Lead Sleds & Customs: Art for the Road

leadsleds Exhibit

Lead Sleds & Customs: Art for the Road

What is a "Lead Sled"?

In the 1940s and 1950s, plastic body filler and fiberglass did not exist. Lead was used as a body filler. Auto body work was done with traditional tools until the sheet metal was as straight as possible. If any sheet metal was still uneven, bars of lead were melted and poured onto the body of car and then filed and smoothed to perfection. This was called "running lead."

Lead was eventually replaced by plastic body fillers which were generally referred to as "Bondo." These fillers were easier to work with and body technicians achieved the same results with less effort. More traditional technicians considered the use of Bondo to be cheating. Some even thought it was insulting to the craft.

Lead sleds were and are designed for artistic style and expression, not for speed. "Lead" referred to the body material used, and "sled" referred to the lowering of the vehicle to the ground, giving these vehicles the appearance that they were sleds.

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 a 1947 Chevrolet. He used lead extensively to fill openings in doors, hoods, and trunk lids. He adapted front ends to accommodate grills from more expensive makes such as Buick, LaSalle and Packard. He favored upgraded bumpers and grills, especially from the Desoto.

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