Rust is one of those things you will encounter at some point during a muscle car restoration. Just about every Chevrolet product will get rust in certain common places, like the bottom of the quarters and fenders. Then there are the rust areas specific to a certain model. Take the second-generation Camaro; this car gets rust on the upper cowl right at the base of the windshield, typically at the corners. If you have one of these cars, then you probably know what we are talking about. While this is a common problem, luckily it’s not as involved as other rust repairs. As a matter of fact, this job can be done on a painted car without damaging the paint.
We have one in our stable that had such bad rust it grew to the point it broke off the corner of the windshield. We really want to drive this car, so this needed to be addressed before we could put in a new a windshield. We were very impressed with the quality and fitment of the Auto Metal Direct (AMD) quarter-panel we hung on the car, so we looked to them again for this job. The company has a full replacement panel made to factory specifications. The stamped steel piece is of OE thickness and shape, ready to be installed right out of the box.
The old piece needed to come off first, so we grabbed a few items from Eastwood to make the job much easier. We ordered the company’s Skip-Proof Spot Weld Cutter and Spot Welding kit, and added it to our collection of clamps and Lincoln 110v MIG welder. The following story will map out how to remove the original piece, treat any leftover rust, then install the new AMD cowl piece. One thing that will not be in the story is how to deal with the VIN tag. Since this job requires it to be transferred to the new dash piece, you will need to check with your local DMV to find out how to do it legally in your state.
1. This is the new Upper Cowl Panel (part number X360-3570-1) from Auto Metal Direct. It’s a full replacement piece that retails for $159.95 plus shipping. The panel is the correct thickness and shape as the original, and has every necessary hole pre-punched, so reinstalling things like the wiper assembly, cowl grille, and other items are a snap.
2. Here is our offending rust. It got so out of hand it broke the windshield. This is the worst spot, but there is rust all along the bottom of the windshield area. If this was the only area, we might have considered just doing a small patch job on the corner. Since we had rust along the entire lower area, a full replacement was the best option for us. Before we could start cutting out the cowl/dash we needed to remove the entire front clip.
3. Since this piece is spot-welded in place, we needed to locate all of them. Step one in that process is to scrape out all the old seam sealer.
4. We decided to quickly cut out as much of the panel as possible, which will aid in what’s to come.
5. A grinding disc was used to run over the top of all the metal left. We kept the grinder flat so it would quickly clean off all the high areas and leave us a tell tale dot in the low areas. These dots are the dents left by the spot welding process.
6. Eastwood’s Skip-Proof Spot Weld Cutter is specifically made to drill-out spot welds. The one-piece cutter makes clean cuts around the outside of spot welds, without damaging the bottom panel. It features a spring-loaded pilot bit in the center to prevent skipping.
7. Our grinding mapped out all the spot welds we needed to cut, so we dropped the cutter in the center …
8. … pulled the trigger on our air drill and then slowly applied more pressure. Once the cutter hit the sheetmetal, it made quick work cutting though the upper layer. If you spend too much time or get too aggressive, this cutter will cut through both panels. That means make sure to stop and check your progress a few times until you get a feel for how this thing cuts.
9. Once we had a few spot welds cut out we used a screwdriver to pry up on the panel. Cutting out most of the panel before hand made the prying up portion much easier.
10. Here’s what you should be left with once you get it all removed: a bunch of small, little disc-shaped leftovers.
11. Those come right off with an air grinder, leaving the lower panel clean and ready for the new piece.
12. We took this opportunity to fully clean and paint the lower cowl to prevent new rust from forming.
13. Make sure to look down the kick panel area, because like our car, there is probably years of accumulated dirt and other crud just sitting there, waiting to get wet and cause rust. We used a shop vac to clean this out.
14. We decided to use some left over POR-15 to coat the lower cowl area. We painted all the way down the cowl into the kick panel area.
15. We had to transfer the VIN and trim tags onto the new panel. The trim tag is pretty easy to move, as all you need to do is bend in the little tabs on the backside, move the tag and re-bend the tabs. The VIN is a whole different ball of wax, since it is held on with special rosette rivets. Each state has different laws governing this, so make sure to check with your local DMV to find out the proper procedure.
16. While the POR-15 was drying we started readying the new panel for welding. After an initial test fit, which was perfect, we mapped out and punched our plug weld holes. We decided to evenly space them about 2.5-inches apart instead of the oddly random spacing the factory did.
17. We clamped the panel back on and marked all our holes so we could grind off the POR-15 for clean welds.
18a. Probably the most difficult part of the job is going to be dealing with the upper area of the welding. The top half of the lower cowl is welded along this area, and there are no real line up marks or anything to go off of. We used a few tech screws installed from below to hold the two pieces together. Then we used a little trick to help us trace out the end of the cowl.
18b. We took a pretty stout magnet and stuck it under the dash and drug it along the edge of the cowl. A pinch of metal dust from the grinding process up top moved along as we did showing us where to mark.
19. Once we had our line it was taped with 3/4-inch, which spaced it down the correct amount, then we made a mark every 2-1/2 inches. We couldn’t use our punch to make these holes so a drill bit was the next best thing. We also drilled out the screw holes, which will make welding them up easier, but more on that later. Now the panel is ready, so we coated the under side with more POR-15 and let it dry.
20. We are going to be doing a whole lot of welding here, so anything to make the job easier was a blessing. Eastwood’s Spot Welding Kit was created to allow you to make factory style spot welds with a MIG welder. If you want to do it without punching holes you will need a larger 220V-powered welder, but if you are using a smaller 110V unit like us, then you will still need to pre punch holes. The Spot Weld Pliers have a forked jaw design to secure the two panels tightly and still allow you to get the welding tip in place. The Spot Weld Nozzle has “leg extensions” to create the exact standoff distance required for spot welding of 20- and 18-gauge metals.
21. There will be areas the special clamps won’t fit, so make sure to clamp the area well. We strapped the new nozzle to our little wire feed welder. After doing a few test welds on some of the scrap material to get the welder set up right (D on the voltage and 4.5 on the wire speed) we got to plug welding. If you don’t have a welder you might want to check out Eastwood’s site as they have a full line of 110- and 220-volt systems geared towards the homebuilder.
22. To get a proper plug weld, start welding in center of the hole on the lower piece of material, don’t move the welder until the hole is almost full. Then move outwards in a circular movement until the weld is completed. You can also start at the outside and work your way towards the middle, but if you move too fast with this technique you may not get full penetration on the lower piece.
23. When we reinstalled the panel to start the welding process, we ran the screws from the top, like this.
24. Since we enlarged the hole during the drilling process it was easier for us to just fill the small lower hole with the same technique used to make the plug weld. This ensured we completely filled the lower hole and still got good hold.
25. With all the welding complete we came back and smoothed all of them down with a grinder. That completes the install process, but the job still needs some attention. We will need to add a little All-Metal to the area where the windshield sits to make sure it’s a flat as possible. Then some seam sealer will be applied along the perimeter before priming and painting it all a satin black. This gets us one step closer to driving since we can now put some glass in the hole and keep the bugs out of our teeth.