Reskinning a 1969 Chevy Camaro Door

More than one way to skin that cat; well, actually, no.

Brad Ocock Dec 9, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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Doors—one of the most visible components on our cars. By now, they've seen their share of issues; dings and other parking lot rash, minor collisions, maybe the hinges failed and they've over-extended and kinked into the fender, or the fender has been pushed back into the leading edge and damaged it. And of course, there's rust; it's the rare door these days that doesn't have rust holes in the corners.

During the re-body process of our 1969 Camaro, we installed a set of new reproduction doors from Auto Metal Direct, but they had another set of doors in the shop that were prime candidates for receiving new door skins. The AMD Installation Center is operated by Craig Hopkins, an old-school body man who taught us a lot during our time up there. When we say "old-school," we mean "a time before plastic filler," when dents and damage were worked out with thought and finesse and finished with a metal file; not simply beat out with a hammer, frosted like a cake with body filler, and sanded with a board.

One of the keys Craig pointed out to us is that there are no sharp edges anywhere on a car's body—all the character lines and contours are rounded and rolled, not sharp. From a distance, the peak on the horizontal wheel well lines of a 1969 Camaro may look sharp, but when you get right up to them, the contours are all round. It's the same with the metal around the pinched perimeter of the decklid, the hood, and the doors.

Like the rest of the body on our Camaro, Craig's approach is to disassemble the pieces and replace what needs replacing. For these doors, that meant separating the outer skin from the inner structure, making any repairs, and installing a new skin. It sounds daunting, but once again, Craig made it look easy because it's very straightforward: You just undo what the factory did, and redo it.

Most of us would be inclined to try and repair any damage to the original outer skin because it's been ingrained in us through thousands of magazine stories that hammering dents and welding in patch panels is the right way to do it. After watching Craig skin this door, we're now looking at all the other project cars in our shop and wondering why we'd spend hours trying to straighten dings and dents, cut out rust, weld in replacement metal, get the compound curves correct for our patch, and try to metal-finish those repairs, hoping to get the big expanse of metal smooth enough to have no waves, no warps and no oil-canning … when we could simply replace the whole outer skin in a third of the time.

This story will show you the basic process for re-skinning a door, and we're pretty sure you'll agree with us that it's definitely better than trying to salvage the original, which was actually a pretty good starting point by today's standards. But for an even more detailed look at how to do this and other old-school metal working, Craig has a series of instructional videos aimed at restoring and finishing sheetmetal the right way, showing welding control, body filing, fit and finish of body panels, and more. After watching him quickly and cleanly completely re-body our 1969 Camaro and send it out the door needing very little in the way of prep work prior to painting, we're certain there's a lot more to learn from him to make our cars much better.

1969 Camaro Original 2/31

1. Our staring point: an original 1969 door that was never hit or creased, but at over 40 years old, there were expected issues with rust, and a few dings.

Rusty 3/31

2. Typical of most vintage doors of any make or model, ours had rust in the corners. This really isn’t what we’d consider bad though. This would have actually been a pretty good door to find at a swap meet. The “old” way of repairing this kind of damage was to cut it out and weld in new metal.

Door Skin Spot Welded To 4/31

3. The door skin is crimped over a flange on the door’s body, or carcass. It’s spot welded to the carcass in several places.

Strip 5/31

4. Obviously, the first thing to do is strip the door down to nothing. An impact driver is one of our favorite tools, and is often the only way door hardware (among other things) will come loose.

Outer Doorskin Cut Off With Air 6/31

5. Once the door is stripped, the "fold" of the outer doorskin that wraps around the window channel is cut off with an air chisel. Used properly, an air chisel can separate metal with great precision. We’ve seen a lot of guys just start blazing away and destroy flanges and cause unnecessary damage.

Grind Through Folded 7/31

6. With the doorskin released from the top, it’s time to release the folded flange all the way around the other three sides. Rather than try to unfold the metal and peel the whole skin off, Craig simply grinds through the folded edge.

Folded Flap Metal 8/31

7. With the fold ground away, the folded flap of metal is free, as is the doorskin on the other side, without damaging the flange on the inner carcass.

Grind Away Spot 9/31

8. There are some spot welds along the edges, and they’ll need to be identified and ground away.

Separate 10/31

9. The outer doorskin isn’t just going to fall away once the welds and flange are ground away—sometimes the welds might have gone a little deep and “stick” the front of the skin to the carcass a little bit, sometimes it’s just rusted together, sometimes the flange wasn’t completely removed. A simple putty knife or spatula driven between them will separate the panels.

Door 11/31

10. The door carcass looks about like you’d expect—completely surface rusted and a little worn. But it is not rusted through along the bottom or the corners. At this point, if there were rust holes, you could very easily do the needed repairs and bring the carcass back to OE-spec before installing the door skin, something you could never do with the skin in place.

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