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Porsche 911 dead front pan replaced, primed, painted — and ready to go faster

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Kris Clewell owns a 1972 Porsche 911 that he drives everywhere at almost any time of the year. It’s seen what his home state of Minnesota has to offer plus several trips out to the West Coast over the years. That includes rain, salty air, snow, and snow treatment on the roads — a fast track to a rusty front pan. As he’s done with most of the work on his 911, he decided to get rid of the rust and replace the front pan himself, learning along the way and documenting the job in this blog series.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Article by Kris Clewell
Photos by Kris Clewell unless noted

With the satisfaction that the pan was welded in came delusions of grandeur. The work was nearly done, and the car would have smiles beaming out of it in no time. These are feelings I did not have. Completion anxiety is real, and having been through many other projects, inevitably, some project bomb was going to drop. The jig wasn't enough, or my welding was unsatisfactory. Usually, the project sabotage is because of a bomb I set off myself. In the past, I've forgotten to tighten a ball joint. The wheel fell off and bent a fender. Custom projects had left me stranded when the "solution" became the point of failure itself. I've absent-mindedly left off timing covers and dropped washers into timing belts, bending valves on a newly machined cylinder head. These mistakes cost me hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars, though they still cost less than paying a shop. Each time one happens, I have no regrets, and each has added to the library of lessons learned from my screw-ups. But things had gone too well so far on the 911; something had to go wrong. The project was too important, too tedious, and too unfamiliar to run to completion without a hitch. And it didn't.

Top: Kris's wife Jessie covers the back 2/3s of the car in protective plastic wrap. Middle: Front pan is almost ready for primer (left). After joint sealer is applied (right), it's ready for primer. Bottom: Primer sprayed using a high-quality paint gun (Photo by Jessie Clewell).

The single fluorescent light buzzed above the car. My hands were resting on the front latch panel, and I was thinking about the next step, bolting up the suspension. The completed pan had sat alone in the dark for a week as I lost sleep over it. If the control arms and steering rack bolted up, the jig had done its job. If they didn't, I had no idea what I was going to do. I grabbed some new hardware and loosely fit everything together. Every bolt went in. Nothing bound up. Nothing was too tight. It was a perfect fit. I pulled it all off and started to prep for primer.

Front is primed.

Plastic was draped over most of the car, leaving the hole where the gas tank usually sat exposed. Through the process, I spent more time cleaning off the wrong primer (self-etching) than I did to spray the correct epoxy primer on everything. I'd gotten specially mixed epoxy and a SATA paint gun from Logan, a long time friend of mine and chemist at a major paint manufacturer. The only painting I'd ever done before this had come out of a can. I'd bought a pressure regulator, water trap, and I had a killer gun. I mixed the two-part epoxy and started spraying. First on a piece of plywood to check the pattern, and then on the car itself. With proper pressure, it was easy. The shiny steel was slowly covered by a new coat of gray. It was anticlimactic. They always say the hard work is in the prep. It had taken me over a month to do all of the metalwork and hardly 30 minutes to primer the pan. I cranked the heat up in the garage and walked away.

Würth's schutz undercoating was used to give the car a factory look.

Schutz is a type of undercoating rather than a brand. A bunch of different manufacturers sell it, but I chose to go with Würth, a German company. Rather than an aerosolized can, schutz needs to be sprayed with a special siphon gun that screws right into the jug. The easiest way to know what it's supposed to look like is to look at your gas tank. The lumpy textured coating is schutz. It's also on the underside of most air-cooled 911s. With the epoxy dry, I sprayed the schutz. Distance, pressure, and pattern were critical to getting it as close to the factory result as possible.

With the car primed and undercoated, it was off to the body shop to get the fenders painted, among other things. (Left photo by Jessie Clewell.)

Even with some minor experience gained, I feared painting the shiny bits. I called up Raymond Auto Body. My timing was perfect, and amid the height of the pandemic, they had an opening for me. It was the third or fourth body shop I'd been to over the years, and after multiple bad experiences paying less, I just wanted to pay and not end up with more do-overs. Raymond is a Porsche certified shop and has a Celette bench if necessary. I boxed up the lights, fenders, and everything else I'd taken off the car. The car got pushed outside and was loaded up on a truck and towed away to be turned blue.

The photos above show the stages required to refurbish the outside of a gas tank. Jessie Clewell stripped the old undersealer (far left) before it was hung in the garage to receive a layer of schutz undercoating. (First photo from left by Jessie Clewell.)

I gave them space, told them I wasn't in a rush, and asked them to keep me apprised on how things were going. They said they appreciated it. About a week later I got a call. The man on the phone mentioned I should come in and have a look at something. I relayed that it's about an hour drive for me and that they could just tell me if that was okay. He reiterated his request. The man sounded serious. I should go in. The drive down was horrifying. What had I done wrong? Was it as simple as the schutz sagging, or something more involved? Was my work crooked despite the jig? Back home my wife was stripping the gas tank down for restoration. I'd told her the end was near...

While the 911 was at the body shop, it quickly became apparent that the doors needed work due to expanding filler and rust.

When I arrived the car sat in good company next to a bare-naked 356 coupe, its previous shoddy repairs on full expose. It looked like the preface of what was going to be a great finale. The 911 sat as I'd delivered it, front haunches missing, the tires round, apparent, and ugly. Someone said it looked cool, like a slant nose. I thought it looked awful, like an old bug with no fenders. I met with the guy who was doing the bodywork on the car. He was a 914 guy and loved working on Porsche's, which is probably why he hated giving me bad news. The front of the car was crooked. The new fenders wouldn't match up, and the hood wasn't shutting right. I was capricious at the news. I was sure I'd checked all that. I'd used angle gauges, the jig, and I'd measured everything. I asked how everything could have bolted up so well if it was crooked. The problem, in the end, was not my work, but the work of whatever someone had run into long ago. The work I'd done, as it turns out, was within a millimeter or two of factory spec, but that didn't matter if the front of the car had shifted down. It would need a frame bench to be made right. I was crushed that after all my efforts, I’d reached a hill I couldn't climb. There was more bad news. The bottoms of my doors were hammered, a previous body shop had shoved filler everywhere, and it was starting to lift. I knew it, but hadn’t planned to go there yet. The work had entered a scope that was beyond my abilities. I gave them the go-ahead to put the car on the jig and make it right. And they did, delivering the car to me better than I could have expected a few months later. Panel fitment was spot on, and the car was finally straight. With the car home I was able to install the gas tank my wife restored and get the car running, just in time to take things apart again.

The 911 arrives back at Kris's home, where he finished assembling accessories and putting the trunk back together.

It was time to go faster.

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