Project 240SX Land Speed Racer: The Sheet Metal Whisperer
By Chuck Johnson
Some of us are born to be doctors and others, lawyers and business executives all of which perhaps live in ticky-tacky little boxes. Thankfully for us gear heads though; John Kuchta III, owner of Specialty Cars, was born to manipulate and massage metal into bitchin' go fast goodies instead of spending his days in court. John’s ability to grind, file, beat, bend, shape and weld metal into something resulting in such graceful form yet purposely functional is simply uncanny. Simply put, John Kuchta is, “the sheet metal whisperer.”
Shortly after Project 240LSR's cage was completed by Pierce Motorsports; I realized that it was nearly impossible to cleanly reinstall the stock S13 dash. Besides, finding an un-cracked S13 dash these days could rival the chances of having a pet unicorn. Having seen John's metal work in the mid-engine Scion IQ that he built in partnership with Maverick Motorsports, Tokyo Automotive, and H-Exceed for SEMA 2011, the solution for replacing the stock S13 dash was clear.
John started out the construction of the aluminum dash by taking a few rough measurements and then building a rough paper template. Once he was comfortable with the paper template, John then cut out a section of .063″ thick 3003-H14 sheet aluminum.
Next, John translated the arched profile of the firewall onto the paper template and then once more onto the aluminumn sheet. An air nibbler was used to cut the arched profile into the aluminum. The edge was then filed smooth.
Using an English wheel that he constructed himself, John began the tedious process of shaping the aluminum sheet. Since the aluminum sheet is wedged between the top wheel, which is flat and the “anvil” wheel which is radiused, the aluminum sheet eventually becomes contoured. This is of course, after the sheet has been rolled back and forth through the English wheel several hundred times. This repeated compression of the surface, also work hardens the aluminum to create a better, mar resistant surface.
Fast forward a couple of painstaking hours and this is what you have, an aluminum sheet with about an 8″ radius formed into it.