The only guarantee in life is change
BY STEFANO LIESSI
Many years ago, a close friend of mine — who has an acute attention to mechanical detail, and ability to dig out a root cause of an issue on almost anything, including a slightly clogged check ball valve in the valve body of a GM 400 turbo transmission — said something to me one day that rings clear as a bell to me to this day.
We were at the age when cars were it, and the Chevy Small Block was gospel — I personally am a big supporter. He said to me “Disco, when an engine is rebuilt, you should be able to install it, connect everything and turn the key to hear it purr.” “All this: gas in the carb, playing with the distributor, messing around, is not needed if it’s rebuilt and set up correctly from the beginning, key in, turn, drive… how do you think they do it at the factory?”
My friend, Davis is a great mechanic; one I will admire eternally, so, this tidbit stuck with me. A few years later — late ‘90s early 2000’s — I was on the floor at a Jaguar dealer in Toronto. At this time, I was granted the job description of structural, non-structural, prep, refinish, and polish.
I enjoyed working on these vehicles, from start to finish, there is something to be said about European engineering. Now I understand many of you cringed on that statement, however, hear me out. If you have ever had the pleasure of aligning a hood on an XJS after a front collision, you are privy to how much your accuracy of repair plays into your mental stability of this task. I have been an advocate of 3D measuring for decades now, I use it for the smallest of repairs to the big ones (I loved doing large hits). Prior to this, in the earlier years everything was done by eye, or by assembling and disassembling parts to check for gaps in the alignment, for fitment. The traditional “plumb line” or “favorite string” the reason why no one ever dared to pre-paint a panel before assembly, edging parts was a big thing on its own.
During these years that statement from Davis rang in the back of my mind, only now I was applying it to collision repair. At the factory they do not have people putting parts on and off for fitment down the line, they rely on technology and precision engineering. I learned that if a bolt does not line up on a Jag, something is out. There are no slots or shims, it either fits, or it does not.
We used the Car-O-Liner Mark 4 mechanical measuring system on these cars, it was amazing. To this day it still can serve a purpose. I deem it as the North American pioneer of fixture ideology. I started to realize that if you use this equipment properly and make an effort to understand the technology, you could accomplish incredible things and actually make money along the way. Remember, you do not get paid to R&I a fender three times or a door and hood multiple times for fitment, you have to pull teeth to get an extra .5 to work an aftermarket panel — which has also come a long way in twenty years.
As time moves on so does technology, after a few more years I got into electronic 3D measuring — imagine watching a live pull walk into position, no guessing just doing. I was so confident in this technology that I bet a very senior tech that I could clip the front end of a Mazda that was towed in — hard hit — from the towers forward using, at the time, I-CAR sectioning practices and OEM joining locations, and when I was done the structural, we would bolt the drive train back in, then bolt the closure panels on, then drive it off the rack to alignment.
It was after this that FINALLY my coworker started to understand the significance of this technology. I measured everything, regardless, and to this day so should every other tech. The advancements of steel and composites leave many untold stories within the damage, the only way to know if it needs to be measured is to measure it. Period. Twenty years later and the light is getting brighter for some, but not enough yet — I can only hope.
They may have been simple times back then, but take your welder for example, we now have Pulse, Double Pulse, welders with multiple torches and functions, welders with computer touch pads and programs that you set up to accomplish various tasks for various substrates. Compared to the standard short circuit Miller or Lincoln with two dials one for wire speed and one for voltage, usually marked off with tape or a marker and guarded by the senior tech who would break your fingers if you changed the settings. Ah yes, good old times, thanks for the memories Franco. If memory recalls all you needed to know is what bacon frying sounds like and you were good to go. Let us not forget about STRSW and the advancements it has made, coupled with weld bonding and structural adhesives, did I mention Rivet bonding? Only rivets I used many years ago were “POP” rivets to put floors into an old Pinto in my driveway.
As you are aware, a lot has changed in twenty years, technology in the shop, technology in the cars that come through the door to be repaired, it truly has advanced incredibly fast and will continue to do so with no end in sight.
I have only blown the dust of a tiny amount of nostalgia here. Our industry has been slow to keep up in many ways, however, in my opinion, we are starting to catch up by providing a much higher standard of quality repair and skill set within the industry. Great things have happened, and greater things are to come. We are truly living in the best of times for humanity, and without doubt it will get better still, with some bumps in the road.
I cannot begin to imagine what the future reality holds for us. I’ll be in my mid 70s in another twenty years. My guess, the contents of today’s articles will be looked at by others as dated or obsolete. Thank you, Davis, for a positive contribution to my thought process, and an incredibly happy 20 years Collision Repair Magazine, here is to the opportunity to celebrate a 40-year anniversary edition.