THE SPE­CIAL­IST

In­side the work­shops of Ex-Pressed Steel Pan­els.

Classic Ford - - CONTENTS -

It’s easy to for­get what a night­mare sourc­ing re­place­ment body pan­els for your clas­sic Ford restora­tion project used to be. One per­son who ex­pe­ri­enced this first-hand was Ge­off Coates, who back in the mid ’80s be­came so frus­trated with the lack of pan­els avail­able for the Lo­tus Cortina he was restor­ing that he de­cided to make his own. When a fel­low Lo­tus club mem­ber saw how well they’d turned out, word spread and Ge­off was soon be­ing asked to make pan­els for other mem­bers, and in do­ing so, Ge­off un­in­ten­tion­ally did his bit for the fu­ture of the clas­sic Ford scene.

Ex-Pressed Steel Pan­els was of­fi­cially founded in 1990, when Ge­off was made re­dun­dant from his en­gi­neer­ing day job and de­cided to go­ing into man­u­fac­tur­ing these pan­els full-time. Us­ing his re­dun­dancy money, he bought some old tool­ing and moved it into Ick­o­rn­shaw Mill, an im­pos­in­glook­ing for­mer Vic­to­rian tex­tile mill in Cowl­ing on the York­shire/Lan­cashire bor­der. The range rapidly ex­panded, and as well as the Mk1 Cortina pan­els, Ge­off — now joined by wife, Lynn — was soon pro­duc­ing them for Anglias, Capris, Es­corts and Ze­phyrs.

Then in 2015, after 25 years and ex­pand­ing their range to cover some 30 dif­fer­ent Ford mod­els with around 450 dif­fer­ent pan­els and re­pair sec­tions, Ge­off and Lynn de­cided to take a step back, and Mike McCol­gan was brought in to take over the day-to-day run­ning of the busi­ness, and per­haps more im­por­tantly, de­velop it, while look­ing at ways to speed up the hugely labour­in­ten­sive process of mak­ing the pan­els.

“ONCE THE BA­SIC PRESS­ING IS MADE AND HAS BEEN TRIMMED, MANY HOURS ARE SPENT CARE­FULLY WORK­ING THE PANEL INTO ITS FI­NAL SHAPE”

“I’ve got a back­ground in pro­duc­tion en­gi­neer­ing,” ex­plains clas­sic car fan, Mike, “so I was able to draw on that ex­pe­ri­ence to im­prove things with­out sac­ri­fic­ing any of the work­man­ship.”

One of the ben­e­fits of this process, Mike is proud to re­veal, is that they’ve been able to bring the prices down for some of the pan­els and sec­tions, but per­haps more im­por­tantly the lead time — the time be­tween or­der­ing the panel and hav­ing it de­liv­ered — has come down too, to just 15 days for most pan­els.

Press here

The presses used to ini­tially form the re­place­ment pan­els come from the big, orig­i­nal equip­ment (OE) man­u­fac­tur­ers, and they don’t just weigh a tonne — try mul­ti­ply­ing that by 10. With the tool­ing re­quired for each panel cost­ing around £100,000, in­stead Ex-Pressed use a spe­cial (and in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive) mix of al­loy and one other top-se­cret ma­jor com­po­nent which can be melted down to liq­uid form and poured into a mould based on an orig­i­nal panel or re­pair sec­tion. The re­sult­ing cast is strong enough to press around 15-20 steel pan­els (“We use au­to­mo­tive steel, but 20-gauge which is thicker than the steel used on mod­ern cars,” says Mike) be­fore it’s worn out, and many more for al­loy pan­els such as Lo­tus Cortina door skins — more than enough for the short pro­duc­tion runs re­quired in the clas­sic car mar­ket. When the batch of pan­els is pressed, the cast is then melted down and reused to form the next re­quired pat­tern.

But this is only the very be­gin­ning of the labour-in­ten­sive process of trans­form­ing a steel form into a

“WE USE 20-GAUGE; THICKER THAN THE STEEL USED ON MOD­ERN CARS”

recog­nis­able panel. Once the ba­sic press­ing is done, the panel is then trimmed and care­fully worked into shape by Ex-Pressed’s team of highly-skilled sheet metal work­ers, of which there are cur­rently six work­ing flat-out at the mill: Robert plus Ryan, Jeno, Daniel, Nick and ap­pren­tice, Liam. They can spend days turn­ing the ini­tial press­ing into the fin­ished item — once the ba­sic press­ing for a Mk1 Capri wing has come out of the tub and has been trimmed, for ex­am­ple, Robert who’s been with the com­pany for over 30 years, re­veals that there’s still an­other 18 hours work to get that wing fully formed and fin­ished.

And it’s all done us­ing tra­di­tional metal work­ing skills and with tra­di­tional tools, too — a far cry from the huge presses and tools that the orig­i­nal pan­els were pro­duced with in Ford’s Da­gen­ham and Hale­wood fac­to­ries, maybe, but it’s good to know that even Ford now recog­nises the role that out­fits like Ex-Pressed con­tinue to play is se­cur­ing the fu­ture longevity of our clas­sics.

Ex-Pressed’s skilled team has grown in re­cent years, with Mike (front, cen­tre tak­ing over the run­ning in 2015. They even pro­duce the Mk1 Capri rear three-quar­ter sec­tion. This one awaits trim­ming and fet­tling. Be­low: floor­pans are a sta­ple of Ex-Pressed’s out­put.

Ap­pren­tice, Liam cleans up an An­glia 105E in­ner sill in readi­ness to be sent out.

Steel bub­ble arches are still a pop­u­lar line.

There’s 18 hours’ work to get the Mk1 Capri wing to this stage...

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