Purchasing a Chrysler B-Body is a great project that is immensely rewarding in a variety of ways. Not only does the finished outcome provide you with a classic muscle car that you are proud of, enjoy driving, or can turn around for a return on your investment, but along the way you acquire new abilities, skill, and patience.
This Tech Tip is From the Full Book, MOPAR B-BODY RESTORATION: 1966-1970. For a comprehensive guide on this entire subject you can visit this link:
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But be warned: In most cases you spend much more time and money than you expected or budgeted for. Only the most experienced restoration shop or builder can expertly estimate the hours and dollars necessary to bring any project car back to running condition.
So prior to purchasing your first Mopar project, it is imperative to take into account several factors; key among them is assessing your budget, your skill level, the tools and equipment needed, and your ultimate project goals. In this chapter we help you evaluate these considerations so that you can find the right project to suit your means, abilities, and budget.
Not All Cars Are Created Equal
All too often, would-be restorers come across a car that piques their interest and become excited before truly assessing the situation. Although the money they’ve squirreled away might be enough to lightly clean up a rough driver, sometimes the opportunity to purchase an original big-block R/T in significantly worse shape arises and blinds their judgment.
Thinking that the R/T is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they jump headfirst into what could potentially become a money pit. As difficult as it may be to accept, some cars are just “too far gone.” Yes, the idea of a significantly rare and original Hemi 4-speed rotting away in a backfield is a terrible one to consider, but sometimes they’re just too rotted away to save.
Many Chrysler vehicles left the factory with either raw or only lightly treated metal components. Cars that have spent too many freezing winters outside are likely candidates to be passed over. Too much of the car might have succumbed to cancerous rust to salvage, the victim of drastic swings in temperature, the corrosive properties of salt used to melt iced-over roads, and moisture.
Likewise, a project can be far too complicated for your skill set. Vehicles such as Chargers, Daytonas, and Superbirds featured complex vacuum-operated hideaway headlight doors. Similar systems are found on cars equipped with Air Grabber cold-air induction. Cars equipped with air conditioning, multiple carburetors, or even cruise control can leave you scratching your head or worse yet, chasing incredibly rare, and thereby expensive, parts.
Additionally, incredibly collectible or rare vehicles can prove to be far too difficult to restore correctly. Chrysler offered a litany of options to the buyer during these years, ensuring the possibility of seemingly endless combinations. Unfortunately, decades of use (or misuse), modifications made by previous owners, and general wear-and-tear can make reassembling such a machine a veritable treasure hunt.
That is why it is important for you to have an open mind when selecting the “perfect project” to restore. Be brutally honest with yourself. Do not be afraid to pass up the first potential project you find, or the second or even the fifth. Don’t let your eyes get too big. You’re going to be spending a lot of time and effort on this car.
Dollars and Sense
Unlike rebuilding a Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro, undertaking a Mopar project vehicle poses some unique and expensive challenges. Even the most mass-produced Chrysler B-Bodies’ numbers pale when compared to the sheer quantities of the other manufacturers. Although rarity and obscurity lends itself to greater demand for a finished restoration, so too does it elevate the cost of parts necessary to complete your project. Even the most run-of-the-mill 318-powered Dodge or Plymouth B-Body can surprise you by depleting your checkbook in little time. Budgeting for a project vehicle requires considering how much money you are willing to spend to purchase the car, and then weighing all of the work necessary to bring the project to driving condition.
It’s a widely understood maxim that spending more money upfront for a more complete car can actually save you quite a bit in the long run. Although an original 440+6 Road Runner might sound like a fun car to have, a stripped-bare hulk sitting on its frame rails is missing much more than meets the eye.
Missing linkages, air cleaner components, and other oddities that you might not immediately consider can add up very quickly. Obviously, the closer the project is to being a functioning automobile the better; you spend less time scouring message boards and online vendors for the rare oddities that are no longer available.
Again, because of the low production numbers of Chrysler B-Bodies compared to their across-town rivals, the size of the aftermarket is equally slim. Don’t expect to walk into your local speed shop or classic car swap meet and walk out with what you need, or not pay a premium.
Likewise, as we’ve mentioned above, some extremely desirable and therefore expensive Chryslers are out there. This might tempt you to perform a “re-creation” or passable “clone,” converting a low-optioned vehicle into a high-optioned one. This can be and is regularly done throughout the industry, but it isn’t as easy as you might think.
Even converting a lowly smallblock–powered Dodge Charger into a winged Daytona is a massive undertaking that can cost well over $20,000 in just the nosecone, wing, and rear window plug. Unless you have the initial capital to invest, do not enter into a project that will deplete your savings before you get the chance to enjoy the finished product.
Know Your Skills
Next, consider how much of the work you’re willing to do yourself. Truly assessing your skill level is one of the hardest things to do. We all want to believe we’re capable of anything, but now is the time to admit where your shortcomings are in regard to restoring a classic Mopar. It’s okay. Nobody will think any less of you for being honest.
This step is equally as valuable in your project budgeting as selecting the right car. How? Only when fairly weighing what portions of the build you’re willing to do yourself versus outsourcing are you able to better approximate your expenses.
Consider whether you will handle the disassembly, labeling, and cataloging. How about the bodywork and rust removal? Do you have a welder and metal tools? Do you trust yourself to do all of the preparation prior to painting your project? How about rebuilding the engine and drivetrain? Wiring and plumbing?
These are a small selection of larger tasks that complete the restoration of the project. In this book, we provide an outline to help you break down the many steps necessary in disassembling, restoring, and reassembling a classic Mopar B-Body muscle car. But it’s up to you to decide what steps you take yourself, and those that you farm out.
If you want to prep and paint the car yourself, you need to compile a comprehensive list of tools, equipment, and materials as well as schedule the time and budget. In both cases round up. There’s never any harm in coming in under budget. We outline everything you need to prep, paint, and finish an OEM-level restoration that you can use as a guide. If you opt instead to send your car out for paint and bodywork, now is the time to start researching local and reputable body shops, ideally those that have classic automotive experience.
Even before purchasing a project car, consider spending some much needed “due diligence” by acquiring catalogs of the major aftermarket suppliers that specialize in Mopars (YearOne, Classic Industries, B/E&A Restoration Parts, Dante’s Parts, etc.). This provides a very general understanding of the costs of highly consumable parts such as interior components, brake and suspension parts, trim, emblems, and much more.
Start Shopping for a Shop
After you’ve read the chapters about how to strip, do bodywork, paint, and polish your project car, you may say, “I can’t do all that. I need to find a good shop to get my car in paint.”
Finding a good shop to restore your vintage Mopar is not as easy as going to the closest repair shop and asking for an estimate. What do you ask first, or for that matter what do you ask last? Finding a quality shop that knows Mopars and how to restore them, and that can turn your car around in a timely manner and not jack up the price along the way, is one of your most important decisions.
The best place to begin your search for a good shop is the local car show or cruise-in. Also check with local Mopar club members about who they have used. Look at as many nice cars as possible and talk to the owners. By talking to the car’s owner you can find out if he recommends the shop, how long it took to get the car finished, and even how much it cost. Word of mouth is always better than a blind search on the Internet. By doing this you can form a good opinion of that shop’s work and overall experience from other customers.
When you do find someone with a car you admire, find out how extensive the repairs were. If the quarter was replaced ask the owner if you can look in the trunk and see how well the shop did on the welds. Check the car overall for good fitment of doors, fenders, and correct body panel gaps. Look for waves down the side of the car and examine the finish of the paint. With luck you will find a shop that speaks Mopar. If not remember that you may have to educate the shop on the differences that make a Mopar correct and stand your ground if you want them to do the work like Ma Mopar did.
If the shop assembled the car after painting, check all the windows, glass, interior, and engine compartment for correct appearance. Look at the car as if you were judging it at a car show. Also check other projects by the same shop and find out if the shop is consistently turning out good cars.
After you have talked to several owners, narrowed down the prospective candidates, and have answers you are comfortable with, drop in and get to know the shop up close and personal. For example, when you arrive, do you see 10 or more cars sitting in a row waiting for work to begin? Your car has to get in line and that could mean a lot of time before the work even begins. Check out the condition of the shop. Watch for good workflow, notice how many employees work there, whether the tools are in order, etc. A body shop is often a dirty place but you can tell if professionals run the shop. Some of the best restorations come out of one-man, one-car shops, so don’t let the size of the shop be the deciding factor.
Review the Budget
Before you sit down with the shop, make sure that you know your available budget. You need to know the level and quality of paint job you can afford, and it’s best to have your spouse on board. More than one marriage has had problems over a restoration project.
The individual shop determines how you pay for and monitor the progress of your car’s paint and bodywork. If they are going to perform a full restoration and deliver a turnkey car, it becomes even more complicated. Never, and I mean never, pay the entire amount up front. Always get a written contract of work to be performed, payment schedule, time frame, and specific supplies to be used. More than one owner has had his or her car in “Paint Shop Jail.” So a written contract is a must.
After you reach an agreement visit the shop, take pictures of the progress, and keep a good working relationship with the people who are doing the work. The last thing you want to do is make an enemy of the guy who ultimately determines the final outcome of your investment. Keep a written journal with dates and progress pictures.
Getting your car in paint is one of, if not the most important and difficult step of a restoration. Whether you build the car after paint, or have the shop complete the car, the paint is the first thing you and everyone else notice. It should be a source of pride and satisfaction, not irritation and frustration!
The final step prior to actually purchasing your new project car is preparing a place to keep it and work on it (preferably these two places are the same). An enclosed and weatherproof garage with plenty of room to move around the car is best. Understand that much of the time during the build your project remains immobile. So wherever you’re planning to store your car, make sure that you’re not blocking foot traffic or an area that is accessed regularly.
In addition, make sure that the garage is uncluttered and free of shelves stacked with items that could fall on your car. It sounds unlikely, but you’d be surprised how often a box of Christmas decorations has fallen on a project car. Try to avoid anything hanging above your car as well. Simply make your new car’s garage as clean, organized, and safe as possible.
Make sure you have ample storage space for all of the parts you pull off, documenting, and storing until it’s time to restore and reinstall them on your car. A workbench is worth its weight in gold, as is an organized tool box or chest. Rooting through disheveled drawers of wrenches or searching through a pile of sockets for the right tool is time wasted.
Other tools necessary to any build include a bench or table vise, a quality air compressor (I suggest a 50-gallon minimum), an impact gun, a handheld as well as a bench grinder, a rivet gun, an electric drill and spot-weld cutter, a variable speed buffer, wool pads, foam pads, sanding discs, four heavy-duty jack stands, and a floor jack.
Although you don’t have to own them, having access to an engine hoist (“cherry picker”); a four-leg engine stand; a MIG welder, mask, and gloves; media or “blast” cabinet; and a quality gravity-fed spray gun and touch-up gun is good, particularly if you plan to do much of the restoration yourself.
Thankfully, many tools are available for rent or loan from large automotive part chain stores and from friends. Items including wheel pullers, timing lights, and torque wrenches can be at the ready when you need them, and save you hundreds of dollars over buying them, particularly if you plan to build just one car.
Do Your Research
Upon seeing your potential project in person, some major identifiers must be confirmed before making a final purchase. First, verify if the title is clear and registered to the person who is selling it. Is it registered? Even if the car is a steal, the potential for exorbitant DMV fees could be a detractor.
How about the vehicle identification number (VIN); do the numbers match? Thankfully, Mopars are known for their marking of nearly every part with a stamp or part number, as well as a detailed fender tag and “build sheet” that can be referenced for verification.
The build sheet (or broadcast sheet as it is officially called) was the options list that followed the car down the assembly line, documenting the entirety of the options installed on the car, the paint and interior colors, accessories, powertrain, and much more. The broadcast sheet can completely reveal what your Mopar looked like when it rolled off the assembly line, though not all cars had one and some even had the wrong one. Always make sure to match the VIN on the broadcast sheet with that of the car.
Unlike fender tags, which attached with screws to the inner wheelwell inside the engine bay, build sheets were either tucked in the underside of a seat or beneath the carpet. Both the fender tag and broadcast sheet (as well as the VIN) are easily identified.
Next, verify if the engine, transmission, and rear end are original to the car. Although the prospect of an aftermarket big-block swap into a small-block or 6-cylinder might be attractive, it’s important to know whether the person doing the swap would need to upgrade the suspension to accommodate the dramatic change in weight, the engine cradle (K-member), and electrical systems.
How about the auxiliaries? What power options did the car originally come with and are they intact? Air conditioning, power brakes, and power steering are common options that can be disconnected, removed, or replaced if not kept in good running condition.
Although body panels vary from model to model, below is a collection of “trouble spots” commonly found on 1966–1970 Chrysler B-Bodies that are susceptible to rust.
Body and Panel Alignment
Next, and most obvious, is the condition of the body. Depending on the completion of the car itself, this may take some time. I suggest bringing a magnet to run along the body, as a magnet loses its pull when it encounters body filler. Look for bubbling, pitting, or discoloring in the paint, as these are sure signs of rust rising up to the surface. Major areas to observe are in the rear quarters, around the rear window, at the bottom rear of the front fenders, and along the running boards.
Open the doors and inspect the jambs, doorsill, and hinges. If possible, peel back a portion of carpet to get a good look at the floorpan. Inside of the trunk is imperative too. Unfortunately, Chryslers have some “trouble areas” that were notorious for rust, one being the “Dutchman panel,” the portion of sheet metal between the rear window and the deck lid.
Next, get down on your hands and knees and look at the condition of the frame rails, trunk, and floorboards. A topical or “quickie” paint job can cover up surface rust but often doesn’t address the undercarriage. It’s also a good opportunity to observe the condition of the brake and fuel lines for breaks, missing clips or hangars, and damage.
Finally, look closely at the body panel alignment. Using a coin or even your fingertip to check seam gaps, look for unevenness or warping. Again, chips in the paint around the edges of the doorsills, trunk, and hood can be signs of misalignment. Other telltale signs include whether the factory seam sealer is in place and whether new welds can be observed either inside the trunk or in the undercarriage. You can use the old trick of rolling a marble to see if it rolls smoothly. Ultimately, you’re looking to see if all the panels were hung correctly and if the car suffered severe damage in a wreck that distorted the car’s frame.
Finally, find out how modified the interior of the car is. How original is the car? Are the gauges original? The steering wheel or column? How about the radio? The presence of an aftermarket radio and speakers, and how cleanly the installation was, often gives a good indication about other modifications made to the car. Chasing hundreds of feet of wiring can be a tiring exercise when trying to find a broken signal; it can be avoided with a careful review of the car in question.
Running and Stopping
Although it’s unlikely that your project car is running, if you’re looking at a “driver” take it for a 20-minute test. Listen for squeaks, rattles, chatter, clunks, or any other sounds. These might be indicators of loose, misaligned, or broken parts. Pay close attention to how the car handles, accelerates, and stops. All of these can reveal what kind of project you’re walking into.
Finally, and quite possibly the most important of all of these steps to consider prior to purchasing a Mopar project car, is deciding your goals for this build. There are many ways to build these cars, as they excel in so many different areas. As an OEM-level restoration, possibly no other chassis of domestic muscle car retains greater value, demand, and general appeal than the B-Body Chryslers: Dodge Chargers, Plymouth Road Runners, Super Bees, Daytonas, and the like.
If you’re interested in building a street/strip performer, Mopar B-Bodies have an excellent track record, and when built right, are nearly unstoppable. Mopar B-Body project cars are well represented in major enthusiast magazines. Likewise, the B-Body chassis has become a favored platform for many autocross and G-Machine builders, if top-level handling and street performance is your goal.
Even if you’re hoping just to enjoy a slightly warmed-over street-worthy driver, it’s important to make that decision now. This allows you ample time to plan for expenses such as aftermarket performance parts, time at an engine dyno, and so on.
We cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to your project to fully realize the ultimate goal of your build and, this is key, not deviate from it. Executing a build to its fullest and final extent requires a great deal of commitment, discipline, and patience. Changing thematic direction mid-build is almost fatal to a project car. Now is the time to decide what kind of car you want your project to be and plan accordingly.
Written by Mike Wilkins & Mike Wilkins and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks
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