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.