Look good and go fast with Car Craft's... Ultimate guide to musclecar resto-mods
`Yes, beaters are cool, and yes, primer is finer. But still, there will always be a part of our brains hard-wired to respond with longing desire to a smooth coat of paint, a neatly installed drivetrain, and a clean interior. To satiate those needs, we present to you the latest version of the CC restoration guide. Over the next several pages, you will see how a top professional approaches a full restoration, how one guy fogged his way to an ultraclean engine bay using aerosol cans, and how to overhaul your gauges. We'll wrap up the section with advice from you, the readers, on restorations you've done and what you've learned from personal experience. Musclecars are slowly disappearing: Whether they're being snatched up by nouveau riche collectors never to see the road again, or simply losing out to the ravages of time, the end result is the same. It may be time for us to consider that these cars we love will not last unless we help them out. Ask an old guy and he will tell you that Chevelles and GTOs were nothing special in the '60s and '70s. Those same guys will tell you in their next breath that they wish they still had their old Chevelle or GTO. Hopefully, we will inspire you to take the next step, whatever that may be, with one of your cars. We want to see musclecars on the road for years to come.
A pro's perspective
While swimming the sea of shiny Dodges, Plymouths, and Chryslers at Mopars at the Strip in March, we stopped dead in our tracks when we saw a jet-black '69 Charger with a pearl and candy red bumblebee stripe on its tail. Like one of those things you can't quite put your finger on, all the elements of the car seemed right. We blew right past the owner to talk to the builder, Angelo Munk, who was happy to show us the work he did on the car. Two weeks later we visited him at home in McKinleyville, California, almost on the Oregon border, to see his shop and get his advice on restoring cars. As you'll see, it's all about the details.
When starting a new project, Angelo says he looks over every inch of the car so he knows exactly what he's getting into. It's a good idea to strip the paint if you're not sure what is underneath. Give yourself as much information as possible before starting to work so you have an idea of what it's going to cost, both in time and cash. Also, Angelo recommends taking extra steps to keep from doing more harm to the car while working on it. For example, before this '68 RS/SS Camaro body goes onto his rotisserie, Angelo will weld braces on it between the cowl and the rear suspension mounting points. He says this will keep the unibody from twisting while it's on the rotisserie and while it's being transported to and from the soda blaster.
Have a look in mind but no one makes it? Make it yourself. Angelo points out this e-brake bracket he made to connect the cable from the pedal to the Lokar cables running to the rear wheels. Also, look at the Camaro's rear suspension. Angelo minitubbed it before kits were available, so he made all the parts needed to widen the wheelwells and relocate the leaf spring and shock mounting points.
Mass-produced cars often sacrifice elegance and beauty for ease of assembly. Angelo says he likes to fill unused trim holes, smooth firewalls, weld body seams, and reroute wiring and hydraulic lines to clean up the engine compartment and chassis.
"I like my cars to look as good underneath as they do from above," Angelo says. Check out the body-colored and clear-coated engine, oil pan, bellhousing, and subframe. The floorpans and rear subframe were sprayed with 3M Rubberized Undercoating. This Camaro was built as a driver, not a show car, but Angelo still put this amount of effort into the chassis.
This Charger Angelo built for a friend was fitted with DOT-legal HID headlamps, not the poor-quality HID bulbs you can fit into an existing lens, and certainly not one of those ice blue 9004 headlights you can buy at the corner auto-parts chain store. He also made heated, power side mirrors for the Charger out of two pairs of late-model GM G-body mirrors and a pair of Cadillac mirror motors. He then had to create an internal frame and wiring to fit inside before having glass cut to fit the opening. He's still trying to figure out how to hide a set of LED side-marker lights inside the mirror glass that will blink sequentially with the rear turn signals. "I can do the sequential thing with no problem; I just don't want the bulbs to be seen when the turn signals are off," Angelo says.
"I always look for ways to put my personal touches on a car without making it look gaudy," Angelo tells us. Here he's describing a lower grille treatment he wants to make that matches the upper grille and includes an pair of driving lights. He says he'll sometimes spend hours staring at parts of the car imagining how he could make them better-looking. "I just say I spend a lot of time ass-scratching." He doesn't work from drawings; he'll just make what he sees in his mind. "If it doesn't work, I'll cut it up a little to see if I can make it work better. If not, I'll toss it in the corner and start over."
They may not be noticed at first, but grimy hinges and crusty bolts will eventually draw disdainful looks from would-be adoring fans. Angelo says he notices that stuff right away. "That and bad weatherstripping. If you're going to take a car completely apart, take the time to clean the fasteners."
Angelo says, "It takes twice as long to work around a good paint job." Trust us, you don't want to paint the car twice, either, so pull the engine first.
"I'm completely self-taught. I look at the work I did 15 years ago and realize how far my skills have come," says Angelo. Get good at welding and metalwork. Also learn to fix anything that could break on the car. That way the car is yours and you know it inside and out.
Restore your factory gauges
"Anyone can put a gauge in a hole," says Shannon Hudson, owner of Redline Gauge Works in Santa Clarita, California. "But we're seeing more and more people who want to keep their original instrument panels." And that makes sense to us: While a sheetmetal dash full of gauges is race-car cool, it has to be done right to look good--and even still, sun glare and sharp edges may prove difficult to live with if the car is driven regularly. Plus you're losing a big part of the car's character when you heave the factory dash.
With that in mind, we ventured up to Santa Clarita to talk with Shannon Hudson, owner of Redline Gauge Works, a shop that has been quietly gaining a reputation as one of the top players in instrument panel restoration and customization. Shannon has been working on gauges since he was 18, starting at North Hollywood Speedometer. Since starting Redline four years ago, business has really been taking off, and he's got all kinds of bigwigs calling for his expertise. "We've worked on Jay Leno's cars. I never thought I'd be restoring a barometric gauge for a Duesenberg!," he says. While showing us around his shop, Shannon detailed the process of instrument panel restoration to us. He also had us drooling when he described the customization options we would have if we were to send him an instrument panel to work on--the options are virtually limitless. If you've ever been curious about gauge restoration, follow the process in the following pictures. Feel free to be inspired.
"Speedometer calibration is becoming a lost art," says Shannon. "Many people don't even have the equipment to do it." He uses a machine to spin the speedo cable to 60 mph and, using a large magnet, carefully discharges the speedometer's magnet until its reading matches the calibration machine's reading.
Shannon says that these gauges will be much easer to read, especially at night, because the clean white background acts a reflector, shining more light through the gauge faces.
According to Shannon, about 70 percent of Redline's work is stock restoration. He showed us an example of a completed gauge cluster from a Charger. Its overlay had been sent out of state to be rechromed because "hardly anyone in California will chrome plastic parts." Once back, the fake wood grain will be painted back on, and it will be reassembled and shipped back to the customer.
The cluster's printed circuit also gets overhauled. All paths are checked for continuity, and the connectors are cleaned and re-soldered as needed.
One of Redline's most popular conversions is fitting the factory tachometer to VDO movement. Shannon says they use VDO because the units are extremely compact, dead-on accurate, and work with any ignition system. Compare the size of the VDO internals already installed in the gauge cup to its factory controller on the workbench in the foreground. He'll even label the back of the gauge to aid in the reinstallation process.
Want a different look for your factory instruments? Try a different background color and font for the numbers and letters. Shannon says they've matched gauge faces to a car's exterior color, created numerically higher-reading speedometers, changed pointers and pointer colors, and even turned a factory clock into a tachometer. There are really no limits to what you can do with your gauges.
Redline can even create entire clusters to fit within the factory bezel. Here is a drawing a customer sent in along with his OE gauge bezel. Shannon will have a background made up matching this drawing, which will then be applied to a custom-cut plastic backing. He'll wire in the appropriate gauges, calibrate and test them for accuracy, and install the completed unit in the factory bezel. "In these cases," says Shannon, "you're only limited by your budget." He can add a shift light and warning lights in the gauges, do custom lettering and numbering, and even replace idiot lights with gauges. He can also re-face prebought gauges from major brands like AutoMeter.
Engine Compartment Design
By Jeff Smith/ Photo: Wes Allison, courtesy of Mopar Muscle Magazine.
Steve Strope has a thing for Mopars. More importantly, he knows how he wants them to look. He can apply this vision to any kind of car, but he seems to be drawn to the Mopar side of the party. With this kind of insight into automotive image, it's no accident that he calls his business Pure Vision. When it came time for us to look into why some engine compartments have more visual impact than others, it took us about three seconds to consult Steve about his four-wheeled art forms. This Hemi engine compartment is the power point for one of his latest ventures, the Petrol Charger, a '70 Dodge Charger with this Mopar Performance 472ci Hemi crate engine. Steve says that the intention of any engine compartment should be to draw your eye directly to the engine while minimizing the distractions. Clutter and competing colors are diversions, so he reduced the number of colors in this engine compartment to three--Hemi Orange, silver, and black. The engine compartment's simplicity is also its strength, keeping the trickery to a minimum. One of Steve's strengths is using color, which often comes out of a spray can to its maximum advantage. It works here.
That's a Billet Specialties Tru Track serpentine belt system, but Steve thought the polished aluminum added too much flash, so he had the entire system powdercoated gloss black. He also painted part of the water pump black so it blended in with the water pump pulley. Both the A/C pump and alternator were treated to a brushed-aluminum finish, while the iron power steering pump was painted a matching silver to make it consistent with the aluminum parts.
How many car builders would paint an aftermarket aluminum radiator with Eastwood black radiator paint? Steve did, because he wanted that near-stock look but also the performance of an aftermarket aluminum radiator. If left in original aluminum finish, it would have detracted from the engine's visual impact.
That's an MSD billet aluminum distributor that Steve has treated to a brushed-aluminum finish. He also used DupliColor vinyl dye (after first wiping the cap down with acetone) to color the distributor cap black (MSD caps are red) so it wouldn't add another color to the engine compartment. Steve finished off the effort with a set of black MSD Super Conductor spark plug wires that MSD has just introduced for the Hemi.
Steve took a small risk with the Petrol Charger by painting the engine compartment a semigloss black rather than the gloss black body color like all Mopars from this era. Russ Stevenson from Gold Coast Customs did the color work using single-stage R-M Matte Black UNO HD mixed with a DH42 hardener and UR50 reducer. See "How to Black Out a Hood" in the Nov. '06 issue for the details.
All Mopar Performance 472 Hemi crate engines come with giant chrome valve covers that Steve thought did not help the engine's visual impact. So he removed the covers, scuffed them with 80-grit sandpaper to give the surface some bite, and then primed the covers with SEM self-etching primer (PN 39673). Then he squirted the covers with several coats of Mopar Performance Hemi Orange spray can paint. Once they cured, he then color-sanded the covers with 2,000-grit wet-dry and polished them until they shone. The effort is simple and extremely effective. "Now instead of all that chrome, it's like a big orange jewel in the middle of the engine compartment."
For the master cylinder and booster, Steve considered blacking them out as well, but went instead with dull silver for both pieces. Retaining the gold anodized booster or using cast-iron paint on the master would have added another color that would only interfere with the visual continuity. Also note that Steve took the time to run all the brake lines parallel to each other down into the engine compartment.
The power steering lines are also black fabric high- and low-pressure hoses from Orme Brothers with steel fittings created to reduce the clutter yet still be functional.
To minimize the look of the fuel line, Steve used Earl's Pro Lite 350 black hose with press-fit Ano-Tuff black anodized fittings and then tucked the hose behind the accessory drive to mount to the mechanical fuel pump. If the engine had been equipped with an electric pump, Steve would have routed the fuel line to the back of the engine instead of the front for a cleaner look.
Ideas are where you find them. And there's no greater resource than the creativity of your fellow car crafters. Over the past year, we've secretly been taking notes on all you creative car builders out there. This is just a sampling of some of your best work. The best part is taking somebody else's idea and making it your own. All we ask is that once you've finished this story you go out to the garage and use a couple of these ideas on your own ride. Better yet, use these ideas to create your own visual statement.
Detailing is all about dealing with the little things that make an engine bay look more cohesive. Take fasteners, for example. You can look like everybody else with factory hex-head bolts, or be different and convert all the exposed engine bay fasteners to stainless steel button heads. These are Allen bolts with rounded heads. By going with stainless steel, the bolts will never rust and they give your engine compartment a fresh appearance. Since you'll need various sizes in bulk to get a good price, check out the swap meets. Or if you prefer to buy online, we found bulk stainless steel button head fasteners at boltdepot.com. The more popular bolts you'll need are 14-, 516-, and 38-inch in 12-, 34-, and 1-inch lengths. At the Bolt Depot, we found a 50-count box of 516-inch, NC stainless steel button heads 34 inch long for $15.28.
`SOURCEBolt Depot; North Weymouth, MA; 866/337-9888; boltdepot.com
Aluminum radiators have become the new underhood status symbol. The best deals are on the universal radiators that come sans mounting brackets. And as off-brand cars become increasingly popular, there will not be specific-fit radiators for all these vehicles. If an aluminum radiator is what you crave, you can always make your own mounts. This car crafter fashioned simple aluminum brackets out of 18-inch aluminum, drilled a couple of holes to give it some style, pop-riveted the mount to the radiator, and bolted the mount to the radiator core support. The result is simple, elegant, and completely functional.
Stainless steel button head bolts make a great variation on the standard six-point fastener.
It's easy to build a mount like this by starting wiht a cardboard template. use it to test-fit the radiator and then transfer to sheet a sheet of aluminum.
There are dozens of ways to clamp fuel and brake lines, from billet aluminum parts to more affordable plastic clamps. Made For You makes a slick single- or double-tube plastic clamp that mounts tubing, hose, or even battery cable to a framerail or sheetmetal. All that's required is drilling a small mounting hole and you're there. If your situation requires something a bit more custom, you might think about a mount like this one (right) we shot a couple of years ago at the Car Craft Summer Nationals in St. Paul. Here, the fabricator welded a tube to a small piece of aluminum flat stock and then insulated the battery cable against abrasion with a length of rubber hose secured with a zip tie. It's simple and prevents the cable from dropping down against the nearby header tube.
Made For You makes these simple single-line clamps that allow you to professionally mount or route tubing and braided steel lines.
Sometimes you may need to fabricate your own mounts to fit a custom application. If you can drill a hole, you can make a mount like this. There are affordable Tig welders available now, and even some Mig welders can be converted to weld aluminum, so now you don't have an excuse.
`SOURCEMade For You Products; Pinon Hills, CA; 760/868-6962; made4uproducts.com
Building a street car will occasionally require the builder to connect AN line directly to aluminum or steel tubing. The easiest way is to just slip a -6 braided hose over a 38-inch tube and seal it with a clamp, but for higher-pressure applications that just won't work. In our case, we wanted to connect a B&M trans cooler in front of the radiator using two -6 AN braided stainless steel lines to the mild steel 516-inch tubing plumbed into the transmission. The problem with this connection is that 516-inch tubing is basically a -5 line, which is in between a -4 (equivalent to 416- or 14-inch tubing) and a -6 (which is 616- or 38-inch tubing).
Our friends at Orme Brothers in Northridge, California, showed us an Aeroquip Versil-Flare tube nut and ferrule fitting combination that creates a solid, medium-pressure connection and does not require making a flare. One end of the ferrule tapers down to clamp onto the tubing while the other end is flared with a 37-degree seat to seal against a -5 male fitting. Then we use a -5 to -6 male-to-male reducer adapter to connect the two lines together. This creates a solid, professional-looking connection that is also easy to disconnect when the need arises. Some of the Versil-Flare pieces are in the high-performance automotive Aeroquip catalog, but the -5 steel fittings can only be found in the Aeroquip industrial catalog. There are pages of cool fittings in the industrial catalogs if you're looking for oddball connectors.
There is a more elegant approach, but it requires an expensive AN tubing flare tool. Slide a -5 tubing flare nut and -5 tubing sleeve over the hard line and then flare the tubing to the 37-degree AN seat angle. Use the same -5 to -6 male adapter union to connect to the -6 line and you're done.
This is the slick Aeroquip Versil-Flare tube nut and ferrule arrangement along with the -5 to -6 male tube reducer. This fitting allows us to adapt the 516-inch hard line ( which is -5) to the -6 female hose end.
Here are the adapters installed on the two steel 516-inch lines connecting to a pair of -6 Aeroquip hoses that lead to the cooler.
`SOURCEOrme Brothers; Northridge, CA; 877/676-3277; ormebros.com
Air conditioning is becoming more popular by the day. This car crafter needed an easy way to mount a generic A/C condenser in front of his aluminum radiator. Using a length of round aluminum bar stock, he bent each end at a 45-degree angle and drilled small holes in both the condenser mount and aluminum radiator to connect the two together. This is not only a solid mount, but is also visually attractive.
The builder created a top and bottom cover for the universal aluminum radiator that he used as a source for the A/C condenser mount. Also note the use of a 18-inch pipe to -4 male hose end for the overflow pipe for the radiator. Also note the use of foam rubber to cushion the radiator mount to prevent stress cracks due to vibration.
Let It Breathe
Crankcase breathers are a necessary evil with any engine. If the breather is not of sufficient size, the pressure buildup inside the engine can actually push gaskets out, causing all kinds of messy results. If the thought of a big vent filter stuck on top of a valve cover offends your sense of style--then move the vent. This enterprising car crafter used a 34-inch tube to move the breather vent to a remote location behind the engine closer to the firewall. The vent still performs the same job and also minimizes oil mist that could stain the cast valve cover.
The crankcase vent could be placed anywhere in the engine compartment. The black vent pipe all but disappears, which is exactly the plan. END