Bending Metal

Posted October 05, 2017

Story and Photos by Kris Heil

Frequent readers of ReinCarNation might remember an article on the Daedalus, my custom designed, hand-built roadster. I also did a brief article on building an aluminum body aimed at the average guy working in his garage. I have shown the car several times since then, and am frequently asked if I’m afraid to drive it since it’s such a nice car. I always answer, “Not afraid at all. I built it and if it gets damaged, I can fix it.” It never really entered my mind that I would actually have to live up to that statement. Now I do.

Daedalus B5

It was about 6 a.m. and I was traveling to a concourse in Danville, California, in mid-September. It was still dark out and traffic was light as I drove in the slow lane at about 70. I remember seeing headlights in my peripheral vision arrowing towards me from the fast lane. Before I could even think, there was that loud, hollow phoomph of metal on metal that I remembered from my racing days. I had just been taken out. The world went quiet for bit. I don’t remember how many loops I did down the freeway, but I wasn’t collected up by anyone else. Then there was another big bang when the left front hit the concrete center divide, that only seconds ago, was four lanes away. I could feel the air compress between the car and the wall, which was now about 10 inches from my left shoulder. I did a quick inventory and found myself uninjured and in a relatively safe position crushed up against the barrier. The person who hit me didn’t stop. I don’t know where they came from or where they went. I was too rattled to dial my rarely used cellphone; I kept calling 936 for some reason. A nice guy named Trevor stopped to see if I was OK and he called the highway patrol for me. Thanks Trevor, if you ever read this I am in your debt. When the California Highway Patrol arrived, I climbed out over the passenger side into the shelter his car provided. The tow truck arrived and the driver, Shawn, winched up my wreckage and gathered up the loose bodywork and the stuff that was thrown out of the trunk. I asked him to take me home. 

Tow companies on the CHP rotation don’t all take AAA cards, so I gave him my credit card for the $650 ride. He was brilliant at getting the nonrolling, nonsteering car into my garage. He also told me that from underneath, the chassis was beautiful and that I had to rebuild it, if only for him. I gave him a picture of the car for his wall.

I stayed out of the garage the rest of the day, and on Monday I tried to assess the damage. As far as bodywork, it might be easier to list what I can save. The right-side door and exhaust cover are perfect! That’s about it. Every other panel will have to be either replaced or massaged back into shape. That means new bucks have to be built and the body has to be ground back to bare metal before work can begin.

The left rear of the car was crushed in the initial impact with the other vehicle, who left me for dead. Did I mention that? The rear substructure distorted as designed and will have to be remade. The suspension has about 8 inches of toe-out. I have some work there.

The left front corner took the impact into the wall and the suspension was destroyed. All the rod ends snapped, the A-arms bent, the shock shaft broke in half, the frame bent and the cooling system broke, which I just got fixed. The steering rack, the radiator and pedal assembly are all suspect as well. The clutch master cylinder snapped off, and I don’t really trust the brake masters. In an act of unprecedented mercy, the car gods spared the grill that I slaved weeks over and that the chrome platers hated. The cloisonné emblems survived, too. Amazingly, the clear bra protected some of the paint, though the metal underneath was crumpled beyond recognition.

Overall, the design performed very well. The crumpling was progressive. The fuel tank moved, but stayed intact and wasn’t leaking. So I guess I get a gold star for chassis design. The riveted body panels really surprised me. Several panels sustained much less damage than expected, because the rivets sheared on impact and isolated the attached body pieces. That’s why the rear panel might be salvageable, despite being dragged down the freeway.

I had some second thoughts about rebuilding the car, but I’m going to do it. This is the action plan: Tear the car down to the bare frame and measure it for straightness. Then, strip and re-powder coat it and start building up the Daedalus again. It’s not quite from scratch this time around, but near enough. I’ll keep you posted.

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