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Steel Nightmare

AMD offers a solution to the high cost of mixing and matching replacement components

Geoff Stunkard - March 29, 2012 10:00 AM

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This is the Camaro as Tracy and the guys at Wizeguy Rod & Custom began to get the panels on it. The new floor, trunk floor, and suspension are in place, the frame work done, the car’s rear wheelhouses have been modified and the rear tail panel has been clamped in place for reference. They had gotten to this point when trouble began.

 

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No place were the issues more evident than here, where the gas filler neck comes through the rear license plate area. As you can see, the new rear panel had already been cut in an attempt to pull the panel up to the trunk pan lip to align it. The overall stamping was incorrect.

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Here are notes Tracy wrote on the driver’s side quarter, purchased unmodified as a used replacement; the length needed fell short in the rear portion. Also note how the drip rail channel shape needed to be changed in the corner. It was too tight to let the rubber trim go in.

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The panel, held in place by locking pliers, needed to move forward slightly.

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Just move it forward? We don’t think so — the sail panel lip was flush against the OEM drip rail. The bottom front area of the quarter seemed to fit fairly close. 

 

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Just move it forward? We don’t think so — the sail panel lip was flush against the OEM drip rail. The bottom front area of the quarter seemed to fit fairly close. 

 

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To top it off, this was how the edge on the trunk lip fit at the rear. This stamping was deemed unusable.

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Look how far Bob’s fender extends beyond that rear panel. This should be flush and the tail panel has been pulled back as far as it can go.

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Let’s go back to our trunk lip; the curved piece at the center is the original OEM drip channel around the trunk, which was carefully left in place when the car came apart for this very reason. The used, aftermarket replacement quarter did not match it correctly.

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Lay the new decklid on it from source three; note how far back that fender extends.

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Meanwhile, at the top, you can see the decklid is almost on top of the fender lip; the black line shows ho much clearance is actually needed.

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Just so the passenger side would not be left out, the new wheelhouse stamping was too wide to allow that new quarter (from yet another source) to fit over it. To use it, Tracy would have to cut the lip off, section the housing, and re-weld the lip on. Bob was not saving any money when the shop time is considered.

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This image shows the new passenger side quarter slid into place, which actually was not a bad fit, but the car was still going to require similar changes like the driver’s side. At this point Bob and Tracy conferred; it was time to start over. A couple of weeks later (thanks to Bob’s credit card), Santa came early in the form of a freight pallet of parts. AMD had basically everything that was needed, all from one source, and Bob also sprung for their new aluminum front-end pieces as well.

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Now the work of taking it all apart began … we’ll start to document the new rebuild next month.

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The 1969 Camaro is considered by many to be the iconic Chevrolet supercar era vehicle. From six cylinders and Z28s to RS Pace Cars and the 427 COPO models, there were over a quarter-million examples built in the final year of the first-gen F-body (and over 840,000 over the total three year run).

 As a result, these vehicles are among the most popular cars being rebuilt today, with a prolific aftermarket for parts and pieces that has existed almost as long as the OEM muscle car restoration business.

Of course, rust, wrecks and racing are also part of the process that got them here, and, as a result, there is a lot of replacement sheetmetal out in the marketplace. Our story begins when enthusiast Bob Treadway decided he was going to finish his recently-purchased Camaro. Trying to work within the constraints of a budget, Bob began by figuring out just what panels his ’69 SS would need, then acquired those parts through trading with friends or buying at local swap meets.

This meant a quarter from one source, wheel housings from another, new door skins, even a floor pan, all from various sources. Some of it had even been fitted up to a car previously, creating a true amalgamation of mostly-new replacement parts with a couple of wild cards thrown in. That stash and the car then went to Tracy Hicks at Wizeguy Rod & Custom in Jonesborough, Tennessee, for the bodywork.

Hicks, a veteran body and sheetmetal fabricator who has built everything from rat rods to Top Sportsman drag cars, began the work with modifications Bob had wanted. The car had come from another shop partially-disassembled, well-used, and with little clue as to how it had started the process. Because he was going to a big-block street engine, Bob wanted Tracy to add a full Heidts rear suspension set-up underneath it. Tracy and his crew began by adding the floor pan, doing the frame rail repair, and installing a fresh trunk floor. Tracy did a widening of the wheeltubs for bigger tires and began test fitting the other pieces Bob had acquired. That was when the problems turned up.

“Bob had put together a big assortment of unused replacement parts, so we had figured this would be a pretty straight-forward process,” says Tracy. “However, once we began clamping the panels up, we found out that it was not what anybody had expected.”

Of course, back in 1969, cars were not computer-welded; assembly line workers created the basic shell from various structural components, with pieces being added based on a certain level of tolerances on those raw stampings. Rubber mallets or stronger “instruments of persuasion” would sometimes be employed to get it all together. Frankly, no two 1969 Camaros will be exactly alike, varying by small amounts. Experienced sheetmetal constructors and rebuilders will grimace and admit that there will likely be issues when doing large sheetmetal replacements regardless of manufacturer.

Those issues, however, were exacerbated in Bob’s case, who had assembled replacement parts from a variety of suppliers. At this point, the car was too far into the process to do anything but devise a solution. While you could splice and dice some areas, Bob would end up losing a huge amount of time and money to have Wizeguy R&C customizing every single panel. Most critical was the rear taillight panel, where the quarter-panel corners, deck lid, lock assembly and gas tank filler behind the license plate need to all align. If the corners were clamped, the filler area would not fit; if the neck and lock opening aligned, the corners and decklid fit was way off. One of the quarters aligned to one door jamb but the other was off by a full inch. The door jambs, frame, and decklid drip rail were all that remained of the original car’s reference points to support the new sheetmetal.

Tracy contacted Mike Gray at AMD in Atlanta for some answers. AMD had not built the panels being used at this time, but could answer some of the questions the car now posed. Mike began by explaining why even “new” replacement sheetmetal might be off. For instance, stamping a rear fender, with its tolerances on the door, the wheel lip, the decklid opening, and the roof, is a serious undertaking; too much weight on just one press-point during the multi-step process can stretch one side and potentially distort the opposite side.

When the suppliers were U.S.-based and close to the factory doing the assembly, issues on quality could be very quickly addressed. However, today, the aftermarket often has little ability to do the same with the Pacific rim firms that now create almost all of the sheetmetal pieces currently available.

Moreover, demand and changing business issues may cause a single supplier/importer to use multiple stamping plants based on bid contracts and material costs. That means that one shipment of parts may be better or worse than the next. For example, Company A does a great job on simple stampings, but has problems with delivery; Company B does good multi-angle parts when they are dead-on, but consistency is an issue. Company C says they can do it all, but in the end had other problems and may actually be farming their work out to A or B! So, even if you go for the best price, and had ordered brand-new everything (that Bob had purchased at swap meets) from a single source, the pre-packaged pieces may still be out of synch with each other. Parts mismatched from various sources only makes things worse.

What AMD has done is use a single source supplier, and then recreate virtually every complicated piece needed to the job using complicated jigs for measurement; this stuff is made to fit together. Quality control was job one for Mark Headrick when he started the company, and he was well aware that this was the true Achilles heel of the muscle car replacement sheetmetal business. Creating pieces that work sometimes means more expense, but time is money, too.

To this end, veteran restorers Craig Hopkins and Jim Davis created AMD’s own Installation Center, which will have moved to a new facility outside of Commerce, Georgia, by the time you read this. AMD employee Gilbert Propes works there and handles the test-fitting program, while AMD refers customers to this shop for any installation work being asked about. The bottom line is that these are hands-on, not just importers.

In the end, Bob did not save anything by shopping for the “best price”, even if the replacement sheetmetal is brand new. This month, we will show you some of the issues that were raised; next month, we’ll sew the new AMD stuff together and show you some of the things you could run into on your project.

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