Thoughts on Restoring a Morgan
Installing the Skin (Part 1)
©By: John T. Blair (WA4OHZ)
dot_clear 1133 Chatmoss Dr., Va. Beach, Va. 23464; (757) 495-8229

Originally written: Circa 1994

Last update: June 11, 2009 - Redid page formatting

In a previous article, I discussed reassembling the wooden subframe and checking that the body panels basically fit. Once I had it assembled, I was able to drill the mounting holes in the chassis. At that time, I had finished epoxying the parts and had to get them to fit again. After a little cleaning of the epoxy from the corners, where it tended to sag and form fillets, the wooden parts were fitted together. This was where the article left off. Since then, I have disassembled and painted all the wooden parts and painted all of the metal body parts.

body tub

Now it is time to start putting the skin back on the wood. This should be a fairly easy task, I thought. It turned out to be more of a chore than I imagined. Before I start describing how I did it, let me pass along a couple of tips I discovered too late in the game.

  1. When trying to smooth a piece of wood (epoxied or not) I should have used a belt sander. I had been using an orbital sander which just couldn't take off enough material (either wood or epoxy) fast enough. Consequently, I ended up with little dents in the wood and epoxy. However, since most of the wood is not seen, I didn't loose a lot of sleep over it.
  2. I had planned to paint all the wooden parts. But after I had painted the passengers side fender arch, I just wasn't happy with its looks. It was pretty rough, there was a crack that I had tried to fill with epoxy and numerous dents. I decided to try something. I applied a layer of body putty to the arch, sanded it smooth, and repainted it. It sure looks a lot better. I almost wish I had thought of this earlier.
  3. I planned to paint each of the body parts separately before attaching them to the car. This would ensure the entire part, inside and out, was painted. When I started stripping the body parts I started with the front fenders since they were going to take the most time. The last body parts I stripped and painted were: the cowl over the dash board, the rear quarter panels and the rear deck. These should have been the 1st body parts worked over as they would be the first to be reinstalled. Also if these parts were finished when the weather turns bad (i.e.. winter arrives), the necessary parts are ready to start fitting to the wood subframe. When doing the body work, the dimples created by the nail and screw holes, in the edges of the sheet metal, must be flattened. For some of this, I used 2 small pieces of 1/4" steel bar stock (about 4" long). The bar stock was placed on each side of the metal lips, then pressed together using a 4" C clamp. For others dimples, I used a body hammer and dolly. (If you don't have any body tools - Harbor Freight Tools, 3491 Mission Oaks Blvd. Camarillo, Ca 93011-6010, (800) 423-2567 - has a good 7 pc set - 3 hammers and 4 dollies - for about $15. This is the best price I've found.)
  4. When trying to fit the wood subframe to the chassis: the cowl, quarter panels and rear deck should also be fitted. This will ensure a total alignment of the wood subframe and the sheet metal. The mounting of the wood subframe to the chassis is not as critical as is the fit of the sheet metal to the wooden subframe.
I had previously fit the firewall, the sill plates, the door hinge posts, and the dashboard framing to the chassis. It was finally time to bolt the rear fender arches to the chassis. "The best laid plans of mice and men .....", for some reason things no longer fit. When I got ready to Rear fender arch insert the 2 carriage bolts that attach this rear section to the chassis I noticed that the front edges of the rear mounting blocks (on both sides of the car) were about 1/4" above the chassis. However, the rear edges of the mounting block (on both sides of the car) were touching the chassis. It was time to call in the reinforcements. DAAAD HELLLP! My dad came over and we pondered the problem for a while. It appears that when the chassis was made and the welded round down for the rear end cooled, it pulled the rear of the chassis up slightly. I should have placed a straight edge along the chassis to check for this. To overcome the problem, we arrived at three possible solutions:
  1. Cutting a wedge shaped shim to fit between the mounting block and the chassis.
  2. Placing some shimming material in the channel of the mounting block to force the front of the mounting block down.
  3. Modifying the channel (in the mounting block) so that its depth formed the required wedge.
We decided to opt for the 3rd method, cutting a wedge in the channel so that it was the required 1/4" deeper in the rear. This would allow the mounting block to lay flat on the chassis.

To make the wedge cut in the channel, we used a table saw. However, a table saw cuts a constant depth and we needed to cut a wedge. Therefore, we would have to jack the wooden mounting block up at the front to prevent it from being cut. To jack the mounting block up, we installed some small wood screws every 3", starting at the rear of the mounting block, on both sides of the channel. The screws at the rear were screwed all the way in (the deepest part of the cut). While the screws at the front were screwed in until their head was 1/4" higher than the rear screws. Now a straight edge was placed on the screw heads as a guide for adjusting the rest of the screws.

Next, the height of the blade on the table saw had to be set. The saw blade was adjusted until it just barely touched the front of the bracket mounting block (where we did not want to cut away any of the wood). To cut the entire width of the channel, several cuts were required. Between each cut, the rip fence was moved 1/8". When the entire channel had been cut, a chisel was used to clean up the small irregularities. After this modification to each mounting block, the fender arches were reassembled and set on the chassis. Both mounting blocks fit quite nicely now. At this point I should mention that we decided to modify the rear-most wooden cross-member that attaches to the two rear mounting blocks. Originally the cross-brace was screwed to the two mounting blocks (forming a U) from the top, before they were attached to the inner fender panels. This U was very fragile and had to be removed from the fender panels before it could be disassembled. While the rear fender arches were off the car, the rear mounting blocks were screwed in place. The cross-brace was set in place, and mounting holes were drilled from the bottom! Now all the cross-bracing could be installed after the fender arches were set on the chassis.

Those problems solved, it was time to move on to fitting the driver's side quarter panel. We started by holding the quarter panel to the fender arch, and fitting the panel at the lower back edge (where it makes a 90 deg. turn to start up the fender arch). The elbow stuck out 1/8" beyond the quarter panel at the striker plate and about 1/16" across the top of the elbow. We unscrewed the elbow from the sill plate and knocked it out of the notch. It sprang back the 1/8" inch we needed. Apparently, I had the sill plates 1/8" too long (probably because of the epoxy and paint). I had used the original mounting holes in the fender arch to mount the elbow and the stiffener that attaches to the elbow and the fender arches. When everything was screwed together, the elbow was pulled forward 1/8" to fit in the notch of the sill plate. However, now it would not fit into the notch. Instead of opening the notch in the sill plate, we chiseled a notch in the rear of the lower part of the elbow. To lower the top of the elbow, we sanded the curved part of the elbow, where it meets the fender arch.

To be sure we hadn't messed up the door frame, we mounted the doors, the latch and the striker plate. Everything still fit. The gap that was left in the notch in the sill plate was filled by gluing a couple of popsicle sticks together and gluing them in place. Now the front part of the quarter panel, that goes forward under the door, did not fit. In working the panel to fit the elbow and fender arch, the front had rocked down 1/16". To fix this, we sanded the top of the lower door frame down with a drum sander in a drill. Once the panel fit on to the door frame and the sill plate, we used a belt sander to smooth the entire width of the door frame. This process was repeated on the passenger side. To finish the job, a thin layer of epoxy was brushed on the bare wood and then I touched up the paint. Nothing works like a little friendly persuasion!

Next the rear deck was set in place. The rear of the deck (where it wraps around the rear cross-brace) was pressed forward to seat on the rear cross-brace. Then the deck was clamped to the fender arches by placing a paint stirrer on top of the deck and under the fender arch and holding everything in place with a 4" C clamp. Next the top rear cross-brace was set in place. The rear deck was about 1/4" in front of this brace. To fix this, the cross-brace was set up on the elbows and pulled forward to meet the front of the deck. Using an awl, a line was marked on the elbows. The deck was removed, and 1/4" was carefully sawed off the back of the elbows. After plugging the old mounting holes, new ones were drilled and the brace was screwed into place.

Before the cowl over the dash board can be installed, the little triangular pieces that go between the sill plate and the lower door frame must be in place. Actually, I goofed. These triangular pieces should have been put on before the firewall was installed. Originally, there were 2 nails that held the front of these pieces to the wooden firewall frame. The bottom screw in the firewall also holds it in place. Since my firewall was already in place, I just let the one screw hold the triangular piece in place at the front. The only problem I had fitting the cowl was getting it over the outer support for the dash (this also forms the upper part of the door frame). I got one side in place, then really had to pull on the cowl to get it over the other side of the framing. Once that was done, the cowl fit quite nicely.
Closing dot_clear
In closing, I found that all the edges on the wood were very sharp 90 deg bends, partially because of the epoxy. Sanding the corners slightly round seemed to help some. To fasten the skin to the wood, the factory used nails. Someone told me that they should be Brass so they don't rust. When I was talking to Dale Barry (a pen-pal restoring a 56 +4, 4 seater), he said that Ron Naida had suggested using small brass screws. That way it is easier to remove the skin in the future if necessary.

dot_clear Enjoy your Morgan

dot_clear John

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