44. Body building

Confession time: I will not be performing a “full” body fitting before paint.  What I mean by that is I’m not going to blend the doors and body panels together for a perfect fit before I paint the car.  This sounds completely stupid but let me explain …

I’ve hacked the body up and I’ve bonded a number of panels underneath the bodywork.  Throughout the course of these modifications I haven’t been super careful with my resin to fiberglass ratio and who knows what kind of ratio RCR’s vendor used while making the body.  So I expect with some aging my body will continue to distort before taking a final set.  It seems a bit crazy to go all out and get all the body panels to fit perfectly only to have to do this again in a year.  Even crazier would be to put a whole lot of money into a beautiful paint job – only to have to re-paint it in a year or two after the body’s twisted and all the panels need re-aligning – or worse, finding a crack!

So I’ve decided to swallow my pride and quiet the OCD voices in my head for at least a year so the body can “season”.  In the meantime I’m going to do a “decent” body fitting before going onto paint.

For paint, I’m planning to plastidip the car.  I’ve gotten some flack for going with plastidip on this car but I actually believe it’s the best solution for my needs.  Plastidip is a low-cost product that’s temporary and can be easily removed when I’m ready to do a “permanent” paint job.  It’s available in just about any color imaginable and is great for the DIY guy like myself.  I figure the first one or two plastidip jobs won’t turn out very nice so it’s likely I’ll be painting the car a few times before I move onto the real deal.  Practice makes perfect and at about $200 to paint the car a different color, it’s a relatively inexpensive way to try different looks before downselecting to a real paint color.

Before I can paint the car I need to do some bodywork to get things looking halfway decent.  I’ll be honest – this is a part of the project that I haven’t been enjoying.  It’s been a lot of tough work and frankly, it’s kicking my butt.  We’ve been having 90+ days around here and working in a non air conditioned garage is pretty sucky.  Even suckier is working when I have to move out under the blazing sun.

OK, whining over, let’s get to it.

I was actually pleasantly surprised by how good the factory bodywork is.  Full disclosure – I know nothing about fiberglass bodies, what makes a good one vs a bad one, and this is the first fiberglass bodied car I’ve actually spent any real time around.  Even though I’m only doing a “decent” body fitting, the panels are actually fairly well aligned and don’t require very much bondo to blend.  Really – the areas requiring the most bondo and massaging are the areas where I’ve modified the body or added carbon fiber.  So to be fair, a good reason why this phase of the build has been kicking my butt is due to all the changes I’ve made to the body.

I think a testament to how “good” the body is, is the amount (or lack thereof) of bondo on the car.

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I didn’t fabricate any bucks to hold each body panel – so all the blending and bondo work is happening on the frame.  Visqueen to the rescue, I covered the interior and engine bays to  keep the dust from getting too deep into those areas.
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Working the front clam out in the sun – these 90+ days were making it pretty difficult to find the energy for all this sanding work.  Much of the sanding was finished using blocks and good ole’ elbow grease.
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Front end bondo work.
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Another view of the front end; I blended the front clam to the spider and the vertical mold line inboard of the front wheel vent needed a good bit of massaging – I think this may have been the worst part of the entire car.
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At the rear, not much bondo beyond the body modifications I made.
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Front, further back.
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Rear, further back.

Except for a few areas, I was able to completely eliminate mold lines by sanding and blending as opposed to adding bondo.

However, there were a few problem areas:

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Driver side, lower corner of windshield.  I had a few cracks in this corner so I pulled out the Dremel to cut open the cracks.
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What I found was a bit of a bummer – fairly extensive air bubbles.  These would’ve opened up pretty wickedly after a few short miles had I missed the cracks.
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Fixed.
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The passenger side wasn’t too bad.

I’m sure there are other areas of delamination/voids/air pockets that I’ve missed and I’m sure some of these will crack/open with mileage accumulation.  Yet another reason for letting the body season before doing a real paint job.  An added bonus of the plastidip is it’s fairly forgiving and if a crack opens up underneath there’s a decent chance the plastidip will just flex with the crack, keeping it hidden until the next color change.

Rear wheel contour:

I may be the lone builder having this issue as I’ve pinged others but my car seems to have the worst rear wheel gap of any SLC I’ve seen.  The factory bodywork has a decent gap with a rear ride height of about 4″ – but that’s too low for the street IMHO.  I’ve decided to start out with 4.5″ front and 5.5″ rear due to the steep hills and tall speed bumps in my neighborhood.  At 5.5″ the rear wheel gap was pretty terrible – I could stick my fist in between the tire and bodywork.

I’ve spent a LOT of time massaging the rear wheel well.  At first, I wanted to restrict my re-contour to just the rear clam.  I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to create a decent meeting point in space if I modified both the rear and center body pieces.  As you can imagine, v1.0 of my recontour didn’t go so well.  It created a non-uniform wheel gap.  Sure, it looked good at the top of the wheel – but just about everywhere else it looked like crap.  So v2.0 came after I’d gotten more fiberglassing experience and after I found my big boy pants (aka confidence).  Yeahhhh … v1.0 was stupid, v2.0 came out much better.

In the photos below, all 3 are scaled and aligned to show what the various iterations look like side by side.  The top-most blue line represents the original location for the top edge of the unmodified bodywork (set at a rear ride height of 4″).  The middle blue line represents the top edge of the wheel rim.  The lowest blue line represents the wheel center.

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Rear wheel contour progression; the original contour looked acceptable with a 4″ ride height but I felt this was too low for a street car.  In v1.0 I raised my ride height to 5.5″ and added material only to the rear clam.  The contour looked funky because I was trying to maintain the original meeting point between the rear clam and the spider which created a large wedge shaped gap to form at the forward part of the wheel well.  In v2.0 I keep the 5.5″ ride height and recontoured the entire opening including both body panels.  It makes for a much cleaner look but my body shaping skills are only novice at best.
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Here’s the final shape after bondo and sanding, just before primer.  The overall gap is just slightly smaller than the original with a 4″ ride height.  Now I get to keep the nicer spacing without sacrificing ride height.

Door cuts:

On the subject of contours and cutting; here’s a photo of the clearancing around the outer corner at each door, and of the exterior handle pocket.  Some fairly aggressive cutting at the forward corner of the door is needed to have it clear the front clam during opening.  As you can see, I had to cut it well past the edge of the inner door skin.

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Some fairly aggressive cutting needs to be made at this corner so it’ll clear the front clam while rotating open.
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2x holes to secure handle assembly to door skin and a large round cut-out for the lock cylinder.  Note the 3 linear reliefs (12, 3, and 6 o’clock positions around the hole); these are required for the lock cylinder.  Another circular groove perpendicular to the lock cylinder is needed to provide clearance for the retaining spring.

The Nexus:

I previously called this corner the “Nexus of things that don’t fit”.  The a-pillar cover, ceiling panel, and spider all come together at the top of the a-pillar – and none of my panels fit each other.  Not even close.  I attributed the poor fitting a-pillar to using a fiberglass a-pillar cover with a carbon fiber ceiling panel.  I’m sure the mismatch with the spider is partly due to poor body fitting techniques – aka my fault.  Regardless, I had a pretty big mess to deal with.

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Yep, none of this fits together …
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… at all!

It took me several sessions of resin, sanding, resin, and sanding, but I was eventually able to get all 3 panels to play nicely together.

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Large gap between ceiling panel and spider filled and completely re-done a-pillar now matches spider and makes for a decent meeting point at the Nexus.
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It’s now the “Nexus of stuff that fits OK”.  A little more bondo and shaping work and we’ll call it a day.

After getting the a-pillar covers fitting decently I spent another full day just massaging them so they didn’t look so hacked up.  Between the new upper half, the large gap to the spider, and the grafted speaker pod, there was a lot of blending and smoothing to do!

Finishing the a-pillar covers was the last major piece of interior that needed to get finalized before moving onto paint!

Bondo and prep bodywork for paint – CHECK!

Masking:

As they say – “it’s all in the prep work”.  Boy oh boy, was there a TON of prep and masking to do for all these body panels.  Instead of being smart and shooting the entire car in a single color, I opted to complicate matters by shooting each body panel with differing combinations of color and clear coat.

As an example here’s what I went through with my two doors:

  1. Mask doors for primer (carbon panels needed to be blocked off)
  2. Prime, sand, prime
  3. Mask all exterior features to paint internal skin
  4. Paint internal surfaces with black base coat
  5. Paint internal surfaces with Alsa soft touch matte clear
  6. Mask all internal features to paint external skin
  7. Mask external surfaces for black window surround paint
  8. Paint window surround black
  9. Remove masking around carbon
  10. Paint window surround and carbon with gloss clear coat
  11. Remove masking, re-mask to paint external door panel with color
  12. Paint door skin
  13. Unmask

Now do that for each of the major body panels – it makes for a ton of work!

Paint:

As previously stated, I’m not going to be doing a full blown permanent paint job on the car, at least not at this time.  However, I don’t want the car looking like primer and bondo for the next year so I’m getting the body into decent shape, then I’m going to paint it with plastidip.

For the interior, I’m using Alsa soft touch paint on the dash, a-pillar covers, and internal door surfaces.  It’s a really interesting finish.  Matte, tough, hydrophobic, and has a rubber like texture.  Funny, it’s what I imagined plastidip would feel like!  Actually, it reminds me of the rubber paint car companies used to use back in the 2000s when they were trying to be upscale.  After a few years all your door pulls and window switches would be worn away and the paint would be peeled back, revealing the cheap plastic beneath. This feels thicker and stronger than the old OEM stuff so I’m hoping the Alsa soft touch paint will be more durable.  It seems to be the go-to surface treatment Allan uses on most of the SLCs he’s built.

Here’s where you get the Alsa soft touch paint

I purchased the 2 quart kit (makes a total of 2 quarts after mixing).  It looks like they’ve had a crazy price hike in the last month!  I paid $340 for my kit last month and it’s currently listing for $510.  I used just about every drop of the 2 quarts to cover my parts (3 coats each).

OK – time to get some painting done!  Bob really helped me out in a HUGE way.  I don’t know my way around a paint gun and he’s had plenty of experience shooting the 15 or so Studebakers he’s restored.  Bob volunteered to help me out with all the prep work and to do the painting – Thanks Bob!

Let’s do eeeeeet!  Front clam ready for some masking before primer.  Everything hand sanded with 400 or machine sanded with 320 after fixing and blending.
Getting down low to shoot the primer.
This was my first time being up close to 2k primer.  It’s a lot thicker and lays nicer than the aerosol stuff – more on that later!
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Carbon panel unmasked, ready for the next step.
My custom Frankenstein a-pillar covers turned out OK.  The primer really brings out any flaws – thankfully there weren’t too many.
Pink dash?  Yeah, so … before Bob could save me from myself I tried using some aerosol primer – it didn’t turn out so well.  It was a hot day – the outside surface of the garage measured 97F and the dash measured 147F!  I tried shooting the dash with aerosol primer and the stuff literally dried and turned to dust before it even hit the dash.  I could wipe away most of what was sprayed at the dash because it was just loosely sitting on the panel!  Lesson learned …
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Bob’s priming was much more successful than my first run at it!
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Rear clam and spider all primed.
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We were running out of places to paint – this cherry picker turned out to be a great fixture to hang the doors.

After priming was completed I wanted to paint the undersides of each body panel black.  I also wanted to apply some underbody liner – basically truck bedliner.  The purpose of the bedliner is to serve as a protective barrier against rocks hitting the underside of the body.  I also hoped it would damp any noise generated by debris/wind hitting the body panels.  I purchased a 4-liter kit of U-Pol Raptor from Amazon.  It’s pretty easy to mix and use.  Instead of applying via the included spray gun I used a small paint roller with 1/2″ nap.  Rolling on the bedliner minimizes any overspray issues and the 1/2″ nap was perfect for creating a nice textured finish – it’s much rougher than what you’d get with the gun application method.  I used 2 liters and hit everything I wanted with 2 layers.

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The vertical sides of the center got 2 layers of bedliner.
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Front and rear clams ready for paint and bedliner.
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Paint and bedliner applied to wheel liners and center area of hood.  If masking, you’ll want to remove your tape as soon as you make your last pass with the bedliner otherwise it WILL pull up and leave a rough edge.
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On the rear, I avoided applying any bedliner to the rear greenhouse portion.  It’s a bit tight on the center in certain areas and I didn’t want to risk an interference due to excessive bedliner build up.
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Rear wheel well – the textured finish actually looks pretty good.
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Close-up of texture produced by 1/2″ nap roller.

With the undersides painted and coated it was time to move onto the “cleaner” phase of painting.  For that, we’d need to make a temporary paint booth to keep contaminants from mucking up our paint before it could dry.

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We pushed the SLC out the garage door and blew everything out – there was a lot of dust in there!  This is the emptiest the garage has been in 2 years!
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SLC wrapped up under covers for now.
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A whole lotta visqueen later and we got ourselves a paint booth.  First up was to apply black base coat to all the interior surfaces – these are the ones that will also get the Alsa soft touch matte clear.
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Bob getting his groove on with the interior pieces.
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Dash clear coated – the soft touch feels very good, it really does give the fiberglass panel a sense of quality.  My stitched together dash panel came out looking great despite all my novice fiberglass and bodywork skills!
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A-pillar covers almost look OEM!
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Interior door skins also got a treatment of the soft touch paint.
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Close-up of the soft touch paint.  It has some orange peel look but it really doesn’t look bad in person.  The SLC inner and outer door skins are bonded together and the external perimeter looks pretty terrible where they come together.  I spent a LOT of time adding body filler and blending to get the door edges to look halfway decent even though I’ll just be adding weatherstripping to the edges once I’m finished.  I think the blended joint will provide a better seal and whatever isn’t hidden by the weatherstripping won’t look … ugly.

Black base coat and soft touch painting on interior – CHECK!

Next up was to add black base coat and gloss clear coat to the exterior surfaces.  I know I said I was planning to plastidip the car – but there are certain areas I wanted to use “real paint” on now; my fingers are crossed I won’t have to make any repairs to the center down the road.

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Doors re-masked and readied for window surround paint.
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All portions of the center that will be revealed when the front and rear clams are opened will be painted gloss black.
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Bob getting ready to lay on the initial coat of black.

… uh-oh …

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We had some weird wrinkling happening with the base coat after shooting our first coat of clear.  It only happened in a few areas; likely candidates are some type of contamination, too high ambient air temp/humidity, or initial coat of clear was too thick.  The only solution was to wet sand the entire center to smooth everything back down!
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A second attempt at doing the base coat/clear coat turned out MUCH better.  We really watched our time between coats and went super light on the initial coat of clear.  Unfortunately this resulted in a little more orange peel than I’d prefer but some color sanding and buffing will take care of that.
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New look for the front end; I used the black base coat to give the lower corners a slightly different look.  I’ve noticed some of Allan’s more recent cars have been sporting a re-shaping of the openings with a similar geometry.
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Another angle.
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I got my eyeballs back!

I’m holding off on moving forward with the plastidip until the base coat/clear coat has longer to cure – I’m going to give it a few weeks just to be sure.  Several installer websites I reviewed stated they wouldn’t dip a car with paint newer than 5 weeks so that’s about what I’ll be shooting for.

Complete paint on spider and clear coat carbon panels – CHECK!

Next up is to prep the chassis for final mounting of the center!  Before mounting the center I wanted to apply more sound damping/noise blocker to the spider.  On the exterior vertical walls I added a layer of Damplifier and Luxury Liner Pro.  This combination really kills the loud rapping noise the body makes if you hit it with your knuckles.  To secure the LLP, I bonded adhesive mount studs in several locations – I didn’t trust any adhesive would be strong enough to keep the LLP in place for years.

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Studs bonded onto the fiberglass interior, then covered with Damplifier.
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Next up is a layer of LLP.
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On the roof I did something a little different.  I applied Damplifier to the fiberglass roof.  I then added a layer of Second Skin Mega’Zorbe.  This stuff ain’t cheap so I was using every bit of scrap I had!
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Close-up of SS Mega’Zorbe hydrophobic melamine foam.  It’s very similar to a Mr Clean Magic Eraser – I actually considered buying a bunch of Magic Erasers to use instead of this!  In comparison, the Mega’Zorbe is slightly more brittle and can “break” whereas the Mr Clean stuff is much more flexible and can stretch a lot more before failing.

The Mega’Zorbe stuff has a heat resistant adhesive backing – but be super careful, anything that touches the adhesive that isn’t the surface you want to place it on will cause the Mega’Zorbe to come apart.  Put your fingertip on the adhesive and when you pull it away, the Mega’Zorbe will “break” and you’ll pull away the adhesive and a bit of melamine with your finger.  Lots of care is needed when applying the stuff so you get it exactly where you want it.

Mega’Zorbe acts as a sound and heat blocker; it’s a highly porous material.  Sound and heat get in but can’t get out – at least that’s my take on what it does.  It’s lightweight and is better suited when you need to apply it upside down like on the roof.  It’s primarily meant for sound absorption and secondarily as a heat blocker – it’s not as effective at stopping heat compared to Heat Wave Pro for instance.

The addition of Raptor bedliner, Damplifier, LLP, and Mega’Zorbe to the interior of the spider really does a lot to deaden the noise the body makes.  I’m hoping this will go a long way toward killing wind and debris generated noise.

I’ll also be applying more sound and heat treatment to the ceiling panel once it’s ready to be installed – more on that later.

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Center installed on chassis for the final time.  This is the look of joy on my face.
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Spider mounted into place!  I have bolts running along the lower exterior and 6 across the top (you can just make them out in the photo above).  Each of the 6 upper locations needed a washer stack – YMMV.

Mount spider – CHECK!

I’ve been really working like a dog these past few weeks to get ready for this next part – windshield installation.  I’ve been dreading this moment for a really long time now, especially since I did a test fit of the windshield and found I had 1/8″ to 1/4″ gaps on either side.  Anyway, the critical thing about this whole operation is that Bob was heading off for a 5-week (much deserved) vacation and if I didn’t get everything ready for windshield install before he left, I’d be flying solo on this.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to do this myself and I didn’t want to take the chance on having one of those on-site windshield repair guys helping me – I’ve heard horror stories and I only have 1 shot to make this right.  It’s been a really hard push for me to get everything completed up to this point so we could do this together before he left.

It was a long day of busting our humps to get things prepped for windshield install by early evening the day before Bob was due to leave but we did it!

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Here’s a refresher on what my windshield fit looked like during my initial fitting – didn’t look so hot.

It seems windshield breakage is a rite of passage for many SLC builders – and it’s one tradition I really want to break with ;). I didn’t want to chance having the glass crack a few months from now so I decided we would install the windshield and use ZERO PRESSSURE at the outside corners – wherever they were is where they’d be when the dust settled.  I also didn’t want to spend a ton of time reworking the fiberglass in this area to get the fit perfect.

Screw it – my plan was to mount it as-is using urethane sealer.  A trip to Lemon Grove Body Shop supplies and I was given the option – “you want the good stuff, or the best stuff”?

I left with 2 tubes of “the best stuff”.

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The label says “Super fast urethane” and they weren’t kidding!  We hadn’t even squeezed all the material out and it had already started setting up on us!
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Windshield area masked and urethane going down.  Even with a fairly sizable hole this stuff was tough to squeeze out by hand.  We were VERY generous in the lower corners to ensure we had enough material to bridge whatever gap formed between the glass and body.
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The best fit came by pushing the windshield up as far as possible.  After laying all the urethane down and setting the glass, it was a nerve racking race to trim and tool the urethane in place before it hardened to the point we couldn’t work it any more.  We used a lot of paint thinner to clean and keep the urethane workable but by the time the dust settled we’d had a pretty decent looking installation.  The 3M surface finish wasn’t as smooth as I’d liked because it was already hardening before we could smooth everything down.  I’ll come back at a later time with some slower setting urethane and lay another bead around the entire glass.  The slower cure time will give me the ability to get a nice surface finish.
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Here’s Bob’s post-sigh smile – it was a really long day topped with an hour of frantic working to get this windshield installed.

Install windshield – CHECK!

I was feeling pretty stoked walking into the garage the next morning and seeing the windshield installed.  Man, what a hustle it was getting that thing in before Bob left!

 

 

 

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