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Famous Hot Rod Legend Creates All Aluminum Car With Miller Tig Welders, Plasma Cutters and Auto-Darkening Helmets

Executive Summary

Boyd Coddington builds a car entirely out of aluminum with Miller's Dynasty® 200 DX and Dynasty 300 DX AC/DC TIG/Stick inverters, the Syncrowave® 350 LX conventional AC/DC TIG/Stick machine, Spectrum® 375 plasma cutter and the Big Window Elite™ auto-darkening welding helmet. Benefits of the Miller equipment include:

Normally, when someone devotes an hour-long television special to you, it's a sign that you've achieved at least some measure of fame and notoriety. Unless, of course, your name happens to be Boyd Coddington, in which case you were already in a class by yourself long before the Discovery Channel "discovered" you.

Coddington is the subject of "American Hot Rod," a Discovery Channel series that follows the hot rod legend and his crew around as they take cars, such as the Boydster III and the Aluma-Tub, from concept designs to their unique, finished form. In the series Discovery Channel provides viewers a behind-the-scenes look as Coddington fashions what he refers to as "21st century hot rods."

Miller equipment helped make Boyd Coddington's Aluma-Tub a big success!

An industry icon, Coddington has more than 40 years of experience creating and building hot rods, including some of the finest and most celebrated designs the world has ever seen. Coddington owns Boyd Coddington Companies, which produces hot rod frames, chassis and accessories, as well as the renowned Coddington wheels. All the hot rods and wheels are designed and manufactured at Boyd Coddington's Garage in La Habra, Calif.

One of Coddington's creations, the Boydster III, was the hit of the hot rod show circuit in 2003, turning heads wherever it went. Modeled after 1933 and '34 Fords, the Boydster III features a full-fendered classic rod body with swept front fenders and a unique stainless steel grille. Coddington finished off the prototype in a striking blue and yellow paint job. Yet never content to sit around long to admire such creations, Coddington moved on to design and build the Aluma-Tub, the successor to the Aluma-Truck and Aluma-Coupe.

"Car creation is a process and we took this one just a bit farther to where we actually built almost everything on the car out of aluminum," says Coddington. "It's got an aluminum frame, aluminum suspension, aluminum brakes, aluminum body, aluminum small block engine and more. We wanted to build a car with today's technology."

Such technology includes the newest equipment from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., including the Dynasty® 200 DX and Dynasty 300 DX AC/DC, TIG/Stick inverter, the Syncrowave® 350 LX conventional AC/DC TIG/Stick machine, Spectrum® 375 plasma cutter and the Big Window Elite™ auto-darkening welding helmet.

All-Aluminum Hot Rod

Not surprisingly, as one of Coddington's "eye-catchers," the Aluma-Tub has grabbed the attention of many, including expert Brian Brennan, editor of Street Rodder magazine. "I think I've seen everything that's been built in this industry and the Aluma-Tub is definitely a unique and fun-looking car," Brennan says. "A car that's made entirely out of aluminum is definitely worth of a cover story. It also represents a style of car that every hot rodder loves and that's a high-boy." Just a note for the uninitiated: a high-boy is industry jargon for a fenderless car with the body sitting on top of the frame.

Chassis builder Jim Pett uses a Syncrowave 250 to weld the chassis of a Boydster III in Boyd Coddington's garage.

As Brennen wrote in his August, 2004 cover story, "The Aluma-Tub rests on a custom frame made from 3/16 wall, 5052 aluminum rectangular tubing stretched to a 106-inch wheelbase (3 inches over a stock Model A). The front suspension is based on an old-time look but with modern characteristics. The Pete & Jake's Hot Rod Parts new oval-hole drilled-aluminum I-beam serves as the foundation in front and is held in position with billet bat wings and stylized-wishbones. From here the torsion bar system is coupled to a Borgeson-Mullins Vega aluminum box...

"The rear suspension is visually stimulating with its Winters aluminum quick-change center section (3.73 ring-and-pinion). From here the BCG billet axle housings are suspended by a combination of billet triangulated four-link and Carrera coilover shocks with 150-pound springs. The BCG brake package is similar to the front, again, based on the 10 3/4-inch rotors with aluminum hubs and calipers.

"The venerable and potent 350-inch all-aluminum Chevy small-block is decked out with Barry Grant's Triple D Induction Six Shooter manifold and then topped with three Demon Six Shooter two-barrel carburetors. (See SRM June '04.) All this is sandwiched between a pair of aluminum heads topped with BCG billet valve covers and air cleaner."

To read the full story, go to: http://www.streetrodderweb.com/features/0408sr_alumatub/

Welders For Aluminum

Because TIG welding produces a better weld bead appearance allows better heat control to minimize distortion and produces a frame with better strength, all frames and visible welds, such as those on the Aluma-Tub, are TIG, not MIG welded. Or as chassis builder Jim Pett says, "We use TIG because this is Boyd Coddington's hot rod shop and nothing else provides better quality control than TIG." Fabricator Scott Parker adds, "The Dynasty 200 and 300, in particular, are really smooth. The way they weld aluminum makes it almost easy. The tungsten electrode stays pointed and the welds get so clean."

Boyd himself notes, "We have good fabricators who are familiar with welding aluminum. When they got on the Dynasty, it was just like spreading butter. For an average guy who has trouble welding aluminum, the Dynasty's technology makes it so he can weld it easier."

Inverters like the Dynasty allow fabricators more capability to tailor the width, depth and appearance of the weld bead for an application in ways a conventional TIG machine cannot. For example, they extend balance control ("cleaning action" or "penetration") up to 90 percent electrode negative (EN, where the heat flows from the tungsten to the work piece). Adding more EN to the cycle helps to increase travel speed by up to 20 percent, narrow the weld bead and achieve greater penetration. It also permits using a smaller-diameter tungsten (to more precisely direct the heat or to make a narrower weld bead) and using a pointed tungsten and reduces the size of the etched zone for improved cosmetics.

More chassis work on a Boydster III!

The Dynasty also enables adjusting the welding output frequency in the range of 20 to 250 hertz. Increasing frequency produces a tight, focused arc cone, which narrows the weld bead, an important factor when welding in corners, on root passes, and fillet welds. It also permits faster travel speed on some joints. Decreasing output frequency produces a broader arc cone, which widens the weld bead profile and provides greater cleaning action.

"What's really neat about the Dynasty 200 is Auto-Line'," says fabricator Thomas Lodby, who used this machine to TIG weld thin aluminum, such as battery boxes, on the Aluma-Tub. "Auto-Line let's you connect this machine to 115 V, 230 V to anything up to 460 V/three-phase. We made little pigtails so we can just plug in our adaptor and plug it in anywhere."

For more information on TIG inverters and their advanced squarewave technology, visit the education section of MillerWelds.com

Another Hot Rod Legend Helps Out

Coddington farmed out the task of fabricating the body for the Aluma-Tub to Marcel De Ley, another legend in the hot rod industry. De Ley operates Marcel's Metal Works in Corona, Calif., with his sons Luke and Marc.

Brennan has had the opportunity to watch De Ley and his sons in action and was impressed by their skills. "Marcel was in the airplane industry and was famous for restorations and fabricating pieces for that industry. Then he was discovered by the street rod guys about 20 years ago," Brennan says. "There are very few guys in the country who have the expertise that he has. There's a real trick to taking nothing and making a car out of it."

Brennan adds, "I remember sitting there watching Marcel and his sons, and in a matter of hours, they had taken a piece of flat stock and had the rear half of this car completed, along with shaping out the corners and the back portion of the Aluma-Tub. And I'm thinking, how in the heck did they even get to that point? They just look at metal, get their welder out and the next thing you know, they've got a body. It's pretty fascinating to watch them."

Shop supervisor Duane Mayer agrees with Brennan's assessment that the De Ley family works wonders with aluminum. "They had a drawing(a picture of the car from artist Erik Brockmeyer and Boyd(and they went by the drawing to come up with the finished product. They started with a floor pan. Then they made the wheel wells. Then they made the basic foundation, just like building a house. You start from the bottom and work your way up. And when they were all done, they made the top. It's not easy to do, but it seems like it when you watch them because they make it look so easy," Mayer says.

De Leys Love Millermatic

To fabricate the body for the Aluma-Tub, Marcel and his sons were asked to try out a Mill ermatic with MIG pulsing capabilities. "It worked very well on aluminum," the elder De Ley says. "In fact, we were so satisfied with the Millermatic that we bought one for our shop."

His son Luke points out, "The Millermatic was awesome. Years ago, we tried an aluminum wire feeder but it didn't work very well. But this machine really works well. It was particularly good for connecting tubing to the floor(pulsed MIG creates less heat and prevents warping. It makes life a little easier." He also appreciates the fact that there wasn't any burn-through with the .060-in. aluminum.

MIG power sources with pulsing capabilities, such as the newly introduced Millermatic 350P (which provides even better results than the older model De Ley used), provide numerous benefits over short circuit or spray transfer MIG. It has not only has faster travel speeds, higher deposition rates and deposition efficiency and reduces spatter for less clean-up time, but it also improves weld bead appearance and minimizes distortion compared to spray transfer. The Millermatic 350P has the flexibility to weld thick or thin sections and has lower fume emissions, not to mention energy savings and the ability to run larger diameter wires for all-position welding.

Because the heat input is lower, pulsed MIG eliminates or minimizes burn-through, distortion, heat-affected zone size and loss of mechanical properties. With pulsed MIG, the weld puddle has a chance to cool and freeze slightly. And a faster-freezing weld puddle provides better control on overhead and vertical welds so the puddle doesn't 'roll-out' of the joint when welding out of position. That is an important factor here, because there is a lot of out-of-position welding on hot rods.

The Miller equipment handiwork(TIG and MIG(definitely withstood the test when building the Aluma-Tub. At one point, they took it out for a test drive at El Mirage, California's version of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. "They probably put 50 miles on the thing, going back and forth on that lake bed," Mayer says. "They were out there spinning doughnuts and everything and nothing broke. We were just hoping for the best because with an aluminum chassis you don't know what's going to happen," Mayer says. "It's not a normal thing to do, build a whole chassis out of aluminum. But it ended up being a good day. Everything came back in one piece(not even the slightest sign of breakage."

Mayer has nothing but praise for the job performed by the Dynasty 200 and 300 on the Aluma-Tub. "They make a huge difference, especially when you're welding aluminum. With steel, most welding machines are pretty much all the same. But when it comes to aluminum, with the adjustable frequency and extended balance control the Dynasty has, it's like night and day compared to conventional TIG," Mayer says. He also reports that the arc starts are consistent and the fabricators have more control over heat and temperature by just turning a knob.

"Miller is just the greatest equipment you can find," Mayer says. The guys who've used it can't say enough good things about it. The best compliment we can give is that Miller meets Boyd Coddington's standards."

TIG Tips from Boyd Coddington's Garage

* Rest your hand on a small block of wood to prevent it from being affected by a weldment that heats up during the welding process. You should be able to slide the block along as you weld.

* To prevent warping when welding on a chassis, keep moving around the chassis in a big circle to distribute the heat at various points. In fact, don't completely weld a single joint in one pass, even something as small as 1-1/2-in. tubing. Make two or three passes so that the joint can cool in between welding.

* Good fit-up always improves results, but gaps do occur. To bridge a gap, start by establishing the weld pool on the piece of metal best able to dissipate heat. Once the puddle is established, begin adding filler metal and then carry the arc and weld puddle across to the second piece. Continue to "wash" the weld by weaving the arc between the two pieces.

* Many TIG operators manually pulse the foot control as they weld to control heat input and weld bead shape. Add filler metal during the hottest portion of the cycle.

* Never remove the end of the filler rod from the shielding gas coverage or it will pick up contaminants from the atmosphere.

* If you're serious about becoming a better welder, sign up for classes at your local technical college or vocational school. Many people that now TIG weld professionally started up by learning the oxy-fuel welding process in trade school. The mechanics of both processes are similar.

* Old bolt sheared off? Try grinding the sheared end flat and TIG welding a new bolt to the old bolt.

* Clean any metal before welding it. For aluminum, use a stainless steel brush dedicated to the purpose. Remove grease or other contaminants with acetone or neutral alcohol.

* When using an inverter that features advanced squarewave technology (such as the Dynasty 200), don't begin by over-extending the balance control or turning up the frequency too high. To start, set the balance control on 65 and the output frequency at about 120 Hz.

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