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Installing A New Quarter Panel On A 1971 Chevrolet Camaro - Quarter Pounding
We ditch the rust and install fresh steel on a worn out '71 Camaro
Jul 25, 2007
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Installing A New Quarter Panel On A 1971 Chevrolet Camaro - Quarter Pounding
Meet our subject Camaro. The good news is that it runs and only cost $2,000. The bad news is that it had a vinyl top at one point and resided close enough to the coast to develop a bad case of rust in the typical areas.
The rear-lower driver-side quarter was so rusted that things were falling out of the trunk. This is pretty bad rust for California, but typical in most of the country for this old of a car. Could you patch it? Maybe, but why spend countless hours quilting together a hot rod when there are good replacement panels on the market.
This car had a vinyl top and with that it suffered the common rot in the window channels. Every car is going to be different in how the metal cancer has consumed it, but at some point the offending sheet metal just needs to be ditched in favor of fresh steel.
Dick Kvamme of Best in Show Coachworks starts by grinding down the area where the quarter-panel meets the roof. Carefully separating this area is key in not messing up the roof and ensuring that the new quarter will butt up to it correctly.
Normally this area is filled with lead from the factory, however sometime during its 36 years, work had been done and the seam was filled with body filler. If it were lead it would have needed to be melted out. Remember that lead isn't particularly good for you, so use proper caution.
Now it's time to separate the quarter-panel from the car. A plasma cutter is the fastest way, but you can also use an air chisel. Cut as close to the seam as you can, but don't cut too much. Once most of the quarter is off you can go back and clean up the edges with more precise equipment.
Look Mom, no quarter! While it will feel like you have done a lot, the truth is that getting to this point is pretty easy. This is where you will get to inspect other areas of the car, like the inner wheelhouses and the trunk drop offs.
It wasn't a shocker that the trunk drop off was rotted out like the quarter-panel. Simply remove the offending panel. In our case we used our handy Miller plasma cutter.
Scratch one trunk drop off. This is weight reduction at its finest.
With the old quarter-panel and drop off removed from the car it's time to start cleaning up all the edges in preparation for the new panels. Depending on how close you got with the initial cuts, this will either be easy or time consuming. Chances are you will need to use a combination of grinding and cutting wheels. If you're going to do this yourself, be sure to budget in a realistic amount of cash for grinding and cutting supplies. They're not cheap and you can go through a stack in a surprisingly short amount of time.
One of the harder pieces to remove is the door jam area. It's tempting to leave this in place and make the new quarter fit to it. Don't do it. Take the time and do it right. The extra time spent here will be saved when you have to do the bodywork down the line. Besides, more seams means more places for cracks and failures over time. The first thing you'll want to do is find all the factory pinch welds. Several of them are located around the area of the door striker.
After grinding through the paint to find all of the pinch welds, use a grinder to dig out the welds and free up the panel. Once all the welds are ground down you can use an air chisel, cut off wheel or other tool to remove the jam from the car. This is one area where the plasma cutter won't work well since it could damage the parts of the car you want to keep in place.
To clean up the area where the quarter-panel meets the roof, first drill pilot holes through each of the pinch welds. Next you will want to use a larger bit or stepped drill bit to completely bore out the old welds. Once done, you should be able to remove the last remnant of the old quarter-panel.
While Dick worked on removing the old quarter-panel, the cars owner, Jon Lindstrom, started prepping the new Goodmark quarter-panel. The first step in getting it ready to go on the car is to clean the black coating off all the areas that will need to be welded.
To make welding easy, and provide a better bond, you will need to add holes every few inches in all the areas to be welded. This metal punch makes things easier, but a drill would work as well.
Here's what you should see when the areas are cleaned and punched.
The rust wasn't as bad on the passenger-side quarter, but the body damage would have been a major pain to repair. There was also rot in the window channel, just like on the driver's side.
The passenger-side quarter-panel comes off just like on the driver's side. Again you can check the trunk drop off and inner wheel well. In our case the drop off was trashed, but surprisingly the inner wheelhouse was in perfect shape. We were sure that given the sorry state of the quarter the wheelhouse would be toast, so we had a Goodmark replacement (PN 4021-675-70R or L, $59.95 each) ready to go. It looks like the replacement panel would have been a good fit, but we were happy to save the five hours of labor it would have taken to replace each one, not to mention the cost of the parts.
The Goodmark trunk drop offs (PN 4021-735-70R or L, $49.95 ea.) looked to be a high quality part, but how well they would fit on the car was the big question.
Life became easier when the new drop off fit perfectly in the area occupied by the factory panel. The part was fitted, clamped in place, and then welded to the car. Later, all the seams will be sealed up to prevent water intrusion. This is a great time to seal up the car with a paint specifically made to stop rust. In our case we coated everything in POR-15. Some guy, decades from now, will be thankful we did this.
With the drop offs welded in place it was time to test fit the new quarter-panel (PN 4021-601- 70R or L, $399.95 ea.). A good fitting panel can save you a boatload of labor. We were happy to find that the panel fit so good it was almost spooky. Dick has been doing bodywork for 36 years and he was sold on the Goodmark panels. As he told us: "I've installed a lot of quarter-panels, from just about every manufacturer, and this one fit better than any of them, even the GM units back in the '70s."
Unless you have a hell of a shop, you won't have one of these. This pinch welder runs about $10k, but can knock big time off a quarter-panel install. It's what the pros use. This machine also means that you won't have to drill all the holes in the seams of the new panels, and that you won't have any of the resulting welds to grind down when you start on the body work.
With the quarter-panel clamped in place it's a good idea to also secure it with a few strategically placed sheet metal screws. Once everything is aligned as good as possible, it's time to start welding. We used our fancy pinch welder, but a traditional welder works just as well. Just weld everywhere you drilled a hole in the new panel.
Remember when we told you how well the panel fit? That wasn't us being nice to a manufacturer, it was a fact. Here you can see for yourself how well the new panel matches up with the factory rear valance. We also noticed that the bodylines were crisp and the side markers easily fit into the holes. The shop had recently done another second-gen using a panel from a different manufacturer. It took more than a few hours of labor to get it looking as good as this panel did right out of the box.
Next it's time to weld the quarter to the roof. Be careful not to overheat and warp the new panel by trying to go too fast. One trick is to have an air hose and use it to cool the panel down a bit between welds by blowing on the weld.
Here's the result. The weld goes along the entire seam and each hole is welded up. This will make for a strong bond that won't crack out over time. Later this can be ground down and bodyworked to perfection.
The old lower valance had been bashed in somewhere along the line and, with the quarters off, it was just as easy to replace the panel. One tip here is to trim the new panel down a bit so that the weld will lay mostly behind where the bumper sits. The rear valance is Goodmark part number 4021-875-70 and runs $39.95.
The window channel rot extended down to the upper rear valance, so we picked up a rear deck filler panel from Goodmark. Fitment was excellent and, best of all, this part is bolted in place and requires no welding. We love instant gratification. The part number is 4021-710-70 and it will set you back $59.95.
The back of the car was starting to look so good that we decided to dress it up a bit. We called over to Classic Industries and ordered up this short spoiler. At $119.95 (PN 3974538) it's cheaper than an OEM unit, but how well does it fit?
Installation tip: use a little paint on the tip of each bolt on the new spoiler to help mark where you will need to drill.
After covering the spoiler area of the trunk with some masking tape you can line up the spoiler and then press it in place.
When you pull away the new spoiler you will have all the spots you need to drill marked and ready to go. Slick huh?
It wasn't so much that the chrome on the old bumper was shot, but it had been twisted up by the same accidents that jacked up the old quarter-panel and lower valance. A shiny new one was ordered up from Classic Industries (PN 3949772, $139.95). Fresh chrome just gives us a warm fuzzy feeling.
OK, the owner saw these tail lights on a customer's car and decided to splurge a bit since they look so darn good. These billet beauties are from Marquez Design and they do a ton to dress up the back of a second-gen Camaro. He also ordered up these slick stainless-steel door strikers since the original ones were beat to death and these would stay looking great for a long time.
With the parts installed and car shot in primer we decided to trial fit the new pieces. The fresh chrome, new spoiler, and stunning Marquez tail lights make the back of the '71 Camaro look like a show car, even in primer. Best of all, they all fit perfectly.
About 38 hours of labor after starting got us to this point. The back of the Camaro looks great and, when funds allow, Jon can tackle making the front look just as good. We're very impressed with the quality of the Goodmark panels, especially the full quarters. At this point there's been no real body work done to the second-gen and you can see how crisp the body lines are in the new panel.
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