I hear it all the time, and it tweaks me: “Aftermarket parts fit like crap ... This fender must be made for a different car ... The distributor wouldn’t even drop into the intake ... You could throw an angry cat through that hood gap ... This windshield is thinner than the original, and it leaks.” The complaints go on and on and on. No argument from me. Sometimes (actually, many times) aftermarket parts don’t fit perfectly. So what. Get over it! Are you a parts changer or a hot rodder?
I’ve been on the inside of the automotive aftermarket pitching and demonstrating new products and replacement parts for a long time on TV shows, online, and in various print magazines and books. I will stand there, look you directly in the eye, and tell you with a smile that “these reproduction doors are an excellent choice for your project,” or “this bolt-on EFI has self-learning capabilities that take the guesswork out of tuning your engine swap,” knowing full well that somebody might have fitment or technical problems with the installation. Am I a liar? Do I have zero integrity? Am I a sellout to corporate sponsors? No. Here’s why. We all know that restoration and performance parts are big business. At last check, the automotive aftermarket is a $41 billion segment of the industry, and growing every year.
For reproduction parts to be made, there has to be enough sales volume to not only pay for the development of the part, but also to make a profit. Profits keep these companies afloat; it’s business. That’s why you can completely build a Mustang, Camaro, Challenger, C10 truck, or Volkswagen from a catalog. They were popular, and enough people love them to justify the investment in reproducing parts. So why don’t the parts fit perfectly every time? Think about this. A friend that represents a major aftermarket exhaust manufacturer once told me that they need to have a 3-inch variable on the factory bolt-in locations on a late-model Camaro chassis for a full exhaust to qualify as “bolt in” just to cover the inconsistency from vehicle to vehicle. That has nothing to do with the part and everything to do with the mass-produced cars. Build standards have improved over time, but when it comes to vintage cars (pre-1990), the fit and finish was pretty poor. While I was slingin’ parts and paint in commercial body shops it was a crapshoot that the OE panels would fit. Cars are not perfect from the factory so how can aftermarket parts be expected to fit perfectly?
Fast forward to today with companies like AMD (Auto Metal Direct), NPD, Classic Industries, Original Parts Group, Golden Star Classic Auto Parts, Premier Street Rod MFG, Real Deal Steel, and Dynacorn, and remanufactured parts are better than ever. They fit better, have better corrosion protection than the factory ever provided, and new parts options are introduced daily. Costs are down, quality control is up, and competition’s fierce amongst manufacturers to not only get more parts in our hands quicker, but also at a greater value and price point. Competition breeds excellence.
If you’ve ever tried finding patch panels; headers; a dash; even cool-looking, updated wheels for an oddball car, that’s when you wish you had some options. Any options. And that’s when it kicks in that somebody somewhere invested their life savings starting a company that repops Camaro floorpans and framerails to make your restoration easier. Be grateful and embrace the imperfect but well-intentioned businesses of the automotive aftermarket. Start your own parts company and become part of the solution or get used to buying two parts cars for your project vehicle and paying inflated prices for parts somebody has squirreled away and hawks on Internet auctions.
About the Author: Kevin Tetz is an automotive restoration expert, TV personality, freelance automotive journalist, and owner of Paintucation Instructional DVDs.