I started this project during the winter of my junior year of high school. Having only minimal experience working on cars, I was thinking it would be on the road by summer. It wasn’t. It ended up taking around 3 years start to finish. My intention was to restore it, as close as possible, to stock condition. All of the work was done at my dad’s body shop.
This is what the car looked like when I acquired it. From what I’ve gathered from various sources, it was converted into a drag car shortly after it was purchased from the dealer. When I came across it, it had been sitting outside a warehouse since the ’70s. The previous owner had taken out the motor to use in a different project, and this car had been sitting untouched ever since. Unfortunately, the original motor has since exploded. Overall it’s in pretty good shape. A lot of it is original. It still had its factory tuxedo black paint in this picture. The original doors and fenders were also included with the car along with several other original parts.
As a race car, it was never driven on public roads. In fact it has only been driven 200 miles according to the title. It was never exposed to winter salt, which means it has minimal rust compared to most cars that have lived their entire lives in northern Ohio. The downside is that the previous owner made several weight reduction modifications, many of which involved cutting out pieces of the body shell’s inner structure. There are several large holes cut in the floor in order to fit a roll cage and the quarter panels are cut to accommodate racing slicks. The shifter tunnel has a hole large enough for me to fit my entire body through cut in it. The firewall has had several holes punched in it with an air chisel, presumably in order to route wiring. The passenger front corner has been hit by “some asshole with a snow plow” at some point during the years the car has been sitting.
This is the only picture I took of the interior of the car after I’d finished removing everything. You can see where modifications were made to the body shell.
I was not able to locate a build sheet when disassembling the car. Build sheets were usually left under the seat springs as they went down the assembly line and most of the original interior, including the seats, had been thrown in the dumpster several decades ago.
Luckily for me however, this particular car was built at the General Motors plant in Canada. The Canadian plant was the only GM plant that saved information about the cars they built. I was able to contact them and request a document containing everything I might want to know about the car.
Fun fact: The dealership where this car was originally sold is now a Tesla dealership.
Here’s a picture of the original frame. It is beyond repair. You can see where the roll cage was attached and where reinforcements were added. The frame horns are missing because when the previous owner cut them off when he removed the motor. A replacement will need to be sourced.
The parts car, a 1970 small block Malibu, found on Craigslist for $600. It’s hit in the passenger side quarter panel, but otherwise solid. It will provide the structural pieces that are not available aftermarket, the frame, and other miscellaneous parts.
My first task is to strip every single part from both cars. There are a lot of parts, hopefully some of them will be usable.
This rear differential was taken from the parts car. It is a GM 12 bolt, which itself can sell for upwards of double what I paid for the entire parts car. It will be restored and used in the final build. I would guess that someone replaced the original differential in the parts car at some point during it’s life. Got lucky here.
After every single usable part has been taken from the parts car, it is cut up and scrapped. R.I.P.
The car is now ready to go to the sand blaster to be stripped down to bare metal. It took me a few weeks to get the car up on the rotisserie, mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. Looking back it’s a miracle that the thing stayed attached for the half hour drive to the sand blaster. The fenders and the trunk pan are also going to the sand blaster.
All clean, stripped, and ready for primer. You can see the factory lead filler where the roof attaches to the quarter panel and the pillar. The sand blasting shop I took it to specializes in cars and they did an excellent job. Every inch is clean bare metal. I picked the car up as soon as it was ready and primered it the same day in order to avoid flash rust.
Here it is after a coat of primer. We used PPG DP90LF, a durable epoxy primer. All of the spraying was done in the spray booth so that no dirt or dust could get in the primer. Now the metal patching can begin.
The first and largest patch that to be done is the trunk pan. The trunk had filled with water and rusted through in several places. Fortunately, the parts car has a solid replacement pan. After drilling out all of the spot welds and removing the old pan, the new one is fitted and welded into place. This took a lot longer than it should have because I had never welded before.
Rather than try to straighten the corner where the car was hit by the snowplow, I decided to replace it using metal from the parts car. Luckily both cars have the same firewall configuration. This approach has the added benefit of fixing most of the holes punched in the firewall at the same time by cutting them out completely. First the old metal is cut out.
Then the piece from the parts car is trimmed, fitted, and welded into place. The windshield is test fitted before welding is done.
Here’s what the interior floor looked like after most of the patching was done. The shifter tunnel from the parts car was also cut, but not quite as bad, so I used it as a patch. The majority of the hole is covered for now and the rest will be taken care of by an aftermarket patch panel. The studs that attach the front seats had also been cut off, so I replaced those as well.
The metal divider that goes between the rear seat and the trunk was also cut out, as were the pieces that hold the rear window regulators in place and the brackets that hold seat belts and the rear seat. Here’s what it looked like after I welded those in from the parts car. The seat brackets on the floor are welded on backwards in this pic because I’m dumb.
The quarter panels were also repaired where they had been cut in order to fit drag slicks. This had to be done very carefully in order to avoid getting the panel too hot and warping it.
Finally, several months and a million grinding discs later, all of the metal work is complete.
Next step is to work on getting the frame and suspension ready, starting by sending more parts to the sand blaster.
After the frame is sand blasted and primered with the same DP90LF, it is coated with high build primer to fill in any rust pits.
When the primer is sanded smooth, the entire frame is painted with chassis black enamel. Sanding all of the faces and angles of the frame by hand was tedious.
The same process is followed for the rear differential, transmission cross member, and front control arms. Before the final paint was applied to the differential, the gears were swapped out for a new set of 3.73 gears.
After the frame, differential, and control arms are finished and painted, I am ready to begin assembling. I used a brand new disc brake kit and pre-bent stainless steel brake lines. Having all new parts made the assembly process relatively easy. Stainless steel brake lines are difficult to work with, but eventually everything is successfully assembled. At this point the frame is ready for the motor and transmission.
Since the original block is no longer available, I found this one on the internet, along with a set of correct oval port heads out of another 1970 Chevelle. I sent the block to a different shop for them to machine and build.
After several months I received the motor back from the other shop. It is assembled, but it was up to me to paint and install it.
The motor is easy to drop onto the frame without the body in the way. The transmission is a correct Muncie M21 that I also found on the internet. The carb is a 700cfm Holley double pumper. The carb and intake are not what originally came on the car. Also the car would have originally had exhaust manifolds instead of headers. I chose to sacrifice authenticity for the sake of performance here.
The next step is to get the body ready to put onto the frame. The bottom of the floor pan and the firewall are painted with chassis black enamel.
With the floor pan painted, the body is finally ready to drop onto the frame. Having lifts available made the job fairly easy.
And finally the body is on the frame. Making progress.
Next step is a test fit of the core support, fenders and hood. Everything is fitting pretty well so far. Later I would have to replace the hood hinges with a rebuilt set that wasn’t worn out, but this is good enough for now.
This car wasn’t originally optioned with the cowl induction flapper, but I decided that I wanted it anyways. I was able to track down a factory cowl induction hood on the internet. For the first time it’s starting to look like a real car.
After all of the body work is done, a final coat of primer is applied and sanded before paint. Headed to the paint booth in this pic.
Here’s the car after the final paint has been sprayed. The original lacquer paint was used instead of modern urethane.
The hood, doors and trunk lid are painted off of the car.
Adding the stripes to the hood and trunk lid. Apparently there are two sets of dimensions for the stripes because they were changed midway through production. Don’t use the smaller dimensions or it will look dumb and you’ll end up redoing them like I did.
Finally got the bumpers back from the chrome shop. It took around 8 months and was insanely expensive. They look very nice though. I would have used aftermarket bumpers but the quality was not good enough.
Hung the exhaust. Decided to go with stainless steel so that everything stays shiny.
At this point the body is mostly assembled. Feeling cautiously optimistic that this project might get done within my lifetime.
Before finishing the exterior, I decided to get the interior done. I used an aftermarket reproduction dash, gauges, and console. An original dash that hasn’t been modified is almost impossible to find at any price. I think this is a reasonably good reproduction, although some of the black paint needs touching up. The original wiring from the car is completely destroyed. Fortunately an entire reproduction wiring harness is available aftermarket.
Here is a picture of the seats recovered and installed. The upholstery work was done by someone else who knows what they’re doing.
The door panels came pre-assembled. The originals were not usable but these reproductions are surprisingly high quality. They fit well and are easy to install. The most difficult part of installing the doors is getting the front and rear window regulators to align properly. That alone took a full day’s worth of work.
Here it is after the paint has been wet sanded and buffed and some of the trim has been added. The stainless steel trim was time consuming to polish, but once I figured out the process it wasn’t too difficult to get good results. I would have used aftermarket trim, but the quality was not even close to the original.
Finally, some pictures of the finished product. Congrats if you’ve managed to read this far.
Thanks to everyone at the shop who let me borrow their tools.