Thursday 19 July 2018

Converting the Klassic Fab firewall panel to RHD

With renewed vigor I have been cracking on with the adaptions to the replacement firewall panel. First of all I welded up the unneeded (on a '65) holes:

The central rounded pressing (shown above, that was formerly a hole) is the primary difference when compared to the original '65 panel, which resembles a protruding bulbous nose. I am not too fussed about this detail as trying to recreate it with my humble tools and limited knowledge would be an impossibility. Oh, and before you suggest it; no, unfortunately I cannot simply cut the original section out of the old and weld it into the new panel because the steel is a different thickness. Not to worry, I like how it now looks.

Next I had to consider how best to convert the panel to work for a RHD car. More specifically, the flanged hole that the steering column passes through needed moving over to the other side. My initial idea was to cut a hole and bend up a circular flange by hand. In fact, I had a brief practice at doing exactly that with some steel offcut of the same thickness. It didn't turn out all that badly considering it was all done quickly by hand tools:

However, I grew a little concerned that this would not be adequate as this section houses a rubber grommet which surrounds the steering column and keeps the elements out. If it was not perfectly round and smooth it could be susceptible to water ingress and then the inevitable arrival of rust! I shelved that idea and reverted to an approach that I felt more comfortable with; welding!

I removed the circular-flange-thingy off of the mexi bulkhead panel:

Trimmed it down to match the correct thickness of my original part:

Then drilled out a large hole in the KF panel:

and opened it up to the required size using the power file:

I think you can see where this is heading:

All tacked into place with alignment looking spot on, ready for the rest of the welding:

And here we have it:

After some careful grinding and finishing:

The backside had good penetration, but decided to grind as flat as I could so that the grommet would bed in correctly:

Test fit of the grommet confirmed that it was spot on:

Blanking of the left section was a lot more of a straight forward task. Here is the before:

The during:

And the after:

To finish up I had to drill a hole to the right of the steering column where a couple of wires pass through a grommet:

Took a bit of work, but I am pleased with the finished result:

Monday 9 July 2018

I surrender! The firewall has beaten me

I keep trying and failing to repair the front firewall panel and have reluctantly concluded that it is impossible! 0.7mm sheet steel is just too thin for me to weld without distortion creeping in, even with the MIG on the lowest setting and cautiously tacking one spot at a time. Ggggrrr! Anyway, the spirit of this blog is to always give an honest insight at not just the successes, but also the failures because it offers rich learning for future readers who may be thinking of doing the same. So I invite you to learn from my mistakes...

You may recall a that in a post a while back I was basically using the top section of my original panel and the lower section of a later Mexi panel. The trouble with this section is that VW used a particularly thin gauge of steel and as it is a flat panel it tends to warp and twist as soon as heat it applied. Just trying to get the two sections flush prior to welding proved to be a futile task and my first ill-fated attempt to stitch the sections together became a horrendous mess after only several tacks! So I took some time out and revised the approach. For this attempt I clamped the two sections in a kind of make shift jig that was simply a few lengths of angle iron clamped together with my work pieces sandwiched in the middle:

Now, the problem on that first failed attempt (not shown) was that the two sections buckled and were progressively forming a valley along the width. No matter how careful I was about heat build-up the panel did not want to stay flat and was getting worse with each welded tack. The angle iron in theory would mitigate this issue and hopefully keep things relatively level. As I mentioned, the edges to be welded were not flush all the way along, so I began joining them together in the middle were things lined up reasonably well. 

The temporary jig did work to an extent, but I still got a lot of buckling and distortion issues. Rather than giving up this time I decided to go with it and did my best to work out the kinks with the hammer and dolly as I went along:

It really was like welding two wavy edges together and I would occasionally unclamp the panel and carefully coax things flat and work the worst of the bumps out of the panel before reclamping and continuing on with the welder. I knew this section would never be completely perfect under close scrutiny, but I consoled myself with the fact that it is not an easily visible area of the car and if needs be I could smooth things over with a skim of filler if it came to it. It doesn’t translate too well into a 2D photo, but no matter how carefully I proceeded the panel would end up warped and stretched. 

The prominent discoloured areas are where I attempted to heat shrink the stretching, but as soon as a problem was solved in one localised area, an equally problematic area would spring up elsewhere. It was like that old fair ground game ‘whack-a-mole’. In a desperate attempt to correct this I tried cutting out a few of the offending areas and let in fresh flat steel:

As you can tell, it came out pretty well apart from that section at the top which was stretched. So, out came the butane torch for more heat, quench and shrink action. From this point on the panel just became more unsightly as I feverishly chased the problems around the panel like a maddened fool.

Well, I'm now officially done with this sh*t as I am simply losing too much time and heart trying to make it straight, when the reality is that it will never turn out well. Not now.

My distant 'plan B' option was to purchase a Klassic Fab panel and be done with it. However, they only produce them for LHD split or oval Beetles, so adaptions would be required in order to make it work. They are pretty damn expensive for what they are, but fortunately the UK distributor recently run their first (to my knowledge) 15% off funky green sale. I didn't hesitate and pulled the trigger:

Much better. The pressings are pretty close to my '65 firewall, so I am happy to roll with it. Time to roll my sleeves up and convert it over to RHD...

Before I sign off, I thought I would share a photo of my growing collection of Klassic Fab panels. Sobering to think that this represents almost a grands worth of steel, although I think it is best if I just don't think about that fact: