After all of the paint has been removed from the body and all of the undercoating has been stripped a few surprised may appear that weren’t apparent prior to media blasting. The panels may not align as well and there may be structural problems like rust and previous repairs that are not up to snuff. All and any of these problems should be identified prior to beginning the body and paint process.
The structural inspection will address rust that needs to be removed, previous repairs that need to be corrected and any cutting and welding that will be performed; if you have rust you will most likely have to do some cutting and welding.
Here is a good example of a structural issue taken from Norm’s 1965 Mustang coupe. When Norm purchased this Mustang it appeared that the quarter panels were in good shape; but after removing the old paint and body filler from the previous repair he discovered a major problem.
This photograph of the passenger side rear quarter panel and wheel well reveals a previous repair where a replacement quarter panel was installed and and pop riveted onto the vehicle, and a rusted out wheel well.
To identify all of the structural problems I use a white paint pen, mark each issue, make notes and then photograph each one.
Sheet Metal and Panel Alignment
Where should you start aligning the panels? The hood may be your first choice and in some cases this is the best starting point however, when talking about muscle-era cars, “it’s all about the doors,” get the doors to fit right, and they’ll serve as reference points for the fenders, which in turn frame the hood and the nose pieces.
Quote this Hot Rod Magazine Article Ultimate Paint and Body Guide Part 5 – Panel Alignment “Think about how the factory built the car. It’s a logical series of events,” explained Craig Hopkins, who runs Goodmark Industries’ installation center. “The quarter-panels are welded in place, and the doors are fit to the quarters. You can’t do the fenders and then try to bring the doors to that.
Aligning the Doors
I begin the sheet metal alignment by hanging a door (with a helper) and aligning it with the rear quarter and the rocker panel. I used popsicle sticks to set the initial gap and then make small adjustments to get the body lines on the door to match the body lines on the rear quarter (See “How to Install and Align a Classic Mustang Door”). Once I feel I have a pretty good fit on the door I place the fender to check the gaps and see if the lines are flowing together, remove the fender, make a few adjustments to the door if needed and then repeat the process until the door is where I want it.
Before you mount the doors you should rebuild or replace the hinges to make sure you get a good fit.
Hood alignment starts at the cowl, I use the same popsicle stick method to set the initial gap at each corner of the hood at the cowl. Your going to need a helper to assist you with placing the hood onto the hinges; you can then adjust the hood forward and back and raise and lower the hood at the hinges to get the hood level and aligned with the cowl.
Aligning the Fenders
The next step is to align the fenders with the hood and doors. I place one of the fenders on the Mustang and put a few bolts along the top of the fender to hold it in place and then install the bolts at the top rear, bottom of the rocker and bottom rear of the fender opening. Then I tighten the bolts just enough to secure the fender but just loose enough so I can position the fender and set the gaps; then I move to tuning the alignment at the door starting with the top rear bolt and work my way down to the lower rear bolts. You may end up adjusting the fender several times and maybe even have to readjust the door until all of the body lines and gaps are where they need to be.
Front Panels and Fender Extensions
At this point in the panel alignment the lines and gaps should look pretty decent unless there a serious problem that needs to be addressed. If things look good, that’s great but don’t stop here. The next step is to install the parts that bring the front end together.
The headlamp buckets, front valance and stone deflector all need to be installed to complete the front end. The headlamp buckets are not factory precision parts and you will most likely find areas on these parts where the fit is not satisfactory.
Rear Panel, Quarter Panel Extensions and Trunk Lid
To complete the panel alignment all that remains is to install the quarter panel end caps, rear valance and trunk lid. There shouldn’t be any major issues with the rear valance fit but the quarter panel extensions suffer the same non precession casting as the headlight buckets and they will likely have issues with how they fit to the quarter panels.
All of the panels have been mounted to the mustang and with a little luck, the body lines and gaps all look pretty good and the only major problems are fit of the fender and quarter panel extensions and a few high and low spots among the sheet metal.
Identify the Issues
I like to identify and photograph all of the problem areas from structural, welding, alignment and those dreaded dents (from shopping carts or collisions) prior to beginning and repairs or body work.
Using this approach allows you to put together a task list and a starting point, and will give you a pretty good idea of difficulty and time that you may spend addressing each issue.
I’ve already identified the structural and welding issues earlier and tagged them with a white paint pen. The next step is to identify the the fit and body issues using a yellow paint pen, make notes and photograph each one. Using the two colors of paint pen makes it easy to discern the problem area at a glance and reference them easily with photos.
Depending on the severity and difficulty and your ability to address the issues will determine if you higher a qualified craftsman to do some of the work or if you will do-it-yourself (See “How to Paint a Classic Mustang“).
If you have any question, comments or would like to share your experience feel free to post them below.