Buying a new project car is an exciting time, but no matter how closely you scrutinize it before shelling out the cash, you’re still bound to find issues that you didn’t expect. Maybe it’s the excitement of the whole buying process, but for some reason, obvious problems tend to get overlooked in the early stages of the build, while deep scars remain hidden, only to be discovered once you start tearing deeper into the car. In any event, it’s important to assess these problems when you encounter them so you can come up with a plan of attack and adjust your budget accordingly.
In our case we were fortunate that the car was, for the most part, disassembled. This allowed us to inspect key areas like the floor pans and cowl area. Since the front and rear windows were out, checking for rust in the window channels was a snap. The ’68 was bathed in primer, which was a bit worrisome because it can mask quite a few problems. We had dragged a magnet all over the exterior before buying, so we got an idea of where the trouble spots would be, but you never know what lurks beneath until you’re knee-deep in the build. Welcome to hot rodding. No one said it would be easy!
Even though we had crawled around under the Camaro at the seller’s house, there’s no substitute for getting the car up in the air. We noticed that the rear frame rail was a bit tweaked, but now we could see that it was worse than we thought. The right side rear foot well was pushed up and there was a good-sized kink in the trans tunnel. This means that one of first projects will be to remove the bent frame rail, pull the car straight, and then stitch in a replacement frame section from National Parts Depot. The good news was that there wasn’t a speck of rust.
We also took the time to ditch the 305 that the seller had tried to pass off as a 350. This would make inspection of the engine bay and trans tunnel easier. Besides, it’s not like we’re going to use the 305. Out of curiosity, we tore apart the allegedly rebuilt engine and found that the only rebuilding done consisted of a can of orange spray paint.
Here’s a modification that left us scratching our heads. Somebody must have gotten a new saw for Christmas and decided to try it out on both of the inner fender wells by removing large random chunks of metal. We kept trying to figure out what they were trying to accomplish, but came up empty. New inner fender wells just went on the “to buy” list.
At first glance the right quarter panel looks pretty good, but we could tell that something was amiss. The first clue was that there was no side marker hole; this meant that the quarter was from a ’67. The next clue was that our trusty magnet failed to stick in several places.
Holy Bondo, Batman! It’s hard to tell here, but the filler where the quarter meets the trunk is well over a quarter-inch thick. Looks like whoever installed the panel attached it a bit low and just made up the difference with mud. No wonder the magnet wouldn’t stick.
We also found that the new quarter was attached to the ’68 in a strange location on the C-pillar. After getting the door open and doing a bit more detective work, we determined that a long time ago someone had replaced the entire quarter of the car, not just the panel, with a section salvaged from a donor car. Because of the techniques used we figured it had to have been done decades ago by someone in a big hurry. It was bad. Looks like we need to make another call to NPD.
We had better news while stripping the fenders. The only past problems turned out to be rusty corners that someone had patched long ago, most likely when they tried to fix the quarter. Luckily, they did a better job here.
Primer isn’t paint, and it’s not designed to protect the underlying metal over the long haul. Our ’68 had obviously been wearing its tan primer for a long time, and over the years water had gotten under it and started pitting the steel. This was pretty consistent over the entire car, with horizontal surfaces faring worse. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to address. We’re sure that folks in the “rust belt” area of the country would welcome this as their biggest problem.
Surface Rust Solution
Surface rust is one of those good news/bad news deals. The bad news is, if left untreated, it can come back to ruin whatever paintjob you lay down. The good news is, through the magic of modern technology, it’s fairly easy to take care of. The two keys to making rust a non-issue are surface preparation and sealing the metal from water and oxygen.
Here’s what we used to attack our surface rust. These products are from KBS Coatings, and their claim is that when used in concert, their products will neutralize the rust and properly seal the metal. Best of all, it’s touted as easy to use.
The first step is to sand off all the paint and old filler off the panel. We used 3M’s new Hook-It II discs in 40 and then 80 grit to quickly strip the old fenders. It’s important to make sure that all the filler and primer is gone, since any buried rust will come back to haunt you later on.
Our first step was to thoroughly clean the surface with their AuqaKleen solution and let the panel dry. Next, we attacked the panel with their RustBlast solution. We liberally applied the RustBlast and used a red 3M Scotch-Bright pad to scrub down the panel. According to KBS it’s very important to keep the panel saturated, making sure not to let the panel dry for between 10 and 40 minutes, depending on the amount of rust. Once we were satisfied with how the panel looked, we rinsed it down with water and let the surface completely dry. The RustBlast left a powdery residue of zinc phosphate behind. This coating can protect the panel from surface rust for up to 30 days.
Now it was time to seal the panel with KBS’ RustSeal. This paint cures to a rock-hard, yet flexible, watertight seal. It penetrates the pores of the metal and permanently seals the surface from water and oxygen. Following the directions on the can, we thinned it out a bit and loaded it into our gun. We could have just brushed it on, but this was a quicker and more efficient way to cover our fenders. Two tips they push: Don’t shake the can, and if using a brush, do not dip the brush into the can; use a separate container to prevent contamination. We applied two thin coats then left the fenders to cure for two to four hours. You can also see in this image the zinc phosphate coating left on the panel from the RustBlast. According to KBS there’s no need to remove this residue prior to applying the RustSeal.
Here’s one of our fenders all sealed from the elements and ready for further bodywork. The RustSeal has only moderate UV stability, so if you treat any areas that will be in direct UV light you’ll want to make sure to top coat it with something like their BlackTop product. Our fender is going to be sanded and painted, so for us it wasn’t an issue. Also, don’t let this stuff dry on your skin, in your paint gun, or anywhere else you don’t want it to be for a very long time.
Now that we have an idea of what it will take to get our Project Track Rat’s body looking great and ready for paint, we can start making calls and getting the supplies needed into the shop. Besides the various replacement parts from NPD we also needed quite a few body preparation supplies. When figuring out your budget be sure to factor in these supplies as well as any special tools you will need if you plan on tackling the job yourself.
One reason why paint jobs are so expensive is because the materials to get it done right are downright pricey. We got an estimation of what we would need to take our ’68 from a beat-down roller to a ride resembling the Ben Hermance rendering and started dialing. As we work on the car we will track every disc, pad, and item used, so at the completion of the project, we’ll know exactly what was used and how much it cost. Of course every build is unique, but this should at least give you an idea.
This will also give us an excuse to try out the new Hook-It II sanding discs from 3M. Rather than using a one-time adhesive coating, this line employees a Velcro system to hold the disc to the pad. This means that if you need to switch discs, you can easily do so without wasting materials. This is a good thing since the discs can run a couple of bucks each.
Cutting discs, grinding discs, and items like hand pads and tape all add up fast and cut deep into the budget. It’s tempting to shop by price, but that doesn’t always save you cash since the more expensive products generally work longer before needing to be replaced. Choose your materials based on value, not on price alone.
By comparison, tools can quickly make the cost of materials look cheap. Most guys that are looking to tackle bodywork already have basics like a compressor and air tools, but there’s also the need for specialty items like blocks and other metal working tools. Then there are welders. We have quite a bit of metal stitching to do, so we picked up this Millermatic Passport Plus MIG welder. This unit is perfect for a smaller shop that wants a truly portable and self-contained MIG welder. It can run on either 115v or 230v and has a small, self-contained gas cylinder that’s good for up to 25 minutes of welding. It can handle mild and stainless steel from 24-gauge up to 3/8-inch and has infinite voltage control for dialing in just the right setting. At only 45-lbs, we’ll easily be able to take it with us wherever we’re working on our project Camaro.