Sunday, February 20, 2011

Floor removal, toe board eval & frame rail straightening

Now that my taxes are filed and I'm square with the Fed for one more year, I was able to get back to business on the Boss.  With the cowl complete, the next step was to begin the process of repairing the floor area and all of the associated areas that required attention.  There is nothing “pretty” about this phase of work and the pictures certainly reflect this, but with this ground work in place, the end results will ultimately show the effort.
I decided to tackle the removal of the floor pan by first removing the seat pans.  As previous pictures will show, the floor in my car was a mess, with little salvageable material left to use.  As such, I didn’t need to be especially frugal in the removal of the bulk of the floor pan structure, so out came the smoke wrench (a.k.a. oxy/acetylene torch) and after a few minutes, the seat pans were history.
With more room to work, I could now concentrate on getting the floor pan out of the car.  Here again, there was nothing left to save, so I decided to employ my trusty recip saw for the removal of the majority of the old floor pan.  I decided I would take the floor out in three pieces beginning with the center and leaving the front and rear sections for later.  Mainly, I did it this way to make it easy, but also to allow a more precise removal of the front and rear sections where considerable spot weld cutting would be required.
Once the center section was out of the car, I concentrated on removing the front section attached to the front frame rails, the transmission tunnel brace and front toe boards.  There were a lot of spot welds involved here and I was once again thankful for the efficiency of my Blair spot weld cutter.  After a few hours of work, I was able to carefully peel the front floor section away and have my first serious look at the frame rails and toe boards.
As I have mentioned on numerous occasions in the past, the abuse this old car has taken in its life is hard to imagine.  Almost everywhere I look are signs of an extremely hard life and the lower surfaces of the frame rails were certainly no exception.  First off, Mustangs were never designed to tolerate jacking on the frame rails.  As a unibody car, they were designed to be jacked up along the pinch seam that runs along the bottom edge of the rocker boxes.  This is the area where the car is especially strong and capable of supporting the weight of the car without damage to the structure.  Somewhere along the line, someone was very enthusiastic with a bottle jack of some kind, and had managed to severely damage the bottom of both frame rails with deep, quarter-sized dents the exact shape of a bottle jack pad (ugh!).
I spent several weeks pondering the most effective way to repair these areas, particularly since the frame rails were in such good shape otherwise and had miraculously managed to avoid the heavy rust damage the remainder of the floor had endured.  In the end, I decided to basically use the old hammer-and-dolly technique, expect the dolly was going to be a piece of flat steel plate on the end of my frame jack post pad and the hammer was going to be a combination of 2-lb sledges and a simple forming tool I made from some spare ½” plate.  I knew ahead of time I wouldn’t be able to remove the deep scars from the bottle jack pad, but I felt I could get the frame rails straight enough that a thin skim of filler would be all that was required to make them perfect again.  I am happy to say the results were even better than I expected.
With the frame rails in good shape, I turned my attention toward a comprehensive evaluation of the toe boards.  I knew I would need to replace the obviously rusted lower edges of the toe boards, but wasn’t sure how far up the firewall I would need to go to get back to good metal.  As it turns out, the repair of the passenger side would be quite minimal in scope and the driver side would be quite manageable as well.  I wanted to keep the amount of weld seams inside of the trans tunnel to a minimum such that the metal finishing would be minimum and the least amount of filler would be required to make these repairs invisible.  Looks like I just might get my wish!
Next up, I will start preparing the toe board repairs and tidying up the frame rail and transmission tunnel brace flanges.  I will also remove the remaining flanges from the old floor as well as the rear floor section under the back seat area.  Somewhere in there, I hope the weather breaks enough to get some sand blasting done in these areas as well.  That should really make everything not look so much like a junkyard dog…….c’mon SPRING!
A few minutes with a torch and the seat pans were outta there.  This made the rest of the floor removal quite easy.

My recip saw handled the bulk of the floor removal with ease.

I left the front section of floor in place as there were numerous spot welds that required a rather precision approach to removal to ensure minimal damage to the parent structures underneath.

After a few hours with the spot weld cutter, the front floor section was removed without much fuss.  This allowed a much more comprehensive inspection of the inner frame rail surfaces as well as the toe boards.

Here you can get an idea as to the extent of damage there was to the bottom surfaces of both frame rails  from the use of a bottle jack.  With such structurally sound frame rails, I had to figure out how to repair this damage rather than replace the rails.  This is the passenger side"before" shot.

Using the jack posts I made during my cowl replacement, I fashioned a flat steel "dolly" that gave me a hard surface to work against when reshaping the lower frame rail surfaces.  The adjustable jack post on the opposite side of the car was extended to provide slight pressure on this assembly to provide a solid work surface.

While generally ill-advised, I used a small 2 lb sledge as the first means to get the damaged metal moving.

For the finer work, I made a simple bucking die that allowed me to restore the shape of the corners and edges of the frame rails as well as the bottom.

By turning the bucking die sideways, I could rather easily restore the lower frame surfaces by simply walking the die up and down the length of the fixed dolly until the surface was nice and flat.
Here's a rather poor shot of the driver side frame rail during the straightening process.  You can easily see one of the remaining heavy dents just to the left of the trans tunnel brace flange that has yet to be removed.  The jack post and dolly can be seen in position at the far right of the picture.

Here is the driver side frame rail after straightening.  Notice there are no more nasty, jack-induced dents in the lower frame surface!  A small amount of All-Metal filler and these surfaces will be nice and smooth.

Here's the passenger side frame rail after repair.

After careful examination of the exposed rust damage, I marked the passenger side toe board using a bit of soapstone.  Nothing too extreme required here.

Similarly, the driver side toe board repair section is surprisingly minimal given the extent of rust damage that was in most sections of the original floor.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cowl Panel Replacement - Episode 6: Touchdown!

It’s kinda funny what inspiration a brand-spankin new mig welder can give a fella.  When I last left off, I had fit each cowl end enclosure to the cowl and clamped them into place. Having nailed the fit on both ends to near perfect, I prepped each one for final welding and refit them one last time and clamped them securely into place.  I was absolutely chomping at the bit to try my new Lincoln mig welder out after practicing my plug weld technique on some scrap sheet metal.  With some easy adjustments to my technique, I was able to crank out respectable plug welds and I felt really good about the prospects of getting the end enclosures welded into place and putting paid to the cowl replacement project.
With a few butterflies in the pit of my stomach, I set off anchoring the corners of the enclosures with solid plug welds right out of the box.  I could feel myself smiling like a fool under my welding helmet at how well the machine worked and decided Lincoln didn’t paint their machine Ferrari red by accident!  Man does that thing perform….!!!
It seemed like no time at all and I had both enclosures welded in and I was grinding the welds.  Each weld was far less bulky than my old welder could produce and they all cleaned up quite well with a little grinder work.  In the matter of a few hours, I looked up and realized I had completed the cowl replacement and lived to tell the tale!
With all of the welding completed, I finally had the opportunity to evaluate the entire job more critically.  Most obvious was how solid and tight the whole structure felt.  With an actual structure back in the car, it was really amazing the difference in how the car sounded when rapped on with the knuckles.  There’s something oddly rewarding about that solid “pop” when you “knock on the door” on a new structure like this.
With the hard work out of the way, I just need to touch-up the interior of the end enclosures where the weld heat damaged the Zero Rust paint and then seam seal the remaining flange seams once everything is dry.
Next on the agenda is the removal of the floor pan, toe board repairs, lower subframe straightening and preparation for a new floor pan and seat pans.  Following that, I will be ordering subframe connectors (RM-102), chassis brace (RM-023) and 4-link rear coilover suspension (RM-101) from Heidt’s Hot Rod & Muscle Car Parts.  I’ll also be on the hunt for a 72-74 Ford Torino rear swaybar to complement the new, modern rear suspension while giving the car maximum wheel width allowance without wheel tub modifications.  Just a little hint into what’s on the horizon……and it ain’t likely what you might expect.

I went a little overboard on clamping the end enclosures perhaps, but it ensured the fit was near perfect.
Even between clamps, the flanges were straight and tight before welding.

The top flange is effectively the guide for the rest of the panel.  Good fit here is critical.

Here is a look at the fit in the top rear corner of the end enclosure.  Beautiful!

From the first arc strike, it was obvious my new Lincoln mig welder was light-years ahead of my old, fussy mig it replaced.

Here is the driver side end enclosure welded in.

And here is the passenger side enclosure fully welded.
Driver side welds ground smooth.

Passenger side welds ground smooth.

Here is the back side of the driver enclosure.  The fit here was truly excellent.

Passenger side rear of view of the end enclosure after welds were ground smooth.
Here is the finished driver side upper rear corner.  The fit here really couldn't get any better.

A faked aerial shot of the finished cowl.  On to the floors!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

MIG Welder Tango: Opportunities, opinions, options & decisions

As I mentioned in the last few blog entries, my old, cheapy mig welder has been dying a slow, painful death.  My last welding project finally finished it off and I was now forced to look at a replacement, whether I liked it or not.  Fortunately, I have been looking at the available replacement options for some time and was able to narrow my choices to a rather tight group based on my own experiences over the years as well as the experiences of several welding professionals.  What follows is not intended to be an absolute review of all the welders out there.  It’s just what worked for me and nothing more.
The portable MIG welder market is rather full of options of varying pedigree and that can make the choice quite difficult when considering the allure of low price versus functionality.  After weeks of intense research, I narrowed my choices to one of four machines:  The Everlast Power I-MIG 160, the Hobart Handler 187, the Miller Millermatic 180 Auto-Set, and the Lincoln Power Mig 180C.
I have to admit, that my early intention was to give the Everlast Power I-MIG 160 a try because it was cheaper, and had the nifty feature of being an inverter-based power source with stick weld capability.  All told, the Everlast would have been about $100 cheaper than the next closest competitor and the only inverter machine in the running.  Since Everlast only sells direct, I wanted a few questions answered before dropping my bones on a new welder, so I sent an email to their sales link on their site…………crickets.  So I decide to send the same note to their tech email link………more crickets.  So I finally call their sales department and got a voicemail message from some clown who could barely speak English asking me to leave a message…….so I did…….left my home #, cell #, email address and mentioned that I’ve already sent two emails with no answer.  After another week of waiting……..crickets.  After a few well-placed garage expletives, I vowed NEVER to buy one of their products and was satisfied evaluating the remaining three knowing any information I may want was a simple phone call or visit away.
The Hobart Handler 187 was next in the queue and as Miller’s “house” brand, has many similarities to the Miller line of machines without many of the “fluff” features of their higher-end machines.  The Hobart has considerable top-end power, but the practical use of this in automotive resto work is almost non-existent and I didn’t like the feel of the 7 heat range settings and found many of the under hood parts rather cheaply built for the money.  Furthermore, it seemed none of the local distributors actually stocked this machine but had no problem ordering one.  The reviews of the Hobart among the resto crowd weren’t overwhelming (though not bad), while a bit cheaper than the Miller or Lincoln competitors, it just didn’t blow me away with any feature and irritated with the general cheap feel of things.
The next shooter was the Millermatic 180 Auto-Set.  Miller is notoriously proud of their machines and their reputation is good, but not good enough to justify the almost $300 premium they command over the next closest cost competitor.  This machine has more bling than Mr. T’s jewelry box, but that ain’t the whole story in my humble opinion.  For the kind of money they command, Miller still has a downright crappy ground clamp and a drive roller mechanism that simply doesn’t impress.  And did I mention the price?  Even with very good reviews, I was concerned about the ultimate usability and reliability of the Auto-Set features (I find them kinda fiddly).  The good news here is that the machine maintains full manual setting functionality, making the Auto-Set features a take-it-or-leave-it proposition for me and not worth any amount of up-charge.  Not to be discouraged so easily, I had the opportunity to help a buddy out a few weekends ago by welding in a pair of Hotchkiss subframe connectors into a ’67 Pontiac Firebird.  This gave me the opportunity to test drive a Millermatic 135 mig on someone else’s nickel.  While it certainly can weld quite well, the gun was annoyingly cheap (Miller branded), the feed roller assembly was mostly plastic and it had that miserable ground clamp.  As the grandpa of the new Millermatic Auto-Set line, I decided I’d seen enough given nobody was willing to let me test drive the new 180 Auto-Set.  Also, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to welding.  I like full manual control over the mig settings as this lets me tweak the weld almost any way I want.  While the Miller Auto-Set may do all these things for you, I also believe it has the effect of taking away a significant and important part of the welding experience (e.g., it tends to make you lazy).  In my humble opinion, you need to LEARN how to weld and that involves understanding WHY something works and HOW it works so you can think on your feet.  Only then do your KNOW how to weld.  This philosophy is only supported by a machine requiring full manual control.  I learn something new about welding every time I light up on a piece of metal.  EVERY time, no matter how small the detail and I practice as often as I can.  No free lunch.
The final machine left in my “circle of four” was the Lincoln Power Mig 180C (the “C” stands for “continuous”).  In many circles, Lincoln is considered the leader in portable mig machines.  Just about every big-box store carries the hobby variety Lincoln migs (none of which qualified in my evaluation) and they work remarkably well.  But I wanted to step UP, not sideways, so the 180C was the baddest of the bad.  While I didn’t get to test drive one, I was able to do a side-by-side physical comparison with the aforementioned Miller Auto-Set 180 at my favorite welding supply house, and I am happy to say that in all areas I considered important, the Lincoln Power Mig 180C was the clear leader.  Very robust construction, great feed roller construction, fully potted electronics boards, very nice gun and a superb ground clamp.  Essentially, I had nothing to bitch about, including price since Lincoln offered a $75 rebate on this exact machine.  So for Hobart price, I got Lincoln quality and phenomenal performance!
And perform in does!  It is really hard to explain how much of a quantum leap in technology and performance this new Lincoln mig welder is over what I had been using over the last 15 years.  Absolutely everything about this new machine is superior in every way to anything I have ever used before.  From the construction of the hardware items, to the absolutely HUGE welding sweet-spot range, to its ability to weld very thin sheet metal in the lowest ranges, to it’s incredible top end power, this machine will feature very strongly in every welding operation required in my restoration along with countless other jobs around the shop.  Have a look at the few attached pictures to get an idea of the highlight areas I really like plus a few examples of welds I was able to make with almost no practice.  This machine could make any welder look like a rock star!  Check it out here:  Lincoln Power Mig 180C
I couldn't be happier with my new Lincoln mig!  It even had the decency to fit my existing mig cart perfectly!

Here's the business-end of the machine.  I love the simple design and one of my favorite features is the continuous adjustability of the heat range (voltage).  No more detents dictating what amount of weld current you have available.  If I want to tickle in a few more volts for a difficult, out of position weld, I can do it in seconds and light-up and go.

This has got to be one of the most useful bits of information Lincoln has provided with the Power Mig 180C.  This handy welder setting chart just inside the machine cover give excellent machine setting recommendations for almost all forms of steel you are likely to encounter.  Every setting I have tried seems to be spot-on.

Another demonstration of good quality:  brass-on-brass cable connections with large, easy to manipulate knobs.
The build quality of the wire feed mechanism is absolutely second to none!  Cast aluminum structures throughout make this the baddest feed system of any of the machines I looked at, hands down.
With the tension roller swung up out of the way, you can see the geared lower roller nestled in the lower drive feed assembly.

Here is a look at the tension roller with its matching drive gear.

Lincoln's wire guide mechanism is really very impressive.  The wire is exceptionally well supported through the drive path right into the cable liner.  No kinks here!

While regulators like this don't really measure gas flow specifically (a floating-ball flow gauge is far better and reads actual gas flow), the unit supplied by Lincoln is plenty nice and easily adjusted.

A full-size 11lb roll of wire loaded into my new mig is a beautiful sight!  I really appreciate the robust, simple design of this machine the more I use it.

Where the rubber meets the road.  Five nice plug welds with no fuss or bother from the Lincoln Power Mig 180C.  Life is good.......