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The Ultimate Pontiac GTO Picture Site By Sean Mattingly.
There's no bigger GTO image collection anywhere!
FRAME-OFF RESTORATION GALLERY
Let's do a frame-off on a 1969 GTO hardtop
In words and pictures.
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...
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
Here the wheel well
is complete with a fresh whole outer shell.
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.
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.
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.
We also did not at
first intend to replace the floor pans. As you can see we changed our minds.
Here is the rear completed and primered.
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.
The replacement panel for the rear window-trunk area has been installed. This is a panel
that is available in the aftermarket.
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.
Work in progress on
the drivers side floor pan. You can also see the inner side of the AC conversion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The body and frame are
temporarily reunited for test fit of the engine and transmission.
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.
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.)
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.
Support this web site by buying your GTO and other Pontiac restoration books in our big
"GTO Bookstore" section here.
Or, here are some good engine and chassis detailing books. Just hit the GO button...
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