Fending for yourself: Attaching fender skirts

Resto how-to: Putting fender skirts back on a Pontiac 2+2

By John Gunnell

Fender skirts are a fad that comes and goes. When vehicle documentation shows that a car had fender skirts when it left the factory, some owners want them reinstalled, regardless of the current fashion. This usually requires a lot more work than it did to glue fender skirts to the model car they built as a kid.

When no fender skirts are installed, this car uses chrome wheel lip trim with painted metal under it.

 

Fender skirts require rubber seals along the upper edge to help keep road debris from seeping through the joint where a skirt meets the wheel well. There are usually clips at each lower corner that support the panel in place on the car. A rotating or cam-type latch mechanism is required. It must allow fitting the skirt loosely in place, then tightening the fit so it stays in place. Some latching systems have a rather elaborate linkage. Fender skirts may also have bright metal trim, emblems or badges, and most must be painted to match the car.

 

A rubber gasket on the skirt is required to seal it against the wheel opening. On a Pontiac such as this 1966, the wheel opening trim will be removed and the NOS skirts will be drilled for bright metal moldings that continue the body line.

 

Vintage fender skirts are available from many hobby vendors and, in a few cases, from reproduction sources. Locating a pair of skirts can be tricky. We have seen some that are aftermarket items being sold as originals. Used fender skirts can also be pretty rough and rusty. Some cars were never available from the factory with fender skirts (e.g., 1955-’57 Chevrolets). If authenticity is your angle, check factory sales literature to make sure you car was available with factory skirts and to verify what they looked like before buying a pair.

In everyday use, fender skirts took a real beating. Rocks could fly up and dent them on the outside. Road silt collected on the back side, which stored moisture and corroded the metal skirt. Fender skirts also flew off, were run over and even became scraped against tight garage door openings. The delicate trim on some skirts was easy to ding or scrape in the normal removal and installation procedure to change a flat tire. Ditto for the paint finish on the skirt.

 

A set of four clips or brackets (two per side) were used by the factory to attach the fender skirts to the rear wheel openings. This nice, cleaned-up original set was $50.

 

Used skirts sell for a wide range of prices, but the trend is that they are getting pricier. A common skirt for a ’70s car can cost as little as $10. A large skirt for a 1941 Cadillac with chrome trim and emblems can cost thousands. Condition counts, too. This pair of New Old Stock (NOS) skirts for the subject 1966 Pontiac were $400. They did not come with attaching hardware or chrome trim. The factory finished them in black primer, so they had to be painted. They did include a nice, supple rubber gasket and the latching mechanism.

Plenty had to be done to the fender skirts before installing them. We purchased a second pair of used skirts for $100 to obtain the trim that mounts to the fender skirt. The used trim had to be carefully removed without ruining the fasteners (a two-hour job) so that it could be buffed and polished. A few of the studs that slide on the back of the trim strips and pass through the skirts were rusty and required replacing. We also had to make little rubber squares for the fastening system. They keep the Timmerman nuts on the back from turning.

These skirts came off a Grand Prix, but according to the Pontiac Master Parts Catalog, they fit all full-sized models. Research through literature or a club to come up with such facts can save money.

This is how the exterior surface of the used fender skirt looked before the bright trim was removed. Not bad, but check the later photos and keep this in mind when you’re shopping for fender skirts.

 

The bright trim is held on the skirts by studs and Timmerman nuts. Little rubber squares are used under the tin nuts to keep them from turning loose. Liquid Wrench penetrating oil on the threaded studs prevents breaking them.

The penetrating oil eats rust away and, to a degree, holds down the amount of heat generated by a wrench. It is often this heat that causes rusty studs to break. New studs are probably available, but why take a chance?

 

At each corner, the bright metal trim was crimped over the fender skirt. These crimps had to be gingerly undone with a long, thin screwdriver and a tiny jeweler’s hammer. After the trim moldings were buffed and polished to new condition, the ends had to be re-crimped without scratching or marring the bright metal.

Even though the NOS skirts had nice rubber gaskets, they were removed for a quality paint job. The rubber gaskets were re-installed using a special upholstery stapler and stainless-steel staples.

After checking factory sales catalogs, we verified the bright metal trim around the rear wheel openings was not used on fender skirt-equipped cars.

Before we could get a 3/8-inch six-point socket on the Timmerman nuts, we had to remove all the crud. A hooked dental pick did a good job of removing crud from the tiny rubber pad shown here, which is used at the base of the stud.

We used a cheap wire brush to clean the threads on the studs. The cleaner the studs are, the easier the nuts will come off without generating heat and snapping a stud.

 

Since the restored car has these moldings in place, it will be necessary to remove them. Normally this would require repainting at least part of the rear fenders, but the owner wants to repaint his Pontiac and will spray the fender opening at that time.

The only thing left to deal with is the set of clips that were used to hold the fender skirts to the car. For this make and model, relatively simple, flat pieces of metal were used, and a good body shop could easily fabricate substitutes if good used parts cannot be located. We found a very nice set of media-blasted OEM clips for sale in an online auction for about $50.

The fronts of the bright trim moldings have minor deterioration. They will be buffed and polished to look new. This will be farmed out to Mike Freund of Classics Plus Ltd. (www.classicsplusltd.com) in Fond du Lac, Wis.

Clips with studs slide onto the back of trim and are likely available from Restoration Specialties (www.restorationspecialties.com) in Pennsylvania. The backs will also need some cleaning up.

 

Here’s how the used skirt looked like under the bright metal trim moldings. These are actually very solid compared to some.

 

The total cost of re-installing fender skirts on this car — from buying the NOS skirts, used skirts and hardware, plus buffing the trim and painting the skirts — will easily run close to $1,000.

On other cars, the cost could be lower or higher, depending on part prices, the amount and style of trim and the fender skirt attaching system. In all cases, it’s a lot more work to add fender skirts to a classic car now than it was to glue fender skirts on the model car you built as a kid.

The top row shows the rubber squares that keep the Timmerman nuts on the back of fender skirts (lower row) from turning after they are tightened. The nuts can be cleaned up with a wire wheel or replaced, but new rubbers will have to be made.

 

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2 thoughts on “Fending for yourself: Attaching fender skirts

  1. Klaus Koenig

    Nice article!

    Do these skirts make my track look wider? No dear, they look great!

    My dad bought a decade old ’55 Chevy with skirts, the installation was much simpler… a piece of wood across the wheel opening and fiberglass draped down from the quarter panel. The only way to remove the wheel was to jack up the car from the side, even lifting from the back corner didn’t tilt the axle enough. And wider tires?… forget about it!

  2. Harold Davis

    Enjoyed the article. Fortunately, the skirts on my ’65 Chrysler 300 are only lightly rusted. The article has some excellent guides to restore them back to near new. Enjoy all of your articles on restoration.

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