One of the dangers of welding car bodywork on your own is that you have no one on fire watch duty. So, if you become involved in your reconstruction work it is so easy to forget to regularly break off from your task and do a check on the other side of the welding area.
MY STORY BEGINS ....
with me investigating a couple of bubbles in the under seal, on the foot well on the drivers side, with a screwdriver. I found to my dismay a very rusty and moth eaten area in front of the pedals. I started to scrape away the under seal with the blade of the screwdriver which promptly disappeared up to its hilt through the floor of the car and into the cabin.
After a few expletives and a feeling of dread at the thought of how much more welding would have to be done and seeing as I had already replaced the inner wing on the other side of the car. I had thought that this side would be ok.
So, I set to with the angle grinder, ending up with a large area approximately 14 inches by 8 which needed to be reconstructed and not a flat area to be seen just curves and bends.
I usually have plenty of old bits of steel stored in the garage so a nice flat piece of thick steel was found, it used to be the base of a wheelchair weighing scale so was at least 2mm thick. After a few failed attempts to beat it into the curved shapes needed, I decided to cut it into strips as it was easier to shape, and then weld the strips together.
This method was working very well until I came across a patch of thinner material and blew a hole through the original steel. I began to ‘chase’ the hole with the welding torch, filling it, I blew another hole further along until I found thicker metal and completed the weld. Pleased with myself as I had managed to complete the repair to a reasonable standard without having to cut a small patch and weld it.
I SAT BACK AND LOOKED UP . . .
This was the moment of sheer terror, quite a large dose of panic, as I saw smoke billowing out of the open driver’s door window. I dropped the welding helmet, grabbed my ‘fire extinguisher’, a washing up liquid bottle full of water, pulled the door open and dived headlong squirting as I went, into the driver’s foot well.
I could see yellow flames licking up inside the kicking panel by the handbrake mechanism, the flames hissed as the water hit them, and the black smoke was acrid and choking.
THEN THE WATER BOTTLE RAN OUT!
The flames were still there, this was now becoming personal, and if I didn’t do something quickly they would soon get hold of my W123 my pride and joy and destroy it.
I swiftly made my way into the garage, I had been welding outside, luckily, I grabbed the garden hose coupled it to the outside tap and switched it on.
Like the McCaffrey brothers in the film Backdraft I switched on the water and charged forward soaking the inside of the pedal area, up under the dashboard and everywhere the hose would point. The flames hissed back at me and then died.
I had won the battle. My lungs hurt from breathing in only a small amount of the smoke and I coughed for a while, another two days to be honest. I was surprised how such a small amount of thick black smoke affected me.
I left the car for a while checking regularly to make sure that the flames were definitely extinguished. I had a quick look to see the damage, which looked bad. After a couple of days it dried out and I was then able to assess it more easily.
Well, there you have it, lesson learned!
I have been welding for years and have never had a problem. I let myself get carried away in the moment and forgot a simple rule if your welding on your own be especially vigilant.