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Anyone remember tar rust repairs?


JamesR

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My first old vehicle was a '59 Apache pickup. I bought it in about 1979, so it wasn't terribly old at the time (neither was I), but it fit my criteria for "old vehicle." It was structurally OK, but had rust through on body panels, so I thought I'd try my hand at bodywork...which back then just meant grind and fill with bondo. To my surprise, some of the areas I removed had some sort of tar filler in previously repaired rust through areas. These were commonly rusted areas like the headlight brows. Old timers at the time said repairs like that weren't uncommon.

 

I remember thinking I was really improving things by replacing the tar with bondo!ūüėĄ¬† I now wonder if the tar wasn't better. The truck had dull paint and dents and dings (and rust, of course) by the time I got it , but I got the impression the tar repairs were made with some precision. As I said, I couldn't tell the tar had been used on the body until I got underneath the paint. I'm guessing a shinier paint job would've revealed the tar's unevenness, but it was kind of impressive that someone got it to stay put like it did. How common were rust repairs with tar back in the day? Was it all they used before bondo? I guess that kind of repair is pretty much a lost "art" now.

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The real lost art was lead work for body repairs. I have done some of that myself years ago. Master craftsmen could do incredible things with lead. That art goes way back to before the automobile was common. I was working on my '15 model T runabout's turtle deck/trunk this afternoon, and most of the original lead work is still really good (after more than a hundred years now!). The trunk had some splits in the lower edge where the bodywork was damaged a long time ago, and those splits I had to braze awhile back when I was working on it. The lead work within an inch of the brazing had melted, but other than that, it was all still very nice. I just have to finish sanding and paint those areas. I wish the rest of it was so nice.

 

I have seen a little "tar" repair work years ago. I would imagine it actually worked okay, provided the right type of tar was used. There are many types for roofing and roadwork used. ("Steep" roofing tar is used to restore and re-pot model T coils.)

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The first project I ever purchased was a 54 Chevy pickup that by most people’s standards was too far gone to attempt repairing.... but, it had tar paper on the inside of the floorboards and they were the only non rusty panels on the thing. I had great floors on an otherwise rough body with a rotted frame. 

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5 hours ago, wayne sheldon said:

The real lost art was lead work for body repairs

Lead/tin was used as late as 1955 to fill body panel seams on Buicks. My 55 also has a large lead repair in one door. Don't know if was a factory repair but it was so good I left it alone. I've done a little. Still have maybe 5 or 10 pounds of lead sticks.

I saw a film clip of a factory worker doing lead work. Propane torch with a pretty big but soft flame and a wooden paddle. I guess he did that all day.

No breathing protection at all.  Oy vey...................Bob

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I still do some lead work, hard to find good lead.  I spent a couple days last week making 'terne' for a gas tank - all I could find is 50-50 and to do it proper you need only about 20% or less tin so the melting point is low, you get a puddle and use a rag to 'wipe' it keeping the heat in front and you leave a coat a few mils thick of lead that will be the inside of the gas tank and it'll be corrosion/rust free.

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Yes I do, and a car with a hot tar repair that sat out in the hot sun, one would see the paint starting to droop by the end of the day.

 

EDIT: 

 

These cars were most often early 1970's Fords that suffered from premature rust-out from eastern Canada and sold on unscrupulous used car lots.¬†¬†The 'Rusty Ford syndrome' ¬†became a national scandal in Canada, which¬†forced them¬†with their Duraguard and Zincrometal¬ģ rustproofing starting with the 1977 line.¬†¬† And for the laughing stock, the tar these unscrupulous dealers used as 'filler' really did run in the hot sun, and spawned many a lawsuit in Alberta.

 

Craig

Edited by 8E45E (see edit history)
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My grandfather used to patch up the rusty stuff by mixing up a batch of fiberglass and plopping it onto a smooth brown lunch bag. He's "sandwich" the fiberglass between the body and the bag, then smooth it out with his hands, trim the edge with a flexible knife. Ready to paint! No cheese grater or sandpaper, just shoot it.

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We had an old guy working in the HVAC lab that always had a strange approach with cars.  He was building a house on Grosse Ile in Michigan and he bought a 70 Falcon station wagon from me that I picked out at a Ford dealer many years before to get my mother and sister to Alaska and back in the days when the Alcan Highway was still 1300 miles of gravel.  That car survived a lot and actually still looked pretty good.  So the old guy decided he needed a roof rack on the Falcon to carry lumber so he had a helper hold a couple of 2 x 6's up on edge on the roof and he drove 16 penny spikes through headliner and roof sheet metal into the 2 x 6"s.   Instant roof racks- very affordable too...

 

He drove an old 75 Maverick back and forth to work in Dearborn that was green and had the typical rust out of the 1/4 panels behind the rear wheels.  Then one day it showed up in the parking lot and the big holes where rust had claimed the quarters were gone and suddenly the car was a hideous yellow obviously painted with some surplus paint purloined from a road line painting crew.  The texture of the paint job suggested it was rolled on.  The old guy opened the trunk to show me his quarter panel repair.  He used duct tape to re-form the lower quarters, then poured dry ready-mix in the tape pockets and "just added a little water" he bragged.  A subsequent rear end collision tendered by an unsuspecting driver one icy day did a lot of unexpected damage to the car that rear ended him...

 

 

Edited by Str8-8-Dave (see edit history)
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When I lived in Illinois every car I bought needed rust repair. Not having welding equipment or knowledge I would cut out the rust and patch the hole with different things: starting with fiberglass cloth, then nylon window screening, then aluminum flashing and duct tape, all covered up with bondo. Naturally all these repairs would quickly fail and blister after driving the car in the wet. My final formula was aluminum flashing and pop rivets covered with bondo, painted and sealed on the back with asbestos fiber reinforced roofing cement. I bought this by the gallon, slathered it on with a putty knife, and covered it with spray-on undercoating. While only a welded repair is permanent, this was a pretty close second and I drove many cars for many years without those repairs breaking down.

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49 minutes ago, TexRiv_63 said:

When I lived in Illinois every car I bought needed rust repair. Not having welding equipment or knowledge I would cut out the rust and patch the hole with different things: starting with fiberglass cloth, then nylon window screening, then aluminum flashing and duct tape, all covered up with bondo. Naturally all these repairs would quickly fail and blister after driving the car in the wet. My final formula was aluminum flashing and pop rivets covered with bondo, painted and sealed on the back with asbestos fiber reinforced roofing cement. I bought this by the gallon, slathered it on with a putty knife, and covered it with spray-on undercoating. While only a welded repair is permanent, this was a pretty close second and I drove many cars for many years without those repairs breaking down.

 

Ah, that brings back memories....

My brother's first car was a 55 Chevy two door sedan. Sounds pretty cool, right? Except he bought it in 1969 for 60 bucks. It had been painted with a brush and was damaged on one side. My brother bought some sheet metal that he pop riveted over the damaged areas (which were extensive) then bought about six or seven cans of red spray paint. I'm not sure that he even sanded off the old brush-applied finish before repainting the car, but it seemed to him like a show car when it was done!

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1 hour ago, Str8-8-Dave said:

]He drove an old 75 Maverick back and forth to work in Dearborn that was green and had the typical rust out of the 1/4 panels behind the rear wheels.  Then one day it showed up in the parking lot and the big holes where rust had claimed the quarters were gone and suddenly the car was a hideous yellow obviously painted with some surplus paint purloined from a road line painting crew.  The texture of the paint job suggested it was rolled on.  The old guy opened the trunk to show me his quarter panel repair.  He used duct tape to re-form the lower quarters, then poured dry ready-mix in the tape pockets and "just added a little water" he bragged.  A subsequent rear end collision tendered by an unsuspecting driver one icy day did a lot of unexpected damage to the car that rear ended him...

 

One of the most disrespectful treatments of a muscle car I'd ever heard of was when a family member's in-law received a brand new 1969 Pontiac GTO from his parents as a gift for graduating from college or medical school or something. Being a practical minded doctor, he used the GTO for the essential purpose that it was intended: transportation. When it got older and more decrepit (after 10 years or so) he gave it to an elderly family member. The old guy had little confidence in the rubberized/plasticized/whatever front bumper that came on the '68 and '69 GTO's, however. So he (somehow) filled the internal cavities of the front bumper with some sort of concrete. Don't ask me how he did it, but according to legend, he did it!

 

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One of the first cars I had was a 1951 panel truck. The wheel wells were rusted around where they met the fenders and had been patched with burlap soaked in tar. The repair was old and the tar had hardened to a hard plastic consistency. I had a devil of a job melting it with a propane torch, scraping it out and welding in new steel. Looking back, I should have left it alone. The tar would probably still be there after the truck rusted away from around it.

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6 hours ago, Str8-8-Dave said:

He drove an old 75 Maverick back and forth to work in Dearborn that was green and had the typical rust out of the 1/4 panels behind the rear wheels.  The old guy opened the trunk to show me his quarter panel repair.  He used duct tape to re-form the lower quarters, then poured dry ready-mix in the tape pockets and "just added a little water" he bragged.  A subsequent rear end collision tendered by an unsuspecting driver one icy day did a lot of unexpected damage to the car that rear ended him...

Built FORD tough?

 

Craig

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Living on the East Coast of Canada as a teenager on a poverty budget in the 70's meant it was rusty cars or walk. One of my favorite cars was a 1966 Pontiac Parisienne Custom Sport. The floors had been been patched a few times before I got it in 1972. One rear floor pan had a piece of plywood tarred into place. Had to remove it to pop rivet in a square of furnace duct tin. The other side had an old licence plate tarred in.

 The early 70's Ford were the worst. My folks new 1970 Galaxie had a rotten trunk by 73.

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In the 1970's I knew a car hoarder who lived in Western New York.  His method of patching a rusted-out floor was to first 'paint' the remaining metal with used motor oil.  Then he'd apply a thin layer of roofing tar, press window screen on top of that, and then follow with more layers of tar and screen.  Essentially the same process as building up layers of fiberglass but much less expensive. This process worked very well and was fairly long-lasting.

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14 hours ago, Bhigdog said:

Lead/tin was used as late as 1955 to fill body panel seams on Buicks.

 

 Waaay later than that! Into the 70s GM was still leading body seams.  

 

By 1973, Chrysler was using plastic filler on body seams. I do not know the year they started.

 

In the 1997, I went to the Ford plant in Norfolk and saw them silicon-bronze brazing the pick up body roof to rear panel. Seam looked like it was ready for prime without filler.

 

As to how long repair shops were using lead to repair, I bought several pounds of body lead from Universal Ford (Richmond) in the early 80s. They were not using it and glad to sell some.ūüėČ

 

My method for quick rust hole filling was¬†similar to Bernie's story. Take Tiger Hair¬©, mix on plastic side of 3M¬© plastic lined masking paper, apply to prepped hole area, smooth by hand. Let harden peel masking paper off, sand, fill pin holes, sand, prime....¬† ¬†Here in the rusty east, daily drivers do not get restored, just kept on the road. Not that we see many rust holes anymore because of better factory rustproofing!ūüĎć

 

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A local roofer, carpenter, and shade tree mechanic use to use flashing and tar on rotted out floor boards. What a character with an unscrupulous side. Everything he did was crude and fast. We use to call him Johnny Zero. LOL. He's gone now. Too many Cigarettes and bottles of Dewar's did him in years ago. I guess there was at least one in every town back in the day. Dandy Dave! 

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12 hours ago, Frank DuVal said:

Waaay later than that! Into the 70s GM was still leading body seams.  

I can testify to that.  A kid that lived in my neighborhood worked in the Fisher Body Cadillac plant in 1974 and he had to have a blood test once a month to make sure he wasn't absorbing too much of the lead solder he was paddling onto Cadillac roof seams...

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