First impressions usually set the tone for how someone or something is perceived. In the automotive hobby, the exterior finish is usually what first attracts someone's eye. But how many actually have a grasp on current restoration trends within the hobby that affect what it takes to achieve award-winning, show-quality body and paintwork? Chances are, very few. So HPP approached a number of experienced restoration and supply specialists and asked them to answer the following questions. Here's what they had to say:
1.) Parts Car to Pristine
Question: As the number of unrestored Pontiac models diminishes and the values of rare vehicles skyrocket, has there been a decline in the initial quality of project vehicles?
Answer: Logic tells us that as the pool of unrestored vehicles gets smaller, the quality of available projects would surely decline. While other restorers may have noticed signs of that, Scott Tiemann of Supercar Specialties in Portland, Michigan, says he hasn't-yet.
Painter Todd Otto of Restore...
Painter Todd Otto of Restore A Muscle Car in Lincoln, Nebraska, applies a fresh basecoat to this Second-Gen Firebird.
Tiemann is no stranger to restoring super-rare Pontiac models. His work has graced the pages of HPP on several occasions, and he tells us that there seems to be no shortage of clean, original Pontiacs to choose from. He does, however, agree that the base is getting smaller. "We get the occasional basket case," he says, "but good projects are still out there."
Having restored a number of high-end Pontiacs, Tiemann has had several arrive at his shop in boxes. "It seems that someone recognized the car's rarity, and started its restoration years ago. Then for some reason, usually lack of money or interest, the project stalled, and the car sat disassembled and unfinished. Since it has been off the road for a number of years, it's usually in pretty good shape. We just hope that the rare parts are still with it."
When asked if a project that was beyond restoring has come into his shop, Tiemann replied, "Depending on its rarity, anything is salvageable. If we can't find N.O.S. panels for it, we can repair the originals or cut others from a donor. We can even make our own or use reproductions if necessary." He did, however, say, "If a customer brings us a garden-variety GTO for restoration and it's too far gone, we usually suggest starting with another from an economic standpoint."
Tiemann offers a bit of advice for hobbyists searching for restoration candidates: "Start with a good base, it'll save you in the long run." But he also suggests taking detailed pictures of the disassembly process. "The photos can be used to document original finishes and help during reassembly." Tiemann also says that past articles of correctly restored Pontiacs make excellent reference materials when trying to determine the correct finish on specific components or hardware.
Question: Since the supply of N.O.S. and good, used original body panels continues to diminish, has there been a steady increase in the use of reproduction panels?
Answer: While some suppliers produce near-exact reproductions of original GM body panels for certain Chevrolet applications, there seems to be less of a selection for Pontiacs. Based on our past experience with some of them, it has sometimes seemed wiser to repair the existing original. Happily, there are restoration companies that actually rate the panels in their catalogs and provide descriptions of the typical work needed to get them to show quality. And let's not forget that there are some very good reproductions out there, and that many of those that have been less so, have improved over the last few years.
Looking for a professional opinion on the subject, we contacted Paul DiMauro of Pro1 Custom/Rods and Restorations in Deer Park, New York. DiMauro's shop typically has over 20 restorations in progress at any given time, and his work has been featured in HPP.
Photographed at Chalek's Auto...
Photographed at Chalek's Auto Body, this reproduction Pontiac body panel is a quarter-skin. As such, it doesn't extend into the sail panel, doorjamb, or rear body-panel areas, which can be viewed as an advantage or disadvantage depending upon the condition of the project car.
Upon hearing the question, DiMauro replied, "Longevity and the end result are our greatest concerns, so we want to maximize metalwork to minimize body-filler work. We'd prefer to use a vintage N.O.S. panel as a replacement for an unsalvageable piece, but there are so few out there. Used originals aren't really an option either due to the fact that the cars once considered donors are now being restored. So we try to repair original body panels using custom-made patches, but we've also used reproductions depending upon the application."
The limited number of reproduced Pontiac body panels currently on the market leaves many restorers in a bit of a quandary. DiMauro says that from an economic view, installing a reproduction panel is sometimes more costly than repairing an original. "Depending upon the vehicle, the quality of the reproduction body panels can be good. But we've also seen situations where we had to section them just to fit body lines." He is quick to say, however, that not all panels are problematic. "Structural panels, such as the trunk floors and floorpans, are quite good and usually require the least amount of fitting."
When asked which popular Pontiacs seem the toughest to restore DiMauro, replied, "It has to be the '68 GTO. Rust-free '68 decklids are like gold, and the '66 and '67 GTOs aren't far behind. But the '68s have to be the toughest right now. It seems like everything is unique, and nothing is available."