It’s All in the Details…. A Behind the Scenes Look and Sheet Metal Manufacturing & What Sets Us Apart.
Many of us hot rodders have often struggled with integrating aftermarket parts with original parts. It’s also an issue that aftermarket manufacturers struggle with everyday. Many times these old cars and trucks have decades of rust and body flex from the abuse they have taken throughout the years. The structure that was there is not as sound as it once was, and they were not built off the line with the idea that they would once be high-end show vehicles with millions of scrutinizing eyeballs looking down on their every body gap.
We all know, but often forget, that we are restoring these classics to a new standard that they were never intended to be. We expect all of the pieces to fit together near perfectly, without us having to “massage” any of the parts. Ask any shop owner, good body man, or interior artist, and they will tell you that their customer expects that type of finish, and many times doesn’t understand why the cost of their project is beyond what they had in their original budget.
It’s often times easy to blame the aftermarket manufacturers and their products as to why the labor hours on a restoration are as high as they are. Maybe it could be that it’s just our expectations of these products are really higher than they were designed to be, after all they are designed to fit just like the originals. Yes, there are many factors that go into the cost of a restoration, but there is one company that designs their products with that in mind. Keeping the cost down of any restoration is good for everyone. It allows more people to build more cars and trucks, and that’s good for everyone on the automotive “food chain”.
MrC10 is at the very forefront of this crusade. Our large selection of aftermarket sheet metal and accessories are the best products available on the market today. We have a direct line to many of the factories where these parts are stamped from molds. Ah, the molds. This is the most understood part or the U.S. consumer. When you hear, “That door fit terrible”, you don’t know where that door came from. Let’s take the Squarebody door for example, it has been around for years and for the most part looks like Ray Charles cut out with a pair of scissors. You may think those Square doors aren’t any good because people have been saying that for years, but did you know they were just retooled and fit incredibly well now.
When you buy metal from your favorite retailer, most of the time you have no idea which factory in Taiwan that it came from or which tooling was used to stamp it. Many panels have more than one tooling (mold) and you don’t know how old that tooling is, and chances are if you called that retailer and asked their customer service rep they would not know either. MrC10 only sells parts stamped from the most recent tooling. Yes, sometime those are old tooling, but they may be the only one available. That said, with the popularity of the truck market today, many of these parts are being retooled. Make sure you know what tooling was used on the parts you buy, with us it’s the latest and best available only. Yes, sometimes it does cost more, but you get that money back in body work time.
Almost all of the sheet metal parts available in the global market are manufactured on the tiny island of Taiwan. We can already hear some of you groaning about overseas parts, but the fact of the matter is that many of these parts are made there because the costs are much less, but the quality is the same as if it were made here in the states. Because of regulations and labor costs, it just doesn’t make financial sense to have these products made here. I’m sure many of us don’t complain about that $99 brand new chrome bumper, but if that same bumper was made here it could cost $200-300, and that would not be good for you or this industry.
Hot rodding and restoration in general has always been about doing as much as you can with the least amount of funds, and we all know how important a budget is when planning a restoration.
First, they have to have a good original sample, or complete vehicle, to use as a template. The better the sample, the better the end product. Next, they pour a plaster mold of the original part on the vehicle when possible, this provides them the most accurate measurement because there is no body flex in the part. This is a key step that many manufacturers don’t do, but it is key for accuracy when the finished casting is made. Next they make another mold of the same piece once it is removed from the vehicle.This process provides a second sample to compare to the one that was taken while it was on the car or truck. Both plaster casts are then digitally scanned & software is used to compare the two. Then a human touch is needed within the software to make adjustments to the file for a completely smooth & symmetrical design, just like the original sample piece.
After a good scan has been finalized, they send that information to their foam factory where a life size foam model is made. Their machines carve out an accurate foam model of the part and the final mold bracing and tooling guides are also added by hand, a true craft within itself. These guides are crucial in the design of the mold and how it will align in the press. If the alignment is off, the entire process and stamping will be off.
Once the foam mold is made, it is sent to a casting foundry where high grade steel is poured into the sand casting made from the foam. This is obviously a rough casting, but each piece is machined down using the digital scan information. This gets that mold close to the original, but it will still need a human hand for final polishing and finish before it’s ready to be test stamped.
The hand polishing process is one that requires years of experience and apprenticeship. If too mush polishing is done then it alters the shape of the part, too little and the machining lines will be seen in the finished part. This is also an important step in the detail of each part. Once the final polish is made, it is compared to the original part for accuracy. Again, this is another step that Golden Star takes in its manufacturing to provide the best fit and finish.
Each part has at least three molds for just one “hit” or stamping within the press. The female part of the mold goes in the top of the press and the male goes in the bottom of the press. There is also a “top hat” that holds the metal in place during the stamping.
Many times a part will have multiple hits to make the forms and curves needed. Each time a part has another hit, three more molds (male, female, top hat) are needed. This get very expensive and very heavy, each group of molds weighs on average of 7-8,000 lbs. There is also careful planning of how they are stored and where, so they can find them next time they decide to make a run of that part.
Designing the top hat is also a bit of science and experience. The lip that is around the outside allows just enough metal through or holds the metal tight just enough to allow for the metal to stretch around the male and female part of the mold. The angle of how the part is designed into the mold also is based on experience and how best the metal will shape around the mold once it’s in the press.
Stretching the metal actually make it stronger & more rigid. Stretching is key here, many others use “thicker” material but it’s soft and less rigid, because it’s not stretched. After stretching the thickness will vary, this is good because it adds rigidity. This provides a part that will be less likely to dent or ding when leaning on it or tightening door handles on a door panel for example.
Once all three pieces of the mold are complete, they run tests to check the accuracy of the part. Another unique process that many times we will send the test pieces back to shops and builders here in the US for test fitment. Any adjustments are made to the molds before full production starts.
THE STAMPING PROCESS REQUIRES A THREE MOLDS: A MALE MOLD, FEMALE MOLD & TOP HAT MOLD.
During stamping, the male mold is secured to the bottom of the press, female is on top, and the “top hat” is in-between. The top hat holds the sheet of metal in place while the male and female molds are pressed together to shape the metal to conform to the mold for an exact reproduction part.
Patch panels can often be made using the full mold. By using a smaller piece of sheet metal, they can stamp just a piece of the mold. It’s so accurate that small pieces of metal must be placed on the part of the mold not being used, to provide a correct stamping. The molds are loaded into the huge stamping press (2-3 stories tall) and pins are set to hold the metal into place while the stamping takes place. The thickness of the metal is also another key factor, we use factory thickness or thicker on all of our sheet metal. A typical fender has 3-4 hits, with 9-12 cast molds, and usually some sort of inner bracing, just like the original.
All small parts and inner bracing are made separate and are usually laser cut by itself and added to the fender during assembly. When you order it from your favorite retailer, you buy it as one part, but there are often 8-12 parts on each finish part. Keeping track of these small parts, their production, & the molds is a job within itself.
After stamping, each part must be laser cut to eliminate the excess metal. Each part has a digital file made of where to cut the metal, based of a stamped piece that is traced and scanned. That original stamping with the outline is also saved.
When the stamping and laser trimming processes are complete, there is often spot welds that need to be done. In this example, the headlight bucket is being welded to the fender. This process requires a custom jig. Each jig is unique to that part and stays with the molds and the original part. As you can see the jigs are very complex. Often times a jig is used when welding the inner door panel to the outer door panel once the inner braces have been welded into place.
Assembling the inner supports and braces is key to providing not only a rugged, factory-correct part, but also allows for factory mounting points for all of the bolt on pieces like door pulls, window tracks, etc. Much of this requires a skilled human touch, with the help of a jig, and precision welds. The same parts are not being produced everyday, they do a limited run of what is needed and then switch to another part. Some of the parts are only produced once a year, so they cannot always rely on a good memory.
During the production of hoods, all of the under structure and outer shell are produced separately and are then assembled the same way.
Rivits and special tabs many need to be added to certain parts. Those are each done skillfully by hand and are carefully positioned based on the original part.
Often times we just see the outer finished side, but as you can see there is much more than just the outer panel. Often times there is an inner structure with brackets and braces that give us that smooth outer panel and allow us to bolt or weld it on just like the original.
Many other products other than sheet metal are also made in Taiwan. Many restoration parts for both the interior and exterior are manufactured in the same factories. Window regulators, door handles and latches, gas tanks, heater boxes, hinges, glass and more.
Speaking of glass, assembled glass and glass kits are also painstakingly assembled too. How many of you have tried to assembled the moulding around the edge of your glass with the sticky black goup that gets everywhere. We offer assembled glass with frames or just glass. The factories have a dedicated division that does all of the assembly, based on factory original pieces. This is a tedious job that requires skill. They have an assembly line where each person is responsible for a different part of the assembly process.
Another unique feature that may interest you history buffs, is the real felt or whisker machine that is used. This machine is the only one known to exist, but it produces factory correct felt for your assembled vent windows. Another detail that they didn’t overlook.
Bumpers and other chrome pieces are hand polished before they are triple chrome plated. This polishing provides a smooth finish once the chrome process is done. Many factories outsource the polishing process, but not ours, it is all done in-house to ensure an ultra-smooth finish.
Careful attention is also paid to the packaging and boxing of these parts. They have to travel a long distance, and are often times handled a few times before you take it out of the box, protecting your investment.
WeThere is so much more to bolting on, or welding on, the next replacement part. We take pride in providing all of us the very best restoration parts. The experience and attention to detail sets us apart.
All of us love this hobby, but we often forget that there are many other fellow enthusiasts around the globe that share this same passion that we have. We are fortunate to have so many choices of products and where we can buy them. From the manufacturing process, through the retail and installation, this industry has a huge global economic impact. Some of us are fortunate to work in and make a living from this industry!
We all want our truck to be the best, to be unique, and to be something that we are proud of. We spend our hard earned dollars on the parts that we want, and that we think are the best for our ride. Our trucks become part of our family, often times passed down through generations. It’s been woven into our country’s fabric, who we are as Americans, and hot rodders.
Finding the right truck, what motor to put in it, and the search for the parts are all part of the journey. When the journey is finally finished, it’s part of what makes that vehicle so special, how we got there, and the stories, blood, sweat and dollars it took to get there. How to find the right part, and what the right part is are different to everyone. One thing we can all agree on is that this hobby is alive and well. Look at the popularity of the trucks in today’s manufacturers. There are so many choices for “bought” power and performance. This is a good sign for those of us that have rides with “built” power. It shows us that the next generation is interested in hot rodding and restoration, and is being groomed right now to inherit this hobby down the road.
When you’re restoring that special ride of yours, remember, you’re not just saving a piece of history, you’re recreating a moment in time that will be passed down for generations to come and to appreciate, and that is one detail that we don’t want to overlook.