Experts Reveal 10 Common Resto Mistakes
As the number of unrestored vehicles found on today's show fields dwindles, with it goes opportunities to document the myriad of factory-installed pieces and original finishes such examples contain. This presents us with a wide range of mistakes commonly made during restorations. Though most are inadvertent, they are quickly becoming the norm and can oftentimes make accurate restorations appear incorrect.
There are a wide number of restoration professionals who've gone a step beyond, researching countless original vehicles in an attempt to provide customers with restorations that replicate a factory-fresh appearance. We contacted several who have had examples of their work featured in HPP, and asked them to share the mistakes they find most common. Here's what they had to say.
1. Filler, Filler Everywhere
Most consumers aren't happy paying for the same job twice, and bodywork is just as critical as paintwork when dealing with any repair. Dave Chalek of Chalek's Auto Body in Bellevue, Nebraska, sees poor bodywork on a regular basis, and often finds repairing another shop's work more labor-intensive than what was originally required.
"It's most common when an entire panel has been replaced," says Dave. "We feel it's better to leave as much original sheetmetal as possible, and have seen instances where a small patch could have been used, but instead the entire panel was replaced. Reproduction panels can require lots of fitting to get the bodylines straight and, if they are installed incorrectly, it can ruin a vehicle's looks."
Melvin Benzaquen of Classic Restorations in Pine Island, New York, agrees and adds, "Lack of initiative is a common problem, as is the improper use of body fillers. Some shops don't trim panels correctly, or they warp panel joints with overheating while welding or grinding. An excessive amount of body filler is then used to fill the depressions, and the car becomes a sculpture. We've actually seen body dents filled with body filler-that's just not the right way to do things. It eventually shows up in the exterior finish."
2. Fastener Follies
We've all taken a trip to the local hardware store to fetch nuts and bolts for a project, but Scott Tiemann of Supercar Specialties in Portland, Michigan, says that misuse of aftermarket fasteners is very common in restorations. He adds, "Few restorers know what nuts, bolts and clips go where. Instead, they simply reinstall what they removed, or replace them with modern interpretations."
There are countless reasons why original fasteners may be missing, including repairs that occurred early on when correctness was of far less concern. With years of normal service, a well-aged aftermarket fastener may appear as if it's an original, but that's not always the case. Tiemann suggests documenting original or correctly restored vehicles to determine what's needed in a specific application.
"An accurate restoration includes correctly plated fasteners with proper head markings," he states. "Any local plating company should be able to restore the fastener's original black zinc, gray-and-black phosphate and silver-and-gold cadmium finishes for less than $150 per vehicle. (Since cadmium plating is no longer available, it's replicated with zinc.) If you can't find originals, AMK Products in Winchester, Virginia, ( offers a wide variety of correctly plated, OEM-headed fasteners for many applications."
3. The Parts Catalog Isn't Always Right
Where can hobbyists turn when trying to determine the correct part for a specific application? Some might suggest a vintage Pontiac parts catalog as a credible source, but since they were periodically updated over the course of a model year, they can contain misleading information if the print date isn't within a few months of the subject vehicle's production date.
Components specific to a single model year were often superseded by a common replacement over time. Melvin adds, "Even though a parts catalog might suggest a part number for a range of model years, an earlier print-dated catalog might contain the correct number for a specific year." Jim Mott of Jim Mott Restorations in Twin Falls, Idaho, says, "This is one reason we try to restore or refurbish as many of the vehicle's original pieces as possible. There's much less confusion about originality when reinstalling components we know the car was built with."

4. Engine Paint Parade
Most hobbyists know that Pontiac has changed its engine paint many times over the years, but few know what shade of blue is correct for their application. The most common shades are '62-'65 light blue and '66-'70 light metallic blue. Why, you might ask? It's likely because they are readily available in spray cans and stocked by local-area auto parts or paint supply stores. While various Pontiac engine paints are available from different sources, some may vary slightly, while others may be totally incorrect for the stated application.
Scott suggests color matching the original paint found in areas of an engine that are not directly exposed to contaminants such as coolant or oil. The valve or timing covers, harmonic balancer, and different portions of the block may be a solution. If the original engine is missing, or it has been completely repainted in a non original color, an alternative is to document the original engine color found in other original or correctly restored vehicles. In either instance, any local-area auto paint supply store should be able to accurately match the engine's correct color at an affordable price.
5. Carpet Concerns
The smallest details can separate a correct restoration from an amateur effort. One area often overlooked is the carpet. What, besides a loop-pile or cut-pile (depending upon what's correct for the year), differs among the reproductions on the market? Scott says that it isn't so much the pattern, but the way the restoration professional installs it.
Some models contained plastic trim panels that cover the seat's mounting bolts, while the carpet of others had T-shaped cuts that fit snugly around the seat frame legs. "The legs protrude upward through these slits, and the carpet fully covers the seat's four mounting bolts," says Scott. "Reproduction carpets usually don't have these, so the restorer has to cut them in."
He continues, "It's easier to lengthen the cuts, so the bolts can be accessed with the carpet in place, which is incorrect. The correct method for accessing the mounting bolts is to remove the sill plate and fold the carpet towards the seat frame. To ensure that we make the cuts the correct length, we usually remove the seat tracks from the seat frame, bolt them to the floorpan, and cut accordingly."
6. Standing Above All Others
While an average hobbyist might not be able to quickly detect minute mistakes, even the most passive ones are quick to notice a vehicle with an improper ride height. Suspension springs are commonly replaced during restorations and, with a large number of aftermarket replacements available today, it's difficult to find springs with exact factory specifications.
Scott says he rarely replaces springs during restorations. "It seems that replacements require some type of adjustment, which usually means cutting coils. We try to reuse originals as often as possible and find that, once the suspension is restored correctly, the car usually sits at the right height. In either case, we use the ride height measurements found in factory Service Manuals (or in the AMA and MVMA specifications), and adjust until the original stance is restored."
7. Wheel Woes
To some, restoring a set of Rally II wheels involves a trip to the local hardware store to purchase cans of silver and charcoal paint, while others might choose somewhat generic colors from mail-order suppliers. Honeycomb wheels are a separate entity because of their molded rubber fascia, the flexible paint that's required and how difficult the original rough textured finish is to accurately replicate. While the proper restoration of either wheel has been covered by HPP in the past, incorrectly restored wheels remain common.
"Lacquer paint is temperamental, and its appearance can change with the ambient conditions. That's why the finish on unrestored steel wheels can vary so much, but it doesn't vary as far from the original color as we see today," says Jim. Rather than use common colors, a factory paint chart from a respective year may contain the correct paint codes that local paint supply stores can mix. For Honeycombs, OEM Paints in Escondido, California, offers premixed paint in the correct color and texture. Some hobbyists have even chosen to color-match finishes of known originals and have them posted on the Web
Cast-aluminum Snowflake wheels require a restoration process that's quite involved, and Dave Hall of Restore A Muscle Car in Lincoln, Nebraska, offers such a service. "We start with a bare wheel, media blast the entire surface and repair any curb rash or small chips with welding," says Hall. "Then we paint the surface the correct PPG color for the application and have the entire wheel machined. We follow that with a semigloss clear powdercoat, and the result is a restored wheel that looks new."
8. N.O.S. Nightmare
Anyone who has attempted to perform an accurate restoration knows how costly acquiring N.O.S. pieces can be, especially if a component has long been discontinued. Though reproduction components are sometimes less than perfect, immediate availability can increase their attractiveness during a restoration. Few rarely consider, however, that N.O.S. pieces can be less than perfect too, and might sometimes require as much work as repairing an original or installing a reproduction.
"We've seen N.O.S. parts with a great deal of shelf wear from simply sitting in a dealer's storeroom," says Melvin. "The components often arrive exposed, in plastic bags or in cardboard boxes. With hardly any protection, they can be just as beat up as a well-used original. We've also seen where the angles of N.O.S. body panels aren't as crisp as on originals, suggesting that the sheetmetal dyes used to stamp them were worn. Just because it's N.O.S. doesn't always mean it's perfect."
9. Assembly Line Agony
A vehicle with a perfect exterior finish, exact panel gapping and no overspray might be most eye-appealing, but those examples aren't representative of how the majority of vehicles left the production facility, which can make original cars appear poorly detailed to an unknowing hobbyist. Most professionals are familiar with the factory flaws found on original vehicles and how to replicate them during a restoration, but they also know what it takes to produce flawless vehicles.
"Customers see over restored cars on show fields and tend to forget that these cars were originally built on an assembly line where the mentality was to produce as many vehicles per day as possible," says Melvin. "The assembly plants weren't issue free, and it wasn't an exact environment. A perfect restoration looks great, but that doesn't always mean it's correct."
"Very few cars were produced in just one assembly plant," adds Jim. "And it isn't uncommon to see different procedures or small parts used in different locations, so what's correct on one may not be correct on a similar vehicle produced at another plant. To determine what's plant-specific, you must document as many originals as possible. It's the only way to ensure an accurate restoration."
10. Research Rebels
Without a doubt, the most important element of any restoration is the restoration professional's knowledge of a specific model. We've carefully chosen those for our story based on our experiences with them and the vehicles they restored, and suggest researching all available options when considering a shop for your project.
"We've found that research is one of the most difficult tasks in any project," says Dave. "We see new restoration shops opening up all the time. Unless its service is specialized, or you've seen examples of the shop's work, you don't really know what it's capable of." Jim Mott adds, "I have a countless number of pictures of original cars that I use during restorations. They show in great detail the proper finishes and types of hardware used at the various assembly plants. They're an invaluable resource that we frequently refer to."
Besides documenting originals, most of those we spoke with suggested taking detailed pictures during the entire disassembly process of a project. "It doesn't cost anything if you're using a digital camera, and the pictures can be a great asset during reassembly," states Mott. "We've seen cars that actually contain the correct parts, but they've been installed incorrectly. It takes just one detailed picture of a specific area to answer many reassembly questions."

Photo Gallery: 10 Common Restoration Mistakes - High Performance Pontiac Magazine

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