“Fit and Finish” is a term used to describe how the components align and function when a vehicle is assembled. Particularly when discussing things like door gaps and fender alignment on cars and trucks. The standards for “Fit and Finish” on today’s new vehicles is extremely high; something that was seriously lacking on cars produced as little as 20-years ago.
Expensive, low-production vehicles built by coachwork craftsman have always been created with the utmost attention to this kind of detail. Low cost, high-production vehicles, on the other hand, have been assembled rapidly on a moving line with little attention to precise alignment.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that many different vendors supplied these components, with variations in the items depending on whom it came from. Popular vehicles like the ’32 Ford had as many as five different vendors supplying components for them.
When I purchased the racecar-remains that they called a “Deuce” roadster it had two doors that were in very bad shape and were from two different vendors. One had a raised reveal around the hinges; the other was perfectly smooth. I decided to address this discrepancy by molding-in the hinges. When we did one it made the bottom hinge look way out of proportion. So they were taken away to be repaired; fixing the rust and removing the reveal from the odd door.
The project bogged down and the doors got lost after a few years had passed. When I finally got the other major problems solved with the body restoration I turned to the reproduction market for another set of doors.
I purchased a pair of Brookville reproduction ’32 roadster doors that duplicate the originals in every respect. They fit perfectly on their jig-assembled reproduction bodies, but when they build them they can’t account for the variations in original bodies or years of abuse that decades-old cars have endured so modifying them to fit my old car was still necessary.
After solving the problems with the rear deck area, expert bodyman and painter Carl Brunson fitted the Brookville doors on my roadster. They required a lot of modification to make them fit my tired “Deuce” body. The steps needed are shown in the accompanying photos.
It would be great if a reproduction door fit this well without some modifications
. Getting to this point took a number of tweakings to them before they fit the old openings.
The Brookville door was test fit in the original opening making sure that the body
reveal and top of the door aligned properly. New blank reproduction hinges were positioned and
marked for depth and alignment.
New hinges have no mounting holes in them. Once the hinge is positioned properly
they can be drilled, tapped and mounted. Note the small raised reveal around the hinge opening.
Original holes in the A-pillar are used as a guide to mark blank hinge. Holes are drilled, tapped and OEM-style hardware
used for mounting them. These are available from a number of early hot rod parts suppliers.
Reproduction doors have no holes to use as a guide so mounting location
is determined by trial fitting the doors on the jam hinges and then drilling and tapping them for more of that OEM hardware.
Here is the door installed with the hinges holding them in proper orientation with the body revea
l and top of the door. Door is nice and straight but the gaps around it are way out of line.
Bottom of the new door is too long and overlaps the opening. Bottom body reveal is also in need of
work to correct its bulge created by a patch panel that was overlapped in its installation.
Door gap at the front was too large and the door cannot be adjust forward so either metal has to be added
to the edge of the door or built up along the front edge of the opening. Adding to the opening proved to be the easiest solution.
First the door skin was peeled back along the bottom. Proceed slowly bending the edge
back to a flat plane in small steps to avoid warping the outer skin in the process.
Door skin was peeled back at the top rear to adjust it for clearance at the junction with the door opening.
Brookville made wedge-cuts when they originally applied the door skin to accommodate the curve at the top.
Tape was applied to the bottom of the inner panel to mark how much metal was to be removed.
Using tape was easier than trying to draw a straight line on a curved panel like this.
A coarse-grit sanding disc on a hard-rubber backing allows the inner panel to be ground down
without cutting into the outer skin. This provides much more control over how much is removed
than any type of cutting tool would offer.
Outer door skin is then folded back over the inner panel carefully controlling
the line of the new bottom edge. This will be easier if the inner panel is precisely trimmed.
Outer door shins are tack welded at intervals along the inside to hold the panels
in a fixed position, and excess is ground down.
Sheetmetal in these early cars is thick enough that the bottom edge
could be metal-finished with a file and finish-sanded.
A gap was created at the bottom of the door opening when the patch
panel on the lower section of the quarter-panel was repaired.
Gaps can be filled pretty easily with MIG welds. Using small tacks will keep
down the heat and distortion that a continuous bead would otherwise create.
The gap is effectively filled after grinding down the welds. Fine-tuning of the opening
is done when the rest of the quarter panel and bottom reveal are finished.
Top of the door and cockpit line around the cowl do not match-up
very well. They need to flow around the opening seamlessly.
MIG welds were made to the front edge and inside contour of the door at the front.
It will usually take more than one weld application before the contour is built up sufficiently.
The door is ground until the two edges match in contour. Gap looks pretty large
at this point but will become much tighter when the finish work is completed.
Here is the left-side door after the body was stripped to bare metal.
Each panel still had to be filled and block-sanded to create the final contours.
Rear of the door was worked to match the roll that the door and quarter
panel make creating the cockpit effect that is typical on the ’32 Ford roadsters.
Here is the left-side door after all of the metalwork was completed to make it fit in
the old opening. Door gaps on these roadsters have to be wider than
normal because the twist in the body is more pronounced than on closed cars.
Installing reproduction doors on a roadster is not as challenging as on a coupe or a sedan. Bodies on old cars were assembled from many smaller panels welded together. Tolerances for this assembly process were not very tight resulting in a lot of variance from vehicle to vehicle. This meant that the fit between components had to be very loose However, with the advent of unit-body construction everything was assembled in precision fixtures and the tolerances got a lot closer. So when we build a modern-day hot rod we expect that same level of quality.
Brookville solved the problem when they created their ’32 Ford three-window coupe body by assembling the components into one full side panel, then stamping the complete side in one piece. That makes their components fit perfectly, but if you want to use reproduction parts from SAR, Brookville or one of these sources you’ll have to make some adjustments to them first. Not a bolt-on solution but a great alternative to searching for old castoffs or having to fabricate totally new ones.