Gunners Garage

RESTORING A MUSCLE CAR PART 1

Recently I taped an interview with a friend naned Jim Mokwa who restored a ’69 GTO Judge convertible in “resto-mod” style. It dawned on me that a lot of hobbyists would love to hear about such a restoration straight from the mouth of the hobbyist who brought the car back to life. So here is the first part of what will be a multi-part record of this restoration project. Let me know if you enjoy this kind of thin.  

 

The first thing I did was just take the car apart and get it down to the bare frame, taking pictures as I went along to make sure I was able to put everything back together the way it was taken apart. You think you remember everything as you do it, but you’ll never remember, 6 months or a year later, when you put it back together.

I had my neighbor come over with a skid-steer and we lifted the body off the frame. Then, I knew I could get the body off to the media blaster and he used plastic media to blast it. And a guy right in my city, Lowell Johnson, did the bodywork.

The media blaster did it at his shop. I took the car to him on a trailer. I had it on a rolling cart, just the body. The fenders, hood and doors I gave him. Once he got done blasting it, he expoxy primed everything inside and out, all over . . . everything.

He brought the car back. Then, I took the body to the body shop and gave them a year to do it. I’m not a body person. I’ll weld in sheet metal or quarter panels, but I do not like body work. I got it to the body shop so Lowell could start on it.

A young man came out to the house to sandblast the frame with a mobile sandblaster. I removed the rear axle as much as I could from the frame so he had a clear shot at every inch of the frame and the A-frames up front. I left the A-frames and wheels on front so it was somewhat mobile while we were working on it. We flipped the frame upside down so he could work on the underside. It was handy having someone come right to my house. He charged like $100 and it was well worth it.

Once I had the frame sandblasted, I just POR’ed everything then went over it with semi-gloss or gloss paint for a factory look. Then it was a matter of sandblasting the parts. The A Frames I brought to work where we have a big blasting cabinet.

POR-15 is a very wonderful material. “You paint it on with a brush — a 10-cent hardware store brush — and it flows. Once you get it on metal it flows freely and finds its own center. So it creates a really nice base to put paint over. Once it is tacky, you can touch it with your finger and it’s sticky like candy is sticky. Then, you can topcoat it. I just used Valspar spray paint out of a can and it really adheres good. If you wait for the POR-15 to dry, then you have got to go back and scuff it — rough up the surface. I thought why should I do that — just go ahead and paint it.

I brought the other parts to work and sandblasted, primed and painted them. Then I slowly assembled the frame back together. I put two-inch dropped spindles up front because I wanted that lower look in front, but then I could keep the same steering geometry. I felt this was very important. You can go to an air ride system to lower the front end, but you’re losing the steering geometry of the car when you do that. It looks great, but I don’t think it’s real practical if you’re driving the car.

The differential I sandblasted here in the shop again. I painted all the parts little by little. I was mainly getting the suspension and drive train ready.

Engine work was sent to Blanchard’s in Appleton, Wis. I bought the rotating assembly for them to assemble it. They did the machine work. As I was doing this I added Baer brakes and did the disc brake work myself.

I set the block in there after they did the machine work. The transmission is a Tremec 5-speed transmission. I mounted it into the frame once I got the engine mounted. It was great to be able to do the transmission and clutch before the body was on. You can run your brake lines and the brakes in the car. That work I did also.

Once you have the block in the car, you can mount the heads and the headers were easy to put on. If you have to move or adjust the engine assembly, you can do it more easily with the body off. The rear axle, too. Now you can learn things like the brake distribution block was too close to the headers. You don’t want it so close that the heat would boil the fluid out. The heads were installed after the engine. The headers, too. It’s really great that you can do this with the body off. Meantime the body shop is doing its job and the two jobs are getting done at once.

Doug’s headers were used. I put the headers on. Butler Performance, down in Tennessee, did the machine work on the Edelbrock heads. They ported them, did the valves, got the heads set up and shipped them to me. I bolted the heads on the block. I assembled and welded the complete exhaust while in the car with the body off. I could check clearances and make sure that everything from the kit fit nice. I made sure to have it up high enough. I never test ran the engine in the chassis, but I suppose I could have. I had everything there.

It would be nice to take the engine for dyno work. “I probably burned or scorched my headers breaking the engine in. On a dynometer, they would have used old, rusty headers. The average guy wouldn’t notice the scorched headers.

 

NEXT TIME: The radiator, seats and tranny.

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