When you come across a rare muscle car, you make sure you cross your Ts and dot your Is when restoring it. When you come across a one-of-99 car, such as this 1969 Yenko Chevelle, you go way beyond correct alphabets. And when it is one of just seven known Garnet Red Yenko Chevelles, you make sure every detail is exactly as the factory built the car.
Such is the case with this 1969 Yenko Chevelle, which was purchased last year from the estate of the original owner. It was located in his garage with only 19,895 miles on the odometer, having been parked there since it was damaged in an accident in 1970. Annie Hartweg and I are co-owners of MuscleCar Restoration and Design in Pleasant Plains, Illinois. We made the purchase with the agreement that the car would be restored to the highest of standards with no corners cut.
After two days were spent clearing out the garage to retrieve the Chevelle, it went to our shop for lots of documentation and history gathering. As with so many barn- or garage-find stories, more often than not there is a massive amount of rust damage that has occurred to these cars over time. Fortunately, that was not the case with this Chevelle. However, there was considerable damage done to both the body and the frame. It would need a lot of attention and fine detail work to be returned to the way the Baltimore factory had built it. There was not only damage from two unfortunate accidents, but also from the many four-legged animals that called this Chevelle home for the last 47 years.
Fortunately for us, our friends Jamie Cooper and Joe Griffith and their crew at Super Car Restoration in Clymer, Pennsylvania, are as dedicated to detail and correctness as we are. Jamie, Joe, and crew have been doing the paint and bodywork for MuscleCar Restoration and Design’s customer’s cars for several years and with good reason. It was only natural that we would hand over the duties of restoring the body of our personally owned car to them as well.
Speaking to the Chevelle’s owner, as well as to close family friends and people who had seen the car over the years, we learned about two separate incidents in which the car had been damaged. The first happened when the car was fairly new and the owner let another family member or friend drive it. This individual supposedly drove down the driveway not having a clue how much power the car had, and jumped the ditch on the other side of the road, landing squarely on the frame and rocker panels directly behind the doors. This damaged the frame and all but crushed the rocker panels from the doors back to the rear wheel openings.
Rumor has it the next accident occurred sometime in 1970, when the owner came out of a bar after playing pool and having had one too many. He crashed it into a guardrail or some other solid object, taking out the front clip, driver’s door, and quarter-panel. For reasons unknown (be it lack of insurance, his having been drinking and driving, or just plain embarrassment), the owner claimed the car had been stolen and then relocated. He then brought the car home and disassembled the front clip, likely in an effort to rebuild it, which never happened. Everything in the owner’s garage was disassembled, and nothing had been returned to its original shape. It seemed the car was destined to live the rest of its life in a mass of parts and disarray.
After bringing the car home, we and our crew at MuscleCar Restoration and Design donned full body suits and removed some 3 inches of raccoon feces and skeletons from the floors, seats, cowl, and trunk. We then completely disassembled everything but the main body and rolling chassis to get a firsthand look at the challenges that lay ahead. Much to our surprise, after pulling the original carpet back and expecting to find massive amounts of rust due in part to all the urine from the raccoons, we found nothing but original primered and solid floor pans. Unfortunately, we also found a fair share of damage from both accidents.
Super Car Restoration would be faced with fixing a bent forward frame, a firewall that was damaged in the area of the driver’s footwell where the clutch Z-bar had impacted it, two rocker panels, a missing door, a rolled drip rail on the driver’s side, and a very badly damaged quarter-panel, not to mention a small dent in the center of the taillight panel. For reasons that no one can explain, the owner had cut a very large hole in the quarter-panel as if to remove the window regulator, which could have been easily removed from inside the car by simply taking out the seat and side armrest panel. Because the whole area was so badly damaged, it was agreed that a new GM N.O.S. panel would be the only way to fix this, and so the work began.—Rick Nelson
Fixing the Chevelle’s Quarter and Rocker Panels
It may surprise you to learn that Jamie Cooper buys a lot of his replacement sheetmetal the same place you do: swap meets. The cars coming out of Super Car Restoration are at a level of quality that pretty much demands factory sheetmetal, so his first stop at a car event is the swap meet to look for new old stock (N.O.S.) or original parts. Some he will buy for a specific project; others he puts in inventory.
“If I found quarters for a 1969 Camaro at Spring Carlisle, I’d own them,” he tells us. “We do tons of Camaros and Chevelles, so I know I’ll eventually need them. The N.O.S. wheelhouses for this Chevelle I picked up at Carlisle two years ago. You don’t want to pass this stuff by.”
Many of his customers have done some (or all) of the parts collecting prior to the car arriving at his shop, a process that can take years. Rick Nelson supplied both original and N.O.S. sheetmetal for the Chevelle.
Nelson says, “When we first dug the car out from its 47-year-old tomb, we were unable to locate any of the front clip other than the original front fenders, which I felt were unusable as they had been twisted beyond repair. I then located an entire Malibu front clip that had been taken off a car in the 1980s. Everything I needed to put the front clip back in place was there, other than an SS hood, which I later located.”
The passenger door is original to the car, but, Nelson says, “for reasons unknown other than possible severe body damage, the driver’s door was not located when the car was found. Using an N.O.S. door skin is one thing, but there was no way I was going to use an aftermarket door, more for the fact that it was a completely non-original GM part than the fact that it might not fit well. A good friend of mine, Luis Caceres-Rivera, not only located an original 1969 driver’s door for me that was in excellent shape, but then he hand-delivered it to Super Car Restoration, which took more than an eight-hour drive for him.”
Cooper says, “In the GM world we’ve been fortunate to have sources for N.O.S. parts. Do they fit good? Absolutely not. Not every time. From storage to swap meet to this guy to that guy, they’re not 100 percent perfect. You always have to massage them.”
On the other hand, “take-off original sheetmetal was on a car for all that time and bolted in the position it is supposed to be in, so it will usually fit much better,” Nelson believes. “If you are lucky you are also using original assembly-line sheetmetal and not over-the-counter replacement sheetmetal, which can vary in both shape and in very small stamping details. This is why I elected to use original assembly-line parts on the front clip, bringing them back to bare steel and fixing minor imperfections while keeping all the small details that an assembly-line fender would have.”
The rear quarter-panel that appears in this story “was a slightly different situation,” says Nelson. “Finding an original assembly-line part still on a car would be hard to come by, not to mention the immense amount of labor it would take to remove it while keeping all the detail. For this reason I elected to locate and purchase a very nice N.O.S. quarter-panel.”
To give you an idea of the bodywork processes done at Super Car Restoration, the photos and captions here describe how Cooper and his crew repaired the Chevelle’s ruined driver-side quarter-panel and rocker panel.—Drew Hardin.
Quarter-Panel & Outer Wheelhouse
Giving the Floor the Attention It Deserves
In many restorations, car floors do not get the attention they deserve. It may be due to budget constraints or because the car owner (or the restoration shop) has the attitude that “it’s just the floor.” But when one is doing an assembly-line-correct, concours-level restoration, the floors are a key part of the project. Done correctly, they look like a work of art, even though much of the final product will be hidden from view.
There were six assembly plants building the Chevelle in 1969, seven in 1970. The cars they turned out definitely did not look the same. Take primer, for example. Not only was primer color different from plant to plant, but it even changed from year to year. In the Baltimore plant, where this car was built, the 1969 Chevelles were sprayed with a red oxide primer that was more of a reddish-brown than it was in 1970, when the primer had more of a rosette color to it. In the Arlington plant, by contrast, the red oxide primer was more of an orange-red, and that was the only plant that used that primer color.
Processes were different from plant to plant, too, and even from car to car within the same plant. Seam sealer may have been applied in one area of a particular car and missed on that same area of another. Why these kinds of things happened sometimes boiled down to the line workers themselves. They were under time constraints, with just minutes to get their tasks done and move on to the next car. If they fell behind, they may have skimped on certain areas, overlooked areas, or gotten sloppy when it came to properly covering an area.
Bottom line: No two cars are exactly alike. We spent days photographing and documenting every inch of this car, so we could duplicate the factory finishes as well as how they looked after assembly-line application. The photos here show how we made use of that information to restore the Chevelle’s floor.—Jamie Cooper
Refinishing the Chevelle’s Body Shell
It would be impossible to encapsulate in this short space the hundreds of hours of work that go into top-quality bodywork and paint. What you see here, instead, is a “greatest hits” collection: the repair and replacement of certain key body panels in the previous two stories, and an overview of the body and sheetmetal paint process on these pages. Along the way, Super Car Restoration’s Jamie Cooper has shared some valuable information about the long and often tedious tasks involved in a top-tier refinishing job, tips that should help you whether you are tackling a paint project yourself or interviewing prospective painters to do the job for you.
The photos and captions here illustrate the major steps taken by Cooper and his crew to bring Rick Nelson’s Yenko Chevelle from bare metal to body drop. Below, Cooper discusses the pros and cons of paint types, something of a hot-button issue in the refinishing community.—Drew Hardin
Solvent or Waterborne?
More often than not, when talking paint products with potential clients, we get mixed reactions when we talk about waterborne basecoat. They hear the terms waterborne or water base and they panic. Whether they are leery of new technology or because there’s water in the paint, or both, most people are just not real receptive to it.
Although waterborne basecoats are the latest technology, they are far from new. Waterborne paint technology was introduced to OE assembly plants in 1986. Waterborne technology gives you a much cleaner, brighter color than solvent systems. This was a big reason the factories went to it a number of years ago.
The waterborne basecoat we use (including on this Yenko Chevelle) is PPG’s Envirobase High Performance, otherwise known as EHP. It was introduced to shops in 2006. Some of the advantages of EHP over solvent basecoat include less odor and improved air quality. EHP also gives you better metallic control than solvent basecoat, while requiring less product to achieve coverage. Where solvent basecoats are said to leave roughly 0.4 mil of film build per coat, waterborne basecoats leave half that, for a smoother, flatter surface to apply clearcoat over. Among the many benefits to the thinner overall coat is that it’s much less likely to crack when body fasteners, like fender bolts, get tightened. EHP has better adhesion than solvent systems and is much more flexible, which in combination reduces the risk of stone chipping. If you do get a stone chip, it’s much smaller.
Waterborne basecoats are much different from solvent. Not only do they require dedicated waterborne equipment (including a specific paint gun), but the drying process is totally different, too. Solvent systems are more prone to trapping solvent during drying, which can stay in the paint film for months, or even years, causing problems.
With a waterborne paint, creating turbulent airflow across the wet paint enhances flash times. EHP can be sanded to remove dirt specks or two-toned faster than solvent. And because there’s almost no solvent in the waterborne paint, there’s much less chance of it being trapped in the film, which helps the durability of the whole paint system.
Whether you are a believer in waterborne products or not, they are our future. Some states, such as California, already mandate their use because of air quality regulations. That trend may spread in the years to come, and there could come a point when we may not have a choice as to which one to use. That won’t be an issue at our shop; we are already believers.—Jamie Cooper
As part of the restoration process, many people like to put assembly-line build notations back on the firewall as they were done at the factory. Unfortunately this is often done incorrectly. When the body was being produced, Fisher Body workers would write these notes on the bare steel firewall in various locations. These would alert workers down the assembly line as to some of the major options going on the car, what color the car would be, the car’s body series number, and so on.
The 1969 Chevelles typically did not have as many of these markings as 1970 models. On a Chevelle you might find the number 13637, which is the body series number. Other numbers would spell out the transmission (M21, for example), stripes (D88), an SS engine option (Z15), color (RED), or a color number (52). I have seen mostly color names on 1969 Chevelles and color numbers on 1970 models. You may find no markings, or you may find a firewall that looks like a college chalkboard. It depends on the plant and the timing. Same goes for where the notations are on the firewall, as that depended on who was doing the writing.
We often see these markings written on top of black firewall paint, but that’s not always correct. Some plants wrote the color number on the bare steel, while others wrote it on top of the black paint. My experience shows this depended on the paint order process—whether the firewall blackout paint or body paint came first.
Jamie and I both apply our firewall markings over primer because the car is primered immediately after blasting to protect against flash rusting. We use a grease pencil similar to what the factory used. Lacquer paint would not stick to the grease pencil markings, so years down the road, the paint would come off the areas that were marked, making them appear that they were on top of the paint originally (whether or not they actually were).
You may also find slash marks that were, in fact, added after the firewall paint to note locations for such things such as cowl hood relays or ground straps. Those are usually the exceptions.
The bottom line: Do your homework, and be very careful and slow when removing the firewall paint so as to expose any of these markings, where they were, the color of the markings (usually yellow), and if they were on top of the paint, on the bare steel, or both.—Rick Nelson
On Color Sanding
As the painter in this shop, let me be very honest about something. Although the painter usually gets the credit for an amazing paint job, I am not the reason the paint looks so flat and has such a high glamor. Wet sanding the outer body and the sheetmetal is time consuming and takes real talent and patience to do correctly. The sanding process from 800- to 5,000-grit takes more than 140 hours. This is what makes the painter look so good.—Jamie Cooper