Don’t give up, I know you can make it good

Anyone reading this blog will understand what a mission it is to successfully tackle bodywork on the 2cv. Being a gung-ho sort of chap, I weighed in with my size 10 boots and with hindsight took on much more than I was initially capable of. Notwithstanding I don’t think anyone should be put off from at least having a go. Bodywork is difficult but it’s also expensive to have done at a bodyshop and goes a long way to explain why a car respray costs so much money.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from others and have discovered though trial and error.

Rust – your 2cv will be rusty. If you are lucky, you’ll be able to see it, which might sound perverse but as you are only the latest in probably a long line of previous owners, all sorts of shenanigans may have gone on before: covering up previous rust spots with expertly applied filler, pop riveted patches, aluminium backed foil tape, expanding foam, baked bean cans glued on with Araldite (Justin knows all about this…) – and all hidden under a nice shiny looking coat of paint or a thick coating of underseal. The worst offenders are those cars which have just been re-sprayed, so unless you look very hard for the very shallow dimples left by the original factory spot welder, lack of tell tale pinholes indicating the presence of the dreaded filler and check that there are still seams where some of the panels overlay each other, you can expect the worse. A good example is that if you see a line of rust between the floors and the toe board, the chances are that the dreaded rust has already taken hold and has eaten away at this double skinned panel from the inside. OK – it’s not all doom and gloom but don’t be fooled into thinking I’ll just tidy up that bit and the rest will be fine. This is what I thought when I started.

It is impossible to weld rust – I know this because I’ve tried, so don’t attempt to weld a nice new shiny bit of steel or a new repair panel that you’ve bought (or made) to an existing part of the car which is rusty. The best you can hope for is that some of the weld will stick for a short time to the rust and then pop apart again, but most of the time all the rusty stuff will just burn away. Sparks and spatters of hot metal will be the result. Your mig welding torch will cut through rusty metal like a hot knife through butter. You must keep cutting back until you get to sound metal before you start to weld. Then what you will then find is that your nice new repair panel is too small to fit into the hole it’s meant to occupy. – if this happens, see ‘new panels’ below

New panels – even of your budget is tight, it is much more economical in the end to replace 2 or 3 panels instead of just one. It will be easier to weld new panels together, they will fit better and – if you have chopped back to good metal, you will have something sound to weld them to. There’s some very good advice regarding repair panels on the parts suppliers websites (eg ECAS) – better still, ring them up and have a chat with them. They are not in the business of selling you something you don’t need but they do know, for example, that if you ask for a floor repair panel, the odds are that the toe board will also be shot and will also need to be replaced. They will tell you this – send them pictures of your rusty bits and take their advice.

Plug welding – this is is your friend. 2cv’s were largely spot welded at the factory. There are very few, if any factory made seam welds on a 2cv – and most of what looks like a seam weld is probably brazed or just been filled with seam sealer. Unless you can afford £600 to buy a spot welder or can borrow one for your restoration, treat yourself to a joddler / hole punch tool (about £50 will get you a good one) and where you need to replicate a spot weld, punch a hole in the top panel, clamp it up and hit the area with the mig welder. Work from the edge of the hole in the top panel, towards the middle until you have build up a small, round mound of weld pool. You’re aiming to melt the weld pool into the bottom piece of steel, penetrating this enough to get the weld to melt into the steel and at the same time melt into the edges around the hole in the top panel.

Seam Welding – very, very, very difficult on the ultra thin metal that your 2cv is made out of, unless you can turn your welder right down to 35 amps and you are using 0.6ml welding wire. Even then it’s easy to get carried away and run a nice bead of weld, only to find your panels have gone banana shaped because you have put too much heat into them. Seam weld only if you are capable of doing it in short sections and are willing to take the time to join up the short lengths when the work has cooled off.

Clamps – you can’t have too many clamps. I’m sure I’ve said this before. Get some small ‘C’ clamps – these have small jaws and are great for gripping together edges of panels where the flanges are small. Get some clamps with long nosed jaws – they are much better for getting into tight spaces. One or 2 large (1o inch) ‘C’ clamps will get you into awkward spaces – such as the inside of box sections. If you can’t clamp it, drill a hole through both bits of steel that you are planning to plug weld and use a pop rivet or self tapping screw to hold them in place, ready for welding. Drill out the pop rivets when you are done and fill the holes with a bit of weld, otherwise the MOT inspector will think you’ve pop riveted your car together and fail or condemn it – this will ruin your day. You must clamp panels together tightly (no gaps) before attempting to weld them together. If there are any gaps around the punched hole and the panel underneath then your plug weld will not work. You will either burn a hole through the bottom panel – or your nice new plug weld will pop apart overnight and you will have to unpick all your good work and start again. I use a small metal punch with a flat tip – about 3ml in diameter with a small hammer to tap the edges of the punched hole until they are butted up tight to the bottom panel. A squirt of weld through primer on the inside of both sides of the metal to be joined, prior to clamping them together, will help the weld to penetrate.

When things go wrong – if this happens when your are welding, walk away or do something else for a bit. It’s easy to keep piling on the weld in the belief that it will work in the end. It won’t and you’ll spend a huge amount of time grinding it all off again – only to find that your weld hasn’t welded at all. This will irritate you.

Get the right kit – purchase or borrow an ‘auto darkening’ mask and use a nice bright LED light to illuminate the work before you hit it with the MIG torch. You can’t start a weld in the dark and expect it to all come good when the arc is struck and you see the weld pool for the first time. The chances are you will have missed your target and will just deposit a nice new blob of weld in the wrong place which you will have to grind off again.

Flap disks – use these to tidy up your welds. 60 or 80 grit are fine. Turn your angle grinder down to speed 3 and work slowly and carefully. Grind the weld down until it is flush with the surrounding metal but no further. It’s all too easy to keep grinding down until it’s all nicely blended in and then to find out that the metal around your nice new weld is the now the same thickness as tinfoil and just about as strong as rice pudding skin.

Unpicking old panels apart – do this whenever you can. Get a spot weld drill bit kit – they cost about £30 and will save you hours of frustrating work with a hammer and cold chisel. Drilling out spot welds will cause minimum damage to any panels that you need to salvage. On my van, I drilled through with the spot weld bit until the metal swarf turned from shiny steel to a rusty colour – this indicates when you have hit the top of the panel under the spot weld. Stop here and use a pair of pliers / cold chisel and hammer to carefully prise the work apart. Clean up the old spot weld with the flap disk. When plug welding to a previously spot welded panel, try to line up your holes with the old spot welds. The steel here will be harder and thicker than the rest of the panel and your plug weld will be easier to make. I used masking tape to mark the spots and then transferred it to the panel that would be hole punched.

Brace it – get a few lengths of 1/2 inch box section steel from your local steel supplier. I bought 12 metres of it for about £10. Before you cut out any major panels, such as floors, sills or door posts, weld in a few lengths of box section across the A, B and C posts to brace the shell. This will stop it flopping about when you cut out the old metal and ensure that when you are done, the geometry will be the same as it was before you started. The box section only needs to be tacked into place and can easily be removed later. When welding in new floors and sills, do this when the body is bolted to the chassis, or make a jig to replicate the chassis. Drill holes in the jig that match where they are on the chassis and bolt the jig to the body before you start replacing these panels. If you don’t, your van or car won’t go back together again, the doors won’t fit and you will be deeply depressed as the realisation that you are going to have to start again slowly dawns on you…

Do one thing at a time – this works for me, I like to focus on one area of repair and finish it before I move on to the next. This way, you can leave the shed, garage or workshop after a few hours of work and feel like you’ve achieved something.

Tidy up – when you’ve finished a session in the workshop, sweep up all the bits of rust, beer cans and other detritus you’ve created during your task and again – it will feel like you’ve done more than you actually have. This will boost your morale and you’ll keep up a semblance of enthusiasm for your project. Losing the will to live part way through a restoration is not uncommon, there are so many ‘unfinished projects’ scattered all over the country, some end up on eBay, others are just scrapped. It might seem hard to keep at it sometimes but you must persevere if you are to stand any chance of finishing. I still have a long way to go and am at possibly the most tedious and yet critical stage which is preparation for paint, so I’m in the danger zone.

I’ll do a bit more of a write up about paint later.

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