1969 Chevy Camaro Restoration - Part 4

Jigsaw Puzzle - Finishing the Body

Brad Ocock Nov 14, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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In the last three issues, 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… a car can’t be more disassembled than this and still be called “a car”!

1969 Chevy Camaro Rendering 2/31

After the bare skeleton was picked clean, blasted and prepped, AMD started reassembling our Camaro the way GM did it—not just putting every panel in place, but doing it in pretty much the same order. “You have to look at not only what is on the car,” AMD Installation Center top dog Craig Hopkins told us, “But you have to look at the order of operations to get it on the car.” Everything went together in a specific order when the cars were built, and that’s important—it’s not enough to just hang a new piece of sheetmetal in place; making sure the flanges or tabs are stacked in the right order will be the difference between gaps and panels fitting, or things being permanently misaligned.

After the floors, firewall, and rockers are welded in, all the exterior sheetmetal was clamped in place—clamped, not welded. Before any of the exterior was permanently affixed to the car, every panel was fitted, aligned and gaps were set. It’s entirely probable that Craig has more invested in quality Vise Grip panel clamps than we have invested in our daily driver.

With all the panels clamped together, they are massaged, tweaked, fitted, and aligned, and once it’s all right, only then does the spot-welder come out to blue-glue it all together. It was at this stage of the game where we learned the single most significant tip we’ve ever come across for hanging sheetmetal: Build everything off the bodyline between the bottom of the door and the rocker. The gap at the front of the door is set by fender adjustment. The gap at the back of the door where it meets the quarter is set when the quarter is fitted. With the rocker in place correctly, the line at the bottom of the door is your starting point. And to get that line right, you have to rebuild the door hinges first.

This is something that, once you hear it, is obvious. We’ve all had to rebuild door hinges because they were worn out and the door sagged. We’ve never made the connection with rebuilt hinges and the door alignment being required to set the gaps when hanging a new quarter panel. We’ve watched countless quarter panel installations, but we’ve never seen a shop start with rebuilding the door hinges. Next month, we’ll hang the front sheetmetal and subframe.

Exterior 3/31

Once the superstructure is back to spec, the exterior sheetmetal hanging begins, starting with the doors—the genesis for all the gaps and body lines, going all the way back to the deck lid fitment. Even if you’re using a rusted, junk original door, as long as it hasn’t been pushed out of whack by being hit, you can set the gaps along the bottom edge at the rocker panel and along the back edge at the quarter panel.

Factory 4/31

To make sure the door fits right, the first order of business is to rebuild the factory hinges. Once they’re right, you can hang and adjust the door properly.

Rear Sheetmetal 14/31

This is why everything is clamped and fitted before welding: the guys found there was some discrepancy somewhere in the rear sheetmetal. When this happens, measure the factory pieces to find out where the errors are—it’s going to be in the aftermarket pieces, not the original panels that passed the quality control back in ’69. Doors, deck lid and glass are the references you can use.

Roof 21/31

The roof was laid on and welded in place; when the body leaves AMD, it goes to the body shop ready for final prep and paint, including filling the C-Pillar joint. AMD doesn’t do any of the finish body prep, leaving that to the customer’s chosen painter. What they provide is all new panels, all fitted and gapped, just like the factory had before it went down the line to the lead spreaders and paint shop.

Medallion Etch Weld 28/31

Throughout the restoration, we’ve seen all the bare metal coated with weld-through primer. What was left of the original metal was blasted and sprayed with a gun, but everywhere the new panels or original panels were prepped for welding, a coat of primer was needed. After years of trial and error, Craig swears by this product, and though a couple bucks more per can than the cheaper stuff (which we’ve used and didn’t like), it’s worth the cost. CHP

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