Craft­ing Lou­vered Pan­els by Hand

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Front Page -

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

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