In the last two months, we've followed along as Auto Metal Direct's Installation Center stripped our 1969 Camaro from a complete roller to a bare skeletal frame of rockers, A-pillars, C-pillars, and some inner roof braces. Once the bones were picked clean, they started rebuilding the carcass with reproduction panels, just like GM originally assembled the unibody platform nearly 45 years ago. (Cue the opening monologue to The Six Million Dollar Man.)
The question always comes up: "Why rebuild the body to this degree, when you could order a replacement body and swap VINs?" We asked Craig Hopkins, head guy at the AMD Installation Center, and learned there are a couple of answers. First and foremost, "It's a real car." What's that mean, exactly? It means the car has legally had the VIN number moved from a rusted, rotted, or accident-damaged piece of sheetmetal, and it has been transferred to a replacement panel required to repair the damaged area. Removing the VIN from one body and attaching it to another body is illegal, but moving it in the process of a repair due to rust or accident damage is not. Now, we'll be the first to admit this is a gray area—to us it's like George Washington's Axe: It's George's Original Axe sitting there in the museum, and in 250 years it's only had the handle replaced three times and the head replaced twice.
But, the law is the law, and it not only varies from Federal to State, but it also varies from state to state as far as titles and registration are concerned because a complete reproduction body assembly, ordered and shipped from a company, starts getting into the kit car area, and some states are much harder to register kit cars than others.
The other important point is that the reproduction bodies are made from 100 percent reproduction sheetmetal panels. And while we're grateful for the repro panel industry, we all have to admit the fit and finish isn't exactly like the original in most cases. This isn't the kind of thing we like to talk about in the magazine business, but everyone in the hobby knows we've all had to tweak, bend, cut, or modify reproduction panels to get them to bolt into place. It's not a problem if you're dealing with a fender, or a quarter-panel, or a rocker panel, or any other individual piece going onto a body—but when you're building an entire, 100 percent reproduction body, you run the risk of multiplying tolerance and fitment issues … it's like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. The third-generation copy won't have nearly the resolution (tolerances) as a copy made of the original.
It's very rare that at least some parts of an original body can't be used, while the critical dimensions of what's left of an original body can almost always be used even if the panels are rotted to oblivion: rocker panel length and measurements from original body reference points, doorjambs, door opening dimensions, relationships from package trays and rear seat bulkheads, dash to A-pillar dimensions, original firewall mounting and reference points to rear framerail mounting and reference points, and front leaf-spring mounting points, to name several examples.
Adding reproduction panels to what's left of an original body—or its mounting and reference points—will yield a foundation more like the one GM originally built.
This month we watched the guys at AMD create a floorpan assembly (with mini-tubs), and join the whole thing to the body's skeleton they rebuilt last month. Next month they'll button up the body with external sheetmetal.