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When Two Worlds Collide

State Farm® Builds A Training Aid

Story provided - December 13, 2012 10:00 AM

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1 The project began with a fire damaged 1968 Camaro RS convertible that was a total loss.

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2 Once the parts started going through the disassembly process, the extent of the damage became obvious.

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3 There would need to be two styles of hoods welded together, so precision was necessary.

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4 The body shell was placed on the rotisserie and more was learned about the car’s condition.

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5 The underbody reflects the difference. The restored side has the proper primer, undercoating and overspray. The modified side got textured undercoating.

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6 Looking at the bottom of the restored side, all sheetmetal is welded into place and epoxy primer is applied. This view is from the firewall, looking toward the rear.

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7 Subframe restoration is underway for the restored side.

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8 Since this is a convertible, there had to be work on the top frame, which is painted black.

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9 The rear differential is undergoing cosmetic restoration. There was a lot of pitting to the steel housing.

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10 There was a rusted section of the A-pillar that needed to be replaced and the freshly welded section is much better.

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11 With the work continuing on the restored side, here’s a view of some of the remnants of rusty trunk floor and frame rail.

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12 Some bracing was necessary, which can be seen in the upper right corner. More work for the welder.

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13 This is a view of the restored side and the suspension, specifically the rear leaf springs.

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14 The restored side didn’t get all of the attention. The modified side required its own tasks, including a painting of the dash panel.

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15 The modified side of the car gets the care of sanding the clearcoat in preparation for buffing.

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16 The team goes to work filling weld seams with dyna-glass, just as it was when the car was stripped.

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17 The engine and transmission (a modern four-speed) get put into place.

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18 This is a look at the top of the custom air cleaner molded to the stock side. The custom side is hand-formed with steel and smoothed out with filler.

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19 The air cleaner is now primed and ready for final sand before installation.

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20 Bolt-on panels were removed and painted away from the construction area. Once they dried, they could be put into place.

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21 The split theme carried through the interior, using two different styles and colors.

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22 Taking a look into the trunk, the restored and modified sides are quite evident, even without the color difference on the exterior.

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23 Here’s a look inside the engine compartment. Yes, the car could run, but there are no fluids in it.

 
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23 Here’s a look inside the engine compartment. Yes, the car could run, but there are no fluids in it.

 
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24 We’ve taken the hood off the vehicle to show the detail. Remember, it was a raised hood and flat hood coming together.

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24 We’ve taken the hood off the vehicle to show the detail. Remember, it was a raised hood and flat hood coming together.

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25A & 25 B Compare the pictures. Is this the same car? You can’t tell from this angle that there is anything different on the other side.

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25A & 25 B Compare the pictures. Is this the same car? You can’t tell from this angle that there is anything different on the other side.

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26 Call ’em mad scientists or evil geniuses, but here’s the team that got it done: (l-r) Sam Boyden, Tom Bergeron, Tom Hollenstain and Earl Hyser. Boyden and Bergeron built the red (modified) side, Hollenstain built the powertrain, Hyser built the restored side, and Boyden did a lot of the final assembly.

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In a lab in central Illinois, a team of State Farm automotive repair experts has been conducting hands-on research on vehicles since the early 1990s.

Routinely, they take apart vehicles or study specific parts with the goal of finding the best and most cost-efficient way to repair damage. And as car designs and systems become more complex, these experts also help State Farm correctly diagnose damage, all in an effort to hold down insurances rates.

They’re also a bunch of gearheads. And that’s what brings us to this story.

With the spike in collector car prices in 2005, the company’s team needed to find a way to help agents and underwriters understand that the car type and its condition are critical to properly assessing the value for classics.

As the country’s top auto insurer, State Farm is committed to accurately valuing and insuring autos, explained Earl Hyser, who heads the company’s Vehicle Research Facility. “Our people need to be well trained,” Hyser said. “The customer and we have to agree on the value of a collector car before we insure it — we state that value on the policy.”

The value is used to determine the amount of premium a customer pays and, if a loss occurs, may be a factor in a claim settlement. “We don’t want to provide too little coverage or too much coverage – that’s not good for anyone,” Hyser said.

The team came up with a plan centered on the idea of creating two training aids, a fully restored vehicle and a modified one. The idea was to show the attributes of a full rotisserie restoration and what certain vehicle modifications may look like, how they’re performed and whether they impact the value of a vehicle.

But building, storing and mobilizing two vehicles didn’t make sense. That’s when they hatched the idea of building both training aids into one vehicle.

To build their training aid, they used a 1968 Camaro RS convertible that, following an engine compartment fire, was deemed a total loss. The car came from the factory with a 327 cubic inch engine and an automatic transmission. It was a non-air car with a standard interior.

Even before the fire damage, the car was in rough condition. The left rear unibody rail, or rear frame rail, was rusted away at the left leaf spring mounting perch. The car had three sets of floor pans that had been welded on top of each other over the years and the majority of the rust holes in the floor and rocker panels were patched with roof flashing from the home market and mudded up with plastic filler. The workmanship was very poor. The engine had been replaced at some point with a mid-’70s 350.

This car was far from being a relevant historical vehicle. It would be best served in its current state.

The driver’s side was built back to its factory build specifications, including using the Butternut Yellow paint color, with some minor modifications that few would be able to identify. In keeping with industry expectations, this side of the Camaro was “over restored.”

“The driver’s side of the car never looked this good, not even when it was new in 1968!” Hyser said.

If judged for originality or appraised as a complete restoration, there are a few things that may influence the outcome. For example, Hyser explained, the restored side should have wheel opening moldings, but they were removed. That side also had the larger chrome moldings at the belt line of the door and the quarter but they removed them and used the small felt trim. The headlamp door is completely black as compared to the grille.

Hyser said that research shows that Camaro RS models built after mid-May 1968 could have had an all-black grille as opposed to the chrome on the center grille because there was a design change at that time. The exhaust header is not correct for this particular vehicle. The transmission was upgraded to a modern four-speed automatic. The subtleties go on and on.

“These kinds of changes are some of the topics we cover in company training about vehicle restorations, appraisals, vehicle provenance, historical relevance and vehicle attributes that may impact a vehicle’s market value,” Hyser said.

Some have asked why the team put a rally wheel with a red line tire on the front and a standard steel wheel with a full wheel cover on the rear, including the bias ply white wall tire. “We did this to illustrate a teaching point,” Hyser said. “Some vehicles could be optioned with various components. Plus, it wasn’t unheard of for a customer to buy a car, but have the dealer switch out the preferred wheels and tires from another similar car.

“Does it impact value? Maybe, or maybe not,” he says.

But there is another side to this story. “There’s so much going on with this side of the car it’s impossible to cover it all,” Hyser said about the intentionally modified portion of the Camaro.

This side represents a modified 1968 Camaro SS convertible. Hyser added that some incorrectly believe it represents a 1967 Camaro, probably because the team shaved both side marker lights from the car.

We’ll start with the most controversial area. Some parts of the sheetmetal were repaired with the same sub-standard processes they found when they stripped down the vehicle. “We did this to show that you never know what’s under the paint unless you’ve got documentation of the build,” he said. “Any skilled body man or painter will tell you they can hide anything under the paint. We wanted to prove the point: beauty, if only skin – or paint – deep, on the modified side of our Camaro.”

Many of the team’s modifications enabled the demonstration of whether the value of a particular vehicle was impacted.

“For example, imagine modifying a 1968 Camaro two-door hardtop with a six cylinder automatic by shaving the door handles,” Hyser suggested. “Would that negatively impact the car’s value? Now, let’s say we did the same thing to a 1968 big-block, numbers-matching RS/SS two-door hardtop, four-speed car. Calm down. We’d never do that, but you can see where those modifications may alter the value of this vehicle.”

Some of the modifications performed for teaching points to the modified side of the car include shaving the door handle and lock as well as side marker lights and emblems, shaving the bumper bolts for a smoother look, swapping out the control arms for tubular arms with polyurethane bushings, swapping out the factory drum brakes for large caliper disc brakes, adding a subframe connector, adding custom-built stainless steel exhaust (side exit) with ceramic-coated header, adding nitrous that’s plumbed into the base plate of the carb, adding a hand-built air cleaner, adding one-off carbon fiber front wheel liner, replacing front valance parking light with a custom built carbon fiber brake duct attached to back side of opening, grafting an SS hood to the flat RS hood, adding full custom leather interior and cloth convertible top and spraying with a waterborne red basecoat with a high-solids clear on top, sanded and rubbed to a mirror smooth finish.

“We take our role in insuring collector cars very seriously and we want to continue to develop and grow our highly skilled associates and agents,” Hyser said. “What better way to show that we truly understand collector cars than to use our passion and skills to build this one-of-a-kind training aid and share its purpose with all enthusiasts?

“We’re really proud of our work on this car and continue to enjoy the positive comments we receive, not to mention the outright gawking we witness when we bring it to a new venue for training or to exhibit. Folks who see the car always want to know if it runs. It would run, but there are no fluids in the car so that it can be shown in any setting without the fear of leaking fluids. If you have the opportunity to see it first hand at a trade show, you’ll realize it’s a work of art.”

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