With expert Gene Winfield on hand, we started with the redesign of the 1950 Chevy Coupe by adding some custom-colored glass windows to the roof of the car. The glass had to be shaped to follow the exact contour of the roof. To accomplish this, we needed to bake and “drape form” a large piece of neon green 1/4" plexi-glass over the roof of the car.
Over the past year at Huntington Beach Bodyworks, we worked with a lot of plastics, fiberglass, and plexiglass to create some real one-of-a-kind parts and projects. To create these complex plexiglass parts, step one consisted of actually building an oven from scratch. In order to give the glass enough play and elasticity to form these shapes, they require being baked at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of time.
The first few minutes after the glass has been removed from the oven is critical because the glass is at its softest. There is a short window of time to form the glass to the exact shape and clamp it. Once shaped and clamped, the glass needs to remain undisturbed for 20-30 minutes of cooling, after which the glass should be stable and set in its new shape.
Back to the '50 Chevy Coupe
Since the glass is supposed to follow the contour of the body and appear to be a seamless insert into the roof, the metal shaping and bodywork need to be completed prior to the shaping of the glass. With the bodywork done on the Coupe, a piece of felt was tacked to cover the roof. When the glass was removed from the oven, we laid it on top of the felt.
When drape forming glass over a hood, roof or custom mold, it is necessary to use felt to protect the soft glass from scratches and imperfections in the mold. Now, with the felt tacked down, we drew the shapes that would be cut out of the roof and glass with a black marker.
At this point the oven was preheated and the plexiglass pieces were placed in it for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Then we pulled the glass from the oven and draped it over the roof of the car. This step may require a few buddies to lay it evenly over the roof and make sure it is completely flat over the felt. The areas that lay down over our window sections are especially important since they will still be our windows. The rest of the material will be cut away eventually, but it’s a good idea to make everything perfectly flat and follow the contour of the roof as closely as possible.
We then began clamping down around the entire roof of the car evenly spaced and as close to the edge as possible. Before forming plexiglass into a custom shape, allow for at least 3 inches of waste to act as a flange for the clamps to grip down on. You have to account for this when selecting your materials, designing, and creating your molds. Eventually this 3-inch border will be cut away, leaving you with your final piece.
Gunning for Gas Roadster record
Winfield has been building his own personal 1932 Roadster for the purpose of achieving 230 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats competition and taking home the C/Gas Roadster record. The roadster will be sitting low, have a 730 hp NASCAR engine, and a brand new Brookville body.
We had to make a custom windshield for the roadster using basically the same steps as above, but this time we created a custom mold using polyurethane foam to drape form the glass over.
The foam was first shaped to the specifications that Gene required for his roadster. Accounting for the 3 inches of waste, the foam was then covered with bondo, sanded, and smoothed out. The mold was covered in felt and a design was drawn onto the felt to show the outline of the windshield.
In order for the clamps to be evenly spaced out, we marked the felt with circles to indicate where to apply the clamps. We again baked the glass for 25 minutes at 350 degrees, pulled the glass from the oven, and then draped it over the mold. We applied the clamps over the areas marked. Since this piece was smaller with a more radical shape, it would cool faster. We prolonged the forming process with heat lamps supplied by Infratech Automotive.
These are the basics needed to create one-of-a-kind custom glass products. I personally think that it’s a nice little trick that looks great, has functionality, and can really help set you and your ride apart from the rest. I hope that this information has inspired you to try a little something different with your current or upcoming project.
Thanks and gratitude go to Irwin Industrial Products for providing us with the large assortment of clamps needed to complete these projects and to InfratechAautomotive for the heating lamps. Please visit them at www.infratech-usa.com and www.irwin.com.