Project Pile House
Watch as Matt puts this Rusty woods-find back on the road. This will not be your traditional build!
Now that the custom firewall was welded into Pile House I could work on making the truck finally steer from inside the cab. This is one big step to making Pile House an actual vehicle rather than a piece of "garage art".
Pile House (like many hot rod and customs) is a collection of all sorts of parts. This means that there wasn't going to be a steering column that would be a bolt-in option. One of my favorite things about custom cars and trucks is that there are no real rules and you can use whatever you have the imagination, tools, and skills to make fit. I want to keep the truck looking "old" even though it is sitting on a modern Chevy S-10 chassis so I chose to mix some vintage parts with some universal parts from Speedway Motors. I covered the supplies I got in one of our last posts. The crown jewel for this part of the project is the unique late 40's Packard Column housing that is a flattened oval shape.
I started by taking the bottom half of the S10 steering joint and removing the rag joint and splined portion that mates to the steering box. I will be utilizing the modern S10 power steering so I decided to keep the steering box as well. After I got the rag and slip joint removed I went to my local auto parts store in the "Help!" aisle and got a rag joint repair kit. These little kits are less than $20 and will get rid of the slop in your steering when using this style GM steering damper. I opted to use grade 8 hardware instead of what came with the kit, but otherwise it is just a matter of drilling or grinding the heads off of the studs and reinstalling the new rag joint.
Once I had the joint rebuilt I slipped it onto the Speedway column shaft and tack welded it in place with the MIG 175.
I then marked out the location where the column would go through the new firewall and I used our new prototype Eastwood Hole Saws to make a hole just a little larger than the opening for the column support bearing. I want a clean firewall so I opted to stich weld the column support behind the firewall.
Once the column was run through the firewall I had to use the Speedway Motors double jointed steering knuckle to get it to match the position of the original steering column under the dash. I again opted to put this behind the firewall under the dash to keep the clutter out of the engine bay. I chose to drill holes with the Eastwood Drill Bit Index Set in the ends of the knuckle to install bolts through the column so it could be split for maintenance. This is especially important since the steering column goes through the V8S10 headers.
With the column in place and cut to length, I installed it in the Packard housing. I then temporarily tack welded the original steering wheel to the column so I could set the angle of the wheel and column when sitting in the truck. This was a good excuse for me to sit in it and make engine noises and pretend to shift.. admit it, we all do it in our projects at least once!
Once I found a comfortable angle for the column I used the Eastwood Adjustable Profile Gauges to make a paper template to match the shape of the Packard housing. I wanted to clamp the column from underneath and reuse the original mounting holes under the dash like the original column used. I made up the box and used the Eastwood TIG 200 to weld it all together. I drilled some holes in the pieces to match the ones in the dash already and ran some hardware up through my new column clamp. The result is a sturdy column and Project Pile House steers from inside! I'll be making the final modifications to the column when my steering wheel shows up from ebay. I ended up going with a period correct wheel from another make, it should look pretty cool when mated up to my new column.
Stay tuned I'm moving onto making new floors, kick panels, and repairing more rust. We're still waging war on the rusty demons this truck has!
In the last update I had finally made the firewall a 3 dimensional part and I could almost see the light at the end of the tunnel for this part of the project. Since then I've decided it would be a good time to tackle the first part of the transmission tunnel. I made it a bit tough on myself with how I "framed" the engine with the set back in the firewall. It looks great mounted up, but the shape was much different than what the transmission tunnel or hump needed to be. It took me a lot of head scratching, sketching, and standing around staring at the firewall to figure out how I was going to connect these parts. Below is the way that ended up working for me.
I knew I needed some shape in the hump and I wasn't going to be happy with angular transitions. I'm also no Ron Covell, Gene Winfield, or any of the other wizards of metal shaping, so I decided to make the hump out of 3 major parts. I pulled out our Panel Beater Bag and Plastic Metal Shaping Mallets to rough-in the shape I wanted. This is a scary process if you've never done it before. Even though I've done this a few times before, I'm still a bit apprehensive when I start beating the crap out of a helpless piece of flat metal to get the "shape" (and I use that word loosely) I want. I start by drawing out a pattern in the area where I need the most shape and choose a mallet that suits the amount of shaping I need to do.
The key is to keep your hits very close together as you work around in the pattern you've drawn. Depending on the hammer you use and the pattern you've hit the metal in, it should start curve or crown rather quickly.
After the 3 pieces sort of resembled the shape I was going for, I moved over to our new prototype Bench Mount English Wheel (watch your June/July catalog and Emails!) and rolled the hammer marks smooth. After a few passes through the english wheel the hammer marks and irregularities quickly disappear and the panel started to take shape.
I worked the panels a little more in the wheel until I had three pieces that would make up the transmission hump. I also made a few small transitional pieces to connect the firewall recess and the transmission hump in the corners to connect everything together and welded it all together.
With the firewall and transmission hump all one piece I reinstalled it for the final mockup. I had one of our tech guys Ed O. help me get everything in place and make the final adjustments. You can see below that there were some raised areas in the original firewall that wrapped up over the cowl and remnants were left after cutting the old firewall out. These raised sections stuck out and didn't match up with my new, flat firewall. Ed took a set of Eastwood Aviation Metal Snips and cut on either side of the raised area. He then took a Fairmount Body Hammer and Heel Dolly to flatten out the raised area and shape it to match the new firewall.
Once we got all of our gaps correct, I used the Eastwood MIG 175 to stitch weld the firewall in place. After the panel was welded in place I took the Angle Grinder and a 60 Grit Flap Disc and blended all of my welds.
Now with the firewall welded in place the cab is much more solid and the engine bay is a million times cleaner. Next I need to tackle making a custom steering column and building some floors for Pilehouse. It's a great feeling putting clean metal in place of weathered, rusty metal! Thanks for watching, hopefully you can come see it in person at the Eastwood Summer Classic this July 13th!
In the last update I was working on cutting out metal to make the firewall and mocking up my new brake pedal setup from Speedway. Since then I've been pretty busy making something from nothing. I had to initially tackle how I was going to mount the brake booster and pedal assembly under the cab. The first problem was that where the pedal bracket needed to live the S10 chassis started to pinch in and put the pedal on a weird angle. This kit was made for an earlier frame that's mostly straight/flat and like anything with a custom build, I had to get creative.
I first used some jack stands to hold the brake assembly in place and eyeball up the position it needed to be in. I then traced out the area that the mounting pad for the pedal bracket needed to sit. I decided I could make a "cheese wedge" shaped mounting box that I could sink into the frame rail so that the pedal bracket would sit straight and everything would jive. I used 1/4" plate and copied the mounting holes to the base plate and welded the mounting bolts to the plate since they'd be hidden once the box was built. I used our Small Magnetic Welding Jig Set to square up the pieces and welded them together with the TIG200 DC Welder. The result was a strong mounting box I could sink into the frame and mount to the pedal box. I made my cuts in the chassis and mounted the box into the frame. Once I was sure it was square, I tack welded it into place with the MIG175 Welder.
Now that I had the shiny Right Stuff Brake Parts mounted in place I dropped the air suspension and checked my clearance when aired out. The booster sits a couple inches below the chassis, but even when the body is sitting on the ground the booster has 4 inches or more of clearance. I'd probably rip the front end off before the brake parts were touched. That would be a BAD section of road even here on the east coast!
My celebration of having a brake setup was cut short when I slide the Speedway brake pedal on and found that the brake pedal landed where my throttle pedal should be. I like to heel-toe my brake and throttle when driving.. but this was unacceptable! I decided to cut apart the brake pedal arm, shorten it, brace it and move the pedal over a few inches so that it sat where a brake pedal should. I also had to "clock" the mounting tab for the linkage under the pedal so that the pedal sits up high enough that it won't contact the chassis when I am pushing the pedal. I again used 1/4" steel plate and the TIG200 DC to box and brace the pedal to handle the force of pressing the brake pedal. Don't mind the rough floor in the photos, we just welded that in temporarily to keep the cab from flopping around while we worked on the roof chop and the firewall.
With the brake parts mounted in place I could finally turn my attention back to the firewall and engine/transmission tunnel. I started by making the back side of the firewall setback. I used one of our Adjustable Profile Gauges to transfer the radius of the top of the TCI Auto Transmission to the panel. After tracing out my pattern I cut the rough shape out of 16 gauge steel with our Electric Metal Shears. Now the electric shears work really great for cutting laser straight lines and gentle curves, but when you need to make a tighter radius cut those shears are out of their element. I decided to mount up one of our Throatless Shears to make the cuts I needed. The nice thing about the "throatless" shear is that you can go as slow or fast as you want so that you can make some really clean, accurate cuts. I cut out the top curves to match the top panel I made on the english wheel, then cut the transmission tunnel radius and I had my second panel of the firewall made.
Now with the back panel of the firewall channel made, I decided that I wanted to ditch the panel I made on the english wheel and form the panel out of one piece. I decided to use 18 gauge steel and form the piece using our Shrinker Stretcher Kit to make the panel match the radius of the main portion of the firewall we had made already. I cut a piece of 18 gauge a little longer than I needed and broke a 1/2" bend on each side of the panel. These edges will allow me to work them with the stretcher to get the radius I need on the panel. This panel was a little more difficult to make as I had to evenly stretch each side little by little as I went to get the shape the same on the entire panel. I actually went a little far when initially stretching the shape I needed and I had to work backwards with the shrinker in a few spots to get the panel back into shape to match the panel. That's the nice thing with metal is that you can always undo what you've done if you stretched or bent the metal a little too much. Once I got the shape close, I used the hammer and dolly to match the rolled edge we made earlier match with this new panel. Then I used Cleco Clamps to hold the pieces together.
Now that I have the pieces in place I can start to see everything taking shape. I need to tackle making the wheel tubs for the front wheels and the transmission tunnel next. I'm hoping I'll be able to start melting all of this metal together with an Eastwood Welder shortly! Thanks for watching!
After getting the old swiss cheese firewall removed from the truck I started making the new firewall for Project Pile House. I started by having one of our tech advisors Sean help me make a cardboard pattern. Once the pattern was made we scribed out the shape onto our metal using a pick from the Eastwood 4 Piece Puller/Scraper/Pick Set. I decided I wanted a smooth firewall for a "cleaned" look. Because of that I won't be running beads in the firewall so I opted for 16 gauge sheet metal.
I wanted to make clean cuts in the metal so I decided to put our Electric Metal Shears to the test and make the majority of the cuts with them. I know we only rate them to 18 gauge, but I had heard rumors that these were actually tested up to 16 gauge with no issues. I was pleasantly surprised that the shears (with well-used blades even!) cut right through the 16 gauge with no issues. I can't say how pleased I was to make those long cuts quickly with the shears. I then fired up the Versa Cut 40 Plasma Cutter to make the cuts for the radii on the tunnel notch and top outer corners. I made the cuts in a single pass with the machine on 110V at around 18 Amps and 60 PSI.
Now that I had the basic shape of the firewall cut out I did some minor trimming to make space around the headers and the valve covers for engine movement. I next made some "witness" marks in the firewall and the truck to have a quick way to match up the firewall each time I fit it. I want to make the transition into the firewall tunnel as smooth as possible so it gave me a chance to try out some new prototype tools we've been testing. We're currently working on a set of universal vice-mount T-dollies that I thought would be perfect to tip the edges of the firewall where transitions into the tunnel. The trick with these is to allow the metal to hang just over the edge of the dolly and use your body hammer to form the metal around the radius of the dolly. The result is a smooth bend in the sheet metal. Look for these to be out sometime in May or June!
By tipping and rolling the edges on the transmission tunnel transition I also added some additional rigidity to the panel that I could feel instantly after I was done hammering. I decided to test fit the panel again so I could mock up the top panel of the tunnel next. The top panel needed to have the same contour as the opening we cut in the firewall and the only good way to make that was by using an english wheel to roll the contour into a piece of sheet metal. I began by making a pattern to match the cutout in the firewall so that I could check my progress as I went. I used our new prototype Eastwood English Wheel to roll the mild curve into the panel and after a few a minutes I had a piece shaped appropriately.
I then used a couple clecos to hold the top panel in place. The fitment is pretty good and it should all blend together pretty nicely once it's welded. I still need to tackle the rest of the tunnel and begin mocking up the steering column and brake pedal before I can finally weld the firewall in place.
Just today I got some steering column parts and a frame mounted brake pedal assembly from Speedway Motors, so I should be able to steer the truck from inside the cab shortly. I've already got a nice chrome Right Stuff Detailing GM mini brake booster and master cylinder sitting on the sidelines ready to mount up once the fabrication is done so I can make Pile House stop too! Stay tuned, things are getting interesting!