MAX Update No. 46: Working With the Fiberglass Body

Reader Contribution by Jack Mccornack
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One problem with using the Lola Mk 1 nose is it’s too narrow for our purposes. MAX’s wheels are spaced a little wider apart than the Lola’s, and due to such challenges as parallel parking and U-turns on country roads, street cars need to steer more sharply than race cars. So in brief, I either need to move the fenders apart some, or wear earplugs to block that annoying tire-rubbing-on-fiberglass grunch grunch sound every time I turn the steering wheel. Actually, there’s another option, and I kind of wish it had come to me before I grabbed the Sawzall, but more on that later.

So anyway, that dark line down the middle of the hood isn’t a racing stripe, it’s a slice. It veers off to the right (the right side of the car, that is) for a moment because the hood has a bulge in it to clear something on the original engine (circa 1958). That bulge, or “bubble,” or “speed bump,” or whatever folks call those things nowadays, almost covers the turbocharger. It’s so “almost” it brings tears to my eyes, but it doesn’t quite work. So I’ll be dusting off the Sawzall again and moving the bubble a few inches to the the steering wheel side of the car. The sticks and clamps hold the two halves of the nose in position with each other.

For those of you unfamiliar with fiberglass reinforced plastic (or just plain “fiberglass” as it’s often called), the stuff is remarkably versatile and it’s pretty entertaining to work with, but there are a few tricks to the trade. First and foremost, don’t get any of the materials in your eyes — not the resins, not the fabrics, not the cleaners, and not the shards of the blades you bust when you pinch a swblade while cutting. Safety glasses are the minimum, safety goggles are better, and I usually wear a full coverage hood (yes, it has a window) that I got from an auto paint store, which I ventilate with a whitewater raft inflating motor (left over from my misspent youth). I don’t even have my air source in the same room with me, the hose is about 20 feet long and that’s a long enough leash for my needs.

Also, don’t wear clothes you’ll ever want to wear anywhere else. I guarantee you will get resins and other nonwashable fluids on your clothes, and these clothes will become your go-to outfit for your crummiest jobs from that day forward. When your spouse says, “Honey, would you mind going into the crawl space under the house, I think a family of skunks moved in,” you’ll say, “Sure thing! Now what did you do with the shirt and trousers I wore when I was fiberglassing? You didn’t throw them out, did you?”

You will also want to wear medical exam gloves or their industrial equivalent. All the building supply stores carry them nowadays. They’re thin latex, they come in boxes of 100, and I use them once and throw them away. Cleaning them to reuse is counterproductive, in my opinion; I believe that cleaning these gloves harms the environment more than discarding them does.

And speaking of the environment, how do I justify building this body with petroleum products (and using petroleum-based cleansers and throwing my gloves in the trash at the end of the day)? Because if using a few gallons of fiberglass resin at the beginning saves a few barrels of fuel over the life of the car, then it’s a good investment. Besides, my pants and shirt were about ready for the dumpster, and fiberglassing has extended their usefulness.