Sunday, September 12, 2010

Flitch replacement

This is not a job for the faint-hearted; even on a Beetle which has not previously suffered any welded 'repairs' to the footwell side panel area, the heater channel, front panel or in fact any of the panels in the vicinity, the job
can be very tricky. On a Beetle which has been bodged in these areas, the job can be soul-destroying. It is advisable for all but the most experienced (and
hardened) DIY enthusiasts to hand this particular job over to a professional Beetle restorer.
You will need an air hacksaw, although you might be able to get away with a pacisaw if you have several days to spare cutting out the old Hitch panel. The use of air chisels and any other brutal devices is ruled out because they'll damage the lips of adjacent panels.
Disconnect the battery. Remove the front bumper. Remove the fuel tank and push the fuel line well out of the way. Disconnect the lower ends of the bonnet springs and use a prop to hold the bonnet up (remove the bonnet if you prefer, although if you do so then it will have to be re-fitted to check flitch alignment at a later stage), remove the front wing(s) and remove the spare wheel. According to the model being worked upon and which side of the car is being attended to, remove any wiring, piping and components from the vicinity.
Strip the front suspension and brakes. On McPherson strut cars, support the frame head from under the car and remove the strut complete. Remove the three large bolts which hold the steering box. Before starting to hack away at the offending Hitch panel, make up a measuring device with which you can fix the distance between two suspension strut holes (McPherson strut models) or two fixed points on the flitches, to help later with correct alignment of the new panel. The ideal measuring device is a length of box section steel with holes drilled to correspond with the McPherson strut holes in the flitch or alternatively, for torsion bar cars, holes which you drill (accurately measuring for the hole placement in the new flitch) and which can later be filled with weld. You can run nuts and bolts through these holes, which not only positively locate the flitch but which also hold it firmly in position whilst welding up taking place. Alternatively, a series of measurements could be taken. The flitch panel should be cut away in stages, starting at the top and working slowly downwards — at all times, taking care not to hack through the various lips of adjoining panels. The photographs illustrate this process. As sections of the old flitch are removed, compare them with the replacement and salvage any fittings which may be absent from the new panels.
The flitch is generally joined to adjacent steel by spot welds, which have to be partially drilled and then split. Try to avoid drilling holes right through any lip which is visible from within the luggage compartment, because the holes will later have to be filled with weld and ground down. Prise open the A post folded seam to remove the flitch rear lip. When the panel has been removed, examine all newly exposed metal, particularly enclosed box sections, the A post base, heater channel and front panel. If these show signs of bad rusting then they should be replaced, otherwise, take the opportunity of applying rust-preventative measures and clean the edges to which the flitch will be welded.
Offer the flitch into place and check that it is accurately positioned by using the measuring device you made earlier and by lowering the bonnet to check for any gaps or misalignment. Be prepared to spend some time getting the flitch in the correct position, because even the best repair panels can offer problems. Clamp
the flitch tightly into position. lower the bonnet and check that the two align correctly.When you are satisfied that the flitch is in the correct position, clean the areas which are to be welded and preferably apply weldable zinc paint. Fold the A post seam back over the flitch rear lip with a hammer and dolly, and check that the curvature of the flitch is correct. Then begin welding the flitch panel into place. If you don't have access to a spot welder and the appropriate arms then you could use plug welds in their place — as many and as close together as the originals — or preferably continuous seam welds.

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