By Brian Earnest
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
Their process in pictures: