Resto-Mod Restorations — Part 4: Removing Doors, Trunks, Gas Tank and Paint
Jeff Noll's 1967 Camaro and Jim Mokwa's 1969 GTO did not have grilles, bumpers, front fenders and hoods when they got the cars. Both cars did not have engines in them. In fact, both didn't have a lot of things, but they still had paint on the remaining body parts and some rust. The old paint was not salvageable and had to be removed before new paint could be applied. The rust spots on both cars were not bad, but the corrosion had to be dealt with. In this installment we are going to discuss paint removal. The next article will focus on rust removal.
As Jeff Noll started to disassemble his Camaro he found a lot of dirty and oxidized metal that had to be "cleaned" if he hoped to do a good restoration.
Essentially, both of the restorers were faced with the job of starting to prepare their car for bodywork and paint. Yet, there was plenty of work left facing them. They still had to remove the doors and trunk lid on each vehicle. Both men rebuild their door hinges. The gas tanks had to be safely removed from under both cars. They had to get the old paint blasted away. Since media blasting doesn't take care of all the rust, they still had that problem to deal with separately.
In one sense, Jeff Noll and Jim Mokwa had a jump on the job at hand, because their cars were already partially taken apart. This is actually a very common situation, but it is really not the best one. Auto body repair professionals will tell you that every panel on a car has to be in alignment with the hood. In other words, if the hood doesn't mate perfectly with the main body structure, the grille, fenders and doors won't line up properly either. So, our heroes actually were faced with putting the hood back on the car and getting it in perfect alignment, so that all the other parts could be attached in relation to it.
In short, having the front sheet metal off the car would make it easier to get at the frame and engine bay and front suspension to refresh and rebuild things in those areas, but it wasn't going to make doing great bodywork any easier. And when you are restoring a vehicle to take to car shows and use and value as a collector car, you want nothing less than great bodywork.
Taking the doors off a car is really pretty easy. As you can see on Jim's '69 GTO door, it is held on by bolts running through hinges attached to the cowl. Undo the fasteners and remove the bolts and the door will lift off.
Taking the Doors Off
Taking the doors off a car is really pretty easy. The doors are held on by bolts running through hinges attached to the cowl. Undo the fasteners and remove the bolts and the door will lift off. It's heavy, so make sure that you bring a helper along. When you're restoring a car, you'll want to remove the doors for body and paintwork. Rebuilding the door hinges is inexpensive and highly recommended. Both Jeff Noll and Jim Mokwa rebuilt their car's door hinges.
We already told you car doors are heavy. A typical Camaro door weighs over 100 lbs. The GTO is a bigger car with bigger and heavier doors. The weight of the doors puts a strain on the hinges from the time the car is new. After 30-40 years, you'll probably find that the doors on your car no longer close properly. To check the condition of a hinge, simply swing the door open and try to wiggle it. The door shouldn't move. If the hinge was new, this action would actually move the car. However, the doors on nearly all old cars will wiggle at least a little bit.
Broken door handles are a sign of worn door hinges. To latch a door swinging on a bad hinge, you have to lift it into place. After a couple months of lifting the door up and slamming it shut, the outside door handle will break in half. While the car is being used and driven, this can sometimes be "tweaked" by trying the following procedure involving two people, a floor jack, some wood shims and lots of persistence. Loosen the door hinge, remove the striker on the door jamb, then use the jack under the door with a piece of wood between the two. Set the door bottom on a wood shim so it's not scraping the door sill. Position the door by eyeball, then tighten the hinge bolts. Check the operation of the door. It should be smooth and the gap between the rear and bottom of the door should be the same at the quarter panel and the rocker panel. Torque up the hinge bolts and install the striker somewhat tight. Shut the door and the striker will move slightly into proper position. Then, torque the striker to specs.
If you're removing the door as part of a restoration, plan on rebuilding the hinges. A 1967-1969 Camaro Door Hinge Pin and Bushing Repair Kit costs $14.95. (By the way, the same kit will work on Firebirds of these years and 1968-1979 Novas). One kit rebuilds all four door hinges (left and right, upper and lower). The kit includes bronze bushings, hardened high grade steel hinge pins and e-clips. GTO kits are similar. "I put new pins and bushings in the GTO's hinges myself," Jim Mokwa told us. "This made it a much simpler job to get the doors in proper alignment and made them easier to open and close later on."
To replace the hinges on a 1969 GTO, open the door and support it with a board on a jack. Remove the bolts going from each hinge to the door first. Some home restorers buy a special S-shaped wrench for hinge bolt removal, but you can also use just a regular Â½-inch open-end wrench and a socket. Trace the positions of the old hinges with a marker. Do this on both the car and the doors before you remove the doors. Then, you'll be able to put the rebuilt hinges back on in the same positions they were before. Have a helper hold each door while you take the hinge bolts out. Then, place each door on a pad or piece of carpet.
Once a door is off, you can easily remove each hinge from the car. It is a good idea to tape up the front edges of the doors and the rear edges of the fenders, to avoid any chance of chipping paint off while removing the doors. After you replace parts with pieces from the hinge rebuilding kit, put the hinges back on the car in the spots where you traced the old hinges. Since you're rebuilding the hinges, you may have to make final adjustments to their precise positions.
Jeff and Jim both removed the trunk lids from their cars. This is another nuts and bolts operation that can be accomplished with an open end wrench, a box wrench or socket wrench.
Trunk Lid Removal
Jeff and Jim both removed the trunk lids from their cars. This is another nuts and bolts operation that can be accomplished with an open end wrench, a box wrench or socket wrench. As they did with the door hinges, they trace around the position of the hinge where it attaches to the underside of the trunk lid. Then unbolt the trunk lid. The hinges and springs can remain on the car.
Gas Tank Removal
Before removing the fuel tank, remove any gas that is still in the tank so that its weight will be much lower than that of a full tank. You can suck the gas out with a siphon tool or disconnect the outlet hose at the sending unit or at the fuel pump inlet and lightly pressurize the tank. This will force the gas into a container or another car's tank. Cut the rubber hose that runs from the sending unit to the fuel line on the frame. Remove the two nuts for the straps, just up behind rear valance. Pull the straps down and lower the tank. tank You may have to spray the nuts and studs that hold the tank up with Liquid Wrench penetrating oil. If so, let things sit overnight and it should be easy to loosen the fasteners so that you can very easily unscrew the gas tank support straps.
The Camaro gas tank (this one on Larry Fechter's restored '69 Z/28) is held on by two straps. Remove the two nuts for the straps, just up behind rear valance. Then, pull the straps down and lower the tank.
While you're working under the car, remove the sending unit from the gas tank and ground the sending unit to the body. Later, when putting the car back together, you should check the gas gauge to make sure it works before doing the re-install. During the re-install, you should use duct tape to hold the tan wire (GM) in a tank groove to prevent it from being crushed when bolting the tank back into the car. If the wire is crushed it may fall off and you'll have to drop the tank again.
Once you undo the straps (as seen here) and remove the gas tank, you'll gain access to the trunk floor above the tank. Hopefully it isn't full of rust.
When you get all the straps loose and disconnect the sending unit and fuel line hose, it's time to lower the tank. A lot of home restorers use a floor jack with a piece of wood between the jack pad and the tank. Some use the clingy plastic that shippers wrap palletized merchandise with to "tie" the tank to the jack so it doesn't slide around. Before the tank comes off, you have to separate the rubber neck from the gas filler tube. This is easy to remove, but harder to re-install.
Cleaning the Metal (Camaro)
When we talk about "cleaning the metal" we don't mean giving the car a bath with soap and water. Clean metal is metal that has no dirt, old paint or other contaminants on it. Restorers will want to save as much of the factory original sheet metal as possible. This is done by cleaning the metal and the first part of cleaning metal is removing the existing finish. Only after the old finish has been removed can a restorer accurately assess how much rust is in the car and how much bodywork the vehicle will require. Step one involves cleaning the metal that can be saved and keeping it clean until the car can be completely repainted.
Jeff Noll took the do-it-yourself route in removing the old paint from his 1967 Camaro. In fact, you could say that he removed most of the blue paint that was on the car "by hand." He used an orbital sander to strip the old finish, moving along slowly and doing one section of the car at a time. This method was the best one for him, because he was restoring the car in his garage at home and had a limited amount of specialized blasting equipment to get the job done.
Sanding paint off a vehicle in this manner can be laborious and dirty work. Jeff took his time and kept at it throughout the summer and fall of 2004 as he stripped down other parts of the car. He also discovered rust in places like the edges of the rear wheel housings, the floor pans and the underside of the trunk floor. Fortunately, none of it was too severe, but new rear quarter panels would be needed. This is a common problem on First Generation Camaros. He also discovered rust around the side windows that he couldn't get at with a sander.
Jeff Noll used his cherry picker hoist to raise the rear of the car up so that he could media blast the bottom of the body. He used a 4 x 4 and sturdy chains to support the car.
Since the Camaro was Jeff's very first restoration project, he paid a visit to Young's Auto, in Muskego, Wis., to get advice and then eventually borrowed some equipment. Bruce Young went out of his way to help Jeff and the two men stayed in touch every few weeks so Bruce could provide guidance on the next bodywork phase of the job. In October, Bruce loaned Jeff a gravity feed blaster so he could clean up the areas on the car he could not get with an orbital sander.
Jeff used sand as his blasting media and did not blast the whole car, although the pictures he took of this job make it look that way. Bruce Young told him that sandblasting straight body panels could potentially warp them, so Jeff stuck to using the orbital sander to strip body panels like fenders and doors. Since he used a relatively hard blasting media, he was able to remove some rust along with the paint. Then, with wheels and tires on the Camaro, he lifted the rear of the car fairly high in the air by using a cherry picker type engine hoist.
To safely support the stripped down body in such a fashion, Jeff ran hefty webbed tie-down straps through the tail light opening in the rear body panel and then to a heavy 4 x 4 piece of metal tubing he hung from the crane on a sturdy logging chain. This allowed him to blast the Camaro's undercar areas. The large upright air compressor in his garage sucked the sand from a canister placed near the passenger side of the car. He had a large tarp spread out under it to collect the sand. Then, he picked the sand up with a shop vac. To avoid breathing in silica particles from the blasting sand, Jeff wore a full hood whenever he blasted.
Jeff had plastic sawhorses positioned nearby to support other individual parts, such as the doors and he worked them on at the same time. With his protective hood on and the blast hose slung over his shoulder, Jeff sandblasted the inside door structure, again using a tarp to catch the sand residue. As noted earlier, since silica sand is a relatively hard blasting media, it did take away some of the rust on the Camaro as it stripped off the old paint and other contaminants.
After blasting rust in various parts of the car began to show up clearer. The front windshield frame was going to require repairs.
There was so much hidden rust in the rear deck lid area that Jeff would wind up salvaging only the trunk lip and welded in all-new quarters and other panels.
Jeff blasted small parts by placing them in a large wooden box and directing his blast media into it. It worked a little like a media blasting cabinet.
Jeff blasted some small parts by holding them over a wooden box and using a special gun designed just for doing smaller parts. He was careful to wear gauntlet type leather gloves while blasting, as the pressurized sand can blast away skin. Blasting medias bite into the metal, giving it a gray color and a slightly porous texture. Pretty soon the underside of the car looked like it had been coated with gray primer, which is exactly what you should really do next. Jeff sprayed a Dupont epoxy primer on the areas he had blasted to prevent flash rust from forming on the clean metal when it almost immediately got exposed to air.
Cleaning the Metal (GTO)
Like many home restorers, Jim Mokwa took a second approach to having his GTO body blasted and repaired. He knew that he could restore the chassis and take care of the power plant requirements at home, but he decided to play general contractor and hire the cosmetic body tasks out. To save some money, he used one shop set up for blasting to get the metal clean. Then he took the car to his friend Leo, who had traveled to Washington State with him, for other jobs.
Soda Blasting Alternative
Soft blasting media including poly, walnut shell and corn husk strip auto bodies, but require lots of clean up and leave residues in openings. An option is soda blasting, which allows stripping paint with trim, rubber and glass in place.
Soda blasting does not heat and warp panels and leaves surfaces (even aluminum and fiberglass) smooth since soda particles turn into dust after striking paint. Soda leaves a light, dusty protective film that washes out of seams and crevices with water. It's completely inert and water soluble to ease clean up. Soda also cleans complex mechanical assemblies like transmissions and axles without harm. You can soda blast an engine bay without hurting wiring.
Eastwood tool company sells soda blasting media, several soda blasters and retrofit kits to convert other kinds of blasters into a soda blasters.
The plan was that Leo Coonen would take care of the body and paintwork once the first shopâ€”owned by Lowell Johnsonâ€”blasted the car. According to Jim, Leo works at his own pace because he's a perfectionist. "At one point, I told him I had 50 hours into just stopping at his shop to check on the car," Mokwa recalls. "But Leo is now 65. He's to the point where he will only work on a car if he likes it and he told me this may have been the last one he would work on."
At Johnson's Auto Body Shop in Waupaca, Wisconsin, Lowell Johnson had a body rotisserie that he mounted the chassis-less GTO body in so that he could blast the exterior panels, as well as inside and underneath the car. Johnson used a gentle glass bead media to strip the GTO of its original maroon paint. The media was hard enough to take off paint, but too soft to remove rust.
Jim also brought along some front end sheet metal parts that Oraville—the man he purchased the GTO from—had given him when he sold the car. These included the Endura nose, the grille, the valance panel, the front fenders and the hood. Jim also took the doors and trunk lid that he had removed to Lowell Johnson's shop. He held onto the convertible top frame assembly and stripped the paint off that himself, before taking it to a third shop to have a top installed.
The car's previous owner had given Jim the Endura nose, the grille, the valance panel, the front fenders and the hood. So, he took them to his blaster.
Once Lowell Johnson had the GTO body and other individual parts media blasted, he applied a coat of light gray epoxy primer to protect the now clean metal on the car from flash rust. Then, Jim Mokwa came back to the shop with his trailer to pick the prime-coated body up and tow it over to Leo Coonen's shop.
After the body was blasted at Lowell Johnson's body shop, Jim began to apply some yellow chromate primer.
One advantage of working like this was the ability to keep some parts of the project moving along, while waiting for Leo Coonen to get the bodywork done. At his home, Jim and a mechanic friend worked on getting the frame refinished and installing the drive train. The engine build was completed by a fourth shop, Butler Performance of Leoma, Tennessee. Meanwhile, Dave Kasper—also of Waupaca—did the installation of the new convertible top. Jim's project was like a 3-ring circus at times. However, he did a good job of overseeing all the work and bringing things together at the end of the road. The idea is, if you save time you save money.