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Let's do a frame-off on a 1969 GTO hardtop     In words and pictures.

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This is a rare treat. This is probably the first web site EVER to show you step-by-step how to do a frame-off restoration on a GTO. And most people would agree that car magazines only scratch the surface of this lengthy subject with their black-and-white photos. Dan Zabetakis (DAN@cbmse.nrl.navy.mil) shows us the guts of his 1969 GTO in living color. He's two years into the restoration, and totally blew his estimated cost of $22,000. The current running total is $56,000. He tells us in his own words - how he did it...

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Hidden Damage
The one problem with having the car blasted was that it showed up all the flaws and errors. Now ordinarily it might be a good thing to point out problem areas. But when you are laying out cold cash, finding more flaws can never be welcome.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #27 As expected, the quarter panel joints were a disaster. At some time in the past the quarters were replaced by a not-so-skilled metalworker. Dave says this is a "typical 70's butcher job". It seems that the roof and panel were both badly bent during the installation, and brazing was used to crudely cover it up (that's the light colored stuff in spots across the joint). Heavy use of body filler was used to hide the catastrophy, which later separated from the metal (see earlier pictures).
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #28 This damage is unfortunate because replacement quarter panels do not come up all the way to the original joint. To repair this, Dave procured matching pieces from a donor car as seen in this picture. While cutting away at the parts car, he also took parts of the firewall so we can install A/C. The A/C and non-A/C cars had different firewalls, but a little plastic surgery will fix that.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #29 This seems a strange place to get rust damage. It's inside the driver's side fender, where the fender, firewall and floor meet. It will also present quite a challenge to fix since it is in an area with very poor access. The rusted-out piece doesn't seem to have been very important, so structural integrity hasn't been hurt.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #30 This picture shows some very worrying damage. This wasn't noticed at the time of purchase. It was mostly obscured by the windshield mounting gaskets and debris. Fixing this will also be a challenge, and it's in a high-visibility important area. We'll see on this piece just how good Dave's skills are.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #31 Of course by this time I'm thinking "parts car", but there just aren't that many high-quality cars on the market these days. All I can say is "If you want to do a restoration, get a revolving door on your wallet." This panel behind and below the rear window is apparently a very common rust-out spot, and this was noticed prior to purchase. This piece can be purchased from the restoration suppliers, and is not expensive.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #32 A bent rear control arm. This wasn't noticed until later, but I thought I would show it here. It still puzzles me how this damage was done. If the car were moving backwards, the axle and lower control arm mount would have blocked whatever did the damage. If it were moving forward, the exhaust system would surely have been torn off. That only leaves moving sideways. Dave was worried that this would throw off the location of the wheel hubs with respect to the wheel wells. (At this point I was feverishly planning what wheel and tire combination to use, and measuring the spaces.) But measuring both sides revealed that they were accurate to within 1/16 inch. The control arm can be replaced. It's only money.

Metal Work
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #33 Adding conditioning to a non-AC car is not trivial. The firewall has differences. As can be seen, I have installed a panel to cover the non-AC heater duct, and added the AC duct cut from a donor car. Since these are flat areas it is pretty straightforward. Many of the parts for the AC unit were aquired at the same time.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #34 The rear quarter panels and outer wheel wells have been cut away. The initial metal work was done with the body and frame still separate in order to increase access. (nice shop hoist!)
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #35 The trunk was repaired with right and left side patch panels. This is a nice clean installation, and easier to do with the frame off and quarters removed.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #36 The black metal is an inner wheel well patch panel. To the right is a small additional fabricated panel that was needed to repair additional rust. Overall the available patch panels are very good, but this is definately not something that your casual do-it-yourselfer can do.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #37 Things start getting out of hand when we have to replace the rear body panel. The original was not in very bad shape, but the judgement was that it would cost more to repair than to cut out and replace with a better version from the donor car. The parts are cheap, but the labor charges increase the costs when things like this are not expected. Note the braces welded into the trunk compartment to hold the body in stock shape.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #38 Here the wheel well is complete with a fresh whole outer shell.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #39 Closeup of the taillight. These will continue to be a real problem. They are badly pitted and corroded. Only the very tip shows chrome, but the whole piece is plated. Almost all of it is overpainted black. This seems a very wasteful part in the orginal construction of the car. Chrome plating must have been cheaper back in the 60's.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #40 The rear quarter is primered and ready for the panel to be installed. Note the strip of rubber near the top of the opening. This is a pad intended to dampen any flexing of the quarter panel. My contribution to the project was to fabricate that piece out of silicone.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #41 This is a view you don't often get, looking through both quarter panels. When the panels are on, the supports will be cut away and the residue ground off.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #42 We also did not at first intend to replace the floor pans. As you can see we changed our minds.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #43 Here is the rear completed and primered.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #44 A new trunk lid, being testfit before the assembly of the quarter panels. This part was from a 1969 LeMans that had been done up as a GTO, and was another item I didn't expect to have to replace.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #45 The replacement panel for the rear window-trunk area has been installed. This is a panel that is available in the aftermarket.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #46 Quarter panel welded in place. The replacements are somewhat thinner than the original metal. You can see in this picture some wavyness of the panel, particularly around the joint.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #47 Work in progress on the drivers side floor pan. You can also see the inner side of the AC conversion.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #48 Floor brace for the drivers side. The dark unprimered area was under the metal that had been riveted in place over the brace. You can see the rusted edge where the floor pan had come away from the brace. We had intended to just repair this area, but it was the more extensive rust that caused us to replace both front floor pans.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #49 Once the body was made whole again it was removed from the chassis. Here we see the suspension components being removed from the frame. The rear will be sent for refurbishment and inspection at a race shop. The springs are shot, and will be replaced, but most of the rest of the components will be painted and reused.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #50 Repair to the original quarter panel/roof joint. The piece has been welded in from a donor car. In the upper middle can be seen the original leaded joint.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #51 On this side a simple panel was fabricated and shaped before being welded in. Overall, it was simpler than working with a donor piece. The reason we went with the transplant was the complex curvature of this area, but the fabricated panel works well enough, and wasn't very hard to make.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #52 View from just under where the rear seat would be, showing the rear wheel suspension. You can faintly see the bend in the lower control arm.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #53 At this point, still very early in the restoration, I bought the transmission. It's a Richmond six speed. The reason we needed it now was to insure that the frame crossmember and the body transmission tunnel would fit. In the end, the crossmember and shifter hole had to be moved back about 3 inches. The six speed was one of the key features I wanted to add to the GTO. I selected the ratios so that the first four would closely match the original four speed. The last two are 0.84 and 0.59 overdrives than should allow for some practicality on the highway.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #54 This original 4-speed was in pretty bad shape once we examined it. Some of the bolt holes were completely stripped, allowing the input shaft to move, and threatening to send the transmission off on its own. That might have been the root cause of the damage it suffered during our test drive. Dave bought the transmission from me, but I don't know why he wants it in the condition it is in.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #55 All four lower corners on the doors had minor rust holes, which Dave repaired with fabricated panels as shown here. Also, the rocker panel (just below the door) was replaced.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #56 The body and frame are temporarily reunited for test fit of the engine and transmission.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #57 The crossmember had to be relocated to match the aftermarket transmission. This is a pretty impressive-looking combination, but plans change. Stay tuned for developments in the engine department.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #58 Here the body has been mounted on a mobile rotating rack to allow access to the underside from all angles. This makes it much easier to complete the underside weld joints. (Dave built the rack too.)
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #59 At this point (Jan-Feb 1999) I have been considering the color options for the GTO. I kind of like the baby blue, but Dave opposes blue cars on principle. ("Everyone who paints a car for the first time paints it blue. You'll get sick of that color fast.") On the right is my interpretation of the Royal Bobcat. I didn't have tourquoise paint. One of the benefits of doing a 69 is that there is a cheap ($10) model available. Buy a couple. And remember, model paint comes off easily with oven cleaner and a little scrubbing (I'm not kidding). So you can change colors a lot easier on the 1:24 scale than the 1:1 scale model.

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