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Inner Fenders & Radiator Support

As stated earlier, this car had been in a front end collision in 1987. It was taken to a bodyshop where the nose had been removed and the frame was straighted. The owner couldn't afford to finish it, so the car ended up in storage (for 25 years!).

When I put the car on the rotisserie I was able to confirm that the frame was straight by taken measurements and comparing them against the frame specs in the service manual. However, there were indents in the frame (ahead of the K-member) that were filled with bondo and painted over to hide the repair.

The inner fenders were left pretty crinkled and were poorly straightened. They were also previously repaired (patched & bondo'd) at the hood hinge locations (pretty common on these cars). So I needed to replace them. There are several manufactures out there stamping metal for these cars and it is a challenge to find out who makes the best ones. They all claim they make "correct" panels, but none really do. After a whole bunch of research and asking people on webforums (www.cuda-challenger.com & www.moparts.com) to send pictures, I learned that Goodmark made the best repo inner fenders. So I bought a pair. After examining them I would say that except for not using the factory style hood hinge nuts, they are really close to the originals.

The radiator support is a different story. Nobody makes the upper piece with the wire retainers on them. You have to salvage your old ones. Also, the upper radiator support has a partial VIN stamped on it, so it best the save the original upper radiator support if you can. There are a few details on the top lip of the upper radiator support that the repos don't have, so you can tell if someone moved the partial VIN if you know what you are looking for.

As far as the radiator support filler panels, no one makes correct ones not matter what size radiator you have (22" or 26"). All of the repos use the wrong radiator mounting nuts and some manufacturers (though they claim they have correct details), even have circular depressions in the metal to fit their nonfactory correct nuts. This makes it real easy to tell that these panels have been changed.

Because of all this, I decided to fix the original radiator support pieces.

121) Here is a picture from a year before. It shows some of the front end damage that needed to be repaired. Luckily the bodyshop did a pretty good job of straightening the frame 27 years ago.

122) Here's a picture from the top.

123) The frame horns were shoved over during the accident and were pulled back into position by the bodyshop. This left kinks on the side of the frame. Instead of fixing them properly, the bodyshop filled the kinks with bondo and painted over it with an aerosol can. Here you can see where I chipped away a big chunk of bondo. Notice the notch on the seam of the frame rail? That notch is where both front frame rails kinked. I wonder if the factory intended for the frame to kink in that location or perhaps it was just an alignment location for assembly.

At this point to fix it poperly, I had to cut the frame open and straighten out the kinks from the inside.

124) With the top open it was obvious that I needed to take a piece out of the side to access the kinks with a hammer.

125) Here it is opened all the way with the kink removed. This had to be accomplished with torches since the frame metal is so thick. The pieces that were removed were flattened on a metal plate I have on my work bench. In this picture I was getting ready to sandblast the inside before priming.

126) Here it is all welded back together. It came out so well that filler will not be required.

127) Here's a shot from underneath. I detailed the repair using my pinch welder to get a factor look at the seam.

128) The left side was much worse. The knotch was closed up because the frame was kinked in.

129) As with the left side, I cut the frame open and straightened the metal. Here it is all welded up. The notch came out pretty good.

130) Here's a shot from the bottom. You can see that the notches don't quite line up. This is the way it originally came from the factory. You can also see the pinch welds I made to dress up the seam. As with the right side, no filler will be required to pretty up the repair.

131) I sprayed some weldthru primer on the repairs to protect them from corrosion while I worked on the radiator support. I should mention that I test fitted the K-frame to ensure that things still lined up after the frame rail repair. I also compared measurements of the frame and compared them to the measurements in the service manual. Things still were in alignment. Wheh!

132) Now on to the radiator support. Here is shot of the right side showning another terrible repair made by the body shop. The corner also took a hit from something while the car was being stored.

133) The first thing I had to do was remove the right hand radiator support filler panel. I spent a lot of time flattening it back out.

134) Then I had to make a new end piece that was ruined by the body shop. In this picture I was fitting the new piece in place prior to buttwelding it to the filler panel.

135) The left hand radiator support filler panel need to be straightened as well, but didn't need to be removed from the upper radiator support. Here is the radiator support all straightened and clamped together in place to confirm proper alignment.

136) The next thing to do was to sandblast the entire front end. I had to do this indoors so I built a makeshift booth around it with plastic and PVC pipe. Here it is after blasting with the booth removed and the mess cleaned up.

137) I made a discovery while sandblasting. A big "A1" was painted by brush on the right hand cowl before the car was painted. Not sure what it means. Probably had to do with the order that the car was placed in line at the factory going into the paint shop or could just be just a code that was written on it when the cowl was in the stack of AC firewalls.

138) Using the new inner fenders (I recommend the Goodmark version), the upper radiator support was clamped in place and welded to the lower radiator support.

139) I had removed the control arm braces with the cowl braces when I removed the original inner fenders. To put it back on I used the original spot weld locations and a level, which I layed across the control arm brace and radiator support. The top of the control arm brace and radiator support are supposed to be in the same plain as each other for the inner fender to fit properly.

140) The control arm brace was both plugwelded from the outside and bead welded from the inside (as original).

141) The cowel support was then welded in place using the orginal spot weld locations for reference. Precise alignment is not critical. It jsut needs to lie flat on the control arm brace.

142) I prep-ed the inner fenders before installing them. On the left side there are 5 holes for fender tags and a hole for an AC line. A lot of restorers do not drill 3 of the fender tag holes if they weren't used and are covered with the emissions label.

To achieve the correct location of the holes, I clamped the piece from the original inner fender onto the new one and drilled the holes. For the AC line hole I dimpled them metal first so that I would get the correct look. Originally there would be a dimple in the inner fender, which only got drilled out if the car was an AC car.

143) Here's the inner fender with the holes drilled.

144) The repo panels do not have all of the dimples in place or all of the holes drilled, especially for AC cars. I put the correct dipples in the inner fenders and actaully drilled holes and mounted the parts to the inner fenders before even welding them in place. In this picture you can see the water valve mounted to the RH inner fender.

One thing to note, when I fit the inner fenders to the car I found that the rear hood hinge brackets were welded to the inner fenders crooked. I had to drill out the spot welds and weld it in straight. This was done with the inner fenders clamped in place.

145) With all of the holes drilled, a sanded most of the primer off the repo panels. This was done to removed scratches, reveal defects and to generally create a surface for the epoxy primer to stick.

146) The inner fenders were then clamped and screwed in place.

147) It is very important at this point to test fit the front end sheetmetal before welding. All of my sheetmetal is original 1970 parts so I didn't have to worry about repo parts issues messing with my alignment.

148) With everything in a happy position, I welded the inner fenders in place. Here is the left side with the welds ground down.

149) Here is the right side. It should be noted the the hood hinge braces (that are welded to the inner and cowl) original had short bead welds on the front and side of the cowl and a short bead weld to reenforce the spot welds on the outboard side of the braces. This was done, I'm sure, to create a strong joint so that the braces don't break free when the hood is closed. I tried to recreate this as best as possible.

150) Here is a picture showing the back side of the radiator support after welding.

151) With the welding complete, some light filler work was done to smooth out the imperfectsions (mainly grinder marks).

152) Here it is after two good coats of DP40LF graygreen epoxy primer. It took two quart cups mixed, to cover this much.

153) Here's the back side of the radiator support after priming.

154) And finally a top view. I would say that this came out terrific. I was also able to keep the original cowl and radiator support, which have the partial VIN stamped in them. Thw engine compartment isn't ready for paint at this stage. There are some very minor defects that can't be seen in this picture. Most of them will come out when I sand the engine compartment down with 220 grit paper.

Once the rest of the car is in final primer, I will come back and do the 220 grit sanding. I will then seal it with more epoxy primer and paint it.