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Auto Craft Engineering: Pressing The Perfect Panels

Auto Craft Engineering: Pressing The Perfect Panels
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Auto Craft Engineering: Pressing The Perfect Panels

We stock a lot of parts from a lot of different manufacturers at Heritage. But how do we decide which ones we want to sell? It's in the DNA, it is in the back story of the guys making this stuff and it's about a passion for the vehicles we all love. No one likes rust or accident damage... But if you do have to deal with it, you want to be using a product that has been created with care. Allow us to tell you more about Auto Craft Engineering. 

How did Auto Craft Engineering start?

We sat down for a chat with company founder Karl Babington to find out more. "I was doing an apprenticeship in metalworking after school" he starts "and in our spare time, me and some friends were restoring our VW Split screens, making a few repair panels here and there." At a time when the reproduction body panels were far from the best quality, Auto Craft started carving out a niche for themselves, providing metal work that was much more in keeping with the original gauge and pressing quality. 

It was when the company he was working for went into liquidation, that Karl and a few of the team picked things up and went into full-time VW panel production. Starting small, and based around the Splitscreen bus to start with, the earliest panels Karl recalls, were rear valances and front screen lower repairs. 

Karl at Auto Craft Engineering making VW repair panelsKarl at Auto Craft Engineering making VW repair panels

How to make a VW repair panel

Auto Craft is always adding to its range, which totals over 500 Beetle, Bay Bus and Split screen repair panels at last count. "We reverse engineer most parts," Karl tells me. "This often involves sourcing a new old stock part (NOS) and first understanding how Volkswagen would have manufactured that part originally, then producing the correct pressing tools and jigs and formers to reproduce the same effect again, with the equipment we have here in our factory."

"We are lucky in many ways" Karl continues. "Compared to how the guys in the forties and fifties were making these panels, we have a lot of technology at our disposal. We can use computers for making CAD drawings, and we can program a CNC machine to cut something more precisely than any human could, but we also have a backbone of traditional metalcraft skills at our disposal. All the guys in the shop are hands-on, and understand the principles of working with metal, in the same way the original VW factory workers did, all that time ago."

Auto Craft Engineering panels and NOS samplesAuto Craft Engineering panels and NOS samples

Made in the UK

Karl is proud to say all of the Auto Craft panels are produced in-house at their factory in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, from good quality steel. I quiz him on the thickness of metal they work with, and whether it is always the same as the original. Karl responds. "All our panels are the same as the OE gauge, although there are some, where we have gone thicker. The T2 Split outriggers and top hats for example were 1mm originally, but we make them from 1.2mm steel to add additional strength."

Auto Craft Engineering making VW repair panelsAuto Craft Engineering making VW repair panels
Auto Craft Engineering making VW repair panelsAuto Craft Engineering making VW repair panels
Auto Craft Engineering making VW repair panelsAuto Craft Engineering making VW repair panels
Auto Craft Engineering making VW repair panelsAuto Craft Engineering making VW repair panels

What to expect from an Auto Craft panel

At Heritage, we stock VW Beetle panels, T2 Bay panels and Splitscreen panels from the Auto Craft catalogue. Customers will often request a favourite brand, and Auto Craft is certainly a name that gets mentioned a lot. "Owners want reassurance when they are buying a panel, and completing a restoration" Karl explains. "When you have a van in pieces, and you're cutting rust out you want to be confident in the replacement metal that is being welded back in. Is it strong enough, do the contours and folds all match? You don't want to be doing these jobs twice."

We pride ourselves on being open and honest about the quality of the parts we sell. Some panels are made to meet a lower price point, but no such issues if you purchase an Autocraft pressed panel. They are a pleasure to sell. Now if only we could persuade Karl that he should start pressing Golf, Porsche and Land Rover panels too... 

Karl at Auto Craft Engineering making VW repair panelsKarl at Auto Craft Engineering making VW repair panels

So there you have it. The back story behind another of our customer's favourite brands. You can browse our Autocraft product range here

Andy 

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