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25 Resto Tips and Tricks

We present 25 tips and tricks to help you stay on top in the constant struggle to keep vintage muscle on the road.

Photography by Car Craft Staff

Vinyl Dye for Success

Whether you're attempting to change the color of your interior or just trying to match reproduction pieces to your factory stuff, you're going to have to do some vinyl dying. The thought of this makes some guys cringe, thinking of how the color will peel or wear off shortly, but actually, if you use the right stuff and the right procedures, it can look and last almost like OE. First, get good dye, like the stuff the body-shop supply stores carry. We used some SEM products recently with some success. The key was also using SEM's vinyl-prep aerosol and flexible primer first. The label on the can of dye will guide you to the other products you should use with it.

Window-Regulator Repair

One of the simple pleasures when fixing up an old car is the smooth, steady motion of a properly functioning window regulator. But after 40 years or so, most of the cars we mess with have stiff, clunky window action, and correcting it takes more than a few squirts of WD-40. What's worse is when you pull out the regulator and find broken plastic rollers that are no longer available. Try this: Go to the local home center, and check out the vast array of shower-door rollers to find a close match. We did it with a '67 Chevy and know of other guys who had similar success with other cars.

Lacquer for Interior Panels

Before interiors were layered with various forms of plastic, there was still a lot of painted steel. Trying to recondition this stuff can be frustrating, as typical spray enamel goes on thick and gets orange-peel quickly, which just doesn't look right on the inside of '60s cars. As an alternative, check the resto catalogs for aerosol lacquer interior paint. Lacquer has more solvent than typical enamel and goes on in thinner coats that seem to "flow out" more, resulting in a smooth finish just like factory. If you can't find the right color in a spray bomb, see if you can look up the paint code and have some mixed, then use a low-cost touch-up gun for the same effect.

Aerosol Etching Primer

Unless you have your own body shop, chances are good that some of your resto work will involve aerosol spray paint. When painting engine parts, brackets, wheeltubs, and so on, quality paint can be made to look as good as factory with the right technique. We recently started prepping our surfaces with etching primer from a spray can; previously we thought you had to use a gun to take advantage of this stuff. The high-quality aerosol isn't cheap ($20+ per can), but it goes a long way. The real benefit is the improvement in the paint adhesion and finish; fisheyes and runs are all but eliminated, and the end result seems more even. Give it a try.

Invisible Clear

For decades, new cars have been built with lots of parts that remain in bare metal. Stuff like aluminum and iron castings or metal-finished items like zinc-coated brake boosters or backing plates all look great when new but quickly start to corrode or rust when exposed to the elements. Restoring or replacing these items brings the opportunity to hold off the oxidation process by using clear coatings, as many resto experts have been doing for years. Some guys don't want to clear their parts because they think the clear is obvious and incorrect, but that's probably because they've been using typical, glossy clears. Instead, try using a satin-finish clear to conceal its presence. Jim Grubbs of Grubbs Motorsports uses Aervoe clear engine enamel on parts like this intake, and it looks trick. There is lots of other nongloss, clear options available.

Rally-Wheel Resto

Some of the rally wheels from the muscle era used two-tone paint schemes that have either faded with time or were victims of monochromatic custom paint jobs sometime back when that was cool. Whatever the case, when you attempt to return these wheels to their original appearance, figuring out the proper colors and trying to mask off the separate sections of each wheel take up a lot of time. Fortunately, the paint part is solved for you, as factory-matched paint for most of the performance wheels from the '60s and '70s is now available from sources like OEM Paints and is sold through resto sources like OPG and Year One. To make it even easier, these places also stock wheel-mask kits made for specific wheels, like the Pontiac Rally II this guy is struggling to mask with standard tape and a razor blade. The special masks are cheap and well worth it.

Spray Manifolds Gray

Exhaust manifolds may not be the ultimate in flow, but they fit right, they usually seal well, and they look stock. Unfortunately, they also usually look like hell, thanks to rust. You've probably tried to paint them only to have it burn off and look worse. Try this: Pull the manifolds out, strip them down to clean iron, either in a sandblast cabinet or with a wire brush, then get a can of spray graphite lubricant and follow up with a soft rag to rub it in. The spray is powdered lead in an oily binder, and it will make the manifolds look like fresh, bare, cast iron, but it won't burn off. When it eventually gets to looking shoddy again, get out the spray can and touch it up.

Window-Molding Tools

This one's brutally simple but still worth discussing. Metal window moldings seem like they should come off readily, but when the time comes to pull them, they usually fight, leading guys to get rough and bend/fold/mutilate them or get out the flathead screwdrivers and pry stuff into oblivion. The moldings really can be removed quickly without wrecking anything, you just need the right tool. This item came from the local auto parts store for about five bucks, and it works like a charm. Just slip it under the molding, slide one jaw until it catches a clip, then gently squeeze the other end of the clip with the other jaw-the molding pops off and no one gets hurt.

Trick Distributor Cap

If you're into the period-correct look but hate period-correct technology, here's an easy one. Electronic ignition brought additional benefits with it, such as the need for more positive connections between the spark-plug wires and distributor cap to contain the increased electrical current. But most of the later-model caps that use these wires look very different from the breaker-point versions that preceded them. For GM cars, you can get a hybrid cap that looks old-school but has HEI-style terminals (this one came from Summit). Slip it on, order a set of black HEI-type wires (as offered by PerTronix, for example), and no one will be the wiser. Might as well go the extra step and hide a PerTronix or similar electronic-ignition conversion under the cap, too.

Bright Dipping

Before plastic trim came into prominence, the shiny stuff on a car that wasn't chrome-plated steel or polished stainless was aluminum. But if you've ever tried to restore an aluminum grille or molding by polishing it, you probably noticed that it didn't come out looking quite like original, and it needed repolishing soon after. That's because the factory didn't just polish this stuff, it used a "bright-dip" process. This is a procedure that involves anodizing and other treatments to give a bright appearance that won't tarnish or corrode. We did a story on it in the Apr. '00 issue, and the results were excellent; the only trick is finding a place that performs the procedure.

Window-Channel Repair

This one is really in interim repair rather than a resto fix. It's pretty common to pull off the window moldings on '60s cars and find that the channel that holds the glass is rotten. Dirt tends to settle here, and when it gets wet, the resultant mud helps accelerate the rusting process. But, if your vintage muscle is currently a driver, and you don't intend to pull it all the way down for a total resto, you should still make an effort to deal with the channel rot. It will only get worse as it leaks water into your trunk or cowl leading to further damage. One of the products offered by POR-15 is a putty intended for floorpan repair. The epoxy is easily formable and sets up hard as a rock. Top-coat it with POR-15 to seal up any remaining rust and seal out moisture. You can worry about replacing the affected steel later on when the real resto gets underway.

Removing Trim Studs

Sometimes the factory went a little overboard on trim moldings, and on older cars, a lot of this stuff was held on with clips that were fastened to studs and welded to the body. Getting rid of them means bodywork, but if you're careful, you can minimize the aftereffects of the removal. That means absolutely do not grab them with pliers or vise grips and start yanking; you can easily dent or warp the surrounding panel. Instead, clamp the vise grips to the stud so the tool is parallel to the panel surface. Then, swing the vise grips in a circle to twist off the stud. It should break off nearly flush, possibly leaving a minor divot that will take just a dab of filler.

Bolt Kits

Do-it-yourself types tend not to want to spend money where they think they don't have to. So if a guy pulls apart his car, he might scoff at the thought of spending some of his budget on a replacement bolt kit, since he can always salvage the original stuff and fill in the blanks as needed, right? We say, if you take apart an old car that is anything less than mint to begin with, you ought to pony up for the repro bolt kit like the ones offered by AMK Products. These kits provide fasteners that not only function like the stock stuff, but also look just like original; it is restoration-quality stuff, after all. Everything in the kit is individually packaged and labeled, and when you're in the midst of trying to bolt the car back together, it's super sweet to be able to reach over and pick up a little baggie with exactly what you need.

Lube Your Decals

The instruction sheets for most factory-style decal kits advise using a soap-and-water mix as a lubricant to help slide the decals into place on the painted surface of the body. Most also recommend using a specific product for this purpose as an alternative. Having tried both, we'd say the special product is worth the extra few bucks. This stuff is usually a clear gel that comes in a pump bottle, and smearing some on the surface before laying down the decal makes working out bubbles and creases much easier, particularly on vertical surfaces, since it stays put, where the soapy water will just run off. The 16-ounce bottle we have has lasted through several installs and still isn't empty.

AMK Products
800 Airport Rd.
VA  22602
PerTronix Performance Products
Classic Industries
RestoMotive (POR-15)
The Eastwood Co
263 Shoemaker Rd.
PA  19464
Stencils & Stripes Unlimited
Park Ridge
M.A.D. Enterprises
Dept. 5.0
P.O. Box 675
CA  93265
Summit Racing Equipment
P.O. Box 909
OH  44309
OEM Paints Inc
Year One
PO Box 129
GA  30085
Original Parts Group  (800) 243-
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