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Feature Craft Week – Panelcraft

Article by: Hannah in General - 17 December

At their origin, the body of each Rolls-Royce or Bentley was individually created by a coachbuilder, meaning there’s a unique handcrafted signature to every single one of them. Over the years we’ve had the privilege to work on some of the most beautiful vehicles, beginning with the pre-war Rolls-Royce and Bentleys and broadening to other classic marques such as Jaguar and Mercedes. It’s our job to ensure we recreate the original lines and shape to these iconic pieces of art and history, ensuring their longevity and giving them a new lease of life. Panelwork is a real craft and one that we are proud to provide from an exceptionally skilled team. Last week I spoke with one of them to get an insight into this highly skilled part of the restoration process. I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of this timeless craft but if you’d like to learn more or are thinking about a restoration or starting a project, get in contact with one of our team and we’d be more than happy to discuss how we can help.

Has the product or technique used in panel work changed during your career?

The material hasn’t particularly changed; the grade of material is the same but the techniques used to work with it definitely has. Originally we used gas welding with a flux to keep the oxygen away but it was very corrosive. Now we use tig welding using gas shield. This gives a cleaner, nicer weld and isn’t corrosive.

The technique to shape the material has also evolved. In particular, the availability of small shrink and tuck machinery that we use alongside the traditional English wheel.

Can you explain the process of creating a new panel? How is it different to a repair?

The technique with a repair is to make it look as through you’ve never been there and we take great care to achieve that before the finishing paint process. The creation of a new panel is a longer process and would start with either a copy of the panel, 3D scan, sketch or perhaps a wooden buck. For example, for a new wing, we’d start creating the sections separately, generally in 8 or 9 pieces, depending on the size of the vehicle. To begin with, we’d manufacture the sections that are attached to the chassis to provide location points for reference and ensure correct fitment. Once these are ready, we start to evolve the shape of the wing by creating the other sections. These are then clamped together to check the shape and then welded together. We’d follow this by setting them up on the vehicle, marking out and trimming, setting the flow of the shape of the wing along its outer edge and around the wheel arch, etc., and committing to the final shape! We’d then either insert steel wire or create a series of flanges in the wing to give it strength.

Are there certain areas that are prone to rust and corrosion? Can it be prevented?

One area that can be prone to corrosion is where two different metals meet each other, such as under the wheel arch. When aluminum and steel wire meet, it produces galvanization and white corrosion; it will start on the inside of the wired edge and eat to the outside area. This area is worth protecting with a waxoyl to keep the weather out and a good layer of paint where the two metals meet. Also, if you see a stone chip, it’s worth getting them repaired as soon as possible as they start to oxidize and corrode.

See our Panelcraft page for more information on this craft or email us to discuss your project on classics@fiennesclassics.co.uk