The basic rule of thumb when working on cars is to only replace the parts that need to be replaced, with the exception of parts that come in sets, such as leaf springs, valve springs, brake pads, etc. If one quarter panel is rusted out or badly damaged, there’s no reason to replace both unless they both need it. The same goes for floorpans and frame rails. The worst enemy of old muscle cars is rust. Sometimes it lurks under new body filler and recent paint jobs, so you don’t know it exists until it’s too late. It’s common knowledge that once you see rust, there’s a lot more you can’t see yet.
This Tech Tip is From the Full Book “HOW TO RESTORE YOUR CAMARO 1967-1969“. For a comprehensive guide on this entire subject you can visit this link:
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What Should Be Replaced?
While restoring your Camaro, you’ll often discover some sort of body damage that demands repair. After all, these Camaros are more than 40 years old, so there’s a good chance that there’s been some trauma be it a serious dent or some rust to at least one panel. With the help of your body shop and some knowledge shared in this and other publications, you can decide how to best deal with the damage. In most cases, you should keep as much of the original sheetmetal as possible, but you don’t want to spend three times the cost of parts and labor to repair a stretched out and rusted original door skin instead of replacing it. Don’t get so emotionally attached to a factory piece of sheetmetal, or the entire shell for that matter, that your judgment is clouded and you keep parts of the car that just don’t make sense.
If your car is an original collector car and it’s going to make a difference that your deck lid isn’t stamped with the same Fisher Body stamp as the trunk flange and other sheetmetal and you have money to restore the piece, it makes sense. But you will have to pay a very talented metal worker who really knows his way around hammers, dollies, and heat- shrinking techniques with heat sources, like an oxyacetylene torch or a resistance spot welder. Sometimes it makes more economical sense to replace a piece of sheetmetal with a new stamped panel, as long as you buy a good stamped part from a good source. Companies, such as Dynacorn and OER, produce panels that are made slightly thicker and with better metal than the factory used.
Common Rust Areas
Trouble areas for rust include the top of the dashboard where it meets the windshield, underside of the cowl (which can be seen by peaking your head under the dash), lower corners around the rear window, lower quarter panels in front or behind the rear tires, rear corners front fenders where they meet the rocker panels, floorpans, trunk pan, window rain gutters, etc. These are the first places Camaros rust. In fact, if you don’t see rust in the common rust areas, there are two possibilities: The car is virtually rust free and there shouldn’t be rust anywhere else on the car, or you can’t find the common rust because somebody already repaired it.
However, there are rust areas that you can’t see without more in-depth inspection or in places you can’t see without removing trim parts or body panels. If somebody repaired the more visible areas and you find more hidden rust, you’re in for a big surprise because they probably dug into a panel to repair it and found the damage was too extensive to continue, so they made the smaller repair and put the car up for sale. You may also find rust in the door- jambs between the body and the door hinges. Because the factory attached the hinges to the body and doors, as well as the deck lid to the trunk hinges, before paint or primer was applied, these bare-metal surfaces were prone to rust in extra- damp climates. Just because you don’t see rust in the common areas doesn’t mean that there isn’t rust in many other hidden areas.
Step-1: Firewall Sheetmetal Installation
A Detroit Speed employee removes excess steel in preparation for installing all new sheetmetal. Note the braces in the door openings and across the A pillar to keep the structure square, while all other support is missing. Also notice that the exterior paint, glass, and headliner are covered. A detail many shops miss is protecting these delicate surfaces from the hot flack when grinding and welding metal. (Photo courtesy Detroit Speed)
Step-2: Firewall Sheetmetal Installation
The panels are test fitted (note the brake-pedal bracket bolted to the firewall to ensure correct fitment) before being welded. They have all paint removed between the panels to promote clean welds, and have been drilled every couple of inches to be plug welded for strength. When the panels are three or more layers thick, all but the bottom panel are drilled, so all panels get good weld penetration. (Photo courtesy Detroit Speed)
Step-3: Firewall Sheetmetal Installation
All the holes in the firewall and upper and lower cowl are plug welded. This car is not a stock build, so there isn’t a hole for the heater or blower motor. You can see the jig (bottom of photo) used to make sure the firewall sub frame mounts stay lined up correctly during the process. (Photo courtesy Detroit Speed)
Step-4: Firewall Sheetmetal Installation
Make sure each panel is clamped across its entire length to keep it from shifting. Don’t put too much heat in one area, to avoid warping. Weld the hole, cool the area, and start over. You can see that the plug welds on this firewall have all been ground smooth, starting with 3M Green Corps Roloc discs on a high speed die grinder. The seam was then tig welded with Silicon Bronze filler rod. The strength of tigging with bronze is about 50 percent actual steel, so it needs to be accompanied by the plug welds. Silicon Bronze does not require much heat to tig so it’s great to fill seams without warping the panels when you’re careful. Clamps can also be seen inside the car on the dashboard. (Photo courtesy Detroit Speed)
Step-5: Firewall Sheetmetal Installation
The outer shell of the cowl panel shoulder is the last piece of the puzzle and has been prepped the same as the other panels. It is clamped in multiple places to ensure it stays where it’s supposed to. Once the panel is welded in place you should paint the inside of the panel and seam seal it, since there’s a good chance you’ll still have access to the back side of this area through the fresh-air vent holes. (Photo courtesy Detroit Speed)
Step-6: Firewall Sheetmetal Installation
Once the welding is done to the internal seams, Detroit Speed primers all the surfaces with rust inhibiting paint to protect the steel, then seals all the seams with SEM seam sealer to keep moisture from getting between the panels where rust breeds. Unlike the factory, you can seal the back side of the seams to protect your investment of time and money. The stock panel has a duct opening here, but a custom speaker can was built in its place. Once the outer shell is welded in place, painting and sealing access is very minimal, so it was sealed as much as possible, but the flanges weren’t painted so they could be welded. (Photo courtesy Detroit Speed)
You can cut rust out and replace the metal. Or, if the rust isn’t substantial yet, you can use a good rust- inhibitor coating. There are a few great products on the market that stop oxygen from getting to the rust. Without oxygen, rust can’t continue to spread. The two most popular products on the market are KBS Coatings and POR-15.
Because the external body panels are extremely visible, they get a lot more attention and repair. The floor- pans typically are left to rot, or if they are repaired, they are hacked together and left alone. If you looked under a lot of Camaros, like I have while working at a shop with hundreds of Camaros up on mechanics’ lifts, you’d be appalled at the quality of work (or lack thereof) performed on floorboards. I’ve seen some rusted-out floorpans where new patches were installed with screws and gasket sealer and some floor patch panels welded directly over the original rusty panel, which can still be seen from under the car. Hackers know that the carpet covers the top side of their hack jobs and a couple of cans of rubberized undercoating covers the work under the car. It’s not easy to do a great job under the car, but it’s not impossible.
Replacement floorpans come in different types. You can buy smaller patch panels in quarter sections, left half or right half, from the firewall to the rear seat or from the firewall to the tail panel. Inspect your floorpan to deter- mine how much you need to replace. If your floorpan has minimal rust on one side or in one part of the footwell, you may only need to replace a patch panel. Keep in mind that heavy surface rust can weaken a panel severely. If there aren’t any visible cancer holes in the floor, it doesn’t mean that the floor doesn’t need to be replaced. If you can move the floorpan by simply pushing down on it with your hand, it indicates serious structural weakness and you should consider replacing the panel. The seats are bolted to the seat risers, which are attached to the floorpan. If the floorpan is weak enough and your seat breaks loose while you’re driving, you could get in a serious accident.
When removing the bad sections of metal, keep removing material until the metal is not heavily rusted with scale. Replacement floorpans need to be welded to the old metal. It’s hard to weld a new floorpan to rusted and thin sheetmetal. If you’re successful in welding a new panel to a severely rust- damaged panel, the strength of the car is questionable. A structure is only as strong as its weakest link, and you want to perform the highest quality restoration possible, so the car pro- vides years of reliable service.
Dynacorn sells replacement floor- pans in a couple of different configurations. For severely damaged Camaros, it sells a floorpan that is completely welded from the base of the firewall to the tail panel. It includes a seamless floor section, welded trunk pan, and welded rear frame rails. The extra freight to ship this section outweighs the labor it would cost a shop to weld all the panels together.
With the introduction of sound deadeners that stick to the floor, such as Dynamat or Thermotec CoolMat, there’s a whole new step added to the equation of restoration. Removing the sticky mat is almost impossible without making a mess, unless you use dry ice to freeze it. (Don’t handle dry ice with your hands because you can get severe burn injuries similar to burns from heat and have to visit the emergency room at the hospital. Handle the sheets of dry ice with tongs and use insulated leather gloves.) Always wear protective eye goggles when handling and working around dry ice. The insulating mat is typically a gooey, sticky tar- like substance that takes consider- able time to scrape and scrub off the panels. After most of it is removed you still have a sticky residue that takes hours to clean with lacquer thinner or other sol- vents. When you lay the dry ice on the insulating mat for a very short period of time (test on a small section to determine how long it takes for your specific application), it freezes the mat to a solid substance that is easier to chip off the panel. Use a hammer and a heavy-duty putty knife to knock the sound deadener off the panel. Get the dry ice in flat square slabs that you can lay flat on the floor.
The market for the first generation Camaro sheetmetal was not great in the late 1990s. When it came to replacement quarter panels, you had to get an old NOS Chevrolet quarter if you wanted one with the integrated sail panel. This was before eBay.com and Craigslist.com where you can just get online and have unlimited possibilities at your fingertips. If you didn’t have access to knowledge of an NOS quarter panel stuffed in some guy’s garage, you were forced to buy just the quarter skin without the sail panel or trunk sill, or you had to find a donor car with a good quarter. A lot of cars that we would call restorable today were cut up for quarters, then scrapped.
A few companies, such as OER and Dynacorn, have stepped up and met the demand because donor cars are more difficult to find and the steel is losing its integrity because of age.
Step-1: Quarter Panel Replacement
Overall this quarter panel was in pretty good shape. The person who replaced it many years ago performed a decent job of filling the gaps with body filler, but installed it about 1/4 inch too low. Dick Kvamme, of Best of Show Coachworks (BOS), is removing the bulk of the panel with a plasma cutter. He left the roof seam, doorjamb, and edges to be removed more carefully, then trim the rest with a cutoff wheel after cutting the spot welds loose. Be extra careful not to cut through the braces immediately under the panel in the sail panel, and the 1967 diagonal brace from the rocker panel to the doorjamb. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-2: Quarter Panel Replacement
The previous installer forgot to reconnect the quarter to the outer wheelhouse as well as the rear package shelf to the inner sail panel support structure. The lack of integrity explains the cracked body filler in the quarter panel. This is poor quality from an inexperienced installer. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-3: Quarter Panel Replacement
Since the inner and outer wheelhouses had also been installed poorly, they were removed to make way for new stamped panels. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-4: Quarter Panel Replacement
Don’t be tempted to do the job halfway and not replace the outer doorjamb panel. The more splices you make the more places there are for future cracks to appear. Dick has drilled out the perimeter spot welds and carefully ground out the spot welds around the striker. The previous installer had put a 1967 quarter onto this 1968. You can tell because of the absence of the air vent in the doorjamb. With some attention, we were able to salvage the jamb sub-panel. We cut the vent hole after the job was finished. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-5: Quarter Panel Replacement
The original roof seam was still in place because the quarter was only replaced up to the base of the sail panel. The factory seams are “leaded.” Lead is bad for you and the environment, so take the proper safety steps to protect your skin and lungs when heating the lead and scrubbing it with a wire brush. Don’t overheat the surrounding metal or you’ll warp the roof panel. Only apply enough heat to the area to remove the lead. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-6: Quarter Panel Replacement
Unfortunately, more harm than good was previously done on the inner wheelhouse and tail panel, so they were also removed. All the excess metal was trimmed around the edges with 3M cutting and grinding discs. Before removing the quarter and other pieces, Dick tacked in the angle iron to keep everything lined up. The whole trunk pan and rear frame rail will sag too, so it’s important to support it from the bottom and make sure it’s square before welding any of the panels in place. Here you can see a new trunk floor drop-off panel tacked into place. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-7: Quarter Panel Replacement
The inner wheelhouses are very important structural supports for the rigidity of the rear section of the car. After multiple fitments of the inner and outer wheelhouse, it is finally welded in all the right spots. You can also see where the inner sail panel support is now welded to the rear package shelf. Dick confirmed the trunk was square, so he welded the trunk hinge support to the inner wheelhouse. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-8: Quarter Panel Replacement
Once the outer wheelhouse is fitted and welded in place, it is time to protect all these hidden parts from inevitable future rust problems. We used some Rust Seal from KBS Coatings, but we didn’t coat the areas we’re going to weld. We poured the paint into a separate can, to not pollute the original can. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-9: Quarter Panel Replacement
Gregg Blundell helped Dick test fit the quarter panel. It took many tries to confirm which edges on the panel and the car had to be trimmed before the panel fit the car like a glove. You can see the panel spreader giving the roof a little lift to help with the fitting of the panel. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-10: Quarter Panel Replacement
It’s common for the outer wheelhouse and the quarter to take extra massaging to align correctly. Even if all the panels are from the same supplier, this can be a problem area. It’s just part of the job and it’s expected. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-11: Quarter Panel Replacement
Once the car is square, confirm that the trunk gap to the quarter and the doorjamb is good. Give the panel a couple tacks at the sail panel and the doorjamb. Before final welding is started, test fit the tail panel with some sheetmetal screws to keep it from moving around. The panel may take some trimming and adjustment to get it to fit to the quarters and the inner tail panel. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-12: Quarter Panel Replacement
With everything tacked in place, start welding the quarter and the roof panel together. The quality of the weld at the roof seam is very important because it is a high-stress area and you don’t want the seam to flex. Be very careful not to overheat the roof or the quarter, because they warp easily, which adds even more time to your body work to fix. Dick welds a short section and then cools it with an air nozzle as he goes. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-13: Quarter Panel Replacement
Drill a series of holes in the quarter panel gutter and plug weld them to the inner sail panel structure. Then place two very small tacks (that are removed later) to lock the gap between the quarter panel and the rear window filler panel while welding the rest of the perimeter of the panels to the car. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-14: Quarter Panel Replacement
Quarter panels don’t come with a trunk gutter that holds weather strip. The gutters usually come in a set of right, left, and upper center. Use multiple clamps to hold the gutter in place and don’t get it too hot when welding. You don’t want the gutter or the quarter to warp and distort. Small pieces like this become distorted really fast. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-15: Quarter Panel Replacement
If you don’t have the skill to “lead” the roof seam, use a filler that’s extremely strong as the base filler. Once the weld is ground back, apply a layer of U-POL SMC Bonding Compound to the seam. It’s a fiber reinforced filler that works great for thicker applications such as this. Strength comes from the fibers, which includes carbon fiber. After only 20 minutes it was set up and ready for sanding. Dick wanted to knock it down in a hurry so he used a 40-grit 3M Hook-It sanding pad. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-16: Quarter Panel Replacement
To make sure all the products work well together, use a thin coat of U-POL’s Fly Weight lightweight body filler. After only 10 minutes it was set up and Dick “blocked” it with a short hand-block with 3M 40-grit paper to give the seam the correct shape. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Step-17: Quarter Panel Replacement
The final step involves applying a thin coat of high-viscosity U- POL Dolphin Glaze to fill any pinholes and imperfections. After about 10 minutes, use some 80-grit followed by some 120-grit sanding pads. Now it’s time for some primer to prep the surface and get it ready for paint. (Photo courtesy Steven Rupp)
Body Panel Alignment
Just about every part of assembling a car has an order, which helps the process go smoothly. Aligning the doors and front sheetmetal is no exception. The subframe should be aligned to the body (see Chapter 9), so that the front sheetmetal that hangs off it can be installed correctly. Door alignment to the quarter panels and rockers is the best place to start. Once the door gaps are set, you can align the front sheetmetal correctly.
The radiator support should already be installed and the isolator bushings that attach it to the frame should be loose enough to allow adjustment during this process of aligning the body panels.
In order to properly align the front fenders, you need to complete the following procedures: Preassemble front fenders and skirts (inner fenderwells), corner bumper brackets, and fender extensions. Do not fully tighten the fender extensions; leave them a little loose for adjustment. If you’re going to install new emblems on the front fenders between the front tire and the door, you should do that before putting the fenders on the car.
Assemble the headlight and all its hardware to the headlight housing bracket and set them aside for later use. Assemble the lower valance, grille header panel, grille, hood catch assembly, and hood lock catch support. Tape the edge of the doors and door gaps on the front fenders to add a little protection against chipping the paint during the process. This does not stop chipping from occurring, so you have to be careful. Install all hood rubber bumpers (the two on the top of the radiator support and the two bumpers on the fenders in the hood gap). Install the lower windshield trim on the cowl.
With doors closed, loosely install the bolts that hold the fenders to the radiator support. Loosely install the fender bolts on top of the cowl and in front of the cowl, as well as the skirt to firewall brace. Then loosely install the cowl vent grille panel at the base of the windshield.
Install head light and parking light wiring harness on the radiator support, then loosely install the header, grille, fender valance assembly, and radiator support. Adjust the fender to the door and the cowl vent grille by shimming the top of the cowl and the front of the firewall. Tab-in the upper doorjamb, and then the lower fender bolts. Tighten the skirt to firewall brace.
Tighten the front sheetmetal bolts (including the front-of-fender skirts to the base of the radiator support), but leave the radiator support loose on the frame. Using a tape measure, measure from corner to corner in an X pattern and square the front sheetmetal. Tighten the radiator support to the frame.
Install the hood hinges, hood, and hood lock. Installing the hood itself is a two-person job. Slowly lower the hood, making sure it clears the cowl vent grille cover and sides of fenders. Adjust the hood as needed to get the hood gaps to the fenders to match the gap to the front grille header, as well as the height of the hood to the rest of the body. Adjusting the hood is a difficult, time-consuming task.
Move the cowl vent grille forward to get the correct gap to the back of the hood, and shim the front as necessary. If the cowl vent grille moves too far forward, you may need to move the hood back a little to have the gap match the front and rear of the hood. If you have trouble with the gaps, you may need to loosen some of the body parts and shift them around a little. Install headlight assemblies, grille parts, horns, and battery tray.
Dings and Dents
There are plenty of books avail- able to show you how to repair dents and dings so I won’t go into too much depth here. In fact, CarTech’s How to Paint Your Car on a Budget is a great source. Eastwood sells a manual, The Key to Metal Bumping, which explains important dent removal basics and the right hammers to use for a particular job.
There are many different types of body hammers and they each per- form a different task, so educate yourself on dent removal and figure out which tools you’ll need. East wood offers a bodywork starter set that contains three different hammers with the most common pro- files, so you can effectively work out dents and other body deformities.
Once you’ve done that, you can get good-quality tools from companies such as Eastwood. Don’t forget, you get what you pay for. Cheap hammers are made with cheap wood handles that crack and break, and the metal faces and tips are soft, leaving you with junk tools after very little use. Even Eastwood’s least expensive hammers are better than the substandard hammers you can buy for a fraction of the price at the flea market or discount tool store.
One basic idea is that the best way to pull out a dent is to pull it out in the direction it was made. For instance, if you have a Camaro that was smashed in the rear and you took it to a frame shop, they would load the car on a frame machine. They would mount frame clamps and plates to the rear of the body and pull the deepest caved-in area out in the direction it was created. They would pull the dent out a little at a time to make sure they didn’t pull it out too far. If the chains are not anchored to the car on the sturdy sheetmetal with good hardware you can pull the anchor right out of the panel, making the dam- age worse.
Other dents in the tail panel should be pounded out with body hammers, while tension is still pulling on the panel. Once the tail panel is pulled out enough, smaller bodywork can be performed. I’ve watched a very experienced body man work on a car that had rear-end damage and was hit hard enough to slightly buckle the quarter panel. The body technician anchored one end of a chain to the rear subframe and the other end of the chain to a sturdy anchor in the floor. He slowly pulled the car forward to gently put tension on the chain, then he gently got on the throttle. The tires spun for a few revolutions and the buckle in the quarter disappeared. A professional did this in a safe environment, so if you’re going to try this sort of thing, use good judgment, an extremely strong chain, and a really good anchor on both ends.
The same procedure for pulling out a caved-in tail panel should be applied to smaller dents. In the past, the typical shop removed smaller dents with a hammer. They’d resort to drilling holes in the dent and would use a slide hammer to pull the dent out. Not only does this require drilling holes in the panel you’re trying to repair, the screw of the hammer stretches the metal and pulls out of the panel, which causes even more damage to be repaired. In addition, the drilled holes also weaken the panel. But, fortunately, slide hammering has come out of the dark ages. Now you can tack weld rods to the panel and then attach the slide hammer to the rods and pull the dent out. Next, you simply snap off the rods and grind their heads off the panel. The panel is still in great shape and ready for some filler.
You wouldn’t knock down an old Victorian house and build a skyscraper on the old foundation. The same applies to paint. In order to get the best results on the body and paint, you’re better off starting with a clean slate. You have no idea what is under that old paint or what condition the metal is in. Sure, you can use the old paint as a base and only sand the necessary parts down to the metal. Collision shops have been doing this for years with hit and miss results. Leaving the old paint saves time and keeps the cost down on a project, but it’s a certain amount of laziness. I’m just saying that if you want the best results from your work, you should start with a clean slate. If you’re going to apply body filler, you definitely need to remove all the paint first.
You don’t have to remove all the paint if you can verify the quality of work and materials used so far in the project. If you’ve partially painted the car and determined its quality, you can match the paint. For example, the project car in this book had a few body panels and other parts painted a couple of years ago. We know exactly what materials were used and that all the work was done correctly. Now the choice has been made to change the color. In this case, we can simply scuff the current paint and apply new color, knowing with confidence that the foundation is top-notch. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you have no idea what’s been done before, so removing everything is the safest way to proceed before you spend a lot of money and time. Removing years of paint, primer, and filler requires aggressive methods. Each way has good and bad points to get to the final result.
Physically grinding and sanding the paint and filler from your car down to the steel is a huge task. Not only is this method extremely time consuming, it costs a lot of money in sandpaper. You can use a right- angle grinder/sander, which doubles as the polisher, to remove paint with a little more speed. These are very aggressive and can leave deep scratches in the metal, removing precious material. They also distort panels from the heat they generate on the surface of the panel. If you only use an orbital DA sander with less aggressive paper, you’ll be spending a lot of time removing material and you’ll spend a lot of money in paper, especially if your car has a lot of filler to be removed.
There are two ways to chemically strip a car: You can either brush on chemical stripper or you may find a shop that can dip your entire car and panels in a large tank of paint removing caustic chemicals. Applying chemical stripper by hand and then scraping and scrubbing off paint is a tedious and time-consuming job. Certainly, acid dipping the body at a body shop is far easier and less time consuming, but it is also more expensive. If you choose to apply chemical stripper by hand, there are many stripping solutions on the market, including those that contain methyl chloride, which is an extremely hazardous substance. There are environmentally safe and effective options such as Eastwood’s DeKote, which doesn’t contain methyl chloride. DeKote effectively cuts through paint and makes scraping off paint relatively easy, and it’s not potentially hazardous to your health.
In the old days, you only had a regular sand blaster to remove all the paint from your car. The sand does a pretty decent job of removing paint, rust, and body filler from body panels, but if you’re not careful, it also does a great job damaging the sheet- metal. The typical media used in sand blasting heats up the panels extremely fast, which causes the metal to warp and distort. A technique of keeping the blast nozzle at a 45-degree angle to the surface of the metal helps slow the damaging heat, but you should keep checking the surface to ensure you don’t overheat it. The good part of sand blasting is that the bare metal surface is left with a rough texture, which pro- motes filler and primer adhesion.
The newer technique of baking soda blasting is a much more elegant way to remove paint and thinner body fillers. The baking-soda blaster can delicately remove paint by the layer. You can remove the paint from an aluminum can without damaging the can. The beauty of baking-soda blasting is that it doesn’t damage glass, rubber, or chrome, so you don’t have to do as much time-consuming taping and protecting of these surfaces. Also, the mess left behind is not abrasive like sand and other material, so you can also use it to clean engine compartments. You should still cover openings in the engine, but sand and other abrasive media is more harmful to moving parts than errant baking soda dust.
When you’re done making a mess on the ground, you have baking soda and the materials you removed from the car, instead of hazardous chemical strippers and media that can be harmful to the environment. Because you’re probably removing grease, oil, and some lead based products, you should wear a dust mask or respirator and eye goggles to protect your lungs and eyes. Wear a long sleeved shirt to cover your arms, and leave the shirt untucked and over the top of your pants pockets to keep the debris and dust from building up in your pants. The mess on the ground should be swept up and disposed of properly because it contains some harmful debris that will pollute the soil and water supply.
Body Stamp Care
If you’re doing a high-quality restoration, you’ll probably want to be able to read the body stamps after the car is painted. Before spraying thick filler primers/sandable primers, take note of all the body stamps and tape over them before spraying the first coat of thick primer so that you don’t fill up all the body stamps because they’ll be unreadable. This especially goes for VIN plates and cowl tags (a.k.a. trim tags). We’ve personally seen VIN plates with so much filler primer on them that you couldn’t make out 90 percent of the digits. The tops of the dashboards on these cars were obviously wearing a thick coat of primer hiding some ugly repair work. Imagine the first time a police officer notices the VIN is unreadable. Your day will get long really quick. We’ve also heard of a cowl tag filled with so much filler primer that when it was removed to clean it, there was a 1/16- inch ridge around the edges where the tag was sunken into the filler.
Once all the heavy primer has been used in the process of getting a straight body, peel off the tape, and carefully sand down the built-up edges of primer to feather them. Now spray your final primer, being careful not to put too much of it on the numbers. Then you are ready for paint, and the body stamps are much easier to read.
Cowl Tag Removal
Most enthusiasts have a big problem with removing the cowl tag from the firewall for fear of being fraudulent. There’s nothing fraudulent about removing the cowl tag during your restoration as long as you put the same tag back on the same car. Tampering with the VIN plate is a different story.
You may need to remove the cowl tag for a few reasons, including to protect it from getting too much filler primer on it, from getting damaged during chemical stripping (remember that the tag is aluminum not steel), or from getting damaged during the build process. In addition, there might be rust behind the panel that needs to be treated and the cowl panel needs to be replaced, etc. Before removing the tag, take a good clear photo of the tag, just in case you lose it with a two- to five-year restoration, that happens more than you would think.
Drilling out the rivets is not the best way to remove the plate because the rivets inevitably loosen and spin for eternity. With the cowl vent cover removed at the base of the windshield and the wiper arms and wiper motor removed, you should be able to squeeze a hand and some pliers behind the cowl tag. Gently pinch the back side of the rivets around the whole outside of the rivet to make it smaller in diameter. Spend a few patient minutes doing this and the rivet should get small enough to push through from the back side.
Put the cowl tag in a special and safe place. Throwing it in your tool- box is a good way to damage it in a hurry because a busy toolbox has a lot of tools rolling around. If you’re going to do that, you may as well just throw the tag out in the street. You can print out a picture of your cowl tag and put that in your toolbox if you want to. When you’ve done all the work and you’re ready for a final coat of primer followed by paint, then it’s time to install the cowl tag. You can buy factory-looking rivets from TrimTags.com and probably a couple other sources. They also sell a rivet install tool for a good price, or you can simply put a little dab of epoxy in the firewall holes, insert the rivets, and expand the rivets from the back side in the cowl area.
Once the rivets are holding the cowl tag in place, put a dab of seam sealer in the center of the rivet like the factory did. Now you’re ready to apply a thin coat of primer and start painting the car and firewall.
Written by Tony Huntimer and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks