Here on the West Coast we're in the thick of our car-show season. For us gearheads, this is one of our most favorite times of the year. In preparation for car shows and cruises we clean up our rides and start installing new parts and performing necessary maintenance. Now, it might just be a guy thing, but I do make an occasional mistake. I don't mind an occasional goof, I just don't like making the same mistake more than once. Sound familiar? Did you ever assemble something and get to the very last step and then discover you now have to tear the whole thing back apart and do it again because you forget to read the directions? Hopefully, as we gain experience we reduce the number of screw-ups we commit. After working on countless numbers of Tri-Five Chevys I have learned to try and PLAN my tasks so I do them right the first time.
If you are in the building or remodeling stage, then you probably would like the job to go smoothly and quickly. I would like to offer some tips on construction and assembly that may save you some time, money, and frustration.
When you disassemble some portion of your car, I suggest that you either make detailed notes or take photographs. If a car has terrible gaps and bad body lines, you need to know that before you haul the carcass to the body shop and ask them to make it look like show car. We have "inherited" many such cars where the progress or quality was not meeting the owner's expectations. Most times, we find that the body shop did not take the time to ensure that the job would turn out correctly. I'm sure that in some cases, the owners did not want to spend the money to make sure that the body panels fit together and line up correctly. Remember, these cars are nearly 50 years old now and they didn't have great bodywork from the factory. We have worked on many original paint cars and they were functional but not anywhere near the level we now expect our rides to be. The gaps, fit and adjustment of the body are not going to be great if the car didn't start out that way. Most Tri-Fives have limited adjustments of the body panels. We have had to rework almost every part to get the desired fit. Fenders, doors, hoods, and most other body parts were made in a variety of plants across the country, which means that there can be wide variation in the fit of panels. If you buy used or new body parts you MUST assemble the parts on the car and check for proper fit. If you go ahead and paint them without doing this you will probably be disappointed.
At our shop, we also do collision work. We have fixed dozens of classics with everything from minor fender benders to T-Bone-type collisions and we have been able to fix nearly all of them. A few exceptions were cars that were underinsured, which was a shame because they would have been salvageable if the owner had them covered for their current market value. As a result of performing collision work, we have to obtain quality used parts and then recondition them to match the quality of the vehicle. You quickly find that parts off of other vehicles of the same year do not always fit the same as the original part that came off of the car. It's very important to do fit checks on any car involved in a collision. If they don't fit we have to make them fit. Many of the cars we have fixed have substantial front-end damage. Many of these same cars did not have disc brakes. I wonder if there could be a connection?
I also recommend that the body be installed and properly shimmed on the frame when performing a fit check. After the shell of the body is on the frame, you need to first hang and adjust the doors. Next, you should hang the fenders and inner fenderwells along with the core support and grille tie-bar. Then install the hood and hinges. After these parts are in place, carefully look at the fit and lines of the panels. It is not unusual to have marginal gaps and fit.
Okay, now you have the body right where you want it. Are you going to leave on all the factory trim and emblems?
Make sure you fill holes you don't want and make holes you do want before the final paint process. You should also install the grille, headlight bezels, hood bar and extensions, taillights, bumpers, and check the fit of the stainless moldings, especially around the front and back glasses. Get the idea? Yes, you really need to take a little extra time up front and do a fit check of these parts.
You can apply my discussion of body panel fit to many other parts of your car as well. Try fixing the firewall behind the head after the motor and transmission is installed and you'll wish you had taken a few extra minutes and set the motor in place.
I could go on, but I hope you get the message. Talk to someone who has built a car and ask them about their experiences. I hope these tips have been helpful. See ya, Darryl
To contact the author, please call or write him at D&P Classic Chevy 18392 Enterprise Ln., #1, Dept. SC Huntington Beach, CA 92648 (800) 647-1957