Lead sled

1951 Mercury Eight, photo by Nathan Bittinger

In automotive usage, a lead sled is a standard production automobile with a body heavily modified in particular ways (see below); especially, though not exclusively, a 1949, 1950 or 1951 model year Ford or Mercury car. Auto body repair used to be achieved through the application of molten lead to damaged body panels, and the same techniques were adapted for aftermarket cosmetic modifications.

Automotive usage

In order to be classified as a “lead sled”, the vehicle was subjected to most, if not all, of the following body style modifications:

Chopped: cutting off the roof, removing four to six inches from the pillar posts and re-welding the roof back onto the car body.

Channeled: cutting the underside of the body to lower the entire body on the frame, usually by two inches.

French/Frenched/Frenching: recessing headlights, tail lights, license plates and radio antennas into the body for an exotic look.

Emblem removal: all original manufacturer's emblems were removed as these were considered to detract from the vehicle. The thought was "anything that produces a hiccup, a bulge or extrudes from the body is not aerodynamic and detracts from the smooth appearance of the vehicle." The object of the master craftsman is to make the body as smooth, sleek, and sexy as possible.

Trim removal: all factory trim was removed as these dressings detracted from the lines of the car.

Drip rail removal: rain drip rails were removed from the roof as they detracted from the smoothness of the vehicle.

Door handle and door lock removal: door handles and door locks were removed because these parts detracted from the smoothness of the vehicle. Electric solenoids and switches were installed in inconspicuous parts of the body, typically underneath the rocker panels, to provide alternate systems for opening the car's doors.

The entire process of removing badges, trim, and doorhandles was referred to as "shaving".

Grill modifications: the original grill was heavily modified, or substituted with the grill from a completely different make, model, and year car.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, plastic body filler and fiberglass did not exist. Instead, bar lead was used as a body filler. A true craftsman pulled and pushed out dents with body spoons, hammers and dollies until the sheet metal was as straight as they could get it. Any sheet metal that was still slightly wavy, the bodyman heated bars of lead and flowed the lead onto the body with an oxygen-acetylene torch similar to work done by a tin smith. The bars of lead were what we today call “solder” but were not the wire material we are familiar with today, typically sold for electrical or plumbing repairs. The lead bars or strips ranged anywhere from a quarter of an inch to one inch in width and several inches in length.

Lead craftsman call the process of melting the lead “running lead” and this is a highly specialized ancient trade passed from a master craftsman to an apprentice. An apprentice bodyman typically would remove the body part from the car and place it on a bench so as to have a fairly flat surface to flow the lead horizontally onto the body. In contrast, the master craftsman could control the heat of the lead in a vertical position without having to remove the body part, thereby saving time in performing the repair.

An apprentice bodyman most likely would have to grind and hand file the lead to a smooth finish for repainting. The master craftsman on the other hand did not have to grind and only had to hand file, if he had to perform any smoothing at all. The true craftsman controlled the flow of lead with his torch and most times could produce a satin finish without filing.

“Lead” referred to the body material used and the extra weight added by the repair material. "Sled” referred to the lowering of the vehicle, giving these vehicles the appearance that they were “slip sliding” down the highway.

As time progressed, plastics such as 'Bondo' were introduced to the market. These plastic body fillers were easier to work with and eventually bodymen did not use their dent pulling tools as effectively because the plastics could compensate for larger errors with decreased finishing times.

Lead sleds were and are designed for artistic style and expression and not for speed. Among the first customized cars referred to as Lead Sleds were built by Harry Westergard in Sacramento, California. Westergard modified over a dozen cars ranging from a 1931 Model A Ford roadster to two 1947 Chevrolets. He used lead extensively to fill openings in doors, hoods and trunk lids and adapt front ends to accommodate grills from more expensive cars such as Buicks, LaSalles and Packards and in the extension of front fenders. Upgraded bumpers and bumper wraparounds were also common with the ribbed DeSoto bumper and '49 Chevy license guard favored on Westergard Lead Sleds from the 1930s or 1940s.[1]

Some common (later year) Lead Sleds are the 1949 Mercury, 1949 Ford and the 1959 Cadillac.

Other usages

Aircraft nicknames - "lead sled" has also been used as a nickname for a variety of US military aircraft, including the F3H Demon, F-84 Thunderjet, F-105 Thunderchief, and SR-71 Blackbird. In particular these airplanes tend to be large, heavy or very fast. Despite this, the airplane's maneuverability is relatively poor.[2] The F-105 gained this nickname during the Vietnam War. While the plane was fast in straight lines it was not very maneuverable, rendering it very vulnerable to enemy weapons.

Shooting Sports - "Lead Sled" is the registered trademark name of a device made by Caldwell Shooting Supplies.[3] Roughly resembling a snow sled or toboggan, lead or cast iron weights can be added to increase stability. The user places the device on a bench or table, adds weight for stability, and uses the device's fixtures to secure a firearm in the "sled" for firing. The purpose of the device is to remove human error from the process of adjusting the firearm's sights or determining the accuracy of the firearm and reduce felt recoil to the shooter.[4]

See also


  1. http://kustomrama.com/index.php?title=Harry_Westergard
  2. "Aircraft nicknames and designations". Aviation.ru. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  3. "Lead Sled® Plus |". www.btibrands.com. Retrieved 2015-11-30.
  4. "Caldwell Lead Sled". www.chuckhawks.com. Retrieved 2015-11-30.

The Auto Channel - Car Speak-To-English Glossary of Terms

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