go area!’. He then left me to it saying i was unlikely to do anything drastic at this stage. Initially I had no control where the wheel went over the metal (so much for keep the wheeled lines next to each other), I had the wheel wandering all over the metal seemingly wherever it wanted to go but slowly i got the hang of it – it transpired you have to guide the metal in the REVERSE direction to where you wanted the wheel to roll. I have to admit after 10 minutes I had tired arms but I could see that i had in fact put a slight curved shape into the panel. I handed the operation back to Chris who was both faster and far more accurate than my feeble attempts. After about 30 minutes, the panel had a vague essence of the basic shape but was clearly heading in the right direction. The estimate for completing that panel is one to one and a half days of wheeling! So its not a quick piece of work. Sir I salute you, i am not sure I would have that kind of patience. On my next visit I am told I will see this panel completed and when you see the final shape we will appreciate how much effort went into making it. After only 30 minutes it is nowhere close!

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Jumping topics, in the meantime the petrol tank is now fully shaped and ready to be welded up then pressure tested. It will incorporate the period petrol cap that originally came from their monster Bentley which is a nice period touch. The artisans have done a sterling job of recreating the shape of the original tank and accommodating my supplied fuel level sender which although modern is designed for speedboat fuel tanks – there are no moving parts other than a float that rises up a pole. So it is unlikely to ever go wrong, I will adjust the fuel gauge to read the output of the sender correctly (a subject for another day)

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Bodywork Update

The Aluminum frame is now fully formed and we are agreed that this is what i was looking for. Every joint will now be fully welded and ‘finished’ so that the skin fits tightly and the various joints will receive  strengthening fillets to make the whole structure even stronger.I am really pleased with the way all the top surface lines flow together and the little curve at the rear is simple but it adds a certain something.

What really surprised me is the weight of the frame – i.e. it hasn’t got much, you can easily lift the entire frame with just one hand and even though most of the joints are only tack welded into place – it is already pretty strong. Once all the fillets are in place, every joint is fully welded and the outer skin is fitted, this will be one strong car body but importantly still very light which can only improve the cars performance.

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In the photos below I think you can now see the shape of the bodywork. You may not notice this but the arm cutout for the passenger is very slightly different to the drivers side. This is because the top of the dashboard on the near side is lower than the off side. More practically, the two sides of the car are actually different in needs –  the driver badly needs elbow room so to accommodate this, the front passenger sits an inch or so lower and slightly behind the driver. The arm cutout has been mildly adjusted to suit but like the off-side is a lovely curve into the instrument panel area.img_2891

In the picture below you can see the finished shape of the back and note how the frame in front of the steering wheel curves up to match the steering wheel and then sweeps down into the drivers arm cutout. img_2892img_2896The chaps at Bespoke Bodywork reluctantly agreed to appear in the blog – I caught them whilst they demonstrated the fit of the petrol tank… A talented team, left to right we have Dan (engineering), Harry (learning the trade) and Chris (owner and chief artisan)img_2894The petrol tank sits in its original position but is no longer protected by any bodywork and you can see how close it is to the rear wheels.  To prevent stones thrown up by the rear wheels penetrating the tank with the obvious consequences, we decided to follow the wisdom of Vintage Bentley’s and fit a stainless steel mesh for protection. It therefore makes sense to factor in some mounting points for me to create said protective mesh at a later date.img_2895

Next week – the bodywork ‘skin’ commences and the English wheel comes into play for the first time on this car… i will be onsite video in hand to watch this ancient art take place and see how the artisans take a flat piece of aluminum and turn it into a rounded shaped panel.

Coach builder plaques

Just thought I would share today’s art and craft. Now that I know I can craft etched brass items and I know I can distress and age brass I thought I would see what happens if I combine all the Techniques. 

Below are further prototypes of the coachbuilders plaque. Leave me a comment as to which one you think looks the most like a 1930’s original…


You will note that none of them are ‘shiny’, after 80 years the brass would have definitely tarnished…

Bodywork update

A quick update capturing the frame work before it suddenly progresses into something more resembling a car. In this set of photos you can see the structural skeleton coming together and if you have a good imagination, you get your first taste of what it will look like as a car. Design wise, the aim is to have smooth lines everywhere, I want all the curves to flow from one to another with no harsh transitions from straight to curved. You can see an example of this in the drivers side arm cutout which is shaped to be more than just cosmetic. The car is very narrow and there is no room for the driver to have his/her arms inside so  waggling elbows need to not keep banging into the bodywork but still be close enough to rest your elbow on when cruising.

It should be mentioned at this point that vintage race cars are actually rather fragile – the edges of aluminum panel work normally only had a wire rolled edge to add a little strength. The look I wanted is more of an upmarket touring car with an ash frame however hardwood like ash is heavy and over time it rots no matter what  you do to try and protect it. I wanted the frame to be an awful lot lighter and NOT rot, hence the use of the aircraft grade T61  tubing. This tubing is 3mm thick and 25mm in diameter. Once the frame has been completed and fully welded it will be very strong and will be able to provide many years of fun. Poop Poop.

In case you were wondering, all the welding seen in the photos is ‘un-finished’ at this point, for instance the area by the steering wheel (which is a complex set of curves) will be smoothed out to enable the exterior panels to be a tight fit to the tubing BUT this area is critical section visually and strength wise as the arm cutout will have to bear almost all my body-weight when I lift myself up to get out of the car – note there are no doors!img_2886

Below you can see at the back how the rear passenger area curves out then up. This I think looks much nicer than a vertical panel which i have seen a number of people do but i think a vertical panel makes the car look a little too ‘home made’. My design does of course mean that I gave the Artisans a challenge because it is harder to build. The height of the rear passenger area is just right to rest your elbow on but the wheel guard will never ‘bounce’ as high as your elbow.img_2885

In the photo below you can see that apart from my wanting the back to curve out and up, i also wanted it to be a little more interesting by being slightly higher in the middle than the sides. In the photo, the vertical tubing is of course too long at this point, it will actually only curve up a touch more than the thickness of the tube seen coming round on the right hand side.img_2884

This means that the rear tube is another complex curve – i.e. it has to curve around the back of the car AND slightly up which apparently is a bit of a nightmare to bend, below you can see Chris, the lead Artisan test fitting the tube he had initially shaped, this was one of many such test fits with several return trips to the tube bender for fettling. Once he is happy it will be ready to fit but he will complete the passenger side tubing first.

One thing i doubt anyone will notice is that by design that rising curve is exactly the same shape as the bottom of the rear window on the original saloon bodywork… a nod to the cars original form which i think will look rather nice. img_2887

Bodywork update 3

This week was a little bit stressful but in a good way if that is possible – this week I decided once and for all the actual body shape, all the bonnet lines, the length, angle, the curvature, where the hinges will be, the height of the passenger sides and where it needs to curve outwards, the most distinctive part – the shape of the arm cutouts etc.

Once this was agreed at a tangible level (not just a sketch) the skeleton of the bodywork commenced, there is now no going back. Calm my racing heart…

We have decided the Artisans are building me a strong but light body (we all want one of those) and the material of choice is T61 aircraft quality aluminum. The bodywork frame will be formed out of 3mm thick tubing that is so strong it has to be annealed (heated up and allowed to cool slightly) before it can be bent. It was fun watching the chaps go red trying to saw the tube into lengths that would fit their tooling. I will not write a thousand words about this part and allow the pictures to do the talking. In the photos below, apart from the instrument panel section – everything is lightly tacked into place – it will only be fully welded once all the tubing is in place and we are all happy with it.

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Oh and this is ‘Rusty’, the Artisans faithful hound that had my measure and forced me to kick a piece of wood around the workshop for him to chase ALL DAY! That dog has infinite energy!
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I look forward to next week – in my mind i can see the finished car and it is beginning to take shape and progress will be made in leaps once the frame is completed…