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OEM Report: Automotive

Crafting classics

By Gretchen Salois

Skilled fabricators revitalize the iconic Cadillac

August 2012 - The General Motors-owned Cadillac has a long history in the United States. The luxury vehicle’s reputation as a well-engineered machine with aesthetic appeal has car enthusiasts seeking models no longer in production and often in disrepair. At Fen Enterprises, Wappingers Falls, N.Y., the family-owned restoration shop works exclusively on Cadillac models spanning the early 1900s to 1985.

Frank Nicodemus is one of the shop workers who fabricates the often weather-worn and struggling vehicles, restoring their original charm. The majority of vehicles that come into the shop need some type of sheet metal work, says Nicodemus.

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Nicodemus learned his fabricating skills from his father as well as “hanging around the shop” while growing up in the family business. His parents, avid Cadillac lovers, started Fen 21 years ago, and his mother, Elsa, still handcrafts the interiors of the cars that come in.

“Most of the fabricating we do is on the external panels,” Nicodemus says. “The face value of the car, its outside skin.” He says 18-gauge steel is preferable because it is priced moderately and easier to use. However, since the cars are usually made from plain steel instead of stainless, rust is often a factor and as a result, require rust repairs.
Often, Cadillac convertibles are the most extreme culprits because they are more susceptible to water leaks. “Water stays in the carpet and rots it out, so we need to do a lot of metal repairs,” he adds.

Careful characteristics
Unlike a typical auto body shop, Fen works on vehicles that never had a factory-ready mold on the assembly line. Many of the vehicles that enter Fen’s doors were not mass-produced and parts are more scarce or vary in size or dimension. “We MIG weld everything here,” Nicodemus says. “MIG welding allows us to do a heavy type of metal and it’s very flexible—you can weld it from 18 gauge to 1/16 in. or 1/2-in.-thick steel plate—a wide range.”

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Useful for auto body work, Nicodemus says it takes a skilled welder to mend metal to create a fender patch or 1/4-in. panel out of sheet steel. He says when making a fender, often a necessary task when working on a restoration, the worker takes a sheet of metal and makes it by hand. On an ordinary car, there’s a fender lip, a small edge, on the inside of the fender. “Older cars have that as well. In order to make that edge, depending on whether it’s compound or convex, you use a stretcher or shrinker to make edges to bend and shrink the metal. Ours here are hand operated; we find it more precise than foot-operated options,” he says.

While most of the tools look basic, the results are impressive. Using tools such as an English wheel, workers form metal into desired shapes. Another method is where a piece of metal is laid down and “if it’s a really round piece of metal, you have to sandbag or beat into the metal. You put the large sandbag, which is wrapped in leather, and with a rubberized round hammer, make the edge needed,” he says.

Using a shear, workers cut precise, straight edges. “The hand-held shear is smaller and cuts from a couple of inches up to a foot,” Nicodemus says. “We have a foot-operated brake shear and that will do up to 5 ft.”

The shop outsources die making to a local job shop. “If you wanted to make a part with half an indent, you would use a two-part die for the top and bottom edges,” he says, noting Fen has the parts made according to Cadillac specifications.

“We’re always trying to come up with more productive ways to do things here,” Nicodemus says. “Really, it comes down to the individual’s ability to build cars.” FFJ

Sources

Company Profiles

AIR FILTRATION

IRONWORKERS

NESTING SOFTWARE

SERVICE CENTERS

Camfil APC - Equipment Trilogy Machinery Inc. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters

LASER TECHNOLOGY

PLASMA TECHNOLOGY

Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC. Messer Cutting Systems Inc.

SOFTWARE

BENDING/FOLDING

Mazak Optonics Corp.

PLATE

Enmark Systems Inc.
MetalForming Inc. MC Machinery Systems Inc. Peddinghaus Lantek Systems Inc.
RAS Systems LLC Murata Machinery, USA, Inc.

PLATE & ANGLE ROLLS

SecturaSOFT

BEVELING

TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. SigmaTEK Systems LLC
Steelmax Tools LLC

LINEAR POSITION SENSORS

Trilogy Machinery Inc. Striker Systems

COIL PROCESSING

MTS Sensors

PRESS BRAKE TOOLING

STAMPING/PRESSES

Bradbury Group

MATERIAL HANDLING

Mate Precision Tooling AIDA-America Corp.
Burghardt + Schmidt Group EMH Crane Rolleri USA Nidec Press & Automation
Butech Bliss Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc.

PRESS BRAKES

STEEL

Red Bud Industries UFP Industrial AMADA AMERICA, INC. Alliance Steel
Tishken

MEASUREMENT & QUALITY CONTROL

Automec Inc.

TUBE & PIPE

CONVEYOR SYSTEMS

Advanced Gauging Technologies MC Machinery Systems Inc. BLM Group
Mayfran International

METAL FABRICATION MACHINERY

SafanDarley HGG Profiling Equipment Inc.

DEBURRING/FINISHING

Cincinnati Inc.

PUNCHING

Prudential Stainless & Alloys
ATI Industrial Automation LVD Strippit Hougen Manufacturing

WATERJET

Lissmac Corp. Scotchman Industries Inc.

SAWING

Barton International
Osborn Trilogy Machinery Inc. Behringer Saws Inc. Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
SuperMax Tools

METAL FORMING

Cosen Saws Omax Corp.
Timesavers FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. DoALL Sawing

WELDING

HYDRAULIC PRESSES

MetalForming Inc. HE&M Saw American Weldquip
Beckwood Press Co.

MICROFINISHING TOOLS

Savage Saws Strong Hand Tools
Triform Titan Tool Supply Inc.

 

T. J. Snow Company

TPMG2022 Brands


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