1938 WILLYS HOOD ORNAMENT, THE MAKING OF THE PLASTIC INSERT
My 1938 Willys Pickup came with a hood ornament, which originally had a half dome plastic top piece which inserted into the top of the ornament. Unfortunately, my ornament was long missing this piece and in fact, the plastic insert is something of a very rare piece, more probably due to the fact it was constructed of a thin piece of plastic made with late 30’s technology and certainly not up to the weather and years. After doing some minor repairs on the basic ornament and having it re-chromed, I set out to make my own insert, which has turned out very well. I shall endeavor to lay out the methods I used along with written guidelines and pictures so that any others in the same situation might also make their own top insert.
I originally thought I might make a trial piece using a solid piece of wood and in discussing my plans with Tom Carver, my friend and fellow hot rodder from the Bay Area, he suggested I consider using a solid piece of plastic type material or acrylic plastic. Tom sent me three posts laying out some first hand experience in working with Arcylic Plastic in the EE Lab at Stanford University which I kept in mind as I worked on this hood ornament project. So I visited Ridout Plastics in San Diego and saw that there was a large possibility of choices in this material, but elected to stick with a clear piece of acrylic, purchasing a large chunk 24 inches square and 1 ¼ inches thick. It came with protective paper on both sides.
My first task was to cut a smaller worker piece from this large chunk so I laid the ornament upside down on the acrylic and marked a line for a piece about 2 inches wide, 24 inches long and 1 ¼ inches thick. I then used my 10 inch table saw with a very fine tooth plywood saw blade and cut the piece off the main chunk. I then cut the remaining extra off the piece as I did not really need one 24 inches long. I believe the overall ornament is about 10 inches long, so the piece ended up about 12 inches long after the final cut on the table saw. With the protective paper still on both sides I again laid the ornament upside down on the piece of acrylic, and outlined with a pencil the outside lines of the ornament. Once done, I then used a straight edge and drew a line from top to bottom of the ornament outline down the exact center. I then measured the two attaching lugs in the top of the ornament and found they were precisely 5 inches on center. I laid the ornament in place equal with the outline and marked the placement of the front lug on the center line and then measured down the line 5 inches and made the second cross which would match the second lug in the top of the ornament.
I then drilled a 5/16 inch hole on the forward mark and a 3/16 inch hole on the rear mark, making both holes about the same depth of the actual lugs. I then took the piece of acrylic and mounted it in a small vice and using a small dremel tool with a course grinding stone, began whittling down the material around the outside of the pencil outline. I continued this till I had completely worked away all the acrylic material, trial fitting or actually inserting the acrylic piece into the top of the ornament. It took some time but eventually I removed enough material that I fashioned the insert section of the acrylic in a complete and finished manner.
I then laid out a shape on the side of the ornament to match my own personal tastes in pencil. Once done, I used a band saw with a fine tooth blade to cut away the excess acrylic material on top. Once this was complete, I inserted the plastic insert into the ornament and marked the underside of the acrylic along the sides of the ornament with pencil, removing the insert and again using the band saw to remove the excess on both sides of the ornament. With this complete, I used a small circular belt sander to then remove the edges and work the piece into a final rough shape that met my own design. Once this was done, I then used 220 grit sand paper to sand the ornament smooth removing the grooves and bringing the entire ornament to a near glassy finish. I followed with the same treatment with 320, 400 and then 600 grit sand paper. These final sanding efforts gave a great final shape to the acrylic insert. With the sanding finished, I then used plastic buffing compound and in very quick order buffed the ornament to a crystal clear condition. The top piece looks great.
I made a second ornament top in quick order but on the second one I used a router to cut the insert out of the acrylic…..I outlined the shape of the ornament and then set the router so it would cut about 3/8 inch to ½ inch depth…I then cut the insert part of the ornament, using the router to continue to cut small amounts till the insert fit into the ornament. Once this was done, I then cut the rough ornament piece out of the larger chunk with the table saw and then finished getting it to a final shape using the bandsaw after marking the ornament shape with a pencil. Once the shape was cut out with the bandsaw, it was finish shaped with the belt sander.. From this point, I used 220, 320,400 and 600 grit sandpaper to smooth the ornament. Once all the light scratches were out, then I buffed on the wheel using the plastic buffing compound.