Metal Repair - One Week In
5-day metal rebuild
From the August, 2012 issue of Mopar Muscle
By Randy Bolig
Photography by Randy Bolig
It was a long five days, and all I can say is that I'm glad we survived the ordeal. Everyone knows restoring a car usually takes months, if not years, to actually complete just the metal work. With that in mind, we had what we thought at first to be a hair brained idea, but after some not-so-careful thought, our idea quickly turned into a plan. It was a plan that was developed at the spur of the moment, and up until we actually carried out said plan, it would cause me sleepless nights, hoping we could accomplish it. But here it is. After five days of cutting metal, sandblasting rust, and installing a couple hundred spot-welds, we finally had a rebuilt Dart. But I guess I'm getting ahead of myself.
The original plan/idea was that we would work with the guys at the AMD Installation Center, to completely rebuild the body of a rusty '69 Dart GT in five days. You heard that correctly. Now, there wouldn't be a crew of 20 people working around the clock to build a completed car. Actually there would be two (maybe three on occasion) people working on the car at any given time, and our given time would be between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Since that was the case, said plan was to simply get all of the required metal replaced on the body, so the car could be painted at a later date. Even though the installation center consists of two guys, we were being somewhat realistic, and felt that we could actually do just the metal work in this short period of time. So, the plan was hatched, and it was time to start cuttin' and weldin', and cuttin' and weldin', and...
Day One and a NonProductive Day Two
It was around 10:00 Monday morning when work began at the AMD Installation Center run by Craig Hopkins. The plan was that he and his shop manager, Chris Dyer, would completely rebuild the rusted '69 Dart by replacing as much metal with new AMD stuff as required. When we actually got started, what was required to be replaced was the entire floor from the firewall to the rear seat location, the trunk floor, outer wheel houses, the Dutchman panel, the hood and trunk lid, the driver-side door jamb, front fenders, and the quarter-panels. It seemed like a daunting task, and we weren't even sure we would complete it, but we were hell-bent on trying. Day one had us disassembling and cutting all of the rusted metal off of the car. When we were finished hacking, some of us were questioning our sanity, as all we had left was a skeleton of a car. Some of our metal was bolt on, and the removal of those items was straight forward. As for the rest of the metal, with the help of an air chisel, die grinder, and anything else that would cut, we were able to dissect the car on day one.
What I forgot about when planning this little endeavor, was that even though I say we planned to do this transformation in five days, I forgot to figure into this time frame the fact that the mediablasting guys would have the car for a day as well. That meant we actually only had four days to rebuild the Dart. We weren't worried--at first. On day two, since we had no car to work on, we decided that a trip to Auto Metal Direct's facility was in order. After all, where else could we get all of the metal we would need. We spent most of the day at AMD taking a tour, and getting things around for the car, and late in the afternoon we made the trip to Black Mountain Sandblasting to pick up what was left of our Dart.
1 Like many projects, the...
1 Like many projects, the first appearance usually doesn't give the full picture of how much rust a car really has. At the beginning of day one, we thought the week would be easy. Although it doesn't look too bad now, when we were done cutting the pieces out that needed to be replaced, there wasn't much left.
2 All you need to remove...
2 All you need to remove a little metal is a cut off wheel and a plasma cutter. If you're going to be removing a bunch of it, a body table like the one that Craig made is a must to keep the body from completely and literally falling to pieces. The table locates certain points of the body that will ensure it doesn't distort or flex out of shape when the metal is removed.
3 By 4:00 on day one, the...
3 By 4:00 on day one, the remains of the Dart were ready to head for mediablasting. If you're planning to mediablast the body of a project car, by removing the panels that will be replaced before blasting, the body can be thoroughly stripped of all rust before the reassembly begins.
4 Craig made this high-tech...
4 Craig made this high-tech trailer to support the body in all of the right locations to move it to the mediablast shop. What was left of the car would be subject to an abrasive shower and epoxy primer. Again, if the body is properly supported, no damage will occur.
5 John, Timothy, and Mitchell...
5 John, Timothy, and Mitchell worked late into the night on day one and into day two in order to get the remains of our car blasted and primed. We were able to take it back to the shop by 3:00 on day two. Once the old paint is removed, the body will flash rust in a short amount of time. The best way to protect the car is to apply an epoxy primer over the bare metal. Epoxy Primer is a two-part primer consisting of the primer itself, and an activator. It can be used as a direct-to-metal primer (DTM) because it has excellent corrosion resistant properties. Depending on the brand you use, it can also be reduced and used as a paint sealer. However, it is not meant to be sprayed over rust. It is not a neutralizer; the metal must be clean. Epoxy primer will adhere to all properly prepared metals, and can be used underneath body filler.
6 With the car back from...
6 With the car back from mediablasting, the guys at the AMD Installation Center got to work putting the puzzle back together by starting with the trunk floor. Our AMD floors came as complete sections, meaning the trunk floor is one piece, and the cabin floor is the same way.
Wednesday morning saw us getting started around 10 a.m., and it didn't take long for things to get accomplished. By 11:43, the trunk floor was in place and ready for welding. While Chris handled that, Craig and I were fitting the floorpan that stretched from the firewall to the rear seat area. I have to admit, I was skeptical about how this new sheetmetal was going to fit, but in the end, I had to concede to the fact that it did, and it fit well.
By 2:30 in the afternoon, the trunk floor was installed, and the cabin floor was having the finish welding done. I did get nervous, though, at about 1:00 when I saw Craig grinding and welding a pair of clamping pliers, but was pleasantly surprised when I saw the sheetmetal clamp that he made to fit over the rocker panel and secure the floorpan to the rocker. When 5:00 rolled around, Chris had the outer wheel houses and trunk extensions ready to accept the first quarter-panel, and it was time to go grab some grub and a beer--or something like that.
With the car's floors finished up on day three, and the back half of the car temporarily clamped together, it was time to focus on actually installing the quarter-panels. To do this, the trunk extensions, the outer wheelhouses, the trunk lid, and the doors all need to be installed on the car, but not welded in place. This is where a lot of clamping pliers come into play. Think about it, without having the doors, wheelhouses and trunk extensions in place, there is no way to know if the quarter-panel is properly located. By temporarily assembling all of the panels that coincide with the quarter-panels, the body lines and gaps can be set up like they need to be. By 9:30, the pieces were clamped into place, and the passenger-side quarter-panel was being positioned on the car.
The driver side was a little trickier, however, as the door striker/jamb area needed to be replaced as well. The nice thing about fitting panels on a Mopar is that there are alignment holes, and locating "tabs" that help position the pieces being installed. By 11:30, the driver-side quarter-panel was also hanging in its new location--albeit temporarily. We were really beginning to think that we might make it after all. With the back half of the car clamped together, it was time to cut and remove the Dutchman panel.
The Dutchman panel is the panel between the rear window and the trunk lid, and ours was in bad shape. Over time, water and dirt collect in the window channel, and the result is unwanted rust that creates unnecessary vent holes. It was close to 3:00, and we wanted to at least have everything clamped in place before the end of the day. Things were going our way, and when 5:00 came around, the Dutchman panel and the rest of the back half of the car had been spot-welded into place, and was ready for final welding on day five.
What I forgot to mention about day four, is that a couple of guys from the Tennessee Valley Mopar Club made the trek to North Georgia to see how things were going. Since they decided to hang out with us, we decided to put a couple of them to work. In hind sight, they might not come back since we did, but they were cool about it. Anyway, as with any situation where a bunch of guys get together, the night following day four was spent conversing and partaking of the cuisine at the local German eating establishment after we all finally found out where it was, right guys? It was a pleasant surprise to find out that they served beverages there as well--the 8 a.m. wake up time came too soon. Anyway, this was our final day to complete the job, and it looked like we might make it.
7 I have to admit, I was...
7 I have to admit, I was impressed at how well the full floor pan fit in the body of the Dart. I was ready for major hammering and tweaking, but none was needed. Now, don't kid yourself and think that any replacement panel will fall into place, and attach itself. There are too many variances built into each car for that to happen. Even when these cars will newly-built at the factory, the assembly guys had hammers.
8 When replacing this much...
8 When replacing this much sheetmetal, having the right tools is crucial. The welder that Chris is using is a pinch welder that not only makes the repairs resemble the original factory welds, it saves a lot of time. You can make do with a drill and a MIG welder, which will cost a lot less. Simply place the panel in its location, and mark the framerails from underneath. Once you have everything marked, drill holes just inside your lines, put the panel back in place, and then weld the drilled holes to the structure.
9 Speaking of having the...
9 Speaking of having the right tools, if you don't, just make them. These locking pliers were modified to aid in keeping the floor tight to the rocker panel for welding. This area of the body is too big for the welder that Craig has, but you can see the drilled holes that will be fill-welded to attach the floor.
10 Most A-Body cars have...
10 Most A-Body cars have had the jamb/striker area crack, and now AMD makes this complete jamb area to fix that problem. The jamb comes with alignment embossings formed into the panel to help you get it back in place properly.
11 Like we said earlier,...
11 Like we said earlier, to properly install the quarter-panel, you have to temporarily install the rest of the parts that attach to it. At this point, everything is only clamped together to allow for any adjustments that need to be made for proper alignment.
12 Since the Dutchman panel...
12 Since the Dutchman panel needs replacing, it's removed, and the replacement is temporarily put in place to allow for alignment of the entire rear half of the car.
While Chris started to handle some of the finish welding, the Tennessee Valley Mopar guys helped Craig get the front fenders and hood mounted. The AMD fenders were the first to go on, and since these were preproduction pieces, we didn't know what to expect. What we learned was that it took several sets of fenders being made to get them right, and the pair we had must have been the latest set, because they looked great to us. The headlight bucket areas had the right mounting points for the headlights and bezels, and the body lines were crisp and in the right spot. Although we didn't have a veneer caliper, the metal felt to be the same as the factory stuff was. What we were told about them, though, was to be careful with them, because they cost roughly $100,000 a piece. Since they were preproduction pieces, that was roughly the cost of R&D to get to this point. We were assured, though, that the actual production pieces will cost a lot less. The hood itself was something A-Body guys have needed for a while. The GT style hood had the correct bulges, and the attaching points for the hood chrome are as good as the factory mounting points.
*prices as of today, maybe not tomorrow
|Trunk Extension Panel
|Outer Wheel Houses
||$549.95 (x 2)*
By 3:00 on Friday--day five--the newly rebuild Dart was ready for the next phase of restoration, bodywork and painting. But we were done, both literally and physically. We had accomplished our goal, the body was welded back together, and would be able to head to the body shop for the finish work and painting.
We learned that the AMD installation center is a great place for those enthusiasts that really want to restore their car, but fear the problems that can arise when major metal repair is needed. Craig has developed a table/jig system that firmly places the car in the proper position so that assembly is a snap, and the body doesn't flex, twist, or get out of shape when large pieces of metal are removed. We definitely found a shop that can help you get your car back together. Apparently, nothing is ever too far gone to rebuild.
13 The quarter-panels are...
13 The quarter-panels are finally put into place. Now, don't just plan on these falling into place and everything being fine. You've just cut a car apart, and some adjustments will need to be made for it all to fit perfectly. After four days, it's finally starting to look like a car.
14 It would be impossible...
14 It would be impossible to set the gaps for the trunk lid without having it installed. AMD didn't have a reproduction trunk lid available at the time we were rebuilding the Dart, so the original was reinstalled for fitment.
15 Again with the pinch welder....
15 Again with the pinch welder. We're sure that not everyone has one of these, so drilling holes around the edge of the panel before installing it gives you a place to fill-weld, and is just as good of a repair. You'll just need to grind the weld a little bit to clean it up.
16 While Chris was focusing...
16 While Chris was focusing on welding the back half of the car, the guys from the Tennessee Valley Mopar Club jumped in and started putting the front end together. The hood is a reproduction piece from AMD, and the front fenders that we installed were the very first ones that AMD had made. These cost about $100,000 a piece, as they're prototypes. Yours will cost you a lot less--we're guessing around $600.
17 Done! It took five days...
17 Done! It took five days of bloody knuckles and rusty metal removal, but now the Dart is almost as good as new. Now it's time for some final bodywork, but maybe we'll wait until next week for that.
18 Just in case you're wondering...
18 Just in case you're wondering what sheetmetal is available for your '69 Dart, we took this shot of most of it spread out on the floor at AMD's warehouse. This is by no means every piece that is available--and there's a lot of it. For that, you'll need to check out AMD's website.