No stock talk in this post. Just an old car hobby.
In my mid-20s I decided it was time for a project car. I looked at one that could actually drive but thought that'll be too easy. So I found a car that hadn't run in many years. The guy I bought it from had only owned it for a year and kept at at the shop at work. I asked why you're selling and he says "my wife found out I bought it" hahahaha.
Someone was in the middle of working on the car and just gave up. There was no intake manifold or carburetor, and their bolts were just sitting in the middle of the V with a load of dirt. The AC was gone and heater core bypassed so someone was trying to make it faster. There were multiple layers of disgusting carpet and the interior was falling apart. The engine had headers bolted up without any other exhaust but a chrome tip screwed to the rear underbody. I found a bee hive in the kickpanel and a couple old .22 bullets under the passenger seat. A bungee cord held up the rats nest of a wiring harness under the dash. The interior had been rattle can spray painted plum purple right on top of all the plastic and vinyl. The door panels were homemade cardboard and the roof was dented in with a circular rust pattern that makes me think someone used it as a step stool or shelf.
For being a California car I found a lot of rust. You could poke through the trunk floor with your finger and stick a car key right through the rear window channel. The passenger side door had a ton of bondo, the front passenger fender was dented, and the triangle window on that side was broken; someone hit a pole or something.
All I saw was an excited project. I didn't really know what I was getting into but that's part of the fun. I had never rebuilt an engine or done any body work. I didn't know how a carburetor works. I was 25. I told people "it'll probably take me a year"...
In those first few years I worked on that car at least 5 days a week and all free time was spent reading. Every lunch break I read the forums at firstgenfirebird.org or classicalpointiac.com. I was constantly looking on ebay for parts. I'm pretty good at not being overwhelmed by a big project, I just take it one step at a time. I was always reading about the next step. How to pull an engine out of a car, how to install a camshaft, what type of carburetor is best, how to bend brake lines.
First step was the engine. The car had a Pontiac 326 cu in V8 when I got it. I bought a junked 400 from some guy out in the desert. I bought books on how to rebuild an engine and spent hour after hour reading forums online for each bit. Next up the transmission. Someone had put a TH400 in the car out of a late 70s GMC. I bought a book on how to rebuild a TH400 then ripped it apart. I found an intake manifold on ebay and a carburetor from a 428 Bonneville. Again I bought a book on how to rebuild Quadrajet carburetors and worked my way through. I had knee surgery and during the week I was laid up I rebuilt the carb. I bought a new fuel tank and bent my own new lines. Got a new radiator and lines. Bent up new transmission cooler lines. Ripped all the old wiring out of the car and put in a completely new harness from Painless wiring. Put in a new exhaust from Summit Racing. Then I started it for the first time and it was amazing. You can see me in my youthiness here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQqL50ioGVQ
Next was to make it driveable. I pulled apart and rebuilt the suspension with new hardware and bushings all around. New shocks and springs. The car had power brakes and I put on front discs from a '69 Camaro. New brake lines. Went through all the steering linkages. It drove for the first time after about two years of work and man the brakes were horrible. I had to replace a couple leaky valves and the master cylinder. What a trip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqxBqye6Ifc
Then I pulled it all apart for body work. I bought a book on how to do classic car sheet metal work. Got another on body work and restoration. In college I worked as a machinist and welder so that part was not too difficult but bending and shaping was new. I practiced on sheet steel. I cut out and replaced the trunk floor. The rear quarter panels in front and behind the wheel well. Cut out and cleaned up then welded back in each rear wheel well. Lots of little panels I bent and shaped, welded back in and ground down to smooth. I have to say the metal work I think was my favorite part. Interior floors were mostly good but I replaced one of the rear passenger floors completely and had to replace chunks elsewhere. I cut out and replaced the window channel around the windshield and rear window completely, one six inch section at a time. Make a template, bend new steel into the right shape, cut out the old, weld in the new, grind it smooth. Rinse and repeat. Re-skinned the passenger door. We moved and had a kid then had another kid right away and I didn't touch the car for 3 years. I got back into it with two nights a week being Firebird time, from 9pm until how late can you stay up and still go to work the next day. It was great. We moved again and again. I started up a stock hobby. Had another child which was almost a year without touching the car. It took 9 years to go through all the sheet metal.
When we decided to move San Diego to the Bay Area the car just a shell without any wheels or anything. The engine was on a stand, transmission on a shelf. Hood, frame, and fenders sitting in the garage. In all I've moved the car to 7 houses, each time re-assembling what I had to for the move. I used to have so many bins and boxes of parts. Now it was time to actually put things back on for the final time and that was bonkers. The fuel tank and lines went back in, front subframe with new bushings. Suspension and brake lines installed for the final time. I asked the tow company what are your requirements, haha. They said it has to have seats, a steering wheel, a park position, emergency brake. I assembled what I had to and we moved north to San Carlos, CA. I slowly picked away at things. Put back in the rear window and a new windshield after 10 years out of the car. During covid I got back working on it feverishly. Reassembling the exhaust and cooling and fuel systems. Reconnecting wiring. I got it running once again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPywIgF_BUg
We moved up here to Portland, OR and I was in the home stretch. The past couple of years have been spent mostly on the cosmetics, interior, and exterior. I reassembled all the engine compartment little panels and mud guards. The whole interior I redid. You can buy everything you need to rebuild: new vinyl seat covers, seat foam and burlap. I was an upholstry man for months, stretching and pulling and crimping. New headliner. Throughout the build I've tried to keep as much stock as I can but that 50 year old pastic and vinyl is just shot. Every step of the way I had to figure out how it really goes since I didn't have a complete car to start with. Door panels should take hours but it took me a month or two because I didn't know all the pieces I was missing until I started going through. Reproduction parts are great but they don't just slide in, everything needs a little cut here, trim there. Sometimes you have to convince the parts where they should fit. The exterior chrome I cleaned up and polished and it turned out amazing. Front bumper is new since the original was bent and all the decals are new. But a lot of the parts are original: the door handles, window chrome, rear bumper. Every piece of this car has been taken apart and put back together at least once or twice. Not a single bolt or clip left untouched.
The only part of this I didn't do myself was exterior paint. I painted interior and underhood but the exterior needed to be nice and I've just never had faith in my own painting. I took it to Maaco and they did an amazing job. I did all the metal work, they did bondo, sanding, paint.
It's officially done as of yesterday. I got insurance a couple weeks ago and registered it with the DMV. It's legal and has an actual license plate. It is crazy to drive and thinking of completing an almost two decade project.
Now I don't know what to do with myself. It doesn't start well so I need to look at that. The engine has a hesitation I'll look into. But I bought it for a car to work on, not something to drive. Was feeling bored last night.