Resto Basics: Bumper Bolt-Up

Follow along as a 1971 Dodge Challenger gets a reproduction bumper.
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Fast Freddie’s Rod Shop in Eau Claire, Wis., usually has a wide range of old car restoration and resto-mod projects filling the shop at any given time. One of the neatest projects in the works recently involved a 1971 Dodge Challenger the Fast Freddie’s crew was transforming into a vintage SCCA Trans Am road race car.

The Challenger was well worn when it arrived at the shop and received a lot of body work and racing mods to make it mimic an authentic track car, but one of the things that was going to remain stock was the factory-type chrome bumpers. The rear bumper on the Dodge couldn’t be saved. It was just too beat up to go back on the car, but licensed replacements are available through suppliers such as Auto Metal Direct (AMD), which also supplied some body panels and floor pans for the Challenger.

A fresh new rear bumper from Auto Metal Direct (AMD) will go on the back of this 1971 Dodge Challenger, which is being restored into a vintage SCCA Trans Am racer. The car received plenty of new metal on the body and floors, and some front-end mods to help cool the brakes and engine, but the bumpers will remain stock.

A fresh new rear bumper from Auto Metal Direct (AMD) will go on the back of this 1971 Dodge Challenger, which is being restored into a vintage SCCA Trans Am racer. The car received plenty of new metal on the body and floors, and some front-end mods to help cool the brakes and engine, but the bumpers will remain stock.

Of course, even the simplest projects aren’t as easy as they seem, and the Fast Freddie’s crew wound up having to test fit the new bumper several times, shim it on both sides and eventually bend the bumper mounting brackets with a little heavy persuasion before the AMD replacement bumper fit just right.

“AMD has Chrysler-licensed reproduction front and rear bumpers, and they are as factory correct as you can get,” noted Fast Freddie’s owner Fred Kappus Jr. “It’s as close as you’re going to get in a reproduction. Every once in a while you have to tweak and bend and shape stuff like this, but AMD has been a really good source for reproduction panels.

Sean Branson eyeballs the new mounting brackets to determine if the existing holes will work. “A lot of times you’ll have to hog out some holes and maybe do a little welding on the brackets,” he said. “ We have an aftermarket bumper and aftermarket bracket, and a lot of times you’ll be just an 1/8 inch off and you’ll have to adjust the holes. This gives you a lot of adjustment left to right, but not as much up and down. “

Sean Branson eyeballs the new mounting brackets to determine if the existing holes will work. “A lot of times you’ll have to hog out some holes and maybe do a little welding on the brackets,” he said. “ We have an aftermarket bumper and aftermarket bracket, and a lot of times you’ll be just an 1/8 inch off and you’ll have to adjust the holes. This gives you a lot of adjustment left to right, but not as much up and down. “

“There is quite a bit of adjustment in the bumper brackets. You can see the tail pan is slotted for the bumper bracket so you get some up-and-down adjustment and you get some side-to-side adjustment. It’s a two-man operation to get everything set up the way you want it, but not too difficult.”

The bumpers were being test fitted before the Challenger, which had been painted with primer, could go in for final paint and assembly. The bumpers will come off again, of course, before the body heads to the paint booth, but not before it fits perfectly, gets photographed and then marked so things go smoothly during final assembly.

Having an extra pair of hands definitely makes fitting a bumper easier. Here Peter Schnoor holds the bumper in place while Sean Branson bolts things up under the back of the car. “It’s always nice when you are restoring any of these cars to be able to use the original parts that were on the car,” Schnoor noted. “Unfortunately, this bumper was just bent up and beat up. Forty-five years of being on the road wasn’t nice to it.”

Having an extra pair of hands definitely makes fitting a bumper easier. Here Peter Schnoor holds the bumper in place while Sean Branson bolts things up under the back of the car. “It’s always nice when you are restoring any of these cars to be able to use the original parts that were on the car,” Schnoor noted. “Unfortunately, this bumper was just bent up and beat up. Forty-five years of being on the road wasn’t nice to it.”

In this case, the bumper brackets were shimmed with a pair of 1/16-inch spacers on the passenger side, and one spacer on the driver’s side. When the gaps still weren’t perfect, the crew pulled out the “Pogo Stick” pulling tool, which provides plenty of leverage to safely tweak the bumper brackets and bend things slightly to get everything to lined up.

“The biggest thing is just getting your gaps right and making sure the contours on the quarter panels fit the contours on the bumpers,” Kappus said. “All you need are regular hand tools, and you’re gonna want a buddy over with you, so he can hold one side while you tighten the other and help you eyeball it.” 

The goal is to get the gaps to match the angled contours of the car evenly from top to bottom, and have them identical on both sides of the car. This gap is too tight on top, meaning the bumper and bracket are going to have to be pushed out from the car with some shims. “We’re trying to be super exact because we’re doing high-end work for a customer,” Schnoor noted. “But for a backyard mechanic or someone just doing a personal car, most people aren’t going to pick up on it — if it’s off by 1/8 inch, who cares? But if you bring it to a show, the judges and people will pick up on it. Just for an everyday driver, it’s not that big a deal.”

The goal is to get the gaps to match the angled contours of the car evenly from top to bottom, and have them identical on both sides of the car. This gap is too tight on top, meaning the bumper and bracket are going to have to be pushed out from the car with some shims. “We’re trying to be super exact because we’re doing high-end work for a customer,” Schnoor noted. “But for a backyard mechanic or someone just doing a personal car, most people aren’t going to pick up on it — if it’s off by 1/8 inch, who cares? But if you bring it to a show, the judges and people will pick up on it. Just for an everyday driver, it’s not that big a deal.”

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When all else fails, brute force is sometimes needed. In this case, Branson employs a “Pogo Stick” leverage tool to pull the Challenger’s bumper down just slightly on the driver’s side. The adjustment is just enough to get the nice 1-inch gaps all around that the Fast Freddie’s crew was shooting for. The brackets and bumper will be tightened down enough to leave witness marks, then it will be removed for final bodywork and paint. “We’ll put a crush washer behind the bumper to keep it from dimpling during final assembly,” Branson said. “When you come this far, it’s that little bit extra to make everything fit perfectly that can make a pretty big difference in the end.”

When all else fails, brute force is sometimes needed. In this case, Branson employs a “Pogo Stick” leverage tool to pull the Challenger’s bumper down just slightly on the driver’s side. The adjustment is just enough to get the nice 1-inch gaps all around that the Fast Freddie’s crew was shooting for. The brackets and bumper will be tightened down enough to leave witness marks, then it will be removed for final bodywork and paint. “We’ll put a crush washer behind the bumper to keep it from dimpling during final assembly,” Branson said. “When you come this far, it’s that little bit extra to make everything fit perfectly that can make a pretty big difference in the end.”

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