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Assembly Procedures

By Jeff Zurschmeide


Assembling a car by hand is an amazing learning experience. By the time youíre done, you will have touched every nut, bolt, and part in your car. You will know where every wire leads, where every tube is connected. You will be an expert on your car, and if youíve done it right, on your year, make, and model. Itís a singular experience and when the car fires up and runs on its own power, you will feel justifiably proud.

Thatís the end of the story, but chances are youíre still back at the beginning, with your car in a million pieces all over your shop. If youíve been following our procedure from the beginning, youíve carefully photographed everything before you disassembled, you carefully sorted and labeled your hardware, you had everything cleaned, crack-checked, coated, painted, plated, and rebuilt as necessary. Now itís all back from the shops and itís time for you to put it all back together.

If youíre lucky, youíve got a factory assembly manual for the car, or a correct example to work from, or at least a really good set of notes. If youíre not lucky (like most of us), youíre going on common sense and a fervent hope that you donít have too many parts left over when youíre done.

The main thing to remember as you assemble your car is that all the investment youíve made so far will be enhanced or wasted based on the work you do at this point. So take it slowly, be sure of what youíre doing, and be ready to redo things if necessary to get them right.

Virtually all resources will tell you to start by putting the suspension onto the frame of the car. Thatís good advice, because then you have a moveable platform on which to assemble the rest of the vehicle. You should also install any hard lines for the brakes, clutch, or fuel system at this time, and any wiring harnesses that are easier to install before the body goes on.

Much of your assembly order will depend on whether your car is a uni-body (also called monocoque) design or body-on-frame. If your car is a body-on-frame design, you can usually install the entire engine and drivetrain easily before the bodywork goes on. This is a big advantage because itís so easy to damage paint and bodywork and especially engine bay paint and sheet metal when youíre manhandling an engine and transmission into place. The increased access afforded by not having the body on the car also means itís easier to install the driveshaft and potentially the fuel tank and lines.

If you have a unibody car, youíve got more problems. Because the body and fenders are likely to be an integrated whole, you need to rethink the usual order of assembly and make sure it works for you. For example, you may find (depending on the specific make and model) that itís much easier to install the wiring harness and all hydraulic and fuel system lines before you clutter up the engine bay and transmission tunnel with the engine and transmission.

Certain monocoque designs such as the GM F-Body (Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird and Trans-Am) use a body/chassis design with a detachable front frame segment and separable front fenders and fascia. This allows you to install an engine and transmission without worrying about hitting the fenders or engine bay, but in a more traditional unibody design (found on many foreign sports cars since the 1950s) you have to be careful and work around the fenders to install the drivetrain. You also have to do a good bit of the work (such as installing the driveshaft) from the underside of the car.

But once youíve got the main guts of the car installed and the bodywork on, you can move on to the interior. By now your wiring harness should be installed, and you can start making all the connections under the dash. Wherever possible, I like to attach ground wires first, because itís so easy to miss a single ground wire when everything else is attached and the space behind the dash becomes limited. You can also run wires for interior lights and door-operated switches more easily now than later. When youíve got all your wiring and ductwork finished, you can go ahead and install the carpet, headliner, and your interior panels. Finally, install your seats, seat belts, and trim pieces. Only then do the doors go onto the car.

Doors can pose several special problems. I like to assemble doors completely and then install them as a unit. But assembled doors are heavy and often difficult to align. I use a good floor jack, well-padded with towels, to hold up the free end of the door while I find the right combination of shims, adjustments, and striker plate orientation to get the door to fit well with the other bodywork, open easily and shut smoothly.

After the interior is assembled, itís safe to work on windshield glass and rear window glass. I leave these for close to last because itís often easier to get at the dashboard and headliner areas if you have access through the windows.

Last of all, install the hood, trunk lid, and the exterior bumpers and trim. Donít get excited towards the end of the process and rush things! Trim goes on last, but itís very easy to damage, or it can slip and scratch your paint, so take your time right to the very end.

You can reasonably expect to spend weeks on a careful assembly, so donít leave it to the day before you want to use the car. Also, be aware that youíll need to have the steering aligned, brakes tested and bedded in, and probably 100 other shakedown problems to fix before the car is really and truly finished.

Dos and Don'ts
Thumb up  DO
  • Take your time, test fit everything, and be sure youíre not ďpainting yourself into a cornerĒ
  • Stop or work on another area if youíre not sure what fasteners to use
  • Use several layers of low-tack masking tape to protect paint and bodywork while you work. Blankets work well, too
  • Get a good set of ľ-inch, 3/8-inch, and Ĺ-inch torque wrenches and look up the torque specs on the fasteners youíre using to assemble your car. Rattles and buzzes are hard to track down later, and broken bolts will cause you no end of trouble

Thumb down  DON’T
  • Donít hurry or get careless as you approach the end of the assembly
  • Donít leave off supports, braces, brackets, covers, and so on. The factory spent the money to put them there for a reason
  • Donít undertorque or overtorque fasteners
  • Donít forget to fill the transmission and rear end with oil!
  • Donít forget to connect ground wires
The Popular Restorations Project Car
Author photo

1946 Packard: Putting it back together

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I finally had to give up estimating a completion date for the Popular Restorations project car. For the last three months of the project I thought I was less than two weeks from completion!

And now, looking back, I can see why. Assembly for the Packard took nearly 500 hours whereas disassembly took only 125 hours. At the outset, I had guessed the ratio would be about one to two--not one to four.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the process was opening up boxes only to find that yet another overlooked part, or set of parts, needed to cleaned and painted before the assembly could continue. Another frustration was shuffling through bins of fasteners looking for the right nut, screw, or bolt. This process was exacerbated by the fact that I had all of the fasteners cadmium plated as a group. I separated them into four organizers, as pictured above, after plating but that helped only a little.

What did go well was the restoration of the chassis. Although time consuming, the process went along, more or less, according to schedule. I think it gave me a false sense of security as to how the rest of the restoration would go.

For months, while the body was at the paint shop, I dreaded the prospect of putting it back on the chassis. A couple of old-timers had told me Iíd never get the doors to shut properly again. To be sure, it did require some work. I think I must have shimmed, tightened, torqued, and removed the 20-plus body bolts three or four times. Part of the problem was that once the body was bolted down, I found another twenty of the rubber cushions that hold it off the chassis. After those were included, the doors, indeed, did not close properly. But over the course of two or three days of trial and error, I figured out that shimming the body bolts by a door-hinge pillar is the fastest way to change the vertical alignment at the door latch. Knowing that made the body installation process much easier.

The doors were another assembly challenge. Each one took the better part of a day to put together. I decided to let a restoration shop install the fuzzy weatherstripping that goes on each side of the windows at the beltline. I wanted them to look good--not as thought they were a first-time effort.

Iíve covered the assembly process in detail for many topics. For example, see the Glass page for more on the Packardís glass assembly. So Iíll finish this article with the best assembly advice I can offer to first time restorers. Advice that is more psychological than procedural: Proper assembly can take many months; plan on taking far longer than you expect. In that way you will be less likely to get discouraged. Losing your enthusiasm near the end of a restoration can lead to haphazard workmanship or even the decision to sell your car in a basket. Closure is a challenging part of any project. Proper planning and generous estimates can help keep your enthusiasm high throughout the last phase--and help you to get your car back on the road (or in its trailer to the next show).

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Comments
Interview
 

Wagner Custom Works

By Jeff Zurschmeide

Greg Wagner
6210 SW Lakeview
Lake Oswego, OR
(503) 740-3463

PR: Take me through the assembly process when youíre putting together a restoration.

GW: First of all, youíve had the car together about three times before you go for the final build. Youíve had it apart and back together to make sure everything fits right. Youíve got all your nuts and bolts bagged and labeled so you know which bolts are used on which fender and so on. The first thing I do is get the suspension on the frame, then the motor goes in and the exhaust. Then I put the body shell on the frame. I try to work in the same order as when the car originally went down the assembly line.

PR: Thereís some ďfudge factorĒ in placing a car body on its frame. Many people who have performed frame-off restorations have trouble getting everything to fit correctly when they reassemble. How do you handle that?

GW: When I pre-fit the car after the bodywork is done and before it gets painted, I set up all my shims and I mark them and put them in baggies. So everythingís labeled for location. Then when I assemble the car, I leave the body bolts snug but not tight so I can move things around and get the gaps I want.

PR: Where does wiring fit into this process?

GW: The wiring goes in after the body goes on but before the fenders and doors go on. Thatís so youíve got plenty of room to work and you can get your pigtails in their proper locations before the sheet metal goes on.

PR: Is there anything you do to protect painted parts during assembly?

GW: I put low-tack masking tape down over everything, sometimes two or three layers in critical places.

PR: When assembling a car, do you use a factory shop manual for torque specs or do you just use the standard SAE torque specs for bolts of a given size?

GW: I use both on occasion. I use assembly manuals quite a bit. Itís not uncommon for me to get a car in pieces, so I frequently donít get a chance to take pictures or sort the fasteners as Iíd like. Iíve gotten more cars that way than you can imagine. And itís not uncommon to take cars apart and find bolts that are so rusty that they break right off. Sometimes youíre better off to just cut them.

PR: What about glass?

GW: Glass is one of the last things I do. You get the doors on and get all the interior in and then you can start on the glass. Thereís no rule of thumb on it, but you have to take the time and make sure it fits right. The more you do it, the more you know how to do it.

PR: Is there anything surprising or that people wouldnít expect in assembly?

GW: Not really. People want everything to fit and look nice and the gaps to be right, for the windows to go up and down and for the keyways to work smoothly. And over time, body panels will move on you, as the cars heat up and cool down. And manufacturing standards are better now than they were -the tolerances used to be much greater. The assembly manuals will tell you the tolerance. I once restored a 1970 Oldsmobile W30 442 convertible. In the assembly manual, it said that gaps of up to ľ-inch were acceptable. It said that an 1/8th of an inch at the top of the fender and a ľ-inch at the bottom of the fender at the door is an acceptable fit.
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