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1970 Chevy Nova Bodywork - Sheet (Metal) Happens!

CARS Inc. Makes Sheetmetal Happen For Our Nova

By Mike Harrington, Photography by Mike Harrington

We're moving like molasses in March on the progress of this 1970 Nova. But moving we are. Avid readers of Super Chevy's Nova may remember that in the '06 Nova annual, (page 35) we installed one of the first sets of subframe connectors from Global West. Take a gander at the April '07 issue of Super Chevy and you'll see the rusty old Nova clip receiving the royal treatment with upgrades from Global West and ECI.So what do we have in this issue for the $250 swap-meet special? Were glad you asked. It's time to dive deep into one of the most time-consuming processes of building any hot rod: bodywork. We're not going to sugarcoat anything here. This Nova is uglier than a baboon's butt and is going to require extensive amounts of surgery to replace the rotted and rippled metal.

Our friends at CARS Inc. stepped in and provided us with enough sheetmetal to keep us busy on bodywork for several months. After browsing through their catalog, it's amazing how much replacement sheetmetal and patch panels you can get for these Novas. You can replace practically the whole car out of their catalog. Besides sheetmetal, CARS Inc. has just about everything you would need to restore a '63-79 Nova. Luckily for us, they have a Southern California location. All it took was a pickup truck and a few minutes at their warehouse. After we loaded up the truck, we hightailed it to Harrison's Restorations in Upland, California, to start the long process of restoring the body on this Nova. This is only the beginning of this car's buildup; we have lots more in store for the future.

We weren't kidding when we said this thing was ugly. It makes our face pucker up like a lemon just looking at it.

The first order of business was to completely gut the inside of this vehicle. There is no sense in having a stray spark from our welder or grinder catch anything on fire. Anyone want a set of stock Nova seats? We'll hold onto them for a while before we dumpster them. Some knucklehead in years past used about 30 sheetmetal screws to screw the 1-inch-thick household carpet into the floor. That was a fun time pulling up that carpet and trying to find those screws. And if that wasn't bad enough, I gave myself a wicked black eye trying to remove those seatbelt anchor bolts. Yup, you guessed it: the ratchet slipped, and I punched myself in the eye so hard I saw stars-the clear, iridescent ones that float dizzyingly by in that anguished water some call tears.

After removing the bumper and using a hammer to shatter the decades-old Bondo job, we found out why there was so much mud back there. This car has been smacked in the heinie and, rather than fix it the right way, a mudslinger from years past just slathered the body filler on to cover up the mess.

Now comes the fun part. It's time to separate the rear valance from the rest of the car. Notice the arrows. This is where the factory welds are located, right along this lip. We used a cut-off wheel to grind out the welds and then separate the mangled old valance.

This is the brand-new valance (tailpan) from CARS Inc. As you can see, it's not just a patch panel, it's a full replacement panel.

Harrison Ortis test-fits the valance so we can adjust where we need to start and stop cutting. Truthfully, in our case it really doesn't matter too much. We decided it would be better to install this valance at a later date. Both rear quarters, and even the trunk floor, need to be replaced. But it's always good practice to play it smart and bite off a little sheetmetal at a time. If we installed the valance now, it would just be in the way when we do the floors and quarters.

Be sure not to get too overzealous and hack up the support brackets in the trunk (I almost did). In this case, the braces were fine. All we need to do is separate them from the old valance and reweld them to the new one.

Just take a look at this quarter-panel. It kind of reminds me of the beach; you can ride the waves and ripples in this quarter-panel. Both sides of the vehicle are in this poor condition.

Here's the real reason the entire quarter is being replaced: the metal is about as rotten as summer roadkill on a Texas highway.

Armed with an air chisel, I was careful not to get overly enthusiastic when I cut the quarter off. A liberal amount of metal was still left on. One can always cut more off as more progress is made. I have seen cases where a guy removed too much of the old metal and ended up creating problems when it came time to install the new metal.

This is one of the surprises we found after removing the old panel. The inner panel was just as rotten underneath. There was no real way of knowing this until we removed the outer panel. At first, we thought we would have to fabricate a new inner piece, but after looking again at the CARS Inc. catalog, we saw brand-new inner panels ready to go. That will save us lots of time. We went ahead with the new quarter-panel install anyway. Well, sort of. Our plan was to trim it down to its perfect size and tack it into place for fitting reasons.

Believe it or not, editors actually do work on their own vehicles. I'm busy separating the old outer panel from the inner panel. That makes it easier to locate the factory spot welds and either drill them out or grind them down. It's hard to tell from just the handful of pictures thus far, but it's taken two days of work to get to this point. I understand why body shops charge what they do; it takes a good amount of time to get the job done right.

Before welding spatter has the chance to get all over the rear window, Harrison removed it and put it in a safe location.

The rear window and trim is still in good shape, and we want to salvage what we can.

Let's take a detailed look at the new quarter-panel provided to us by CARS Inc. In the front, the jamb goes all the way down to the rocker panel and all the way to the interior.

In the rear, it goes over the fender's lip and right under the decklid where the weatherstripping is located. That's not a bad piece of metal.

We don't plan to use every square inch of it, so some trimming down to size will be required. Still, it's nice to have a full-sized piece.

Albert Venegas (the shop foreman at Harrison's Restorations) took the lead role in getting the panel trimmed and fit to size. I decided my skills could still use some more improvement in this department, so Albert demonstrated his skills. In this photo, he's scoring the metal or tracing where we need to make our preliminary cuts.

We decided we didn't need to replace the door jamb, since the jamb on the Nova was in excellent shape. We simply trimmed the panel to fit.

After the panel is clamped into place, further trimming is required to create a perfect butt joint for the welds. You might have to take the panel off and on several times, trimming a little off with every fitting. It's kind of like getting a tailor-made suit: there's lots of measuring and test-fitting.

A couple of hours later, the panel is perfectly fit, and Albert starts tack-welding it into place. Like we said earlier, we plan on removing the panel again on account of the rusted inner panel. Our plans for this Nova are to take it to a media blaster and have it blasted down to the bare metal. Before we do that, we want to get all the sheetmetal trimmed and fit. That way, when it comes back from the blaster, we can jump right into it.

In the April '07 issue of Super Chevy, we took the stock clip from this Nova and had it blasted, re-welded, and powdercoated. We then added Afco single adjustable shocks; Global West upper and lower control arms; springs; and, finally, ECI 13-inch rotors with calipers.

We attached the front clip so we could test-fit all the new front sheetmetal.

Along with new front fenders, we also ordered a 2-inch cowl hood from CARS Inc.

Luckily, we still had one of the original inner wheelwell panels. Along with the sheetmetal, we ordered all the attaching hardware from CARS Inc.

Here we can see that this shell of a car is actually starting to look like a real vehicle again. We didn't have a set of 17-inch wheels laying around (on account of the new big brakes on the clip), so we had to settle for a jackstand for the photos. For the record, all the sheetmetal you see here has either been trimmed and tacked into place or mocked up for test-fit reasons. This Nova is far from done.

Now it's time to remove all the metal and the clip, put the body on a rotisserie, and get it blasted. When it comes back, we'll continue the panel replacement and cover more of it in future issues of Super Chevy. The plans and vision for this Nova are always in a constant state of evolution. After getting the chance to see the Smokey Yunick Camaro and the Penske Camaro, we plan to turn our Nova into a vintage-styled Trans-Am racer. Stay tuned for this Nova's progress.

Cars Inc. Harrison's Restorations
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By Mike Harrington
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