If you consider yourself a "bodyman," some things just stand out on a car more than others. Call it a "pet peeve" or whatever you want, there is no denying the fact that when the fenders don't line up with the hood and doors (or visa versa), the entire car can appear out of shape. It's usually very frustrating (and a lot of work) to get a perfect gap between two body panels that have been smashed and reworked. If you have played with more than one car of the same body style, you may also have noticed that many components (especially body parts) have a tendency to bolt on in slightly different positions.
Even a very small variance between mounting hole placement can throw off the entire alignment of a particular panel. All of this can-and usually does-equate to spending countless hours fitting then refitting, turning round holes into slotted ones, turning washers into shims, and so on and so forth. All of this type of trial and error is necessary before any paint is applied in order to achieve that show-quality fit and finish.
It may be deceiving in the photos, but our '67 Chevelle wagon has had some serious run-ins in its life, giving us reason to replace the fender and hood. It also gives us a chance to join a mix of aftermarket sheetmetal, some clean junkyard parts, and the factory originals, to see just how well they all fit together. Even though the adjusting points for body panels vary in different ways (between makes and models), the tools, hardware, and reasoning will apply to all other body types, as well. This is a project almost anyone can tackle with basic hand tools and a slight dose of patience. (Note: It would also be helpful if you could grow a third hand or find a friend with at least one good one.)
On our donor car the front passenger fender and hood have both seen more than a few body shops, so we started off by replacing them with parts from The Paddock. With its guaranty of satisfaction and reputation for making quality replacement parts, The Paddock was up to being put to the test. The Paddock also supplied us with a new grille and splash pan to round out the fresh new front end. The only part that could not be replaced new was the front bumper. However, even as bent-up as this bumper was, any reputable chrome shop can massage the heavy metal back into perfect shape. Nevertheless, we found a super-straight front bumper in a local wrecking yard for the "right price," so we chose to simply replace it. The only items left to gather for this job were body shims and whatever necessary nuts, bolts, and washers were needed to bolt the new front end together.
We found a good assortment of body shims at the local parts store with Totally Stainless supplying a complete full-body hardware kit. Not only were we able to gather up have every nut, bolt, screw, and washer needed to put the entire car together, but it's all beautiful stainless steel. Now that we have collected all the necessary parts, let's take a look at what it takes for everything to bolt in and line up.
Here is one last look at our wagon's assembled and aligned front end. There is a pinch of rust to deal with and some shoddy bodywork to redo, but overall this is a great start on the way to a beautiful paint job. We're thinking black.
A good indication of how easy the car will go back together, is how easy it comes apart. Only one bolt gave us reason to break out the power tools.
Here is the new core support from The Paddock slipping right into place. It is important to note that the two main bolts attaching the core support to the frame are also adjusting points. There isn't a lot of adjustment here, but it should not be overlooked in the final assembly adjustments. Large, flat washers can be used to adjust the height.
The new fender fit almost as good as it looked. The bolt holes on these parts not only lined up fine but so did the body line with the doors. In most cases, a good bodyman may be more inclined to locate original sheetmetal. However, with the quality of aftermarket pieces like these, why spend more than you have to?
Here we can see how much larger the hole in the fender is compared with the size of the bolt holding it on. This adjusting point allows the fender to move up, down, forward, and back. Later, the bolt was removed and replaced with a new bolt and washer.
Here are some of the different types of shims used to align body panels. These were purchased at a local parts store. There are different thicknesses and shapes, so a variety should be on hand to fit in many different places.
Our new fender needed two 1/8-inch thick shims to bring it up even with the cowl. Do not tighten these bolts all the way down until all adjusting points have been figured out. The fender needs to move around in order to adjust properly.
Here is another fender adjusting point. These shims can be a little easier to hold in these positions.
Eastwood sent us one of its body gap gauge tools known as The Judge. This tool will be a great help during final assembly. The nylon gauge won't scratch or mar painted surfaces. The blades are 1/32-inch, 1/16-inch, and 1/8-inch thick. With this tool, a consistent gap can be adjusted for every body panel.
Loosening these two bolts will drop the hood where it needs to be. There is quite a bit of adjustment in these hinges so care must be taken so that the front of the hood doesn't take a nose dive before tightening these bolts. You will really need an extra set of hands when adjusting the hood.
This is the final point of adjustment for the hood. Pull the rubber stopper off, loosen the 1/2-inch nut, and turn the screw up or down so that the hood just touches the rubber when closed.
The grille was originally secured with rivets, but because we will be removing the grille again in the near future for paint, we used screws for a temporary fix. Who knows, we may just keep the screws for final assembly as it makes removal and installation much easier.
This is how the Totally Stainless body bolt kit comes. It may be hard to see in this photo, but all hardware is separated and labeled in different bags for no assembly confusion. Opening this box of hardware is like a dream come true. No more back-and-forth trips to the parts store for nuts and bolts. This is something everyone building a car should consider spending money on.