…I was jumping up and down on the hood, like a chimpanzee in heat
I think, like a number of enthusiasts, I started restoring and working on classic cars because I loved the cars, but couldn’t afford a pristine example, so I had to buy an inexpensive beater and do the work myself.
It was intimidating at first, I can remember expressly not wanting anything to do with taking apart my first classic’s engine, for fear of not being able to put it back together! But after a few cars, and a number of restorations, my skill and confidence built to a point where I could do pretty much any work on a pre-emissions classic.
Being inherently cheap, I even started doing some basic bodywork, and once, even painted a racecar I was restoring. However, bodywork—and especially paint—is something very difficult to do in a home garage without either suffering sub-quality work and/or turning all of your neighbor’s cars and garage doors a different color, so after that initial painting foray I pretty much swore off the bodywork. Or at least, I thought I did…did I mention that I’m cheap?
Just recently, I got the phone call that every father dreads, “Daddy, I was just in an accident.” Depending on how you look at it, fortune shined on my oldest daughter that day, as she ended up being extremely lucky. Literally, one year to the day after getting her license, she pulled up to a stoplight behind a full size pickup truck. The light changed and as the truck began to pull away, she looked over to adjust the radio (sound familiar?). As you’ve likely guessed, the truck stopped for some reason and my daughter kissed the back of the truck. Fortunately, the truck didn’t have a scratch on it and the driver was very gracious and said she wouldn’t report the minor indiscretion. Unfortunately, the driver’s receiver hitch worked like a combination can-opener/battering ram and tore open a four-inch wide gash across my daughter’s bumper guard, until it got to the grill, where it pushed it under and buckled the hood like a pup tent. In the grand scheme of accidents, it wasn’t horrible—there was zero mechanical damage—but the car looked like something out of “Billygoat Acres” and even though it was a cheapy starter car, I hate to have a car look like that…after all, I have to maintain a certain amount of automotive pride.
As such, I took my daughter’s 15-year-old car into the body shop to see about straightening the hood (which had no paint damage, believe it or not) and replacing the bumper cover. However, I had to lie down and put a cool cloth on my head, once the owner of the shop told me it would be at least $3,500 and that was if he could find a used hood in a bone yard. He added that if he had to find a NOS hood from the manufacturer it could be $4,000-6,000 because of the car’s age. And this is a $3,500 Hyundai we’re talking about, not a freaking Iso Griffo!
Needless to say, I brought the car home and told my daughter that she would have to live with her handiwork. But, as the week’s rolled on, I’d come out every morning and see that turd sitting in my driveway and that buckled hood would just gnaw at me. Finally, I decided I’d have to break my vow of bodywork abstinence and see if I could at least improve on it some.
On this particular car the grille is attached to the leading edge of the hood, so because of the A-frame buckle in the hood, the grille was tucked back and under the bumper like some hillbilly under-bite. So, I opened up the hood and cut myself two equal lengths of 2×4 and stood each on the ground, behind the radiator on either side and then propped the other ends under the most leading edge of the hood, on either side. With the hood elevated on the 2x4s, I then climbed up on top of the hood, and while holding the eves of my garage(!), proceeded to jump up and down on the peak of the A-frame, where the hood was buckled. I’m amazed my neighbors didn’t call Social Services on me, I had to be quite the sight jumping up and down on the hood of my daughter’s car, like a chimpanzee in heat.
However, after a couple of minutes of this I was amazed to see that not only had the hood straightened out, but there was no paint damage whatsoever and just a faint trace of a crease in two spots on either side of the hood! Best of all, because the hood straightened out, it brought the grill back into alignment, with the bumper. The only issue now was that the hood latch mechanism sat on a vertical post, which was still bent backwards, right up to the radiator, so that the hood wouldn’t latch.
The bent mounting post was more of a problem, as there was no way to get behind it to get any leverage without crushing the core of the radiator. Fortunately, years of improvising tools for restorations, finally paid some dividends. I moved my daughter’s car into the street, a few feet behind my full size truck. I then was able to just work a single surfboard strap between the radiator and the post(!) and then tied the ends off in a loop. I next disappeared back into the garage, only to re-emerge with a come-along that I attached at one end to the loop of the surfboard strap and at the other end to the trailer hitch of my truck. As I began pumping away on the handle, it shortened and began pulling the post toward my truck. Within 30 seconds, the post was straight as an arrow and the hood clicked shut with such a gentle push that even a Pebble Beach judge would have approved. The only thing left to resolve was the bumper cover, which due to both my parsimonious nature and my hesitancy to get overspray all over my neighbor’s property, I decided to crazy glue back together and cover its Frankenstein appearance with five judiciously cut lengths of white Ducktape. Voilá! I have to admit, I was amazed at how well it all turned out…all things considered. The car now looks presentable, I didn’t have to pay the equivalent of the value of the car to get it fixed, and now I can quietly go back into bodywork retirement for good.
Well, retirement for at least another two and half years…that’s when my youngest daughter gets her learner’s permit.