5/5/2004: Rocker Panel Rebuild

Back in February, I started looking into the problem of repairing the structural area under the doors of the car, which is where most of the rust on my car is concentrated.

This area has an inner (structural) box section and an outer body panel. My car needs repair to the inner panels (the extent of which isn’t clear yet, because I can’t see all of them) and replacement of the outer rocker panels.

The inner panel just has to be strong, not pretty, so I’m not so concerned about getting a proper reproduction panel there. I’m sure a competent shop can fabricate patches for it.

The outer panel, on the other hand, is rounded and quite visible on the finished car. I was hoping to find decent reproductions of this part that I could give to a shop to install. Until I had the replacements in my hands though, it didn’t make sense to cut up the ones on the car, since they would be needed as patterns if I had to have custom panels made.

I first talked to Chris Obert, and found out that he only had one left in stock, and his supplier had stopped making them. I ordered it anyway, just in case another showed up. It arrived and turned out to be a terrible fit- it was a good six inches too short and the curved shape was incorrect relative to what was originally on the car.

I had no luck elsewhere either.. the only place I could find that did in fact have these panels available was Biondi Lamierati, in Italy. By the time I added up the costs to order and ship them to the US, plus the potential hassles of dealing with a small shop in another country, I figured it just wasn’t worth it.

I looked into a few places around here which could do the repair and panel fabrication work, and ended up talking to Jon at Enfield Auto Restoration. It’s quite a place. They specialize in restoration and custom coachwork, mostly high-end antique cars like Rolls Royces. When I went to visit, they had a whole bunch of really beautiful old cars I know very little about. The place oozes craftsmanship.

This is a shop that can make a relatively simple FIAT rocker panel in their sleep, but I know they’ll do it right and it will look correct when it’s done. Since this is literally the foundation of the car, I want this job done right, even if it ends up being relatively expensive. Hopefully I can do most of the other bodywork myself to offset the expense.

I sent the car over to Enfield last week, and discussed it with Jon this morning. The current plan is to open up one side and see how it looks, and then to repair the inner box section as appropriate and fabricate a new rocker panel from 18ga steel in sections, using the other side as a pattern. The sections will be butt-welded together to give a finished panel. I will try to get some photographs next time I go there to show the repair progress.

In the meantime, I’ve received the suspension parts back from the sandblasters’ and am painting them and the subframe so that I can get it reassembled. I’ll cover this in more detail in future articles- right now I just need to find the time to finish painting these parts.