1969 Chevy Camaro Restoration: Part 2

Jigsaw Puzzle

Brad Ocock Oct 31, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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We've been following along as Auto Metal Direct's Installation Center stripped our 1969 Camaro down in preparation for sheetmetal replacement.

We have to admit, we were surprised by the amount of damage from rust and previous repairs. Remember, this was a running, driving car we had fun with—it wasn't some pile on its last legs on its way to the scrapper. The car had more than a little exposure to body filler, pop rivets, sheetmetal screws, and a MIG welder, making it "good enough" to get back on the road.

The more we took it apart, the more damage and hacked repair work was exposed. This isn't an experience unique to us: We all know guys who have spent big money to have a car restored somewhere, only to take it to another shop and learn they threw their money away on hacked bodywork.

Craig Hopkins, owner of AMD's Installation Center, has fixed a lot of other shops' sketchy sheetmetal work. Their process is fairly straight-forward: after studying what order the panels were originally assembled, AMD uses jigs and gauges made to factory specs found in the factory shop manuals, disassembles the body down to usable metal, and reassembles the body in the same order the factory did.

And though very involved, the process is fairly straightforward. However, that said, it's not simply a matter of whipping out the welder and blue-gluing the new metal together once it's clamped in place—instead, they use a process called three-phase water-cooled spot welding, and their equipment is certified to weld all domestic, including European modes, which produces a factory finish to their builds. To get the job handled, we only elected to use the high-quality sheetmetal from Auto Metal Direct. Hopkins and his crew hand-fit each panel, and if it's not just right, they detail it until it is. The end result is an original, restored body with factory VIN numbers, hand-fitted together as good or better than the mass-produced originals.

This month we follow along as they get the roof bracing, firewall, and rocker panels back into shape.

Stripped 2/23

This is pretty much how we left the Camaro last month—just about as stripped as a car can be...just about. There’s a lot of rotten meat still to be stripped off the carcass.

Replace Roof 3/23

Any roof braces that are thin or rusted get replaced. For this car, it was the windshield header only, but other cars frequently need the sidepieces above the door glass, and the one at the rear of the roof above the back glass replaced as well.

Past Inner Rocker 4/23

Here’s a shot of the high-quality floor and inner rocker repair work done by a previous shop. Pop rivets can be structural members, right? The entire rocker assembly will be removed.

Height Of Rocker 5/23

This is a critical dimension—the height of the rocker panel, from a fixed location on the jig; in this case, the "fixed" location is a piece of box tubing clamped across the jig’s frame to use as a reference point. This dimension is critical as it locates the door gap along the bottom of the car.

Location Of Rocker Fore 6/23

Another critical dimension is the location of the rocker fore/aft, from the bottom of the firewall to the rear wheel opening. AMD has a dedicated shop tram that registers at the firewall master pin; their tram has an adjustable setup at the wheel opening end to allow them to make sure it stays accurate, and can check it against a known measurement. All cars of this era have anomalies and AMD tries to keep the inner structure in the same place it was when it left the factory; GM built these cars from the inside out and AMD has to use the inside and build from the outside.

Subframe Mount Dowel 7/23

At the front of the rocker, on the firewall there’s a factory alignment dowel hole on the subframe mount. AMD registers the rocker jig there.

Adjustable Stop 8/23

An adjustable stop is set against the back of the rocker, which is also the front of the rear wheel opening, giving us the installed length of the rocker panel for this particular body.

Old Rocker Assembly 9/23

Once the rocker jig measurement is set, it’s removed and the old rocker assembly is cut away.

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