Body Work & Auto Paint Tips - Get Your Paint On
Bodywork Is Plagued With Pitfalls That Can Cost You Time And Money. We Asked The Experts For Their Advice On How To Stretch Your Restoration Buck.
From the June, 2009 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Stephen Kim
Photography by Stephen Kim
Who knew that loitering could be so productive? It turns out that hanging out at a high-end body shop and asking a bunch of annoying questions actually pays off. To get the lowdown on bodywork, we spent the day at Austin's Collision & Body Works (Austin, Texas), a high-caliber restoration facility that's built more six-figure musclecars, street rods, and customs than it can count. We were greeted there by Camaros, Novas, and Chevelles galore in various stages of the restoration process. The cumulative effect was witnessing the entire restoration process-from start to finish-simultaneously, which provided an excellent education.
Shop owner Rodney Austin, who has more than 30 years of metalworking experience, graciously answered our elementary inquiries. Just some of the things we picked up during our tour: how to asses the severity of rust damage in a body panel; determining the most cost-effective way to repair sheetmetal; how to skillfully reuse miscellaneous trim pieces to save some cash; the pros and cons of various paints and application techniques; questionable yet common Band-Aid fixes that should be avoided; the importance of proper prep.
Furthermore, we also picked up some nifty tricks-such as hiding large weld seams behind the framerails, hitting the undercarriage with epoxy, and closing up panel gaps with a welder-which will help you incorporate into your project the same elements that go into a high-dollar restoration, without leaving you broke. After seeing the carnage that results as a consequence of poor bodywork, you'll be convinced that it pays to study up and do it right the first time.
A common mistake when replacing...
A common mistake when replacing a trunk floor is cutting it out and throwing away everything that's attached to it. Oftentimes, items like the gas tank straps and the trunk latch and bumper supports aren't included with replacement floorpans. While they are available from the aftermarket, the stock pieces are generally in decent shape since they're built from a thicker-gauge (sometimes galvanized) metal than the floorpan. Cutting them off and reusing them saves time, money, and headaches.
Here's a classic example of...
Here's a classic example of where a simple patch panel won't cut it. The quarter on this '68 Camaro has been hit at least once, probably more, and subjected to some hideous bodywork. "Something like this, with 1/2 to 3/4 inch of mud, is totally unacceptable. Anything more than 1/8 inch is too much," explains Austin. "Work like this is common with lots of backyard mechanics and even some shops because it's a lot easier to load a car up with $25-a-gallon Bondo than it is to learn how to replace a body panel. I always recommend replacing the entire quarter-panel because that enables you to take care of all the dents and rust at the same time. Patch panels can start cracking between the welds if you don't do it right. If you put a full quarter-panel on, you only have a tiny amount of filler at the factory seam near the roof, and the amount of money you save in labor can more than make up the difference in price."
This Camaro quarter looks...
This Camaro quarter looks salvageable from a few feet away but is nothing more than scrap. Although there is a sufficient amount of decent metal overall, there's rust all around the wheelwell lip and holes from a dent-puller behind the rear tires from a prior repair. "Don't be misled by the amount of overall rust-free metal in a panel. If there's a lot of rust or dents concentrated in one small area, then you can patch the panel," Austin says. "However, if there are small rust spots, dents, and holes spread out over the entire panel, then it's not worth the labor of trying to patch it. Just replace the whole quarter-panel and be done with it. That way you won't have to worry about new rust spots popping up six months after you finished painting your car."
Engine torque and normal wear...
Engine torque and normal wear and tear tend to twist a car's body over time. Even without a specialized lift, a few simple tools can help ensure that the body and frame are straight before removing any body panels. The first step is to support the car with jackstands at each corner near the pinch welds on the rocker panels. Next, hang plumb bobs from each corner of the car and measure to make sure the frame is straight. "Replace one panel at a time, because once you cut everything loose, it's really tough to line everything back up again," Austin advises. "Adjust doors to old quarters first, take note of the gaps, and use them as a reference point when attaching the new panel. Clamp everything down really well, and check door gaps and trunk gaps continually as you weld to make sure the panel isn't moving around on you. The last thing you want to do is have to cut a panel you just welded on back off for adjustment."
As with quarter-panels and...
As with quarter-panels and fenders, floorpans can be patched, but replacing the entire pan offers several benefits. Patching up just one or two "quadrants" of a floor results in unsightly welds and seams. Replacing the entire floorpan ensures that everything between the toe board and the rear package tray area is rust-free. Furthermore, it's the only way to properly fix a trans tunnel that may have been butchered to fit a nonstock trans. "For a quality restoration, it just looks more polished and professional when you don't have welds running all over the place. When you replace the entire floor, it looks factory," says Austin. "Also remember to drill out and reuse the old seat risers, since they aren't included with replacement pans. They're much more durable than the floorpan and seldom rust. Reusing them is a good way to save some money."
A poor man's solution to rusted...
A poor man's solution to rusted floors and trunks is to try and weld up each rust hole. Unfortunately, this Band-Aid fix won't last long. The floor will rust up again in no time.