How far is too far gone? From what we can tell, there's no such thing when it comes to first-gen Camaros. Put bluntly, there's literally nothing on an early F-body that can't be repaired or replaced. Once upon atime, body maladies, whether traumatic (think impact damage) or chronic (rust and other body rot), were major impediments to restoring a classic musclecar, especially those of the unibody variety. These days, if there's enough metal present to support a VIN tag, then there's enough car left to resurrect. We saw this firsthand during our visit to C. Hopkins Rod & Custom in Cleveland, Georgia, and recorded the process as proprietor Craig Hopkins and crew refreshed the cancer-ridden floorpan in a '68 big-block Camaro with a Goodmark Industries one-piece replacement panel.
To reiterate, there's almost no piece found within the confines of a '67-69 Camaro body shell that isn't being reproduced. Accordingly, there's almost no body piece C. Hopkins Rod & Custom can't-or won't-replace. For that matter, if you send the shop your derelict first-gen and $15,500, the whole thing will be rebuilt, "from rockers to roof & firewall to tail panel," as it says on the Web site. Our subject matter for this report is considerably less ambitious than a full rebuild, but replacing an F-body floorpan is a job unto itself-and a critical one at that.
As most of you know, Camaros are unibody cars. There's no ladder-type frame running from one end of the car to the other, such as what you'd find under a Chevelle. Rather, Camaros consist of a multilayered body shell-the unibody-which acts as the chassis. In this particular unibody configuration, called semi-unitized, a front subframe is employed to attach the front suspension and steering to the unibody. The bottom line, however, is that whatever structural strength the car has is provided by that body shell, of which the floorpan is a crucial part.
"The floorpan of a unibody car ties its structure together," says Hopkins. "Replacing a rotting floorpan returns integrity to the car." Do we even have to tell you why a Camaro unibody lacking structural integrity is a bad thing? At the risk of beating a dead horse, we'll make the point again: In a unibody car, the floorpan is actually part of the chassis. If the floorpan is compromised-and after 40 years use and exposure to the elements, many of them are-so is chassis strength. Truth be told, we can't think of any type of early Camaro build, wild or mild, in which this type of deficiency is acceptable.
Given the structural importance of the floorpan in a Camaro unibody setup, choosing the proper replacement part is critical. Hopkins' new panel of choice is Goodmark Industries' one-piece replacement floorpan. This relatively new stamping includes both the center and rear seat braces, and comes electrodeposit-primer coated for rust protection. Welding in a single-piece pan also maintains a factory appearance, but remember, we're going for more than looks here. "The greatest benefit to installing a one-piece floor," Hopkins tells us, "is that it duplicates the factory build." This means it also duplicates the factory structure, thereby maintaining-or restoring-chassis strength and integrity.
As you might suspect, this is not a job for the inexperienced-or the ill-equipped. On the first count, Hopkins brings 35-plus-year experience to the table, and he and his crew do nothing but install new body panels. Hopkins actually designed and built the Camaro jigs used during panel replacement, allowing every car to be registered to factory specs each time. In fact, Hopkins has upgraded his jigs since our visit, developing a more precise version that also allows vertical measurements, useful for tasks such as firewall replacement.
If you think the whole deal sounds very involved and complicated, well, you're right. But given that the job involves actually taking structure out of a Camaro unibody and then replacing that structure without sacrificing chassis strength or alignment, this is one you don't want to get wrong. Follow along as we show you the highlights of this first-gen floorpan R&R.