Story and photos by Ron Smith

A small crowd of guys waits outside a shop in the crisp morning Massachusetts air, sharing experiences and aspirations in the field of sheetmetal shaping while awaiting our mentor, Wray Schelin, proprietor of ProShaper. We six are as varied in experience and interests as we are in point of origin: Jim is a local artist, specializing in high-end garden art, already using an English wheel for original pieces. Bill hails from Connecticut, and like most of us, is a restorer of special interest automobiles—you may have seen his series in the publication Auto Restorer detailing his restoration of a rare NSU Sport Prinz. Jerry is a Texan, specialized in piloting emergency medical helicopters, currently restoring his wife’s prized and decades-owned Bugeye Austin Healy. The rest of us hail from the West Coast, John and Paul from the Los Angeles area, me from 

Wait a minute, what is that hulk in the
back of my barn? Oh yeah, a Bugeye.

Washington State. John is our only professional body man, building hotrods in a custom shop. Paul has extensive experience blowing art-glass, and is restoring … what? You guessed it—an Austin Healy Bugeye Sprite.  Wait a minute, what is that hulk in the back of my barn? Oh yeah, a Bugeye. Three guys with LBC’s (little British cars) seems unusual, but maybe not so much when you learn more about why we are here.

Wray Schelin explains the procedure for patterning an existing part, in this case, a Rolls_Royce fender.  

And when I say two full weeks, I mean 9 am to 10 pm 7 days a week. Believe it or not, that is a normal work schedule  for Wray

Drawing us together in this small New England town of Charlton is 68 year-old Wray Schelin, well-recognized as a leading expert in the field of metal shaping, especially coachbuilding. He will be our teacher for this introductory course, which for me will be two full weeks. And when I say two full weeks, I mean 9 am to 10 pm 7 days a week. Believe it or not, that is a normal work schedule for Wray, and it is a very good idea to arrive for this course well-rested.

Wray has been immersed in classic cars since age 12. Growing up on Lake Quinsigamond, Mass, he became experienced in restoration when his grandfather developed an interest in Auburns, Deusenbergs and Packards as a way to fill the long Massachusetts winter sojourn from his more fair weather avocation as a dealer and servicer of Chris-Craft boats.  Some Jaguar enthusiasts may remember Wray as a producer of high quality replacement panels for XK120, 140 and 150 sports cars, and he still produces restoration panels on occasion. However, his main interest is now teaching and demonstrating the little understood art of panel shaping.  He also produces quality tools for the professional and hobbyist from hammers to massive English wheels.

We tour the 20,00 square foot shop. The amount and variety of equipment is hard to comprehend at a glance, but Wray explains the way the shop is organized and demonstrates the role of each tool, including how these tools fit into his methods of panel-shaping vs. methods employed by other shops. Near the main entrance is the welding area filled with multiple MIG, TIG, and oxyacetylene machines, behind which is the machine tool section, a CNC plasma cutter, and a giant shop-built power-hammer. We pass the classroom tables and are surrounded by a dozen English wheels, as well as tipping wheels, shrinker-stretcher machines, stomp shears, manual and hydraulic brakes, band saws, and racks of sheet metal in 12 foot sheets. There is a dedicated area for what Wray calls “shrinking facilitators” formerly known as “stumps”, as well as leather sand bags, valuable for hammer forming sheet metal. There are interspersed Christmas trees on wheels of clamps, bench anvils, and hand tools.

We pass a row of interesting custom bodies from previous classes awaiting completion: First is a 1955 Porsche Spider, its sleek lines evoking strong images of James Dean; next is a father-son produced miniature 

Above, custom car bodies under development, l to r.: Prototype Studebaker,  Maserati, miniature open-wheel racer and Porsche Spider.
Below, another custom body under development.

open-wheeled racer; a custom hot-rod is followed by a sleek Maserati; Last, a prototype Studebaker developed from a single rendering in 1947, including a pointed front, clearly a precursor to the famed 1950 and 1951 bullet-nose production cars.

Harvey was building a new aluminum body for his Lotus Mk IX and even offered me the opportunity to practice my aluminum TIG skills on his near complete rear body section

Deeper in the shop, there is custom and restoration work in progress by course graduates who are fortunate to live near enough to rent shop space at Proshaper and take advantage of the tooling and expertise. I found them most willing to take a break from their toil and explain their work or add a helpful suggestion to what I was trying to learn. Harvey was building a new aluminum body for his Lotus Mk IX, and even offered me the opportunity to practice my aluminum TIG skills on his near complete rear body section. I declined his generous offers with horror at the thought of the mayhem I might cause. Lou spent some time working on his Maserati Mistral, Jim his 52 Canadian Ford with stock Merc grill, and Anthony perfected aluminum TIG skills for his professional career in an award winning custom hot-rod shop. There was an interesting project underway by Ken, a retired science teacher and State Representative from New Hampshire, who, over a meal at a local burger joint, educated me about the history of the Porsche Gmund, precursor to the 356A, which he is recreating. 

I have to add that I found the same friendliness throughout this region of rural, working-class New-England including Charlton and Worcester (pronounced “Wuster”). Although this course doesn’t leave any time for sight-seeing, there is ample history dating back to pre-revolutionary era. Nearby Sturbridge is picturesque and there are activities of interest should a spouse or friend be along. The only part of Sturbridge that I saw in the two weeks of my visit was the local BBQ joint—best I’ve ever eaten btw. Overall, I was impressed by how nice the people were and the friendliness of the community.

After the first day didactics, Wray floats between office and shop throughout the day, demonstrating and directing students in various techniques and proper use of equipment.  By the end of the course, through a combination of admonishments to “hit it harder” or of “what did you do that for?”, we learned the basic procedures required to transform a sheet of thin metal into a useful object like a fender.  We got the idea, and produced parts acceptable to the master for our personal projects and for the class project.

The class project is an interesting one – in 1933, Packard produced a prototype boat-tailed two-seater open car, designated the “McCauley Speedster” after Edward McCauley who developed the car for his personal use and for marketing the Packard company. The design featured an elongate false hood, based on earlier designs by Raymond Dietrich (see photo). To the best of anyone’s knowledge, this car no longer exists, probably destroyed by Packard. Enter Wary Schelin. Based on available photos, specifications of the speedster, and his own extensive experience with vintage Packard restoration, 

Wray developed the shape of the famed auto in wire-form (more about this process later) for his students to practice metal shaping skills. To jump ahead a bit, note the rear section of the boat-tail built by us in steel during the April session. In general, the 20 gauge steel panels are developed to closely fit the form and are then TIG welded together. After the shape is developed, new panels can be more easily constructed in heavier aluminum. Understand that an original frame and drivetrain doesn’t exist—the intention is to add a small, permanent lightweight frame of square or round tubing to this body after its removal from the wire-form, which will subsequently allow mounting on a modern chassis. Whether finished in steel or aluminum, the fit-and-finish of the panels is good enough to require virtually no filler.

In the second part of this article, I will go into more detail about the required tools and the techniques that I learned in the class, as well as elaborate on how I am implementing my experiences in my own shop. 

In the meantime, you can visit Wray’s site at http://  where he describes his courses. I recommend considering taking his course special, which includes his 3-day, 4-day and an additional 60 hours of practice time in the shop, all for $1500. He is easy to reach by phone, and encourages students to ask questions in his classes. I’m happy to talk with any club members who want to know more.
Until next month, Ron

Wray Shelin photo courtesy of ProShaper