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How to section a car body

Sectioned bodies are sliced horizontally. Here are the basics of this process
By Tim Boyd
In-Depth Techniques
IMC/Testor's/Union 1948 Ford convertible and Revell 1948 Ford convertible
Here we see a sectioned (and chopped) IMC/Testor's/Union 1948 Ford convertible, compared to a stock Revell 1948 Ford convertible.
The three basics of building custom cars are chopping, channeling, and sectioning.

We’ve shown you the basics of chopping and channeling before, but sectioning – which involves removing a horizontal slice of your model’s basic body shell – is a far-more-complex operation, whether you are building in 1:1 or 1/25 scale. This complexity also makes it a seldom-seen feature of customized automobiles. 

Yet no other action can so fundamentally change the proportions – and ultimately, the overall impact – of your custom models. So let’s dive into this subject in a level of detail that has never before been seen in a model car magazine.

The October 1957 issue of a pocket-sized magazine called Custom Cars featured a ten-page article entitled “The Secrets of Body Sectioning.” The article was based on the work of Valley Custom, and included instructions for chopping ten iconic 1940s and early-to-mid-1950s Fords, Mercurys, and Chevrolets. Using that article as inspiration, we’ve adapted and simplified the techniques for sectioning car models. 

Sectioning models is certainly less complicated than sectioning 1:1 cars, but there are still a number of less-evident steps that can make the difference between a successful sectioning job and a project that goes back in the “incomplete projects” pile.  

Because sectioning is best done by experienced modelers, we chose not to show each individual step in sectioning a specific body, but we’ve included some helpful hints for your model sectioning projects.  

If you’re considering making this ultimate car-modeling move by sectioning your next customizing project, we hope this article gives you the inspiration and the confidence to take this big step.
Cuts are placed with masking tape
Sectioning basics

The most critical element of sectioning is where to place the cuts. Begin by cutting some masking tape 1/8 inch wide, which is equivalent to a three-inch section in 1:1 scale, and apply it to the body.  By the time you add the width of the saw blade, you’ll get a scale four- or five-inch section – the maximum amount you’ll want to remove. Run a pencil or fine-point Sharpie along the edges of the tape to leave a guide for the cuts. Remove the tape, then cut away the plastic between the marks with a razor and jeweler’s saw.  

True the edges with a flat file
True the edges of the body with a large flat file, test-fit, then glue the body sides back together.  On this AMT 1949 Mercury, the sectioning operation jogs up over the front fender wells. The roof was chopped on this body before we began the sectioning operation.     

Follow-up bodywork

With changes this extensive, some follow-up bodywork is to be expected. Use colored primers, fine-toothed files, and 240- to 320-grit sandpaper to even out surfaces and determine where more finishing work is required. See also “Body Building Basics” Scale Auto, October 2006.

Reduce the height of all interior components
Reduce the height of all interior components by a similar amount to the exterior sectioning operation. 1:1 scale builders would typically try to remove the seat height from the bottom of the seat (shown here with the front seat), but you may have to remove the section from the center of the interior side panels, front seatback, and rear seat. These components are from a Revell 1948 Ford convertible.

Underbody structure
The underbody structure will require the same reduction in height as the body and the interior components. For Revell’s 1948 Ford, that means the interior rear bulkhead, the rear inner fenders on the floorboard unit, and the radiator.  Instead of sectioning the radiator, you may be able to relocate it lower in the chassis. Check the engine clearance with the hood closed; you may need to substitute a low-rise intake manifold, a low-profile air cleaner, or simply lower the engine in the chassis. 

Pancaked front hood
On earlier customs, such as the 1940 and 1948 Fords illustrated in this article, you should probably “pancake” the front of the hood after the sectioning process. This involves gluing the sectioned hood to the body, then recutting a smaller hood opening along only the top surface of the hood. You can now mold the front fenders to the body sides, as we’ve done with this 1948 Ford convertible.

Pancaked trunk
Sectioning 1940s Fords and 1940s-early-1950s Chevys involves raising the rear fender locations relative to the body, which can make the body-to-trunk transition problematic. Your best option may to be “pancake” the trunk in the same way as the hood.  Here you see the pancaked trunk on an IMC/Testor’s/Union 1948 Ford convertible. We’ve also rounded the trunk corners, and there’s some minor bodywork ahead of us to clean up the newly-cut openings.  
1939-1940 Ford
Sectioning specifics for 1940s and 1950s cars

1939-1940 Ford: Run the top of the cut along the top edge of the body side molding. The bottom cut runs parallel a scale 3+ inches below the top line.  Behind the rear wheel centerline, transition into a single vertical cut, and then use two-part filler to join the surfaces in this area of the body. Revell’s 1940 Ford Standard Coupe is shown.   
1941-1948 Ford
1941-1948 Ford: Similar to the 1940 Ford, run the top cut line along the top of the body side molding, carrying it around to the front edge of the hood, and to where the rear fender drops off, where the cut becomes a single vertical line.  You’ll also have to remove a similar amount of material along the bottom of the trunk lid (not shown here). This body is Revell’s 1948 Ford convertible: a two-part body casting that is much easier for sectioning than the multiple body parts found in the earlier IMC/Testor’s/Union 1948 Ford kits.

1949-1951 Ford
1949-1951 Ford: Run the lower edge of the cut line along the bottom edge of the molded-in trim piece that runs along the body side, and place the upper cut three scale inches above. Jog the cut line as shown to retain the shape of the front wheel well opening. AMT’s recently reissued 1949 Ford Coupe is a perfect choice for your first sectioning project.

1949-1951 Mercury
1949-1951 Mercury: The Mercury sectioning approach is similar to that of the 1949 Ford. The section behind the front wheel well can be lower on the body as shown, or slightly higher, as shown with the AMT 1949 Mercury. The lower position clears the 1949 Lincoln taillamp opening molded in the Revell 1949 Mercury body.  

1949-1954 GM
1949-1954 GM A Bodies (Chevy, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile): Similar to the 1949 Ford through the front fender and door area, the approach differs when you reach the rear fender. Here we adopt a vertical cut between the fender and the body, which results in the entire rear fender moving upward on the body when the parts are glued back together. The approach shown here on AMT’s recently-reissued 1951 Chevy Bel Air is the same one that the Valley Custom shop used on its famous 1950 Oldsmobile “Polynesian” custom.  

1952-1954 Ford
1952-1954 Ford: Ford added a subtle fenderlike impression in the rear quarter panels for 1952-’54. For our sectioning approach, the cutaway section jogs upward over this pseudo fender area, then drops down to the top of the bumper cutout as it wraps around the rear. The sectioning area across the front fenders and doors is placed along the depression molded in the Lindberg 1953 Ford body to accommodate the separate chrome moldings (which would otherwise need to be filled for a custom car anyway).

1955-1957 Chevrolet
1955-1957 Chevrolet: Today no one would section a Tri-Five Chevy, but these iconic cars were a dime-a-dozen in the 1950s and 1960s, and often became customs. The approach is similar to the 1949 Ford operation, except that the sectioned area drops down below the taillamp opening as it wraps around the rear end.  

1955-1956 Ford
1955-1956 Ford: Use the molded-in body trim to align the sectioning marks – the ribbed panel running back from the V in the doors. The rear quarter-panel of 1955-56 Fords is a complex stamping, so I ran the sectioning line right through the taillamp area. To retain the stock taillamp area, drop the sectioning line below it. The only 1/25 scale 1956 Ford is AMT’s kit with separately-molded opening doors, so if you section it, be prepared for additional work.  

Resources
References

The Secrets of Body Sectioning
by Valley Custom and Jim Potter, Custom Cars Magazine, October 1957, ‘Teen Publications, Los Angeles, California

Sectioning Model Cars
by Tim Boyd, Street Rodder Magazine, February 1980, TRM Publications, Anaheim, California  

Valley Custom Shop, Parts 1-3” 
by Geoff Carter, Custom Cars Magazine, http://www.valleycustomshop.com/



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