Replacing door skins and frames

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Quality restorations like this can be achieved with DIY skills : credit: © Jake Shoolheifer
Jake shows that replacing a door skin, a door frame, or both, can be a rewarding DIY job, given patience, care and a few specialist tools

Need to know

Time: 1½ hours
Difficulty: 2 out of 5  
Models: Series I 1954 models through to final classic Defender production 2016. NOTE: Only Series Is and later Defender models are fitted with galvanised door frames.
Tools: Door skin folding and crimping tool, lightweight hammer, masking tape, grinder or file (if door frames are newly galvanised), large flat surface, suitable adhesive (CT-1, Tiger seal, Sikaflex, etc.), Clecos or pop-rivets.
Work safely:
• Wear gloves when handling sharp edges and adhesives.
• Wear eye protection when using hammer and dolly.
• Adhesives should be used in a well-ventilated area.

 

There are several reasons why you may want to reskin your Series or Defender doors, such as rusty frames in need of repair or replacement, a damaged aluminium panel, or just that you’re looking to re-galvanise the door frames.

In this instance I will be showing you the re-skinning of a pair of late Series I doors (1954-1958 models) on one of our current projects, a 1955 86-inch Series I. These doors, unlike those found on post-Series I Land Rover production, are dead flat, so they are a little simpler, but the process is very much along the same principles.

Flaws and fixes

For the first five years of Land Rover production, on 80in models the doors were made entirely from aluminium, comprising an aluminium outer skin with an aluminium inner frame which were spot-welded together. Although light in weight, this was a flawed design because the inner door frame typically ends up failing in the corners because of excessive flex. The lack of door weight also has drawbacks because when the latches inevitably stiffen up, the doors slam and do not latch, causing even more damage and stress. Like many small design flaws, Rover quickly fixed them with the introduction of the 86in and 107in platforms in 1953/54. This introduced a new design of door which was much stronger, with an improvement in the way the door tops fit and the way the doors seal. It was a pretty substantial upgrade that was seemingly influenced by car production, but there were still drawbacks.

The biggest issue, and the one I’m sure many Series and later Land Rover owners will be aware of, is galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion is caused by two dissimilar metals (aluminium and steel in this instance) plus the introduction of an electrolyte, such as moisture. It is typically seen in the form of bubbling and oxidation in door bottoms. Moisture can sit in the door skin lip and also behind the door frame, causing corrosion.

The next issue is complexity, largely with painting and replacement, but it is not a hard task to carry out, and can be done with low-cost tools.

Re-skinning

Removing the door skins from the frames can be a little tricky, more so if you are trying to retain the original skins but, with patience, it is a reasonably simple task. With the body capping removed to do this, the three return edges (front, back and bottom) of the aluminium door skin can be unfolded and eased up, loosening their grip on the steel door frame. These don’t need levering right round, just enough to remove the tension and the clawing force of the aluminium on the steel door frames.

We are re-skinning our doors for two reasons: stretched aluminium, and the frames being in need of re-galvanising. We would have liked to re-use the door skins, but they had unfortunately been dented, so we decided to replace them with new parts supplied by Wadsworth Panels. Along with the other cappings on the vehicle, the door frames were sent off for re-galvanising and they returned two days later ready to be re-skinned.

It’s worth making a dry-run through the process before committing to paint and sealer. This way, you can make sure that the door skins fit properly, checking they slide all the way over the frames, that the holes around the door catch recess all line up, and that the door skin is the right size. With all this checked over, and all being well, we then began paint preparation.

Paint sequence

You may notice when removing the original door skins that there will be factory paint underneath the area covered by the door frame. This is because the factory painted the door skins before fitting them to the vehicle. We decided to fit ours the same way, so before fixing them to the frames, we prepped them, primed them, then painted them in the final bodywork colour of the vehicle.

 

Preparation

Check first: The new door skins as supplied by Wadsworth Panels. The three return edges come pre-folded so you can slot the door frame into it, but it is always best to check the frame actually does slide in, or if it needs adjusting.

Primer choice: We then prepped the panel for paint and primed the surface. This is not a factory-spec primer, it is a 2k epoxy primer. The factory initially used a ‘yellow zinc’ chromate etch primer, but our 2k primer will yield a higher quality surface finish when top-coated.

Paint sequence: Top coated in enamel, as original, the door can now be fitted onto the frame. You can mask the frames up and paint the inside of the skin after you have assembled the door, but applying the paint first is the method used in the factory and helps isolate the panel from corrosion.

Level off: The galvanising process can leave some deposits (arrowed) on the metal. It’s best to grind these off, especially on the mating surfaces as they will not only cause difficulty in fitting, but will damage the skin too. If done slowly and carefully, it is possible to not burn through the galvanising, leaving the panel fully protected still.

Bonding: We chose to also bond the door skin to the frame using an aluminium and metals adhesive. This not only helps the skin’s fixing to the frame, but also insulates the aluminium from the steel door frame, further preventing corrosion potential and also hopefully reducing some vibration and potential rattling.

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Mating the skin and frame

Coming together: With the side edges folded at 90 degrees and the bottom edge folded at about 160 degrees, the door frame needs hooking under the bottom lip and then laying down onto the skin.

Alignment: Once the frame is laid down onto the door skin, you need to align the holes around the door latch. You can use a pop rivet to do this and later drill it out, or use Cleco fasteners as shown here.

Crimp tool: With the door skin is the proper position, I could then peel the return flange over. A large flat and debris-free surface is needed, plus some method of crimping the flange down onto the frame. A door skinning tool like this is great or you can use a pair of suitably modified pliers, or just a hammer and dolly. All achieve varying results and finishes.

Forming block: I used a light hammer along with a 50mm-wide block of wood to push the lip of the panel over just beyond 45 degrees. Holding the block against the panel before hitting it with the hammer takes the shock out of hitting the painted surface, protecting the paint. Some masking tape over the end of the block helps reduce marking from the wood grain.

More crimping: With the edge ‘tipped’ on the door skin, you can then use the crimping tool. With the nylon block under the flat exterior surface of the door, the metal crimper then pushes down on the return surface, crimping it over the door frame.

Technique: If you space the initial crimps out at about 30-40mm, you reduce the marking of the panel because the sharp edge of the crimper isn’t pressing on a sloping surface and digging in.

Keep checking: With an initial pass of the crimping tool done, work your way to the other side of the door. This means that if you do need to adjust anything, there is a chance you’ll still be able to do so.

Flattening out: With both sides initially crimped, you can then go back and close up the crimps along the door skin return, creating a completely flat strip.

Final edge: Lastly, the bottom of the door. This won’t need much of a crimp, depending on how much you opened it up to get the doors skin to slide in, but it will need crimping tight which will help the adhesive bond and prevent rattling.

Cure and paint: Leave the adhesive to cure for the manufacturer’s recommended amount of time, after which the Clecos or rivets can be removed before painting the outer face of the door.

 

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