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FRAME-OFF RESTORATION GALLERY

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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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CLICK-> 69 resto pic #90 I decided to change the interior color to Parchment. I can't understand why black vinyl was thought a good material for car interiors. I can remember burning my legs on vinyl seats as a kid. Here we see the seat covers, foam padding, and black carpet that goes with it.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #91 Here is what it looks like when you order custom wheels. My plan was to use a modern-style simple five-spoke wheel. I found that modern wheel manufacturers don't make sizes to fit 60's era cars. This has been the worst part of the project so far. I did not find a single dealer, either locally, on the net, or by phone, that really seemed to know what they were talking about. It seems they simply have lists of vehicles that the wheels fit, and that is the limit of their knowledge. In fact it seemed to me that if you didn't have a late model Acura or Mustang they don't really want to talk to you. I ended up having wheels custom made by a company called Wheel Specialists in Arizona. I went with 18" X 10" for the rear, and 17" X 8" for the front. These are three-piece aluminum alloy construction. A bit pricey. Four wheels and tires cost over $3400.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #92 I picked Pirelli PZero tires to start out with. Nice tread pattern. They are asymetrical in the rear and directional in the front. In other words, the rear tires have an inner and an outer side (see the non-symmetric tread), and the fronts are intended to rotate in one direction only. The rear tire specification in 285/40/ZR18 and the front is 235/45/ZR17.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #93 This shot gives you an idea of what the wheels will look like, although the car is not painted yet. I think it will be pretty cool. The hardest part is finding out what wheels will fit. The issue is offset and backspacing. The problem is that every manufacturer defines these slightly differently (or even completely differently). We spent a long time measuring to ensure a fit, but upon delivery they just barely made it. On the inside, the wheel has about 2 inches clearance. On the outside, they have only about 1/2 to 3/4 inch after trimming as much of the fender well as possible. They "should" have been neatly centered.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #94 Here is the view from the rear. The nice wide tire is exactly the look I am going for. It is broad without being too radical. Should look good on the street.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #95 Meanwhile the body work continues. Low spots on the hood are patched with body filler. This is not the original hood, but one in better shape. After stripping, my hood revealed that it had been bent at some time in the past. I have heard that there is a real chance of bending GTO hoods when closing against the hinges. But I suspect that someone may have moved the car with the hood up and discovered some low-hanging branches. There were also some rust holes that had been filled.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #96 This is not the original dash either. We replaced it with this A/C dash. I'm not sure what the difference is. What I am sure of is that I want to add a lot of gauges. Dave has cut away the original gauge cluster, and fabricated a panel to hold Autometer Phantom gauges. I am putting in a Speedometer, tachometer, water temperature, oil temperature, oil pressure, fuel level, voltmeter, and vacuum. I would have put in a fuel pressure gauge, with isolator, but it is just too expensive. The gauges cost about $420. It's not visible, but the dash vinyl is cracked. It will be sent to Just Dashes in California.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #97 The main body work is progressing. Here a final spot on the fender gets filled.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #98 Here is the windshield area that was badly rust damaged and patched. Now that it has been filled, sanded and primered, you would hardly know it was in such bad shape. It will be mostly covered by the trim piece shown. So there are no structural or appearance worries about this area.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #99 There is a tremendous difference in the appearance of the car once it gets a nice coat of primer. The smooth, even tone makes it look finished. Since primers are not glossy, you cannot see irregularities or unevenness. And it's smooth as a baby's bottom after the block sanding.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #100 To fix the cracks in the Endura bumper, Dave used a flexible type body filler, and I wet sanded it. It worked very well as you can see from the glossy finish I put on it. The red streaks are the filled cracks. You can see them, but cannot feel them. Alas, this didn't work out. Six months later, cracks appeared as the primer/filler and urethane bumper expanded and contracted differently. Stay tuned, we will need another solution for this.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #101 It looks like Christmas in June. June 2000 if you are timing my restoration with a calendar. This is a GM Performance Parts ZZ502/502 engine purchased for $6300 delivered from Greenwood Chevrolet in Ohio. The boxes in the background contain the heads and assorted parts. It's brand new, and rated at 502 horsepower. Gives you a nice warm feeling all over.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #102 Here is a shot looking down the lifter valley and into the cylinders. What a pristine view! At 8.2 liters displacement this should just about be big enough. Maybe.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #103 Meanwhile, if I can drag your attention away from the engine, the painting has begun in the dash area with a coating of satin black. The windshield area has turned out perfect. There is not a defect to be seen.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #104 Today the body gets painted. While Dave cleans out the garage, I finish a bit of sanding on the door jamb areas. Then I blew out the car with compressed air to remove the last residue of dust. Dave did the same with the garage. It took several hours.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #105 We then installed plastic sheeting to make a spray booth. Out of the shot to the right is a venting duct that connects to a water spray vapor extractor that reduces the emission of paint solvent to the neighborhood. Note how the picture is speckled as if there were dirt on the lens. This is the real amusing part because just as I was taking this picture the heating system for the garage came on, spraying out a cloud of dust that had been pushed into the vents during the clean up. Ho ho.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #106 Wow. I say again, wow. This car is going to look great. Here we see the first real evidence of how the red and white scheme will look. Dave has finished the wet sanding. He put on 3 coats of Antique White, then masked off the stripes and rear, and followed up with 3 coats of Carousel Red and 3 coats of clear.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #107 Here is the quater panel/roof joint. Looks perfect with not a hint of the bad cracking and poor repair originally visible.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #108 Back to the engine. Here it is assembled. We will need to add an alternator, pulleys and belts, and various parts to complete it. The worst part about the engine is that it has "Chevrolet" on the valve covers. Not only that, but they put a stupid bowtie logo on every part wherever there was room. If costs weren't prohibitive, I would have them all ground off. The engine has an iron block, but aluminum intake, water pump, and heads. The lifters and rockers are roller type. Compression is a reasonable 9.6:1.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #109 Here is the stock carburetor. It is a Holley 850 with vacuum secondaries. It comes with the engine, and even has a GM part number.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #110 The engine and transmission are ready to install. They were ready, but as things always go wrong, the stock oil pan didn't fit. It only missed by a very small amount, interfering with the crossmember. We'll be changing the oil pan next. Note the solid motor mounts. Solid mounts are stronger, but there is a price to pay in terms of vibrations and noise. I'm not sure how this will work out. Even though Chevy and Pontiac engines went into the GTO/Chevelle frame, they have different mounting systems. To switch engine types you need to get matching motor mounts and frame stands. The motor mounts attach to the engine, and the GTO frame will accept either Pontiac or Chevrolet frame stands.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #111 Here we have removed the stock oil pan. Visible in this shot is the oil pump and pickup, windage tray, and oil pan gasket. The Mark VI engines have a one-piece gasket that happens to be very expensive. We are going to reuse this one since the engine hasn't been run. Note also the blue dots on the ends of the connecting rods. That's another thing for you concours guys: you must have correct internal engine markings. :-)
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #112 The new oil pan is more shallow than the stock pan, and requires a change of pickup to this generic model. The stock pickup was press-in. This one has a flange that allows you to bolt it onto one of the pump housing bolts. We needed to add some washers to make it fit, and a new bolt. Funny thing is that the whole engine uses english unit hardware, but the bolts for the oil pump are metric.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #113 Here the transmission, engine and new Moroso oil pan are all together. It's a nice pan, all welded, with kick-outs, interal baffles and a trapdoor baffle to hold oil at the pickup during hard braking. All very nice, but it adds a couple of hundred dollars to the cost of the engine. Looks cool too.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #114 Ahhh, a match made in Heaven, you might say. This took a lot of patience and work (not to mention brute force). The solid motor mounts didn't help any.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #115 The dashboard has come back from Just Dashes, and looks great. They did an excellent job of covering the modified gauge cluster. It looks OEM to me.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #116 Here all of the gauges have been fit, and you can see the wiring and temperature probes.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #117 The dash is installed, and you can see how the gauges will look. Very nice. If you look on the cabinet on the back wall you can see a graphic I made up months previous with CorelDraw and images from the Autometer web page to show how the cluster should look. It seems to be just right.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #118 Here is a shot showing the headers and the beginning of assembly of the clutch components.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #119 This is not a GTO gas tank, but it fits (more or less) and we got it on the cheap. Dave has modified it with a hand-built sump.
CLICK-> 69 resto pic #120 The underside of the dash comes to life again. Wiring harnesses cost $300 to $400. Egad! Anyway, this pic reminds me to order new pedal pads.

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