You'd never guess, but these...
You'd never guess, but these are handmade. We'll show you the process to make your own hood vents, dash trim emblems, and other parts.
Working around talented craftsmen is one of the perks of automotive journalism. We get to watch a project unfold and how each hurdle of a seemingly impossible operation is handled with finesse by a pro. Consequently, a journalist's own garage projects move along just about as smoothly as in a professional shop ... if you don't count the cursing, flying hammers, disappearing sockets, and the amateur results. In the end, we're just as happy to shoot, write, and print some tricks of the trade as you readers are to apply them at home.
While the pros make their living expressing customers' automotive dreams, they can sometimes find it hard to come up with new tricks for themselves, in those rare moments when they work on their own rides. Craftsman Don Brazil had installed a set of plain hood sides on his '36 Ford pickup work truck some time ago. He's punched some 100,000 louvers over the years and didn't want that treatment, but after staring at the plain hood sides for a few months, he decided all plain was actually too plain. What to do? He sketched out some designs for different shapes and proportions of decorative vents. He didn't want to mimic a specific make, year, or model, but he was headed toward the deco-style vents you might have found on a '30s LaSalle, Studebaker, or Willys hood side.
Don Brazil started with a...
Don Brazil started with a drawing that suited his idea for a hood vent, and then transferred it to a piece of aluminum. Laying on top here for comparison is a steel pattern for the plasma cutter to follow. The pattern is made small enough to account for the space from template to torch-cut.
Here's where we separate the boys from the men. Brazil grabbed a piece of cardboard, cut it to various "vent" shapes, and taped them all in a row on his hood sides. Creative people are hard to slow down once they have something new on the fire. Thus, he picked the one he liked best and started in on a chunk of 3/8-inch-thick aluminum plate almost before we could arm ourselves with notebook and camera.
The basic process of making the vents you see here is to make a template of the design and cut it out of the aluminum plate, first the inside hole, then the outside. From there on into the project, there is a good deal of handwork involved and we won't blow any smoke up your overalls ... your first attempt may not look all that great. Just figure the first one is part of the learning curve, and you will use up your mistake quota on that one. Of all the tools involved, patience is the most important. Don't rush things. Regarding tools of the hand and power variety, Brazil used a plasma cutter to cut out his vent frames, but you could have that done at a shop, or you could cut the aluminum with a bandsaw or jigsaw. The remaining tools required are flat and round hand files of varying bite, a belt sander, and a rotary file driven by a small air tool (easiest to control) or a variable-speed electric drill. Tip: Rub paraffin wax onto your files to keep the aluminum from clogging the teeth. When finishing your vents, you will be sanding and polishing them with ever-finer grits and compounds until the vents look like factory-made chrome or stainless trim pieces.
For comparison from the top:...
For comparison from the top: the original template, the pattern for the plasma cutter, and the raw part, which will take shape after sanding and filing.
Once the vents are finished to your satisfaction, you have to mark and cut the holes in the hood, which is definitely a "measure twice, cut once" proposition. Run masking tape along your hood side, and draw your horizontal centerline for the row of vents. You may want them on a level-to-ground line or sloping somewhat from the front or the rear. Your choice entirely. You could also mount each vent parallel to ground, but on a side panel like Brazil's '36 where the panel is short at the front and deeper at the rear, you could mount each vent at successively lower points going rearward on the hood side.
There are probably several ways to mount the hood vents, but Brazil usually drills the parts on the backside (use a drill-stop to ensure you don't go through to the front) and threads the holes to accept two 8-32 studs, which he secures with blue Loctite. Acorn nuts on the inside of the hood panel secure the vents nicely. The same mounting method could be used any place you might be mounting your creation: to a flat dash, decklid, tailgate, or grille/shell.