There is something special about watching somebody work in metal. After all, this is a very basic material, made up of the periodic table’s elements of strength – iron, copper, zinc. Frankly, there is a sort of fascination that goes back to my railroad and industrial history research – iron ore and coke furnaces, Bessemer converters and ore ships on the frozen Great Lakes, steam engines and rails and skyscrapers and fire. My buddy Tracy Hicks smiles about it. “There are only five things you can do to sheet metal,” he says with a grin. “Cut it, weld it, stretch it, shrink it and bend it. Once you master it, you can build just about anything.”
He’s proven it, too. I’ve spent a lot of days in Tracy’s well-equipped backyard shop, Wizeguy Rod & Custom in Jonesborough, Tenn., watching him work wonders on street rods and musclecars. He only does metal work now, though he was formerly a certified drag car chassis builder and can spin wrenches with the best of them. For the last few months, he has been tackling a pretty difficult GTX that I am writing about in Musclecar Review.
This is the sort of project only the gifted and foolhardy will tackle – the elements had spent years taking various areas on this car and converted them to rust with pitting. Hicks agreed to do the job after the car had spent several years taken apart and stored outside wrapped up on a rotisserie; as one of his occasional helpers began cutting the quarters out for replacement, the entire car started to buckle. They immediately stopped, rebraced the unibody, and Tracy had the car entirely media blasted (it had been in heavy primer) before going any further. That revealed even more extensive rot, but this was a real Six Pack machine the owner intended to keep, so the work has gone on.
So, my education has been to just watch. Hicks will carefully measure a piece of worn metal, with normal tools or by using a simple cardstock template. He will cut a replacement section of flat steel sheet from a selection of various sized stock on hand, and then begin to hand form or shape it with the tools of the trade – metal brakes and cutters, a stretcher and shrinker that work in curves, a French wheel for radii, and MiG and TiG welding outfits. Bend a little, measure against the original, bend a little, measure again, and on and on.