OLD-SCHOOL TECH HAND-CUT LOUVERS
Crafting Louvered Panels by Hand
Few things make a hot rod scream “traditional” more than a helping of perfectly placed louvers on its flanks. Having been around as long as original prewar hot rods themselves, these crafty speed appointments sit somewhere near the convergence of where beauty of form meets the necessity of function.
Not only do they look quite appetizing on a finely crafted hot rod, but they also serve the all-important function of moving air in and out of the car’s compartments. Created to help cool down cars not blessed with adequate radiators and cooling systems, louvers have over the years become synonymous with hot rods in general. It’s rare to see a top vintage rod without a dose of these domed designs.
Pennsylvania native Jerry Laboranti has been immersed in traditional hot rod culture since his teens, learning the craft of automotive restoration from several members of his family. His grandfather owned a general repair and body shop in Philadelphia, and his father and uncles worked there as well. So he was born into the business and has continued the family trajectory, building hot rods and doing repair in his own personal shop in Robesonia, Pennsylvania.
Laboranti has perfected his skills in several aspects of hot rod fabrication and repair, including hand fabricating louvers for vintage hot rods. He can create fantastic
louvered panels with basically a ruler, a pencil, a cutoff wheel, and a custom-made louver punch.
The punch is quite an interesting piece, a tool made just for this purpose. A good friend of his, Eli Horst, hand-fabricated it from an early Ford torque tube. “He’s been a mentor to me,” says Laboranti.
Watch as he demonstrates the fabrication of a louvered hood from scratch, working out of Kohl’s Customs, located in Denver, Pennsylvania. Proprietor Jesse Kohl was more than happy to have us there for the day punching panels.
11. Here’s the starting point for our project. The owner has conferred with Jerry Laboranti, and he has roughly laid out the proposed pattern on the hood’s surface. Laboranti has recorded the pattern and will duplicate it. This aftermarket hood was bought new and sat quite a while before the owner decided to use it on his hot rod. There is some corrosion, so Laboranti is going to remove it and condition the metal before he starts.
12. Once again, Laboranti hits the panel with an orbital sander and 150-grit paper, to clean up any rough spots that might be hard to get to after the louvers are fabricated. 12
1313. Tools of the trade are both simple and effective. Laboranti’s louver punch consists of two pieces: a base and the punch itself. The roundish part of the base of the punch is cut from an old Ford torque tube. It has a matching receiver on the base that conforms to the punch to form the louver. A strike with this 5-pound mallet provides the force.
1515. The punch slides onto the base and is held with small retainers on each side. Notice “rear” written in magic marker on the baseplate. That is to remind the user to point the tool toward the rear of the panel, oriented the way it is installed on the car.
11. A file is used to get to the inner slot, to make sure the straight edge is even throughout the cut. 11
16. Laboranti lines it all up and gets ready to set the louver into the hood. It usually takes two to three strikes with the mallet to form the louver correctly.16
1414. The base slides into the slot from below the panel. The fit should be tight so the punch won’t move while the metal is punched.
10. Before he moves on to the punch, a series of steps are needed to clean up the slots. First Laboranti takes a mini air grinder and cleans up the edges on the perimeter of the cut. 10
9. The horizontal median line in each box shows Laboranti where to start his plunge cut with the cutting disc. Each slot is approximately 3⁄ inch wide and 4 inches 32 tall. He’s careful to keep each slot straight and true. Any deviation would affect the final quality of the louver. 9