June 15, 2013
The truth about Locosts is starting to come out now. A while back we revealed how it's all but impossible to hide an air filter under a Locost hood. Now, in a startling second revelation, it turns out that virtually nobody panels the sides of their Locost all the way to the nose. You have to look carefully at the pictures, since the front suspension and wheel tend to hide the worst of it, but almost every Locost you see has a big gaping hole in the side where the front suspension sticks out.
All along, we've tried our best to stay true to the Locost book, even when the odds were against us. We knew paneling the side of a Locost all the way to the nose was going to be a huge mess, despite the pictures in the book making it look easy. Not only would you have to remove the suspension every time you wanted to install the body, but can you imagine trial fitting the panels? Cleco the panel, install the suspension, mark all the areas that need trimming, remove the suspension, remove the panel, trim the panel, and start all over again.
That sounded horrible, and we didn't know what to do about it, so we posted our dilemma on the LocostUSA forum, and that's when we found out what was really going on. Nobody does that. Nobody panels their sides to the nose. They all stop at the rear suspension pickups. There's no point in going any farther, unless you want a total show car, and that train left the station for us a long time ago. So we were pretty much convinced to go with the majority opinion, and we were actually rather happy about it.
But then one builder on the forum responded with a compromise idea. Make the panel in two pieces, he said, one piece behind the suspension, and the second piece covering it. If you don't make the second piece too big, you can install it with the suspension in the car. This will let you trim and trial fit the piece in minutes instead of days. After you get both pieces to fit, the two panels can be riveted to the chassis, and then riveted together.
So that wasn't really good news. We would've been fine just leaving a big gaping hole in the side where the front suspension sticks out. But now we had an option to cover up that area, and the solution was too easy to ignore. Although not so easy that we wouldn't spend the next couple of days cutting, trimming, and bending more aluminum. Which is what we did.
We started as usual by making a paper template. We hacked away at the template and taped some new pieces to it until we had something that looked like it might work. And we could even fit it in place with the suspension in the car, although we weren't entirely convinced we'd be able to do that with aluminum, which tends to be a little stiffer than paper. But we figured it was worth a shot, so we traced our template onto a sheet of .050 3000-H14 aluminum, cut the piece out, and bent the bottom to match the curvature of the nose.
As expected, the aluminum wouldn't bend enough, and we couldn't get the panel to fit through the A-arms. So we trimmed it in a few places until we could finally slip it in from below without scraping too much paint off the A-arms, although we couldn't avoid that altogether and will have to do some touch-up later. We also had to trim the panel for more clearance in a few places, and in all we probably had that panel on and off the car about a dozen times, which would've taken about six weeks if we had to remove the suspension each time.
So with those panels clecoed to the chassis, we cut out and bent up one of the side panels, which was a major challenge in itself because of the curvature at the bottom. Nobody talks about this, but the bend at the bottom goes from about a 3" radius at the front to zero radius in back, like one-fourth of a cone. You can't make that bend with basic shop tools. You have to start by making a sharp crease in back, then bend the front and middle over a big tube, and finally try to get the middle to bend more sharply as you work your way back.
You can do it, but it won't be perfect and it won't be pretty. You do have a couple of things going for you, however. First is that this part will be on the bottom of the car, and as long as the basic shape is correct, no one will notice it's not perfect. Second is Bondo. To get close to the right shape, we used a hammer and a lot of pieces of wood, and sometimes we overdid it. And one time we missed with the hammer. When we take the panels off and prep them for painting, I think we can fix most of the damage with a little plastic filler.
The good news is, we got the panel to fit on the car. We matched it to both the rear side panel in back, and the suspension cover panel in front. It even looks good, or you know, as good as anything else on the car. So now it seems we're going to have one of those rare Locosts with fully-sheeted sides. Hopefully this won't go to our heads. There could be this secret cabal of elitist Locost builders out there who fully panel the sides, and thumb their noses at the unwashed masses who don't. Although probably not. Although we could always start one.
In any case the bodywork is done, based on our usual definition of done, which means it's not really done but the impossible parts are done. Our next logical step would be to pull all the panels off the car and get ready to paint them, but of course we're not going to do that, in part because we fear painting, and mostly because we like the way the car looks with the bodywork on, even if it's only clecoed in place. In the meantime we have several other things we can work on. I think we'll start by hooking up the radiator fan. Or something similar.
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