We've been following along as Auto Metal Direct's Installation Center stripped our 1969 Camaro down in preparation for sheetmetal replacement.
We have to admit, we were surprised by the amount of damage from rust and previous repairs. Remember, this was a running, driving car we had fun with—it wasn't some pile on its last legs on its way to the scrapper. The car had more than a little exposure to body filler, pop rivets, sheetmetal screws, and a MIG welder, making it "good enough" to get back on the road.
The more we took it apart, the more damage and hacked repair work was exposed. This isn't an experience unique to us: We all know guys who have spent big money to have a car restored somewhere, only to take it to another shop and learn they threw their money away on hacked bodywork.
Craig Hopkins, owner of AMD's Installation Center, has fixed a lot of other shops' sketchy sheetmetal work. Their process is fairly straight-forward: after studying what order the panels were originally assembled, AMD uses jigs and gauges made to factory specs found in the factory shop manuals, disassembles the body down to usable metal, and reassembles the body in the same order the factory did.
And though very involved, the process is fairly straightforward. However, that said, it's not simply a matter of whipping out the welder and blue-gluing the new metal together once it's clamped in place—instead, they use a process called three-phase water-cooled spot welding, and their equipment is certified to weld all domestic, including European modes, which produces a factory finish to their builds. To get the job handled, we only elected to use the high-quality sheetmetal from Auto Metal Direct. Hopkins and his crew hand-fit each panel, and if it's not just right, they detail it until it is. The end result is an original, restored body with factory VIN numbers, hand-fitted together as good or better than the mass-produced originals.
This month we follow along as they get the roof bracing, firewall, and rocker panels back into shape.