Susan and I had, in the past, restored old furniture and those projects were basically take it apart, remove the old finish, fix anything damaged, re-stain and then apply a finish coat. We figured if this worked for a chair it should work for a car, the only difference being more parts and rust instead of cracked wood. Even so I had a number of reservations and about a million questions that needed answers.
We searched the Calgary scene to see if there were any car restoration clubs and found Northern Mopar Auto Club . We joined with the idea that we would be able to meet people with experience and expertise who could help us over the rough spots. Well, this really didn't work as well as expected, only a small core of members attend the meetings and they appeared to be a close group of long time friends with interests pretty much directed towards the next car show. Having a C-Body didn't help and not having anything to show left us more or less on the outside looking in.
One benefit, however, the monthly newsletter features a different member car in each issue and includes a short write-up by the owner. I discovered old issues were available on the web site so I carefully searched them and extracted every reference to shops they used. One name kept coming up - Investment Vehicles Restoration owned by Terry Levair.
At the same time, I started to spend more time on the Internet searching for restoration FAQ's and sites which offered tips and techniques related to Mopar. Web Rings are very good sources although it does take a fair amount of keyboard time to find the good stuff. I started a bookmark section and marked FAQ's, buy/sell boards, restoration products, parts suppliers and anything else that might be of future use.
I also did a fair amount of Internet research into rust proofing and found a product called POR-15. At $135 Cdn a gallon, it's not cheap - but all reports said it was worth it. As it turned out, POR-15 is outstanding.
I'm not equipped for welding, metal shaping or spray painting, so we decided to restrict our work to bolt on parts, clean them up and paint rust proofing on all the surfaces that wouldn't be painted with body colour. From my Internet reading I discovered body paint is really a paint system which includes basic metal preparation, fillers, primers, colour coat, clear coat and all components have to be chemically compatible otherwise all sorts of horrible things would happen. We made a rule, if it's going to end up body colour, leave it for the pro's.
Sand Blasting Can be Fun
We tried cleaning with wire brushes and a power grinder but found the process to be either too slow or it removed too much material. My brother came to the rescue with his trusty Sears compressor and sand blasting outfit. Sand blasting is neat, just like painting with bare metal. It removes paint, gives chrome a nice mat finish and makes glare free frosted window glass. Fortunately my paint was already toast and most of my chrome was missing but, I will have to replace a couple of side windows. Lesson, mask it or loose it!
Having purchased a gallon of POR-15 to play with, we decided to sand blast all of the interior floor, as much as we could reach underneath and all the under hood stuff. Susan really got into sand blasting as the following photo's show, I did some but Susan did the lion's share. I had trouble getting parts off fast enough to keep her supplied with things to blast.
While we had the dash removed I decided to try recovering the top pad with some black vinyl. The pad was badly cracked and the foam was hard as a rock so I figured, nothing ventured nothing gained. I filled all the cracks with seam filler then painted it with spray on contact cement. The result was a big mess, I couldn't get the vinyl to follow the curves and I couldn't get it to stick very well. Contact cement is great stuff but it doesn't let you do any adjusting and doesn't stick very well if the parts are under any tension. Another factor was silicon left on the surface from old cleaning attempts with Armor All. I should have spent more time cleaning before I started with the contact cement. I have since discovered, products such as Armor All, which use silicon or petroleum products shouldn't be used on vinyl, since they tend to harden and cause cracking. I now needed a new dash pad.
After a couple of months of this foolishness, winter was coming, so we decided to put everything back together. I wrapped the whole car in plastic and drove it back to it's home in the back yard. Sand seemed to be everywhere and I started to wish I'd been a lot more careful and masked parts better. My first hint of hidden problems appeared when I started the engine and moved the Beast out of the garage to idle while I added antifreeze and got the air out of the plumbing. The power steering pump started to howl and the next thing I knew my nice clean engine compartment was covered with hot power steering fluid. I guess power steering pumps don't like sand. Oh well another part to rebuild and hopefully the oil will wash off.
Sand blasting was fun, instant results, great feeling of accomplishment, but it does come with a few hidden costs. For those interested in the fine points of sand blasting, don't do it in an attached garage. Two years later we were still cleaning sand out of the house and I figure every device in the garage with a moving part was either disassembled and cleaned or replaced. Even the electric door opener motor had to be torn apart. If the piston on your compressor is exposed to the air, don't park your compressor near where you are blasting. We figured this out after we had replaced the third $45 piston and cylinder assembly. Piece of cake to change, but the trips to Sears for parts gets boring very quickly. Vacuum cleaners don't do well either, the sand falls in the top, into the motor - replaced a couple of those as well. We also went through two or three face shields and many replacement visors. Don't even think of sand blasting without a good full face visor.
Professional Help Now Required
During the winter we came to the conclusion our restoration efforts were about as far as we could go without some serious sheet metal and mechanical work. My garage is too small and since it is attached to the house, I didn't want to do welding or spray painting. With my luck I'd burn the whole house down. Even pulling the engine wasn't much of an option, the garage ceiling being too low for a hoist. We decided the project was not going to succeed unless we got some professionals involved. Time to investigate Terry Levair and make sure he's not another Bondo Man in disguise. Another year passed.
At the Calgary World of Wheels Car show in the spring of '99, I discovered two types of paint jobs, good and outstanding. Many of the outstanding ones seemed to have been done by a company, Investment Vehicles Restoration, owned by Terry Levair. I decided to investigate this companies reputation.
The next question became, how deep shall I dig this money pit and what do I expect as a finished product. Hindsight, which we all know is 20:20, now tells me that if you don't spend some serious time contemplating money pit depth, it will very quickly resemble the Grand Canyon. Little did I know that my future money pit would be large enough to have a Grand Canyon of it's own tucked away in one corner!
So I rested and thought things over!