Lead sled

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1951 Mercury Eight, photo by Nathan Bittinger

Automotive usage[edit]

In the automotive field, originally the lexicon “Lead Sled” referred to heavily modified 49’, 50’, 51 Mercury and Ford hot rods although not exclusively.


In order to be classified as a “Lead Sled” the vehicle was subjected to most if not all of the following body style modifications as follows:


Chopped: cutting off the roof, removing four to 6 inches from the pillar posts, and re-welding 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: Any and all original manufacturer emblems were removed as these were considered to detract from the vehicle. The though was “anything that produces a hiccup, a bulge, 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: Any and all factory trim was removed as these dressings detracted from the lines of the car.

Drip Rail Removal: Rain drip rails were also removed from the roof as they also detracted from the smoothness of the vehicle.

Door Handle and Door Lock Removal: Door handles and door locks were removed because once again, 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 in order to open the car doors.

Grill Modifications: Consisting of heavily modifying the original grill or substituting the grill from a completely different make, model, and year car.


In the late 40’s and 50’s, 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 call today “solder” but were not a wire material we are familiar with today typically sold for electrical or plumbing repairs. The lead bars or strips ranged anywhere from ¼ inch to 1 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, place it on a bench so as to have a fairly flat surface to flow the lead horizontally onto the body. The master craftsman could control the heat of the lead without having to remove the body part in a vertical position 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 simply 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 material and "Sled” referred to the lowering of the vehicle to the ground giving these vehicles the appearance that they were “slip sliding” down the highway.

As time progressed, plastics were introduced to the market such as “Bondo.” 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 poor craftsmanship. In essence, they got lazy. The old timers considered the use of “plastics” as poor craftsmanship,” hence not only did the old times consider the use of plastic as insulting, but also the indication that the bodyman who made the repairs a novice.

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 Buick’s, LaSalle's and Packard’s 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 30's or 40's. [Reference http://kustomrama.com/index.php?title=Harry_Westergard]

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

Other usages[edit]

Aircraft nicknames - It 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 the planes tend to be large, heavy or very fast, despite this, the planes maneuverability is relatively poor.[1] F-105 in particular gained such a nickname during the Vietnam War. While the plane was fast in straight lines it was not very maneuverable and the missions it flew rendered it very vulnerable to enemy weapons and lost nearly half the fleet.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Aircraft nicknames and designations". Aviation.ru. Retrieved 2011-11-20. 

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