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What are the Metals Used in Classic Car Restorations?


Classic cars are a hobby for millions across the world, be that a sleek sports coupe, a vintage truck or a pre-war motoring legend, the fascination of driving, maintaining and restoring classic cars is something that has persisted for decades.

People spend thousands of dollars restoring classic cars, for all manner of reasons, from the nostalgia of their youth, paying tribute to a parent or grandparent, or just for a retro ride to cruise the streets in, there’s one thing that ties all classic car enthusiasts together, metal.

What Metals Are Classic Cars Restored With?

The most predominant metal used in making cars, which has persisted since the first motor car in the 1800s is steel. A mix of Iron, Carbon and many other alloying elements, it is cheap, easily formed and looks great once painted. But steel is not the only metal found in restoration workshops:

Cast Iron

Readily cast into complex and strong shapes, cast iron has found wide adoption in the manufacture of cars old and new. Engine blocks and cylinder heads being one of the most notable examples, where the complexity of water and oil channels requires a free-flowing casting material.

Other parts are often cast iron too, and many still are today, such as brake drums or rotors, and housings for things like water pumps. The repairing of cast iron is a useful tool for any classic car restorer, as cast parts can become hard to get once the vehicle reaches a certain age.

Forged Steel

Used in components such as suspension arms, connecting rods and pistons, forged steel is substantially stronger than cast iron or pressed steel, it is made by hot-working ingots of steel into the desired shape.

Aluminium

Made popular and accessible after the war, aluminium was widely used for car bodies and accessories such as headlight covers, fenders and other body panels.

Thankfully aluminium is corrosion resistant and therefore does not often need replacing due to age and therefore rust, in the same way steel does. When new panels are needed, there are many techniques and tools available to replicate original parts.

Sheet Steel

For a car that’s lived its life in the north, there’s a good chance that some rust repair will be necessary during a restoration. The best way to repair rust is to cut out the affected area, and then replace it with a new panel of good steel.

To do this, a skilled fabricator is needed to weld in the panel without creating distortion or disturbing the vehicle’s structure.

Copper

There is as much as 50 pounds of copper in a modern car, classics contain less, as they have fewer electronic systems, but some make use of the shiny gold material for decorative purposes such as grilles and ornate headlamps.

Stainless Steel

Although heavy and expensive, stainless steel has seen usage in motor vehicle manufacture over the years. One notable example, and a car now considered a classic, is the DeLorean DMC-12. A car made using stainless steel body panels.

Methods Used In Classic Car Restoration

There are hundreds of different tools, techniques and methods used in metal manufacturing, but there are also some techniques that were designed specifically for repairing cars.

Panel Fabrication

When dealing with older vehicles that have lived in wet environments, rust is almost always a consideration, from the sheet metal body panels to chassis components, any and all corrosion ideally needs to be cut out and new metal welded in.

To aid in this, tools such as sheet metal cutters, nibblers and shears are used to remove old metal, and produce shaped replacement panels.

Bending, Rolling and Joggling

When making more complex sheet metal panels, such as on body side steps, fenders or door frames, various tools are used to create complex shapes before welding.

Bending via brake presses or simpler pressing tools are used to create sharp edges, whereas rollers are great for making smooth, curved transitions to match the body shapes of classic cars.

When fitting a new patch into a panel, welding a simple flat piece can be difficult to achieve, with the welding often causing warping or distortion. Further to that, a thin sheet butt-weld with no backing can be hard to achieve sufficient strength.

This is where joggling comes in, this applies a ‘Z’ like bend to the edge of the new panel, to give a flush fitting, strong repair that can be welded much more easily. Joggling can be done by powered machines such as hydraulic presses, but simple hand tools are usually sufficient and convenient for light gauge sheet metal.

Welding

A vital tool in the refurbishment of a classic car, welding is the joining of metal by melting through either a chemical (gas welding) or electric (arc welding) heat source. Nowadays MIG welding is the most commonly used welding type for restoring cars, as it provides a controllable, convenient joint.

Spot welding can also be a handy tool in a restorer’s arsenal, some owners prefer this as it may well replicate the original manufacturing technique better, it does however require specific tooling, and is not always convenient to use.

Classic Car Restoration: Top Tips

  • Investigate the potential value of a car before you set about restoring it, unless of course, it has a high sentimental value, restorations can soon run into 10’s of thousands of pounds ££.
  • Label everything! When stripping back your classic vehicle, label and bag every bolt, nut, wire and bracket. Projects often over-run and it may be a while before you are putting these parts back on
  • Use high-quality parts, there’s nothing worse than having to do the same job twice, when replacing panels or other components, buy the best quality you can, to avoid it failing prematurely

Need Metal For Your Classic Car Restoration?

At Metals Supermarkets, we understand your passion for classic car restoration and are happy to help in supplying the best quality materials for repairing your vehicle.

We supply everything from mild steel to copper, stainless steel to corrugated sheets, cut-to-size and ready fast, with delivery or collection offered from your nearest Metal Supermarkets Store.


Metal Supermarkets

metal

Metal Supermarkets is the world’s largest small-quantity metal supplier with 125 brick-and-mortar stores across the US, Canada, and United Kingdom. We are metal experts and have been providing quality customer service and products since 1985.

At Metal Supermarkets, we supply a wide range of metals for a variety of applications. Our stock includes: mild steel, stainless steel, aluminium, tool steel, engineering steel, brass, bronze and copper.

We carry a wide range of shapes including: bars, tubes, sheets and plates. We can cut metal to your exact specifications.

Visit one of our 8 locations in the United Kingdom today.

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