Putting a car back together after a restoration involves an awesome amount of organization, planning, skill and determination, as well as a good deal of manual labor blended with absolute stubbornness. You will have to locate all the parts you removed from the car, buy new parts such as fasteners and motor mounts, identify all the specific holes you took fasteners out of, install and tighten nuts and bolts, hook up electrical connections, make adjustments, tape wires, route hoses, attach and test a variety of parts, move, position and attach heavy body sections, push, pry and prod things back into their proper relationships, grease, oil and lubricate pieces and hope that everything works.
Sounds like great fun—doesn't it? We call it "Humpty-Dumpty" work!
After all of the bad sheet metal in Jeff Noll's Camaro was replaced with new parts, he began the long process of putting it back together. Jeff stretched his project out a bit. He purchased the car on May 23, 2004 and it wasn't until four years later that he started showing it. As in many life endeavors, patience is a virtue when it comes to automobile restoration and the end results of Jeff's four years of expenses and work was a Resto-Mod worth waiting for.
You'll remember that he had covered the car with the beige epoxy primer to seal out moisture and prevent future rust while he was doing the reassembly work. He then sprayed the underside of the floor with Eastwood Chassis Black paint to give it a GM factory look. By March 2005, things were beginning to look pretty good. The door edges had been contoured to fit the new rear quarter panels and then re-welded for a perfect fit. Like the factory rocker panels, the original front fenders were in very good shape and required minimal bodywork.
Much of Jeff's project was done on the hobbyist level, although you would never know that when you see the final results. As an example, to blast small parts, Jeff placed them in a wooden box outdoors on his driveway and used a gun to spray media into the box. He wore heavy gloves and a hood. Door panels were rested on sawhorses and blasted using the same equipment and gear.
Jeff did not rush the job. The first coat of tan epoxy primer was applied to the fully repaired rear body section on Aug. 14, 2005. Five months later, with the body supported on jack stands in his garage, Jeff applied his sanding guide coat. It wasn't until August 2006 that Jeff was in the final phase of bodywork. By then, the car was back on wheels and tires. Jeff installed the new Goodmark cowl-induction hood, straightening the edges to match the original fender lines. The header panel also had to be matched to the slope of the hood. In September 2006, the entire front end was prime coated and Jeff added the rear spoiler.
In 1967, the RS or "Rally Sport" model-option could be added to any Camaro with any engine. So, as part of Jeff Noll's project, he decided to convert his car into a Camaro RS as described in an earlier article in this series. Each of these little jobs was part of the big job of making the Camaro whole again.
The trunk floor was another original piece that was in great shape on Jeff's car. It had only minor surface rust and no holes. After removing the surface rust, Jeff cleaned the sheet metal and finished it with spackle paint, which he then clear coated. Finally, new rubber plugs were installed in the trunk floor openings.
After installing a new sub-frame in June 2004, Jeff built his front suspension with many modifications. He painted the rear axle and installed his new Motive Gear set with the help of drag racer Frank Dickenburger. All new brake components were installed. The original gas tank was refinished and re-installed. The rear suspension was rebuilt, painted up and installed, using lowering blocks to achieve just the right stance. This phase of the project was completed by May 11, 2006 and brought him one step closer to completion.
The crate engine was painted — as were its accessories. It was dropped in the car on March 19, 2005. Thee Magna-Flow exhaust system was installed. Jeff focused a lot on tiny, but important details. The exhaust tips were cut to match the angle of the rear quarter panel, polished and hung with custom-made hardware. The car was started for the first time on March 27, 2007. An April test drive down the driveway was one of the most exciting cruises Jeff ever took.
At this point, the red GMC wrecker was called in again to move the Camaro to Jamie's Customs for paint. A Dupont No. 1 shade sealer was used on all of the body parts before the Dupont Hugger Orange base coat clearcoat 2-stage paint system was applied. After the first three clear coats, the body was wet sanded and the hood and deck lid were prepared for a Black Rally Stripe kit from Classic Industries. The refinished car came back home in October 2007.
Jeff Noll then began final assembly work. This involved things like cleaning it up from the body shop and installation of the grille, spoiler and trim. The wheels and tires were fitted and by the time the snow was falling that year, the side windows were back in the car. The final steps were installation of the windshield and backlight and the interior. The dashboard had to be painted twice. Then, new carpeting was installed. Since May of 2008, Jeff's '67 Camaro coupe has picked up Camaro First in Class, Best of Class and Best of Show awards.
All removable body panels like the front fenders, hood, doors and rear deck lid need to be fitted carefully when the car is put back together. Since even slightly bending or tweaking a painted panel to fit better can damage the new finish, Leo Coonan and Jim Mokwa fully assembled the GTO body on the frame before the parts were primed to check door fit and panel alignments. Then, once they were satisfied, they disassembled the complete car again and removed the body from the frame before it was put back on the dolly for its final paint.
When the GTO body initially went off Leo's body shop, Jim Mokwa started working on his mechanical restoration. The rear axle had already been cleaned up when the man brought a mobile sandblasting unit to Jim's home and blasted the entire chassis. Jim then removed the axle and supported it on three large jack stands so he could carefully paint by brushing on POR-15 rust-inhibiting paint. He then re-attached the axle to the frame of the car, which had also been refinished in matching black. Next, Jim mounted the rear wheels and tires.
At the front of the chassis, Jim attached the cleaned and refinished A-arms and coil springs. His front sway bar was painted silver gray, nearly matching the steely look of the aftermarket disc brake system components. With no tires or wheels mounted and the front frame rails supported on jack stands, Jim used a crane to lower the silver blue engine block, cylinder heads and water pump assembly into proper position. Clean rags were used to fill all openings so that no foreign material got into the motor. The steering linkage (also painted silver gray) was bolted together and installed in its proper position.
Next, the clutch and bellhousing were attached to the rear of the engine, before the engine crane and a strap sling were used to hold the Tremec gearbox level and move it into place. The transmission was then bolted to the cross member below it using rubber donut style mounts as vibration dampeners. Then the five-spoke front wheels were put on the spindles. The exhaust headers were bolted in place on the engine and all-new dual X-pipe style exhaust system parts were routed through the chassis. Then, the propeller shaft was installed between the transmission's tailpiece and the rear axle. During this phase of assembly, the radiator and grille support framework was installed at the front.
With the 400-cid V-8 in the chassis, Jim installed the valve covers, the intake manifold, the huge four-barrel carburetors, the slim line air cleaner and the spark plug wires and the other ignition system components. The alternator, power steering pump, coolant hoses and other front engine accessories were put in place. The aftermarket aluminum radiator was attached and plumbed up.
Meanwhile, in the body shop, Leo had the tub perched on a dolly so he could move it around and work on the body panel alignments. As mentioned earlier, whenever a car is completely taken apart, all panel fits will need to be checked, tested and adjusted over and over and over again. Some restorers we know take a body apart as many as eight times to get every margin and seam right. When the panel fits were good, a gantry style crane with a chain hoist for lifting was rolled above the body so it could be lifted straight up with the hoist.
The body was then carefully loaded onto the frame. Using new mounts, it was bolted into its proper position. Then the front fenders were installed, attaching them to both the firewall and the frame. This was not the final "body drop" however. Instead, it was just a test fit made before everything was again disassembled, removed from the chassis and individually primed and painted. Even the hood, doors and trunk lid were taken off again — this time for refinishing.
Jim's GTO was sanded, primed and painted following the standard processes already covered in earlier articles in this series. The painting was done in Leo's body shop. Leo has a relatively dust-free room in the shop with pipes suspended from the ceiling on chains. He hung the panels from the pipes, using heavy wires to support them. The body panels and the Endura nose were then all sprayed individually. The body itself re-mounted on the rolling dolly to be sprayed. Since the doors were once again removed from the body, bracing was re-installed to keep it from sagging or settling, which would affect panel fits.
After allowing adequate drying time, the parts were carefully placed on an open trailer and transported back to Jim Mokwa's home for final assembly. The painted body was lowered on to the finished chassis with the gantry crane and bolted in place. Then, Jim began the tedious work of routing wires, installing electrical cooling fans, mounting radio speakers, attaching and adjusting hood, door and trunk latches, reattaching bright trim and badges, applying GTO decals, installing new rubber body seals and gaskets, replacing the glass and so on.
Augusta of Steele Rubber Products (www.steelerubber.com) says that the phase of restoration that he knows best is one that protects the work and money lavished on a Resto-Mod. After a car builder has invested heavily in a beautiful interior, an eye-popping coat of paint and many other upgrades, he or she wants to keep water sealed out of the car. "You don't want rain getting into your vehicle and destroying all your hard work," Agusta advised dozens of restorers during his seminar at the 2011 Hot Rod & Restoration Show. "The rubber seals and gaskets we make aren't glamorous, but they are important."
Steele makes rubber parts for GM and Mopar cars. Dennis Carpenter (www.dennis-carpenter.com) makes them for Fords. And various suppliers like Year One (www.yearone.com), Classic Industries (www.classicindustries.com), Auto Krafters (www.autokrafters.com) and Long Motor Company (www.longmotor.com), sell similar parts that are made by domestic and foreign manufacturers. One product that Steele has developed recently for restorers like Jeff Noll and Jim Mokwa is a Basic Kit that includes new door gaskets, roof rail rubber and trunk lid seals These are available for 130 GM models and 29 Mopars. The Basic Kits are priced at a 10 percent discount over individual parts.
Part of the Steele seminar focused on little off-the-beaten-path tools that come in handy when installing rubber parts on a Resto-Mod. One of the handiest is a small plastic tuck tool that is very useful when installing windshield gaskets or roof rail rubbers. The plastic material is firm enough to push and prod the rubber into position, but is soft so that it doesn't scratch up the car's new paint.
Masking tape is another item that rubber installers will use over an over as a tool. When putting in something like a rubber trunk seal, it's wise to mask the entire area so none of the new paint is scratched. Masking tape can also be used to carefully lay out a straight line where you want to apply a piece of weather stripping. It also comes in handy for marking the center of the windshield opening when installing the glass. You can then mark the center of the top of the windshield glass with a Sharpie. When you match up the marks, you'll be starting your install from the center and that means there will be less chance of breaking the glass as you set it into the rubber molding and pull the rubber over the glass.
When you are putting a windshield in, you can use a cord to pull the rubber over the pinch and set the glass in place. If the windshield has nice round corners, use a 1/4-inch cotton clothes line because it's the easiest to grab and pull on. However, if the windshield has sharp corners, you should use a smaller-diameter cord. Try something along the lines of a 1/16- or 1/8-inch cord. What will happen as you get into tighter corners is that the cord itself is going to get in the way of pulling the rubber over the pinch. So, you have to think: smaller cord with sharp corners and larger cord with nice round corners.
Augusta also keeps a package of Silly Putty in his toolbox because you can get this "toy" almost anywhere, while modeling clay is a bit harder to find. You can use the Silly Putty to find important dimensions. For example, if you need to know how thick of a piece of rubber you need to use in a door opening, take the Silly Putty and wrap it in Saran Wrap. Then put this combination into any area of the door gap you want to measure. Clothes the door on the wrapped putty and it will take the form of the door gap. Measure the thickness and look for a piece of rubber with a profile that's just slightly taller than your measurement.
Use wire-on tags to tag everything. That way you'll know exactly how to put things back together again. Write all important information right on the tag: where things came out, how they came out and how they go back on again. Small string tags can be used, but these tend to get dirty very fast and sometimes they tear off the strings. Larger tags made of heavier tan "oaktag" paper are better and also give you more room to write your notes out on them.
Sharpie marker pens are also handy to have in a tool box. If you're removing a windshield and its got dozens of shiny reveal moldings on it. Chances are you might forget where each piece goes and its exact orientation. You'll get the windshield nice and clean and ready to go back on the car and then you'll realize that you don't remember if the side pierce came from the left or right side and which direction its upright is supposed to point in. If you use a Sharpie, you can mark each piece "r" or "L" and draw arrows towards the direction the upright should point in. You'll know how to do the install and won't have to do it twice.
In addition to tool tips, Augusta had some technical advice for builders who are having new glass made for their Resto-Mods. He said that if the glass is cut 3/32- to 1/4-inch short, it's going to fit too loose when installed. But, you do have to leave the correct clearance around the glass or you'll either not get it installed or you'll break it when trying to install it. The clearance you want to have for a perfect fit and easy install is 1/32- to 1/16-inch.
If you're installing your rubber using a weather strip cement, apply the adhesive with a doctor's tongue depressor or a Popsicle stick. You should first apply a really thin layer of cement on the rubber and on the car body. Let it get tacky. Then put one more thin layer on just one side this time. Push the rubber carefully in place and it will adhere just like its contact cement and set up quickly.
Using thicker layers of cement will create a big mess and will not provide better adhesion. Another thing to avoid is putting the tacky piece down, pulling it back off and putting it down again. If you do this you might as well throw the rubber out as you've killed any chance of it staying in place for a long time.
Steele has a new line of adhesive backed peel-and-stick rubber parts. Only 3M adhesive is used. It actually costs more than the rubber and raises the price of the parts, but it works the best. The painted surface that the rubber is going on must be clean, smooth and flat. It works really good on fiberglass cars.
Augusta said rubber parts just a 15th bigger than spec have the power to bend trunk hinges or warp a trunk lid. Steele has brought out a new light-density sponge rubber that helps achieve a good fit without excess pressure.