That Incredible Bonnet
As one of the books I’ve read puts it, “The E-type’s remarkable bonnet, stylistically and by volume, formed fully one-third of the whole car and was the most beautifully sculpted aspect of the overall design” (Nigel Thorley, Jaguar E-Type: A Celebration of the World’s Favorite ’60s Icon. Sparkford, UK: Haynes Publishing, 2001, p. 14). For me and I suppose for a great number of people, the Jaguar E-Type is defined by the bonnet. The cat eyes of the faired-in headlights and the open mouth at the front make the E-Type. So it was gratifying — and a little daunting — to begin working on our Jag’s bonnet.
I have to admit that I didn’t know what to expect when we finally stripped it and began to work on it. When I first looked at the car in the rain at the side of a Virginia corn field, I wondered if indeed the bonnet was already too far gone to be repaired. It looked a mess, with the nose all punched in and the artless, careless bandaid treatment with HVAC sheet metal riveted and Bondo-pasted to the front. Aside from the punched in nose, there were a few places of rust at the rear portion of the wings. But other than those obvious troublesome places, the bonnet appeared intact and exhibited only “surface rust.”
I decided that we should take a close look after removing the paint and Bondo. We should try to straighten what time and carelessness had damaged, at least. Maybe we’d find we could retain good portions of the bonnet. And then, maybe we’d have to give up and buy new pieces or perhaps a whole new bonnet.
Now that we’ve “had at” the bonnet for a few days, I think we’ll be able to restore most of the bonnet. It is now completely apart, and we’ve straightened the nose, more or less. It will require some removal and replacement of metal along the rounded framing corners of the “mouth.” That area had been repaired (in a manner of speaking) by welding new metal straps to cover some mouth damage. Those straps were then curved roughly and smoothed over with Bondo. Then, apparently, the mouth got crushed again and was only repaired hastily with a smattering of sheet metal and more Bondo. There is a good chance that the center section of the bonnet may have been a replacement, since when we took off the lower layer of Bondo, we discovered British Racing Green paint at the base. We found no other evidence of “BRG” on the body when we removed the paint, and I suspect that the person applying that ancient layer of Bondo was too lazy to remove the paint. It is likely that the bonnet had been disassembled at one time and the center section replaced with a used section from a green car.
The sad thing about pounding out many of the dents was how little it actually took: a couple of whacks with a rubber mallet completely removed some rather large (though not deep) dents that had been rudely pulled out and bondoed for effect. Some areas of the bonnet had Bondo mounded to about an inch thickness. Yuck.
The other metal replacement is along the seams between the sections — the tabs where bolts and screws hold the pieces together. Although these tabs are sound in the uppermost sections of the bonnet, the lower section and the tabs along the lower front wings are due for removal and replacement. This was not surprising, since the front bumpers for the car were no longer attached, nor could they even be attached. There was no metal left to secure them, since the rust along the lower seam had weakened the bumper attachment points. No upper bolts required the cutting blade; a couple along the lower tabs needed that treatment. (I have been surprised at how few bolts we’ve had to cut off — which either speaks to the power of penetrating fluids or the hardware that Jaguar chose.)
Aaron and I finished the welding work on the right wing section on Easter weekend. We replaced sections of the foremost part of the wing along the headlight surround and the park light hole. This replacement renewed the lower tab that attaches to the lower section of the bonnet. There were also sections along the lower section of the wing that had rust perforation. The biggest welding job was reinforcement of the tab that attaches to the center section of the bonnet — the topmost section of the wing. This was a little tricky, since we found that reinforcing that tab changed some of the bending chracteristics of the whole piece. Basically, it bowed a little, so that the tab at the top of the wing didn’t fit flush against the center section. We had to apply pressure to bring the sections together snugly. In order to correct this difficulty, we pounded the attached metal a bit, so that the new metal would stretch against the tab. This helped, though it did not entirely correct the bow. The sections do fit together well now, and they are ready for finer mending after we complete the repair of the other wing and the lower bonnet section (the lower part of the mouth).
There are obvious areas that we need to work on, but I want to get the entire outer assembly together before we try to pound out any more little dents. The danger with the final work is being overzealous: too much pounding leaves you with flattened andstretched metal. That is much harder to deal with than creases, since regrouping metal is technically tougher to do than flattening it out. So, we have to be careful. I don’t want to try the limits of Bondo, as my forebears with this car apparently did, but I don’t want to ruin a metal part by trying to make it perfect without Bondo. Oddly enough, perfection without Bondo is rare.
Bondo is a friend, I keep telling myself. Just don’t get too free with it, I also remind myself.
Philosophical segue: An interesting thing in perception of one’s Jag crops up from time to time. We often see in the half-shaped metal a form emerge. Or perhaps the form simply meets an imagined hope somewhere in our heads. I look at this old bonnet, and I do indeed see that it is beat up and misshapen by time and abuse. But it seems also an image of sculpture, to me. I drag my wife out to “gaze upon the car,” and I can tell she’s not quite as excited as I am. She smiles and reassuring tells me that “it’s coming along” or that “it will be nice when it’s done.” She thinks it’s nice, but it’s not quite art.
Not yet. Not yet. But it’s coming along.