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Robert is the owner and creator of The MuscleCar Place. His passion for muscle cars drove the creation of this site and the podcasts that go with it.
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How to Take A Restoration from Good to Great: It’s The Small Things That Count!

Posted by on June 27, 2013 with 0 Comments
bst4

Color, gaps, and finish all help go from a “good” car to a “great” one…..but only time and care can produce great results!

The Big Things

There are a lot of things that make a car stand out on the car show field and that can also have a big impact on it’s value. First and foremost, the color is probably one of the biggest things that makes a car desirable (as well as making it pop), but it also can have a huge impact on it’s value. A beige Road Runner or Camaro compared to a Plum Crazy Purple Road Runner or Hugger Orange Camaro can change the car dramatically. Color can not only affect the desirability of the car, but can also affect the value by thousands of dollars.

Complimenting interior colors can also have a big impact on the visual appeal of the car. A Plum Crazy ‘Cuda with white interior can take your breath away; while the ‘ol beige exterior with brown interior special….. not so much. Of course, there’s always a catch, and changing the color from what it was born with can have a negative value as well.

The Small Things that are Big Things

fit2_400

Sometimes door gaps that won’t line up are actually a result of a door panel that’s simply not the same shape as the rest of the car. Careful bending is the only real solution.

Many times the difference between an outstanding build and a mediocre build is in the small things. Fit and finish is the thing that can make the difference between an amateur “shade tree” job and that of a high-end shop. With that established, when looking for a shop to build your car, and especially paint and body, check out their work and technique beforehand. Just don’t take their word for it or someone else’s word. Seeing is believing!

When evaluating their work, ask yourself a few simple questions:

1) Do the doors line up to the fenders and the quarter panels?

2) If the quarters have been replaced or worked, do they align with the doors, trunk lid and fender extensions?

Working with 30-40 year old Detroit Muscle, the challenge isn’t small. US car manufacturers weren’t known for their quality back in the day, and it’s really only in recent years that it’s become good).

We often find it a real challenge to get door gaps right on the Javelins and AMXs that we build. There is only so much movement to adjust the front fenders, and if the rear quarters are in the stock fixed location, you often just can’t get the door gaps right. It’s either too tight in the front, or too tight in the rear, and when it’s centered, the gaps are too wide on both ends. What to do? That’s the difference between an OK shop and a great shop.

fit1a_400

A frustrating thing about aligning panels…is thatfixing one end causes an issue with the other! It take a lot of patience to get it all corrected.

An OK shop will get it close and call it good. A great shop will take things a bit further, even sometimes resorting to welding and cutting. Most often, it involves welding a bead to the edge of the door to close the gap. Or, in the case of the deck lid, it often involves grinding the lip of the deck lid to create a wider gap along with another new bead of weld to finish it off.

Doors are also quite often “treaked” either from years of abuse or they came that way from the factory. Javelins and AMXs are notorious for having the bottom rear of the door stick out sometimes quite a lot; and it causes the door to not align with the quarter panel. That involves bending and twisting the door to get it right, and then tacking certain points on the door to keep it from going back.

Many of the Mopars of the day had the same issue. I remember my uncle buying a brand new Plymouth Satellite and taking it back to the dealer a dozen times to get the door right. It really ticked him off. What did the dealer end up doing? Taking the door off and bending it just like described above. Seems crude, but it worked, and it still works today. Of course having new hinge bushings and pins is an assumption, but that is a pre-requisite for any restoration work. Even with new hinges and/or new bushings and pins, most often that doesn’t fix the gaps or tweaked doors.

Hood, deck lid, and fender extension alignment is also critical for a top notch shop. A Javelin that came out of the ColoradoAMX shop last year required that the entire left and right sides of the deck lid had to be extended (bead of weld) to get decent gaps between the quarter panels.

In doing my own Big Bad Orange Javelin, I had to do the same thing to the leading edge of the doors. Not all cars have bolt on fender or quarter panel extensions, but most of the muscle cars did. How are they aligned? Many were made from pot metal castings, but some were made from injection molded plastic, as in the case of the 1970 Javelins and AMXs. Forty plus years of dried out plastic makes for interesting challenges to get the gaps right, and overcome any warping. Grinding, massaging with filler or fiberglass, patience and a good eye makes for a good fit and finish in this area.

fit_400

Gaps, gaps, and more gaps!

Bumpers are also an area that is often overlooked. Just because the bumper just came back from the chrome shop doesn’t mean it is right. If your old bumper fit well before the car came apart, make sure the chrome shop does YOUR bumper and not simply hand you someone else’s core (and yes, reproduction bumpers are hit and miss with regard to fit). Javelins and AMXs were a little unique in that the bumper ends were often recessed into the body as compared to a Camaro or Mustang where the ends extended beyond the body. This means bumper alignment is also critical or it will stand out if misaligned.

Another little tip before you lay down hard earned cash to a shop: ask how they prep and paint in critical areas like the engine bay and trunk. Do they mask off the wiring harness and bolt-on parts like the crossmember or suspension parts? Sure, it may be easier for the shop, but does that get you the best results in the end? The only reason to remove a part vs masking it off is time and effort…simply a shortcut. But if you want quality, the answer is simple.

I’ve seen some shops paint their engine bays without the crossmember removed; paint right over the bolt-on parts and then go back and re-paint the crossmember with semi-gloss black paint to cover over the body color. That’s the lazy man’s backyard restoration, certainly not what comes out of a high-end shop, and certainly not what you want if you are laying down your own hard-earned dollars for someone else to do the work.

If you intend to keep the original wiring harness, how much time does it take to remove the wiring harness, check for broken wires, re-wrap the main harness and re-install after the car is painted? You will end up paying for the shop’s short-cuts in the end if the parts aren’t prepped properly before paint or installation. Check out the shops technique and do your own research before you choose which shop you go with and work begins beyond looking at small photos on Internet web sites. Internet pictures can be very deceiving.

70RoadRunner

Our Plum Crazy ’70 Road Runner always grabs people’s attention….but there’s no way it would get as much if it were beige, right?

Now the argument is often made that going to this level is “over restoring” and that cars were never that good when they came off the line anyway. To some degree there is a bit of truth to that, but that’s just because of the poor workmanship on the line. The cars were never meant by the design studios to have half inch door gaps on one side of the door and an eighth of in inch on the other side… that was just poor quality on the assembly line. Dealers often had to deal with the unhappy customer on the receiving end (like my uncle).

I have seen cars go across the auction block that have bad gaps and poor alignment, but they are not the ones that take the big dollars. The guy that’s willing to plunk down serious cash for a newly restored muscle car (or restomod) wants it right and he wants it to look just as good years down the road because it was built with quality in mind.

So, to wrap this up from where I started, when looking for a top quality shop… look for the things that may initially seem like no big deal. Just because the car comes out with shiny new paint and all one color may make a good first impression when the car gets back in your hands…but those door, fender, and hood gaps, will nag you forever and WILL affect the value.

Wayne Davis

Colorado AMX Motorsports

coloradoamx@yahoo.com

Filed Under: Thoughts, Wayne Davis