In the last installment we took a closer look at the Austin A40 Somerset shell I bought. This time we will get started on customizing it into a special. Before committing further by buying upgraded suspension and drive-line components, it was time to dig into the bodywork. I had an idea but needed to prove it would work in metal as well as it did in my mind. Tools used included painter’s tape, tape measure, felt pen, angle grinder, reciprocating saw and my flux core welder. Let the cutting begin.
I figured the pickup was easiest body style followed by the coupe, van and fastback. There are a few very nicely done fastbacks in the UK that look fantastic but I might well be beyond my skill level. They had more of a hot rod look but I was envisioning mine to be more like something that could have been built back in the day by the factory. I decided on the two door coupe body style first and if that went badly then we could swap over to pickup and pretend that was the plan from the beginning. I sketched out the surgery with painter’s tape several times to see how it might flow and fit together. When working with non-flat, large three dimensional shapes it is not always easy to visualize how they could fit together.
And its off literally and symbolically. The plan was to move forward cutting out sections.
I have to admit I was feeling pretty committed at this point with shades of “what have I done?” creeping in.
I thought about chopping the roof line as per the tape lines on the door pillars but decided against it as stock height looked good and not doing it would simplify the build overall, especially the front windshield.
There were many trials fitments before deciding on the final position and moving on to modifying the rear doors. The roof section was rather awkward to move around and place by one self as it was both heavy and a little floppy.
These butt welding clamps/spacers work great as the roof gets re-attached. They both hold the metal in place and space it slightly apart for welding.
A closer look at the clamp.
What used to be a roof section is now massaged to be the trunk extension. I would say close to ninety percent of the metal cut out went back into the car.
The rear door frame appeared to be a big challenge to get right. Let’s make some cuts. Gulp.
The first fit attempt is not bad, after a lot of thought, pondering and finally cutting.
Bridging the gaps with smaller bits of off-cuts before welding in place.
Another filler section. I do not pretend to be a body expert but this worked out ok. The welding magnet is exceptionally helpful.
The silver metal bits behind the roof were from a 90s Honda Civic roof panel that I have been using as a source of patch panels for years but everything else was re-purposed from the Austin. It does look way better proportioned to my eyes than the sort of chubby and top heavy four door sedan. The look is almost “business coupe” I suppose.
A business coupe as illustrated by this 1940 Chevrolet is an idea from another time when a travelling salesman would need additional luggage room over passenger room.
The rear axle is out in preparation for an upgrade (next update) but shows the revised styling lines.
The major surgery is now complete. There are still some (many) dents to fix here and there. As a summary of the work complete – bracing placed inside, roof sectioned into middle and rear panels, rear roof section brought forward, trunk extended with the former roof panel. The rear door frames were reduced in size and re-shaped. Rear door handles were removed and hole welded shut. The rear doors were welded shut from both sides and new metal welded into the shut gaps. This was complicated by the less than perfect shut lines. Then a thin layer of filler was spread over all of it to smooth out everything. I am now actively finding other jobs to do in avoidance of the endless fine-tuning sanding to come. I will also need to alter or remove some chrome trim pieces where the bodywork has changed.
Every custom car needs a name in my opinion, and perhaps the most obvious one would be Coupe but that is, oddly, already taken by the rare factory drop top version. So perhaps either Business Coupe or just Special?
In the next installment I will lay out the mechanical upgrades I planned.
Project Austin Special Series:
Operating room source photo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/43344700@N07/6802069536/