Sunday, April 29, 2012

Of Swap Meets and Pleasant Surprises

An important part of the old car hobby is the event known as "the swap meet." Like a rummage sale liberally doused in testosterone, local hobbyists pull boxes of parts that "weren't quite good enough to use in their project but too good to just throw away" out of the corners of their garages and haul them, complete with cobwebs and the shells of dead insects, in the requisite trailer formed from the back of a pickup on an annual pilgrimage to the county fairgrounds. There, their butts firmly planted in nylon camp chairs and their feet propped up on old coolers, they ply their wares, insulted by those who have no desire to pay top dollar for every item on the makeshift table.

Oh, don't get me wrong--it isn't that I don't like a good swap meet. In fact, it is often the place where you find that little part that you're missing from that old car you're spending hours putting back together. And that, then, is my problem: I know that if I don't look at every table, if I don't rummage in every box, that I'll miss "the deal" and that rectangular dash clock and trim that I'd love to have next to my beautiful AM radio that I haven't been able to get online was in that old shoe box next to the jumper cables that, missing one of the four attaching clamps, was deeply discounted at $10.

After a few minutes, I'm starting to have serious sensory overload. It doesn't help that I've never liked crowds, and there are those in a similar state of concentration--I know that clock is here somewere--that make navigating around difficult at times. And then there are the distractions. No, not the funnel cakes vendors--I'm talking about big ticket items. Like the 40 Lincoln Zephyr with that really cool flathead V-12. Or the "wow, that is a really nice 70 Chevy Pickup for only $3,000."

Focus, I've got to focus!

Fortunately, it was a small swap meet (which is good, because I'm not sure I'd survive a big one.) In fact, I overheard some of the old timers comment that it was a lot smaller than normal. After only an hour and a half, I managed to make two complete laps of the event and only uncovered three Studebaker items--a couple of Edmonds dual-carb intakes (one for the Champion 6, another for the Commander) and a set of hubcaps. I didn't need the hubcaps and the price for the intake was double what they've been going for on ebay. So, slowly, still hoping to find something--anything--that I could use, I make my way for the gate almost empty handed.

No, I did not find that clock. I did find the perfect gift for my wife, though. It was really odd, not terribly well done and at 50 cents,  perfectly priced:

That wasn't the pleasant surprise though. After my failed excursion (I'm sorry, but getting up early, braving a crowd and obsessively looking through the shriveled remains of bugs for an hour an a half doesn't exactly match my definition of "successful," hand-carved squirrel withstanding) I stopped by the storage  facility and threw the front fenders in the back of the truck. I knew there was some rust and it was time to discover just how much.

The passenger side looked fairly rust free, although there was some suspicious looking areas in the paint which showed signs of thicker than acceptable body filler usage. The driver's side fender had definite signs of rust, with some paint bubbling down low, some cracking and a rust through spot near the top. I've marked those areas in red in the photo above.

Like many cars from the 50s and 60s, Studebaker coupes are notorious rusters. By far the worst place is the trailing edge of the front fenders, where moisture and debris gets trapped between the outer shell and an inner brace. My fear? The whole rear edge of both fenders would need replaced--while repair panels are available it is a tedious job.

I started with the passenger fender. I start grinding and I hit body putty. A great deal of body putty (over a quarter-inch.) I'm starting to get really concerned. But soon shiny metal starts to appear.  Lo and behold, a small area at the bottom--about 6 inches in length and an inch or so wide is all the rusted through area I can find. It is filled with an epoxy of some sort.

That'll be an easy repair--I'll just cut that out and shape a piece of sheet metal and weld it in place. But what about the driver's side? I know it is going to be much worse! But how bad?

For once, the rust was only as bad as it appeared. This is a first for me--typically rust hides under paint and is spread much further than expected. Apparently, the dry San Diego air--and perhaps that big blob of epoxy (also used on the driver's side) helped stop, or at least slow, the spread of an old car's worst enemy.

I expected the entire area around the vent to be full of rust!
The bottom 6 inches or so of the driver's side fender
The rust-through that was visible at the top of the fender. I expected this to extend all the way down to the bottom!
Again, no need for an extensive patch--I'll be able to form those with scrap pieces I already have. This should be a fairly easy fix.

And that is a very pleasant surprise.

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