& tricks from the Pros
of Automotive Aluminum
Other tips by Kent:
Aluminum Aircraft Welding
in the early 1800s, produced in quantity in 1824, then reliably cast,
rolled and formed by the turn of this century, aluminum was quickly
put into use by automobile producers.
appeared on motorcars as early as the 1908
whose construction included extensive aluminum sand castings and formed
aluminum body panels that were butt-welded with the use of the oxy-fuel
torch and hand-worked to a polished condition.
remained a choice for limited production cars until the 1960s because
it was more easily formed than steel and tooling could be more cheaply
and easily made. The alloys in those days were principally purer forms-
1100 and 3003- which did not lend themselves to corrosion, so the
aluminum survived for decades.
applications, in my experience as a restorer, were the cast aluminum
bumpers on the BMW 501, 502 and 503 models of the early 1950s and
the cast aluminum door frame in the Mercedes 3OOSL Roadster. But certainly,
the beautiful limited production custom and racing coachwork of the
1930s draws our attention to the extremely fine art-metal work that
reached its pinnacle during that period-all produced, incidentally,
with oxy-fuel welding technology. In fact, for the first 40 years
of auto production, there was no heliarc welding, and even stick and
spot welding on aluminum was very limited.
Even though the
heliarc was invented in southern California in 1942, during that time
automobile production was eclipsed by aircraft production. Therefore,
the new welding method did not come into widespread use until after
WWII. So, until the end of the war, aluminum aircraft, like automobiles,
were torch welded, rivet or spot welded.
From this brief historical overview, we find that during the first half
of this century, aluminum was used extensively in cars and airplanes,
and it was repaired and re-repaired, gas welded, shrunk and stretched
with very common machines and techniques throughout the world. It is
only because American automobile manufacturers use very high automobile
production methods that such tremendous numbers of steel cars have been
Accordingly, the auto body techniques in this country have mostly been based on steel. In Europe and in other areas, it is more common to find people who can work aluminum panels equally as well as they can work steel. In fact, for many years, aluminum body work in America was limited essentially to aircraft and some race car building.