Like almost every 4x4 project, we initially had a whole bunch of excitement and enthusiasm for our tractor purchase (Part 1, July 2017, goo.gl/QbfNcN). There’s nothing better than bench-racing with buddies, throwing around crazy ideas, and essentially poking a new 4x4 purchase with a stick. We made all kinds of plans with ridiculous self-imposed deadlines to transform Pugsley into a stupid-cool trail machine in just a few months.
But as they often do, life, a real job, and a budget all conspired to drag days into weeks, and weeks into months. Much like gas station sushi, we realized we may have made a bad decision only after the queasiness and stomach rumbles of buyer’s remorse set in. It took a few months of swearing off Craigslist and its cheaper Scout projects that suddenly came out of the woodwork, but eventually the feeling passed and it was time to get back on track.
The first mission: evicting the termites holding hands that were serving as the floorboards. While Pugsley’s frame and the majority of the body are entirely cancer-free, the front floorboards looked like they had endured 40 Indiana winters. The driver side had a botched repair, while the passenger side offered a great view of the ground. Both had to go. A little research revealed that IH Parts America offers excellent patch panels that would enable us to make short work of eradicating the tin worm. We ordered what we thought needed, but in hindsight we should have gotten a few more panels.
It turns out repairing floorboards, even relatively simple ones like those in a Scout 80, is a lot of work. There’s a tremendous amount of cutting, grinding, fitting, adjusting, and welding. We vastly underestimated the time it would take, and we had a pretty hard time making new welds stick to rusty old sheetmetal thanks in part to the very rusty welding skills of the author. At the 11th hour, 4WOR tech editor and best buddy Verne Simons saved our bacon with his vastly superior sheetmetal and welding skills. We got it done, but we also learned why the professionals charge what they do: because it’s worth it.
If your 4x4 project is in need of sheetmetal repair, our story should give you a pretty good idea how much work is involved, the tools you’re going to need, and the patience required. This project was pretty simple as far as rust repair is concerned, but it still took way more time and work than anticipated.
There was a remarkable amount of rust in the floorboards of Pugsley compared to the rest of the sheetmetal and frame. The entire area around the forward hat channel on the passenger side rotted away, and what wasn’t already missing was paper thin. The rest of the sheetmetal that wasn’t horizontal looked salvageable, but in hindsight, prepping the panels was about as much work as replacing them.
On the driver side, the previous owner pieced together some hardware store sheetmetal and zip-screwed it to the floor, then booger-welded the original seat frame to the new sheetmetal. Plus, a good chunk of the inner rocker panel had rotted away. We’re all about cheap and easy fixes, but this was a little too cheesy and had to be addressed.
Although it’s certainly possible to make your own sheetmetal patch panels, ready-made panels can save hours of work. We ordered new front floor pans from IH Parts America. The company offers most Scout 80 and 800 body panels available aside from the floorboards we used. These panels are constructed of same 18-gauge steel as the rest of the sheetmetal and mimic the original floors right down to preformed flanges and hat channels. We also ordered inner rocker panels and a section of transmission tunnel.
The previous owner left some portions of the original floor that were needed and some that were not. The old sheetmetal flanges along the inner rocker and bulkhead had to be removed, while the flanges at the tranny tunnel and forward floors had to simply be cleaned up and prepped for welding. We drilled out what spot welds we could see with a spot weld cutter, but most of them proved undetectable under the paint and oxidation. The most effective technique for removal was simply rocking the sections back and forth with wide-mouth locking pliers until the spot welds work-hardened and broke.
Judging by the amount of dried mud found inside the rocker panel, Pugsley has spent a lot of time off-road, and by the amount of rot on the driver-side inner rocker, it also spent a lot of time parked leaning to the driver side. Though we had an entire replacement inner rocker panel, only the forward half was bad. The rear portion was still solid. The bad section was cut out using a combination of a cutoff wheel, a body saw, and a spot weld cutter.
Here’s the rocker patch panel ready to be welded in place. The IH Parts America panel has a rolled edge along the top just like the original, which would be nearly impossible to duplicate without specialized metalworking tools, and the panel turned out to be an exact duplicate of the original. We had to add the bend along the bottom to match the contour of the rocker skin and also drilled evenly spaced 5/32-inch holes for spot welds (we later opened them up to 1/4 inch). We also opted to replace a small rotten section in the kick panel, so we made a simple patch panel from some hardware store sheetmetal.
Working with old sheetmetal is a pain mostly because it’s so difficult to clean and prep for welding. Even though this steel is solid, 50 years of exposure left a thick glaze of rust and oxidation that proved very difficult to remove. Nothing short of shiny metal is going to work when you’re welding in new panels. If you can’t clean it up, it needs to be replaced. We burned up a couple of flapper wheels in an angle grinder and also spent a lot of time with a wire wheel.
We thought we had done a good job prepping the old metal, but we were dead wrong. At first nothing would stick and we came dangerously close to ruining the patch panel that had taken more time than the author would care to admit to fit and prep. I called for reinforcements in the form of 4WOR Tech Editor Verne Simons and his vastly superior sheetmetal and welding skills. Simons both talked me off the ledge and showed me the error of my ways, which were many. Among other things, the old metal wasn’t clean enough.
The welds (and the repair, for that matter) isn’t the prettiest, but with a little grinding the rocker patch turned out OK. We weren’t quite finished when this photo was taken, but it’s pretty close. The left and right sides of the panel are butt-welded to the original sheetmetal with a long series of alternating tack welds. Always allow the sheetmetal to cool between tacks to avoid warping. The top and bottom edges are secured to the outer rocker skin with spot welds. This would certainly not be acceptable for a concourse-quality restoration, but it’s exactly what your end goal should be: a perfectly strong and functional repair.
With the rocker repaired we could move on to the floorboard. The IH Parts America panel fit our 50-year-old vehicle surprisingly well; only some light grinding was needed to the inside edges in order for it to drop into place. After drilling 1/4-inch spot-weld holes around the perimeter with about 4 inches of spacing between each hole, I burned in the new floor. The rocker had a slight outward bow to it that may or may not have come from our rocker repair, so we used a ratchet strap to help close the gap between it and the new floor.
Whether it’s a spot weld or a butt weld, it’s really important for the panels to be flush against one another; any gaps will make welding difficult if not impossible, and the repair will be weak. A wide punch is an effective way to massage the position of the panel flanges and close up any gaps. The spot welds here aren’t pretty, but they did stick and it’s nothing a grinder can’t fix.
Two hat channels on each floor pan on a Scout 80 serve as body mounts and also sandwich the seam between the floors and the transmission tunnel. The IH Parts panels had the channels only tacked in place in expectation that the position of the channel might vary by vehicle. While positioning the channels underneath the floor we discovered that the rubber body mounts on Pugsley are pretty much nonexistent, so we held off on welding the channels in until we get new body mounts for the entire vehicle.
Since I’d learned a lot on the driver side, the passenger side went much more quickly. The passenger rocker was in pretty good shape except for a hole about the diameter of a golf ball and a strange dent that could have been factory. We cut out the damaged section and grafted a leftover piece of the driver-side patch panel in its place. Again, a concourse restoration would dictate replacing the entire panel, but anything better than a rusty hole is good enough for Pugsley.
Like the driver side, the IH Parts panel was just about perfect right out of the box, requiring only spot-weld holes for installation. The transmission tunnel has bump-outs on both the driver and passenger side for transfer case clearance. Knowing that the size and position of the transfer case is going to change when we swap the drivetrain, we left the new panels out for the time being.
The only places that Puglsey has any exterior rot is in the lower quarter-panels just behind the doors. This is extremely common on Scout 80s, so IH Parts America offers these simple patch panels. We’re not sure we want to mess with the patina, and we ran out of time to install them anyway. Let us know if you think we should repair the quarter-panels or leave them alone (firstname.lastname@example.org).
It would be a crime to go through all of this work and not take steps to prevent the new steel from rotting all over again. We used a good-quality primer on the raw metal, and seam sealer helps keep water from creeping in between panels. As a final step, we drilled a few holes in the bottom of Pugsley’s rockers to give future mud and water a place to go.