24 Key Paint & Body Tips
These Secrets Straight From the Pros will Save you Time and Money on your Next Paint and Body Project
From the October, 2011 issue of Chevy High Performance
By Stephen Kim
Photography by Stephen Kim
In a profession packed with perks, one of our favorites is kickin’ it at various shops and oogling over the fruits of other people’s money and labor. Whether we’re playing stowaway at a chassis shop, a machine shop, or a restoration shop, instead of throwing us overboard for loitering, we’re often welcomed with open arms just because we’re members of the media. They even tolerate our incessant questioning because they know we’ll pass that knowledge onto our loyal readers. This month’s assignment was simple: Spend a day at a high-end muscle car restoration shop and report back with a list of tips and tricks on how to achieve show-quality paint and bodywork.
The shop in question is Dooley & Sons Rods & Customs (www.dooleyandsons.com) in Magnolia, Texas. Since 1961, the shop has been cranking out superclean and functional muscle cars and street rods, and in recent years, it has fully embraced the Pro Touring creed with a complete line of custom chassis and suspension components. From metalwork to custom interiors to paint to final assembly, Dooley’s does it all in house at its 20,000-square-foot facility.
Once inside the complex, we were welcomed by a full lineup of Tri-Fives, Corvettes, Impalas, and Camaros, all in different stages of restoration. This provided an excellent opportunity to compile some general paint and body tips that will either save you big bucks or big headaches. For instance, did you know that you can destroy a quarter-panel just by attaching trim pieces incorrectly? Likewise, if you don’t jig a car up right, you’ll never get the body panels straight. Additionally, Jeff Cameron and the crew and Dooley’s provided insight on how to quiet down the cabin of your street machine as much as possible, and how to reuse what may seem to be junk body panels to save a few bucks. To find out more, you’ll have to keep reading.
With most muscle cars now...
With most muscle cars now approaching 50 years of age, you never quite know what you’re going to get until you take them apart. Pulling the door panels off this ’64 Impala revealed that the original metal had been hacked up to install a power window kit. Since the Impala’s doors were already painted, and new replacements cost $350 each, Jeff Cameron bought a set of rusty used doors for $50 a piece. Although the door shells on the replacements were rusted, the insides of the doors were still solid. As such, the insides of the replacements were cut out and welded into the original doors. Not only were the used doors cheaper than new replacements, but this trick helped save loads of money on repainting the doors, and the hassle of trying to match the color to the rest of the car.
A quality paintjob often requires...
A quality paintjob often requires completely stripping a car down, but sometimes it’s nearly impossible to get interior trim pieces to fit back in the same way they came out. Items like door panels often attach with a combination of clips and screws. Cameron recommends using an ice pick to help line up the panel to the screw holes before re-attaching the clips. Afterward, the panel can be screwed into place.
For full-frame cars like Tri-Fives...
For full-frame cars like Tri-Fives and Chevelles built with road course use in mind, Cameron highly recommends replacing the factory rubber body mounts with solid aluminum units. Although ride quality will take a hit, since even full-frame cars tend to flex quite a bit, it’s imperative to make the chassis as solid as possible. Otherwise, the suspension simply can’t perform properly.
Using a chassis jig ensures...
Using a chassis jig ensures that the body is completely level and straight before welding up the body panels. When new quarters and tail panels were installed on this Camaro, Cameron noticed that the left rear framerail was 3/4 inch lower than the right side. This allowed straightening the frame before attaching the rest of the body panels, and attempting to line them up in vain. According to Cameron, if a panel is just 1/8-inch off in the front of the car, it can be as much as 5 inches off by the time you get to the back of the car.
Many hot rodders recognize...
Many hot rodders recognize the benefits of lining the floorboards with Dynamat, but how about the roof? Cameron says doing so cuts down on wind and road noise dramatically. Many ’50s cars like Tri-Fives had a paper-based product on roof liner from the factory, and it must be scraped off before laying down Dynamat. Taking things one step further, a Dynaliner foam product measuring 1/2-inch thick can also be sprayed on top of the Dynamat in the headliner. The process is so effective that Cameron often performs it on late-models as well.
To set this first-gen Camaro...
To set this first-gen Camaro apart from the pack, the fresh air vent was removed from the cowl and replaced with a custom 16-gauge metal plate. Since the front leading edge of the cowl panel is curved, it’s more effective to use a shrink-stretcher instead of metal brake. Even for a skilled fabricator, making a panel like this takes a full day of work.
When installing new lower...
When installing new lower quarter-panels, the easy way out is overlapping the panels instead of butt-welding them together. However, this requires using a lot of body filler, and moisture tends to collect in the overlapped section and cause rust. To avoid this, Cameron prefers butt-welding the panels together using a TIG machine. He says, “You weld a little, hammer dolly the metal, then let it cool off before moving onto the next section. It’s a long, drawn-out process that takes two to three days on each side of the car, but once we’re done, it looks like it’s a factory-original quarter.”
Tight panel gaps distinguish...
Tight panel gaps distinguish pro bodywork from hack jobs. Cameron suggests using a nickel to help gauge panel gaps, and fills them in with metal and filler rod as opposed to body filler. The door-to-quarter-panel gap is notoriously large whenever using replacement quarters. In bare metal, Cameron shoots for a 3/16-inch gap, which provide clearance for paint and primer. Once the panels have been painted, the gap closes up even more.
One of the most overlooked...
One of the most overlooked yet most difficult pieces of sheetmetal to replace is the taillight panel. Once set in position, it must be clamped at multiple points to keep it straight while welding. Before any welding takes place, however, new edges must be fabricated around the taillight section to tie it into the quarters. That’s because replacement quarter-panels are straight and don’t include a metal edge that wraps around the taillights.