In the realm of automotive rebuilds, nothing can top the bragging rights that come with performing a "frame-off restoration." But as much as we respect a ground-up rebuild effort, we should point out that the "frame-off" phrase is tossed around improperly by a large contingent of Chevy fans. Take early Camaro owners, for example. Their cars don't even have full frames, so how can they truly say that they've performed a "frame-off" resto? Technically speaking, a first-rate rebuild on a first-gen Camaro should be termed a "subframe-off" restoration.
Semantics aside, there's no better way to completely restore and properly detail your Camaro's chassis than to pull the front subframe off and rebuild it. This is a pretty involved procedure, but it's one that more and more enthusiasts are undertaking in order to make their Camaros as clean and detailed as possible. And while a lot of folks are improvising when it comes to re-assembling and detailing their subframes, we wanted to show how to put one back together in a manner consistent with what originally came off the assembly line. So we hooked up with the first-generation Camaro experts at American Muscle Cars for a lesson in by-the-book subframe restoration.
From a mechanical standpoint, restoring a Camaro subframe is pretty straightforward. It essentially involves replacing worn-out old parts (bushings, ball joints, steering box, etc.) with new or rebuilt components (most of which are available through American Muscle Cars). But what we wanted to concentrate on were the visual aspects, like proper paint colors and factory markings. So the AMC crew (Sal Perez, Ray Hagar, and Tim Warden) spent a couple of afternoons showing us the paints and procedures they use when restoring the subframes on their customers' cars.
Aside from a few components that are cadmium plated, two hues cover most parts on the subframe: semi-gloss black (AMC uses a PPG Delstar mix of 80 percent gloss black with 20 percent flattening agent) and cast-iron gray (they wouldn't disclose the PPG mix that they use, but did say that VHT's "Nu-Cast" gray is a good spray-can equivalent). Beyond that, the AMC crew goes so far as to duplicate the various inspection marks that assembly line workers used to show that they had examined assembled components and double-checked torque specifications. In fact, AMC sells a paint kit and instruction manual for do-it-yourselfers who want to duplicate these markings on their own cars. (While this story shows the inspection marks going on before the subframe components are assembled, most can also be applied once the parts are installed.)
As you might expect, there is some debate among restorers regarding the "most correct" way to detail certain subframe components. And since Camaros were built at more than one facility, there are bound to be a few minor discrepancies in production procedures. But experience and research has shown the craftsmen at American Muscle Cars that the following procedures and colors are accurate and correct for most first-generation Camaros. Check it out and see if the resto route is the way you want to go with your F-body subframe.