Modern Rodding Tech
Making it Better typography

1. A phone call to Eric Black of e. Black Design brought forth some ideas on where to take this ’47 Dodge.

1. A phone call to Eric Black of e. Black Design brought forth some ideas on where to take this ’47 Dodge.
Making it Better typography
’47 Dodge Fender and Decklid Sheetmetal Upgrades
By Curt Iseli Photography by Cody Walls Illustration by e. BLACK DESIGN CO.

he story of Doug Melson’s ’47 Dodge coupe is an all-too-familiar one. Doug is a hot rodder from the quaint Delaware town of Dagsboro, just a few minutes inland from the sands of the Atlantic shore. Back around 2007 he was at an auction a short hop down the eastern seaboard in Ocean City, Maryland, when the ’47 crossed the block and Doug waved the high bid. It was a finished, painted car, modestly customized and ready to cruise. Or so he thought.

Seventeen miles into the 20-mile drive home the rearend seized and spit out the driveshaft. Apparently, the car left the shop where it was built without a drop of gear oil in the rear. It would have been nice if that was the builder’s only oversight, but Doug soon discovered it was a harbinger of a long list of “oversights” that would lead to the complete de-construction and re-imagining of the car at the hands of Cody Walls at Traditional MetalCraft.

Walls has been practicing metal shaping since 1999 when he enrolled in high school auto body class in his native Georgetown, Delaware. His early efforts earned him a full scholarship to WyoTech (during which time he sold the slammed, wire-wheeled ’64 Impala he built in high school to cover his living expenses), and by 2002 he was working at the well-known East Coast Hot Rod Garage under the tutelage of Ray Bartlett. After five years with Bartlett’s crew, he struck out as a freelancer for various East Coast rod and restoration shops. Then in 2015 he founded Traditional MetalCraft where he single-handedly tackles everything from mild custom modifications to complete, hand-crafted bodies and ground-up hot rod builds.

By the time Doug Melson wandered into Traditional MetalCraft, he’d owned the Dodge for about 10 years and it had bounced between five different shops. Updates made along the way, including the addition of a complete Art Morrison chassis and a brand-new Hemi powerplant, and the body was in primer. “It looked ready to be painted and reassembled,” Walls says. “Then I started inspecting the backside of things.”

Remember how we said Doug’s story was all too familiar? It turned out the excellent body- and prepwork on his coupe was covering some major sins. Not all the modified sheetmetal was completely welded in place. The roof was simply tacked on. Long strands of welding wire hung from the backside of various panels, highlighting where someone attempted to fill rust holes with MIG blobs but then gave up and loaded them with filler. It was a mess.

“It really needed everything redone,” Walls says. And if everything had to be redone, he thought it presented an opportunity to refine the lines of the car as well. From the time Dodge introduced their three-window coupe in 1941 the proportions were a bit odd, due in large part to the abbreviated roofline and correspondingly long catwalk and decklid. Production of the three-window resumed after World War II with some revamped details, but the same basic shape remained.

“The roof had already been extended when it came to me,” Walls says, “but it wasn’t done right and that would need to be fixed. Beyond that, this car stumped me. Usually, I can envision that this or that is going to look good, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to make this one better. So, I called Eric Black of e. Black Design Co.”

By now Black’s name is well known in rodding circles. He’s an illustrator with an eye for detail and an obsession with blueprint-level accuracy when it comes to illustrating hot rod and custom projects. He and Walls have collaborated on several projects, “and I thought he could get us going in a good direction with this one,” Walls says.

The plan Black devised is filled with the kind of subtle modifications that can really change the complexion of a car without being immediately apparent to the casual observer. When you’re talking about pancaking hoods, re-arching wheel openings, and re-contouring fenders and decklids by fractions of inches, individual changes can be nearly indiscernible. But stand back and the cumulative effect is apparent.

Over the course of the next few issues, we’ll examine how Walls transferred those fractions of inches called out on Black’s renderings onto the Dodge’s sheetmetal. As with many projects of this magnitude, both the owner’s resources and the builder’s schedule have dictated pacing, and as such this one is going on five years. That’s important to note because in that time Traditional MetalCraft moved into a new building, and Walls’ arsenal of equipment has grown significantly.

In the old building where this project began, he relied primarily on hand tools to shape metal. A selection of Martin and Snap-On body hammers and a pair of Martin dollies are always within reach. Alongside the hammers is perhaps the coolest tool on the workbench: a slapper Walls made using a late-’40s masonry tool that belonged to his great-grandfather. A relatively new ProLine planishing hammer, built by the late Clay Cook, along with a ’59 Pullmax P-5 help him coax flat steel into sweeping contours for larger panels. When he moved into the new building, he added a massive, cast-iron MetalAce English wheel from Trick Tools, and, more recently, a Powell power hammer. Although the English wheel requires an extra set of hands to operate (a call often answered by Walls’ wife, Erin), it and the power hammer have cut down on labor time significantly. Still, those body hammers and dollies see action every single day.

For our purposes, it’s helpful to be able to show how Walls modified this Dodge during a period when his tool library was expanding. While not everyone has the space or budget for a power hammer, good-quality body hammers and dollies are readily available and relatively inexpensive for any home hobbyist, and you’ll see how to put them to good use. Conversely, as your skill level and interest in metal shaping grows, you’ll see the advantages offered by larger, professional equipment.

three quarter back view of Doug Melson’s ’47 Dodge parked in a garage, front toward the door
2. Here’s Doug Melson’s ’47 Dodge when it arrived at Traditional MetalCraft. Looks like it’s close to being done, doesn’t it? Not quite—there’s bad news under that primer.
full view of the back driver side fender with the wheel removed
3. With the primer and filler stripped away, we start to see some of the substandard bodywork done by past shops. The rocker-to-fender transition is a case in point.
the passenger side back fender with a cut made to the quarter panel

4. Lengthening the fender by moving the leading edge forward required cutting into the quarter-panel where the transition from the slab side of the body into the rounded fender begins.

a laser level is projected onto the back passenger side fender
5. A laser level and grid drawn on the body provide reference points to match Black’s rendering. Cutting the new wheel opening into the dissected sheetmetal helps visualize what’s to come even though it will be replaced with fresh steel.
three quarter rear view of the passenger side fender with the bottom section removed
6. After creating paper patterns for the new steel, the bottom of the stock fender is jettisoned. Walls also began shortening the car’s bustle, reshaping the fender-to trunk contour.
Cleco and clamps are used the hold a raw piece of steel in place where the bottom of the fender once was
7. Eighteen-gauge steel is shaped using a Pullmax with thumbnail shrinking dies and a pneumatic planishing hammer. Cleco/magnet the steel in place, check profiles, remove for more shaping, repeat.
view of the passenger side fender with the newly shaped sheet of steel held by Clecos
8. There’s nothing wrong with forming panels in multiple sections. This fender was done in quarters. Welded seams will be lightly ground with 50-grit Roloc discs, then planished with the planishing hammer or a body hammer and dolly.
view of the drivers side fender in the early stages of work
9. Walls jumped from the passenger’s side to the drivers, but he usually likes to finish one side first. Then if he doesn’t like some detail, there’s only one side to fix.
the ’49 Plymouth bumper and hand-formed splash pan are test-fit
10. With the fender taking shape, the ’49 Plymouth bumper and hand-formed splash pan are test-fit. The bumper will require further surgery to bring it in line.
three quarter rear view of the fenders passenger side, displaying the vertically welded seems of metalwork
11. The bumper’s vertically welded seams show where it was cut, contoured, and tucked to match the new shape of the body and fenders.
the passenger side fender crown marked with sharpie

12. The fender’s crown is marked in Sharpie like a topographical map, allowing Walls to gauge the symmetry from one side to the other and adjust as needed.

close view the rear of the car, showing the stock decklid

13. This image is out of order, but the shape of the stock decklid illustrates how much the rear of the body was shortened.

the catwalk and hinges

14. Shortening the decklid meant lengthening the catwalk 4 inches and moving the hinges rearward. Walls fabricated supports that allowed him to reuse the original hinges.

the new catwalk is formed
15. Next the new catwalk was formed. Although MIG welds can be ground smooth, Walls prefers TIG or gas welding because the seams can be worked with a hammer and dolly.
the decklid skin rests on a stand in two parts
16. Spot-welds holding the decklid skin and inner structure together were ground off to separate the two. The inner structure is chopped first, the rusted bottom edge replaced with new steel.
the decklid skin, in one piece is test fitted in place, and checked with a tripod-mounted laser level
17. After welding the shortened inner structure back together, it’s bolted to the hinges and test-fit to the opening. A tripod-mounted laser level keeps everything in check.
the inner trunk and edge
18. The new inner trunk edge is a design Walls came up with and formed entirely on the Pullmax. It’s a thing of functional beauty.
three quarter view of the rear with the first piece of the decklid in place
19. By this point Walls is in his new shop and has the aid of an English Wheel, which was used to form the new decklid skin.
three quarter rear view of the decklid outer panel in place in two pieces
20. The skin is shaped in two pieces; forming something this large in one piece is possible but unwieldy. The fit of the panel is checked against the inner structure and contours of the body often.
three quarter rear view of the decklid outer panel welded into one piece and fine-tuned
21. Once the contour is right, Walls fine-tunes the edges and welds the two panels together. The only thing left at this point is welding the new skin to the inner structure.
Traditional MetalCraft
(302) 747-6140
Modern Rodding

VOLUME 3 • ISSUE 21 • 2022