Driver-side Quarter Panel Replacement

Part 1 of 3

Between rocker panel rust and rot in the fender lips, I decided it made more sense to replace both quarter panels rather than attempt patch repairs. And to save some money, I elected to go with used quarter panels from 2002AD in California. Including shipping, the two used quarter panels were nearly $330 less than one new quarter panel. I knew going with used panels would be more work, but $568 was a lot easier to justify than $1800. The panels I'll be working with are both from square-taillight cars. The 2002AD guys said they didn't have any roundie quarter panels. It's OK, squarie quarter panels will work on a roundie, they just require a little more prep.

driver quarter 01

Gotta start somewhere. So here is driver-side quarter panel from an unfortunate Anthracite squarie.

Now when you get used panels from a salvage yard, they aren't painstakingly removed from the car, no, they whack 'em off with a Sawz-All. It's up to you, the diligent restorer, to carefully gut the quarter panel, leaving only the skin. So back in March, 2005 I began drilling out spot welds. Lot's of spot welds. I did most of the drilling using a Wivco spot weld bit. It's pretty cool and it makes a nice clean hole, but damn, it's slow. And because the Wivco bit is so short, it won't reach into tight places. Later in this project, I reached the conclusion that sharp 1/4” drill bits and cut-off wheels are the way to go for tear-down projects like this.

driver quarter 02

A Wivco spot weld bit in my I-R pneumatic drill was used for disassembly. The bit makes nice holes, but it's slow.

When I finally got what was left of the inner-rocker panel off, guess what I found? Rust! I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by now. During this project I have come to believe that, other than full-on restorations and cars from the desert, there are two kinds of 2002s—those that have rusted and those that will.

driver quarter 03

Oh joy! Rust, and there's more where that came from. For those with cars that appear to still have solid quarter panels, this is how it starts.

driver quarter 04

Most of the guts have been removed.

driver quarter 05

Removing the paint with chemical stripper.

Turning my attention to the inside of the quarter panel, I noticed a small amount of rust between the skin of the quarter and the sound-deadening panel. Now this sound-deadening panel was news to me; I didn't realize that squaries had this extra 20-gauge panel glued to the inside of the quarter. This panel came from a car that had taken a light hit between the door and rear wheel. Just enough of a hit to separate the two layers of metal. And we all know what happens when moisture gets between two layers of metal? Tthat's right kids, rust. Not knowing the extent of the rust behind the sound-deadening panel, I decided it all had to come off.

driver quarter 06

Evidence that rust was forming under the sound-deadening panel. Round-taillight cars don't have this panel.

driver quarter 07

The rear corner of the sound-deadening panel. More evidence of rust.

driver quarter 08

I started by working an old putty knife under the panel to break the adhesive loose.

driver quarter 09

It took all morning, but after lots of prying and cutting, the panel finally came off.

driver quarter 10

It's not quite as bad as it looks. Most of what you see here is adhesive and surface rust.

driver quarter 11

Here all of the pieces laid out on the floor. The black areas indicate the worst rust. Left untreated, this rust would have eventually eaten through the quarter panel.

driver quarter 12

Again, it's not quite as bad as it looks.

driver quarter 13

I decided to repair the worst of the rust with a section from the old rocker panel. The rocker is made from slightly heavier gauge metal than the quarter panel, so the fit isn't perfect, but it's close enough..

Originally, my plan was to leave the inner fender attached to the quarter panel and weld the new inner fender section to the existing section inside the wheel well. I really wanted to avoid removing the inner fender from the quarter panel because it's a lot of extra spot welds to drill and I was afraid I would mangle the fender lip in the process. But the discovery of rust at the rear of the fender lip left me little choice; I had to remove the inner fender.

driver quarter 14

More evidence of rust. This is the lower-rear corner of the wheel opening.

driver quarter 15

I drilled out the spot welds as carefully as I could. For each spot weld, I started with a pair of 1/8-inch pilot holes on the edges of the spot weld and then removed a little more material with a ¼ in bit. When just enough metal was removed, I gently split the spot weld. There were about 50 spot welds, if memory serves.

driver quarter 16

Here's what fender lip rust looks like before it busts through.

driver quarter 17

Here's the inner fender.

driver quarter 18

Fortunately, the rust came off with a sandblaster. There was some heavy pitting but no holes. Whew, dodged a bullet.

driver quarter 19

Again, after sandblasting.

driver quarter 20

I had decided at this point that, during final assembly, I would glue the fender lip back together rather than weld it. All of the holes on the fender lip were mig-welded closed. I used my homemade welding spoon to speed the process along.

driver quarter 21

Here's a close-up of the holes and the welding spoon. I made the welding spoon out of a piece of ¾-inch copper pipe and a piece of broom handle.

driver quarter 22

After welding.

driver quarter 23

This is about half of the total number of holes.

driver quarter 24

The welds were ground down with a cut-off wheel. The cut-off wheel is more precise and easier to control than an angle grinder.

That concludes most of the interesting work from the disassembly phase of the project. I spent some more time sandblasting and smoothing out the dents, but those pictures weren't that exciting. Ready for more? Check out Part 2.

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