Resto-Mod Restorations — Part 1: Introduction
By definition, a Resto-Mod is a modified car. The first part of the term — "Resto" — implies a vehicle that is restored. The second part of the term — "Mod" — implies a vehicle that is modernized. A well-built Resto-Mod is an attempt to put together a car that has the styling appearance of a classic car combined with the many improvements (more durable paint, better tires, hotter engines, upgraded sound systems, quicker steering, more comfortable interiors, smoother-riding suspensions, etc.) that automakers have added to vehicles in later years.
Cars are made of "hard" mechanical parts like a starter and "soft" parts like a seat cushion. Repaired original parts come from other cars. New parts can be NOS (new old stock — factory made but never installed), NORS (new old replacement stock — vintage aftermarket) or modern reproduction. Modern reproduction parts offer two advantages in that they are somewhat more affordable and are usually much easier to find in printed or online catalogs.
Hard mechanical and soft parts like seats go into cars. At the 2009 SEMA Show, Ford displayed the parts needed to build a Mustang Resto-Mod and then had a team construct the car at the show.
Reso-Mods make extensive use of reproduction parts. That's not to say that a Resto-Mod builder is going to throw away any good parts that come with the car when it's purchased. But, as the restoration work proceeds. The Resto-Mod builder will not be re-chroming rusty parts or spending years scouring swap meets for an elusive NOS bumper guard if a reproduction is available. This means that a high-quality Resto-Mod can be built cheaper and faster (and sometimes better and safer) than a restored-to-original car.
This series of articles will talk about and show a variety of Resto-Mod projects, but will also focus on three specific projects involving 1960s high-performance cars. By coincidence, all of these cars were made by General Motors. However, the steps in the restorations would largely be the same for any car of the same type whether it was manufactured by GM, Ford, Chrysler or American Motors.
The restorations of the orange '67 Camaro and the burgundy '69 GTO Judge were done or managed by the owners, who are do-it-yourself guys, but not professional restorers. The silver blue '69 Camaro illustrates a pre-cut reproduction upholstery kit install. The lady owner had the work done at a body shop. Other cars pictured in this series show specific steps in restification projects.
Reasons for "Restifications"
In Jeff Moll's case, buying a half-disassembled car was a good reason to build a Resto-Mod. Jeff — a resident of Mukwonago, Wisconsin — felt it wasn't practical or cost effective to restore the car to original. Jeff wanted to retain all the great '67 Camaro "factory" styling and features, but use upgrades to improve the car. This is often called "restification." Jeff defines it as "making the car appear the way it could have been built back in the day — only better." Restification is easy to say, but it took Jeff four years to complete his'67 Camaro RS/SS Sport Coupe.
Jeff Noll's 1967 Camaro is a show winner today, but it was little more than the half-assembled hulk of a car when he bought it. For Jeff, turning it into the beautiful Resto-Mod that it is today was the only way to go.
When Jim Mokwa, of Waupaca, Wisconsin, started restoring his '69 GTO Judge convertible, he knew where he was going with it. A friend found the "goat" in a Spokane, Washington, backyard. The angry girlfriend of a previous owner had bashed it with a baseball bat. The car had the wrong motor and transmission. "It was total chaos," Mokwa recalls. "My friend Orville, a tool and die maker, thought he could fix it, so he hauled it to his barn out in the country and stored it for 10 years."
Jim Mokwa's GTO didn't have its factory engine or numbers-matching equipment, so he decided to for big horsepower and build a car that looks pretty much original, but has modern technology under its hood.
"I saw the movement towards restifications and Resto-Mods and knew the car didn't have the right engine or other numbers-matching features," Jim says. "So I said let's go for the big horsepower and we built a car that looks pretty much original, but with modernized technology like a Butler engine kit, a Tremec tranny, American Racing Torque Thrust II wheels and Baer brakes."
Using serial numbers, vehicle identification numbers, parts numbers and other codes stamped or written on cars can help determine exactly which model you have, so you'll know what parts to buy. For cars such as Camaros and GTOs, the heavy-duty research has already been done. Reproductions of factory shop manuals and parts manuals are available through hobby publications, clubs and Internet Websites. References throughout this series of articles will help locate them.
Lori Fuller's '69 Camaro SS is a car she wanted to restore in her husband's memory, but two shops didn't get the job done. Muscle car reproduction parts supplier Classic Industries helped her reach her goal.
Owners also like to research the history of their individual car whenever possible. Every collector car has an interesting story behind it. These facts are nice to present on a storyboard when the car is displayed at a show. In some cases a certain option, a special engine or a low production total can increase the car's value. In addition, it is just fun to know about the cars you own.
When Jeff Noll de-coded his Camaro's body tag, he found that his Sport Coupe (Fisher Body Style No. 67-2337) had been "born" the third week of March, in 1967, at the GM assembly plant in Norwood, Ohio (Code NOR). It was originally painted Butternut Yellow (Code YY) and had a Black (Code E) interior with standard bucket seats. It had also had a black vinyl roof (Option C08), which cost $73.75. The original purchaser had also added the RPO Z21 Style Trim Group for $40.05, the RPO Z23 Interior DÃ©cor option for $10.55) and a Soft-Ray tinted windshield option (Code A02) for $21.10. The car was Unit No. 97,724.
Jeff Noll started his Camaro Resto-Mod project by researching his car's history and his attention to detail resulted in a trophy-winning owner-restored car that gives Jeff a lot to be proud of.
The original engine was the 327-cid V-8. Jeff was told that the car was used at the drag strip on occasion and found evidence of this. The transmission tunnel had been hacked up and required rebuilding. In addition, the battery had been relocated to the trunk. When he bought the Camaro, it was painted Mariner Blue and had no vinyl roof covering. Its front wheels varied in design from the rear ones and the rear deck lid spoiler was refinished in matte black.
Jim Mokwa researched his 1969 GTO through Pontiac Historic Services. He learned that '69 GTOs when compared to the '68s, received a mild facelift and a new grille with a honeycomb texture. At the rear of the car, the taillights were moved from in the bumper to just above it. Standard equipment included a 400-cid 350-hp V-8, dual exhausts, a 3.55:1 ratio rear axle, a heavy-duty clutch, a Power-Flex fan, "pulse" windshield wipers, a three-speed manual transmission with a floor shifter, sports type springs and shock absorbers, red line Wide-Oval tires, bucket seats or a notchback bench seat with a center arm rest, carpeting, concealed windshield wipers, panel, courtesy and glove box lamps and a deluxe steering wheel.
Jim learned that his car was one of only 7,328 GTO ragtops built in '69. It was built in GM's California factory and had gone to Bud Meadows Pontiac in Seattle, Washington where someone paid $4,447.31 (including options) to buy it. The car originally had the base engine installed. Its options included Turbo-Hydra-Matic, a front bench seat, rear seat speaker, concealed headlamps, power steering, tinted glass, full front and rear mats, Saf-T-Trak axle, push-button radio, door edge guards, Rally wheels, power disc brakes and G70R-14 tires.
Buying and Bringing Collector Cars Home
Jeff Noll's father spotted the Camaro's taillights sticking out of a back-alley garage in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis. The previous owner had intended to restore the car and had removed the hood, the front-end sheet metal, the engine and the transmission. Fortunately for Jeff, the project stopped there and the car sat inside the garage, in its partly disassembled state, for 15 years.
Johnny's Petroleum Products sent its 'Johnny on the Spot' GMC wrecker to hook up Jeff Noll's recently purchased Camaro. The car was towed from West Allis to Jeff Noll's home in Mukwonago where he did most of the work on it.
Jeff purchased the Camaro on May 23, 2004. The sale included a Turbo Hydra-Matic 350 transmission, a 1969 Muncie M-21 close-ratio four-speed manual gearbox, a four-bolt-main 350-cid V-8, Corvette cast-iron cylinder heads, original and replacement GM factory front fenders and inner fender wells, a cowl-induction hood, a 10-bolt Positraction rear axle, rear quarter panels and many other parts that the car's owner had gathered for his planned build.
Johnny's Petroleum Products of Mukwonago, Wisconsin sent their bright red, "Johnny on the Spot" GMC wrecker out to hook the Camaro up. They towed it from West Allis to Jeff Noll's place in Mukwonago to start the work.
Jim Mokwa kept tabs on his Goat for a decade before he was able to buy it. His friend Orville kept it tucked in the barn for a decade and 10 years of storage took a toll. When Orville turned 60, he realized that he was never going to get the car done. "At least he had kept it in a barn, out of the rain," says Jim.
In 2006, Orville called Jim. He knew that his Wisconsin friend loved the Goat and would pay a fair price for it. "He finally called and said 'If you want it, come and get it." Jim recalls. That April Jim rounded up his favorite auto body man, Leo Coonen, and set off for Spokane, Washington with Leo's truck and trailer. The five-day trip turned became an adventure when they hit a spring snowstorm in the Montana mountains, but they got the car home safe and sound.
Jim Mokwa finally got to buy the 1969 GTO ragtop in 2006. That April Jim and body man Leo Coonen made a trip to Spokane, Washington with a truck and trailer to bring the well-worn car to Wisconsin.
Muscle Car Parts
You cannot restore any car without parts. When the author rebuilt a 1936 Pontiac, parts for that prewar car were extremely hard to find — nobody reproduces these parts. You must find either NOS or NORS parts. The Pontiac Oakland Club International was the only source for NOS parts and Northwestern Auto Supply in Grand Rapids, Michigan, helped with NORS parts. Some hobby companies like Kanter Auto Parts and Egge offered engine parts kits.
When the author restored an MG TD, it was extremely difficult to find NOS parts. A company called Abingdon Spares had some. However, reproduction MG parts are readily available from Moss Motor, Ltd. Moss even prints a mail order catalog with useful exploded drawings of every part on the car. The company can probably supply 90-95 percent of all the parts needed for a full MG restoration.
In the 1980s, the number of reproduction parts offered for American cars was fairly small. There were mail order catalogs offering copycat Model T Ford, Model A Ford, Mustang, T-Bird and 1955-1957 Chevy parts and that was about it. Then, the auto manufacturers saw the hobby growing and started licensing companies to reproduce vintage parts for their cars. Although they entered this as a source of revenue (licensing fees) the manufacturers also offered to help companies obtain original blueprints so they could make more parts and better quality parts. The author attended the 1989 SEMA Show in Las Vegas where the GM Reproduction Parts program was outlined for the first time.
Today it's apparent that the restoration parts programs of GM, Ford and Chrysler have helped muscle car and Resto-Mod builders. This reproduction Mustang body 'in white' was displayed in the Ford booth at SEMA 2010.
While the parts makers did not like the fact that reproductions were suddenly being "policed" by GM (as well as Ford and Chrysler), in the long run it seems quite apparent that the automakers' restoration parts programs helped restorers and particularly muscle car restorers. It was easier for the automakers to find blueprints for these later-model collector cars and, at the same time, collecting muscle cars was on a growth trend that created demand for the parts.
As more reproduction muscle car parts came on stream, it was natural for restifications and Resto-Mods to evolve. The availability of parts made it possible to save more and more cars like the partly-diassembled Camaro that Jeff Noll discovered and the "batting practice" GTO convertible that Jim Molwa bought. Today you can purchase quality reproduction parts through a variety of suppliers and you can get anything from an OEM bolt copied in never-rust stainless steel to a complete reproduction 1969 Camaro body.
Thanks to the GM Restoration Parts program, these exact reproduction 1959 Cadillac taillight lenses are available in stock form (left) for restorers and in a custom style (right) for Resto-Mod builders.
Making an Assessment
Before you buy any restoration parts, you have to know what parts you are going to need. This means making an assessment of what you have to start with. You need to determine if the car you're starting with is complete or whether it has missing parts. As far as the parts you do have, what condition are they in? Can they be restored? Will you need to replace them? When you are doing a Resto-Mod, some original parts may be good or salvageable, even though you plan to replace them with modified parts. You may be able to clean up, advertise and sell the original parts to help finance your project. Jeff Noll sold some parts on eBay.
Today it is pretty simple to make an assessment of the car you purchased. The digital camera is a great tool for doing this. A camera's memory card can hold thousands of images. You can have prints made or store images on a computer. They can also be transferred to a photo DVD for back-up purposes.
Start at one front corner of the car and work your way around the entire vehicle, taking both overall and detail photos. Remember that you are taking the photos to show you how to put the car together again, once you take it apart. This is not beauty photography. If a photo alone doesn't fully illustrate how to do something, write some notes (in your own words) describing how the pieces go together or draw a picture. Then, take a photo of your note or drawing so it doesn't get separated from the photos you took. If you photograph the note or drawing, it will be right there, in sequence with your photos and you'll be able to zoom in on it to see the smallest details of memo or a sketch.
Good photos will give you color details. If the interior has wood grained trim, you'll be documenting the proper grain. Many muscle cars have decals, graphics or badges that you'll want to take photos of both for copying the design and for knowing where the particular decoration should be placed to get it properly positioned. If the car hasn't been "messed with" below the hood, photos will tell you how hoses, wires and fluid lines should be routed.
Always keep in mind that a photo will show you only what's directly in front of the camera lens. You may take a picture of what looks like a bolt going into a hole on the chassis, but if you look at it from the bottom, in may be and eye-bolt rather than a conventional hex head bolt. Therefore, some assemblies will need to be photographed from top, bottom and sides to get the true picture of how one part attaches to another. The front and back views may be substantially different.
Take care to organize and store the digital photos you take very carefully. It may be a year or more before you start putting your car together. Jeff Noll worked on his Camaro for four years and took many photos. You can organize the photos is by date. Your computer may automatically arrange them that way. You can overwrite photo tags to change them. Sometimes you may prefer to arrange the photos by the system they show: engine, transmission, body, etc.
A Restored Vehicle Is The Sum of its Parts
As you photograph the parts of the car, remember that a restoration means taking all the parts off the car and rebuilding it with all good parts. The good parts may be the original part restored, a restored replacement part or a new part. A new part may be NOS, NORS or reproduction. Your photos become a guide to the condition of the parts you have and they will help you decide what type of part you're going to use in your restoration. With a computer, you can even print out small "thumbnail" photos of the parts and put them in different envelopes according to the categories above.
Then, let's say that you're planning a trip to a salvage yard with the members of your car club. You can take your "Restored Replacement Parts" envelope with you and it will tell you what parts to look for in the salvage yard. You'll even be able to see the design details of the part to ensure that it's correct.
The photos you take of the car before it is torn down can be used for several other purposes, too. We already mentioned that Jeff Noll sold parts he was going to replace on eBay. Perhaps some of the photos he took were used in his eBay auctions. In addition, you can have prints made of some or all of the photos to use in a scrapbook. Creating such a book provides you with a record of your restoration for future display at car shows or for showing to friends.
Both Jeff Noll and Jim Mokwa kept excellent photographic records of their restoration projects. As you look at the step-by-step pictures that they took, it will give you a good idea of how to properly document your own projects.
A tow truck driver inspects Jeff Noll's Camaro. At this juncture, Jeff could still photograph how things were put together at the factory, but that would be impossible once the final teardown began.
Keep in mind that once the car goes into the teardown stage described in Part 2, you are not going to be able to take any more photos of how things were put together at the factory. Once the car is apart, all you'll have are separate pieces that need to be put together again in just the right way. If you kept a good photo archives of the project, rebuilding your car will be a lot easier. All you'll need to do is take out the photos you snapped and follow them as a guide to proper re-assembly of the vehicle.
Up to this point, your restoration project has involved fairly clean work. Now start rolling up your sleeves and putting on your mechanic's gloves. Tearing a car apart can be a messy job.
[Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of 22 articles covering these Resto-Mod projects. Be sure to check back for more. Hope you enjoy them!]