1969 GTO Judge First Place Frame - 2003

Every year the cars show gets bigger and the classes have more cars in them. If you have a muscle car you know the competition is stiff. The judges are looking for more detail to pick the best car in the class. Great paint and interior is not enough to win. We have come to expect the paint to be smooth and flat, the interior to be free of rips. Judges are looking deeper into the car to see how clean the engine compartment, or to see if the trunk finished. If you are the guy that wants to win the class every time, the entire car must be restored. What separates a car that sometimes wins, from the car that wins every time, is the underside. Looking under the car may be the last place the judges look, but if it is a close race, the underside will be the deciding factor.

For the true car nut it is more than what has been restored, but also how it is done. We can say lifting the body off and spraying over lines, cables, and hardware is restored but, you still won’t win the class. The restoration has to be above and beyond the last great car that won. When I am working on a project I ask my self "is this a first place car"? What will make it a first place car for years to come? Look out, there are hundreds of cars being worked on right now, and if yours is the best today, tomorrow another may take your spot.

In my mind there is only one way to do the restoration. Exactly the way the factory did it. Even if you do not intend to do a frame off you can learn some detail tricks that will bump your car up a notch from the rest. These concepts apply to all areas of the car. When the car came from the factory all the nuts and bolts were plated some sort of color (not Painted). Many parts that seem to be bare metal were actually gray phosphate. All the black was painted with a material that did not require primer. The black paint was all different shades of black since the parts came from different manufactures. The brake lines and cables had a tin coating to prevent rust. The bottom side of the car had body color over spray on the body only, not the frame. Every part installed on the car was double checked with a paint dab, chalk marking, or grease pencil mark. All parts installed on a car had to have a part number stamped on it, or a paper tag so the assembly line worker could identify it. Assemblies such as brake boosters, masters and power steering units had the option code on the part as well as the part number. When your car came down the assembly line all the options were installed by referencing the build sheet which had the code for each option. Next time you are passing your local new car dealership, stop in and look under a few cars. Of course the tags and marking will be different today but the method is the same. Your car had these same markings which are now covered with undercoating, and 30 years of road grime. If you live in the snow belt there is no chance of seeing the tags. When the paper got wet with salt and snow, not to mention rain, the label was destroyed. One concept has stayed constant in the hobby of restoration, as styles and fads come and go, putting a car back to 100% original never goes out of style or down in value.

When you are looking for a car to restore the old saying is true "You get what you pay for" and "pay now or pay later". If you save a few bucks and buy a car that has more rust you will pay more for the parts and labor to repair the rust. If you buy a car that is missing a lot of parts, once you buy all the missing parts, it will be equal to the price of the car that is not missing parts. When I am looking for a car to restore there are two factors to keep in mind. How clean is the car and what is missing? If you are doing a full restoration, bad paint or rips in the interior is not a concern, but what is under the paint is. You also have to look to make sure the expensive parts are all there. I will accept a car that does not have the original belts, hoses, clamps, floor mats, plug wires, etc. I will not accept when the air cleaner, bucket seats, center console, trunk jack, and other large items are missing. If these big items are missing there is much more missing, you just won’t spot it until you start the restoration. Always remember rusty cars are never show winners, even after being restored. You can’t get deep pits out of frames, springs, control arms, and plating looks bad when it is over pitted metal.

I have begun this restoration with a car out of California that was neglected its entire life. The good new is, not a belt, clamp, or hose was ever replaced and the car is not missing a single piece. Did didn’t run when I purchased it and had been sitting since 1983 under a car port. Let’s start the restoration on this a-body.

This is the car: a 1969 GTO Judge, 4 Speed, Ram Air III, hide-a-way headlights, with only the go fast options. Disc brakes, rally gauges, the Judge package and no horse power robbing options, NO A/C. It was not long before the car was coming apart. There was not even one broken or rounded off bolt on the entire car, since it was rust free. It came apart with no problems.

Taking pictures of how things are prior to taking a car apart is the most important step in the process. As good as we think we will remember, the pictures never forget. Here we see the routing of the lines and where the clips are located. Also note which direction the control arm bolts run.

In the above picture, we can start to see the color of some of the nuts and bolts. The control arm nuts and washers are silver. We see gray phosphate under the grease of the steering link and engine mounts. The color is always well preserved between parts and in deep dark crevices.

Every nut, bolt, and washer is photographed. A digital camera is the way to go so you can download the pictures to your computer for future reference. There are 600 disassembly photos.

A two part epoxy paint is used, which required no primer and is tough as nails when dry. It has a semi gloss finish not too shiny and not too dull right in the middle. Start from one end of the frame and finish at the other, repeat for all black parts.

Most of the cast parts were gray phosphate. The Palmetto kit which comes in black and gray was used. Bead blast the parts, mix the solution, heat to 225 degrees and drop in the parts. When the fizzing stops, lift out and spray with WD-40. The parts will look just like factory.

Pictured is the factory 2 part rotor being restored. Letting the WD-40 soak in it helps to preserve the finish. You can also wipe off the oil and spray Krylon matte clear to also preserve the finish. Now the rotor can be turned down so the flat surface is shiny again.

After a few hours of work, all the parts are ready to put the rear drums together. The brackets are gray phosphate, lug studs are black and the springs are all different colors. The rest of the hardware is both silver and gold zinc.

This is where the photos you took earlier come in handy. (What? You didn’t take any!?) The service manual is your next best choice but make sure you are using the right year manual, these parts may change from year to year.

While bead blasting, lightly dust the parts for any markings. I was surprised to find paint markings on many of the parts. The spindle had a yellow spray to distinguish it from the drum brake spindle. The Silver, Gold, and Black plating was reconditioned through Bob’s Boosters.

Inline Tube provided the exact reproduction brake lines and the correct spiral wrap parking brake cables. The rear end was to big to plate so we used three different brands of cast paint to tint the axles from the casting of the pumpkin. Clear was then applied to get a slight shine to it.

The frame was now starting to come together. Notice the tube fittings are purple and the fuel & return line are clipped together. It is important to duplicate these details.

The shock should be medium gray. Wheel cylinders, backing plates, and axles are all gray phosphate. The wheel studs are black and the face of the axle is painted silver because it is a machined surface.

Above is the finished disc brakes with the correct two part rotor turned down. Notice the caliper is black, but all the machined surfaces are painted silver. Correct brake hoses and tin coated lines. The ball joint has the correct rivets and are not bolted in. Line tags are available at Inline Tube.

Frame A-arms are black, the springs are cast, back of rims are gray. Notice the paint markings on the caliper. Marks are anywhere a factory worker tightened an important suspension component.

Coker tires and a grease pencil was used for the 70 mark. Gearbox cast with aluminum cover and black bolts. Correct power steering hose, line, and clips from Inline Tube. Anywhere there are multiple holes on the frame (engine mount) would be marked with a grease pencil so there was no mistake.

All the brake & fuel lines, parking brake cables, flex hoses, clips, cable hardware and line tags came from Inline Tube. Body mounts and rubber control arm bushings were from Kanter Auto Parts.

More on the restoration of this 1969 GTO