K.J. Jones
October 8, 2006

Horse Sense: Here's a piece of autobody trivia: "Bondo" is a brand name, not a generic term for the popular putty used to fix dents in cars. It's the flagship product of the Bondo Corporation of Atlanta, but as many of you know, it's often used to refer to all autobody-repair putties. This common mistake is similar to how the name "Xerox" was universally used when talking about photocopies. We doubt things will ever change for either company, but we believe it's our responsibility to set the record straight.

Despite being enamored with just about anything associated with making a Mustang better, we confess our minds tend to wander when it comes to applying mental and physical focus on bodywork from a do-it-yourself perspective. Even some of the biggest 'Stang builders in the business defer to the pros when it comes to straightening fenders, quarter-panels, or frames, and spraying hot colors and graphics across the sheetmetal.

At first, we thought our T-top coupe had only a few minor cosmetic ailments. The front bumper cover was torn in a few places and had been carelessly put back together, the driver-side rear quarter-panel showed evidence of a body-filler repair job, and the glass for the mirror on the passenger-side door was missing. John Barbera, John Morrow, and their team at Johns Customz and Performance showed us there's more to body damage than what's visible on the surface. Our project coupe is still unnamed, but "Bondo Bandit" might have been a perfect handle for this ride had we not sought the opinion and assistance of an expert.

We introduced our rare T-top 'Stang in our May '06 issue ("Raisin' the Roof, p. 94). The car has been through some rough times, as evidenced by the rivets and screws in the front-bumper cover and the rear quarter-panels that were packed with body filler. But it isn't hopeless and it can have a like-new appearance again if the right parts and the skillful talents of a good autobody specialist are combined to make it happen. Thankfully, we were able to get both bases covered.

Latemodel Restoration Supply is the Mustang fan's source for the OEM and OEM-quality interior and exterior reproduction pieces that should be used to repair damaged areas on a '79-'05 'Stang. At 20 years old, various trim pieces, moldings, and weatherstripping on our '86 T-top coupe are either missing or in serious need of replacement, and Latemodel has been a great resource for securing everything we need.

Johns Customz and Performance, of Torrance, California, has taken on the job of ironing out the car's wrinkles and spraying on fresh coats of Auto Air Colors' Deep Black paint. John Barbera and John Morrow are the principal partners in this outfit. Paul and Kim Morrow (John M.'s dad and sister) also must be acknowledged because they're key members of the JCP crew and contribute equally to the infectious fun-at-work atmosphere. One-liners come fast and frequently. John B. was an amateur stand-up comedian years ago, and at times the shop takes on the air of a comedy club, a coffee house, and a gearhead's dream garage. An original, numbers-matching K-Code '66 fastback 'Stang is there for frame-off restoration, and other super Fords-including '05 Mustangs-are everywhere you look inside the huge shop and in the yard behind it. JCP built the Hot Wheels '05 Mustang GT and had a hand in creating a few other cars that we saw at the SEMA show last year.

When it comes to bodywork, the most important thing to remember is that there are right and wrong ways to perform just about any repair, from knocking out a small dent to straightening a frame. This is true for mechanical work or anything else for that matter, but we're talking about the body in this segment of our build series.

During our three-day experience at JCP, we learned how to find the root of previously repaired body damage by going below the painted surface and at the bare metal. Getting a firsthand look at why autobody repair and painting are a trained-professional's domain was a reality check for us. We don't intend to shoot down anyone's do-it-yourself spirit, but based on the "discoveries" made on our 'Stang by the eyes and hands of the guys at JCP, we believe that years of experience is what separates the pros from the hacks. The T-top gem we thought was straight and clean had a lot more lumps, bumps, and bruises than we were able to see. Because of the damage uncovered by John and his crew digging deeper than the black paint on the surface, we have even more questions about its history.

Because of our experience at JCP, we understand why body and paint can be so expensive. The amount of money you're willing to invest in your car's appearance by commissioning a good, reputable autobody, customization, or restoration shop will make the difference between whether your 'Stang looks great or horrible. Unless you're an autobody specialist or you have a buddy with skills who's willing to do a good-guy deal for you, it's all about the dollars and your willingness to spend them. The high cost isn't always just for the price of parts and materials, with the exception of the price of some paint products, which is reflective of quality. The price usually is indicative of the amount of time that must be invested in making things right. Read on for a look at the progress of our project car and for information we hope will help when you look for a skillful, qualified professional to handle the task of making your 'Stang look great again.

The cracking paint visible in this photo is one of the telltale signs that an excessive amount of body filler was used to repair damage, and it also was used incorrectly. Body filler should only be 1?8-inch thick. If it's put on thicker, the cracking process starts sooner. "Excessive body filler is used to compensate for inabilities to actually straighten a panel," John M. says. Excessive body filler is detectible by the amount of visible distortion in a panel-the panel looks wavy when viewed from directly in front or in back of a car. "Once we see there's a significant amount of body filler, we'll open up everything to determine the extent. Then we'll address whether the car should get a new quarter-panel or if we can straighten the damaged panel." JCP specializes in metal-based repairs, with 95 percent of damage such as ours being corrected by filling holes with spot welds or completely replacing sheetmetal, and relying only on 5 percent of body filler for shaping and making a fully true repair.

Time is money when it comes to any extensive autobody repairs or painting a car. One way to knock a few bucks off the price is to strip the car yourself. Depending on the level of bodywork or paint job (simple repaint, full restoration, and such), remove headlights, taillights, wires, interior pieces, and exterior trim accordingly. It's easy enough to do in the driveway, and the money you'll save can be funneled to another area of improving your 'Stang. Our car had already been stripped down quite a bit for installation of the rollcage, so our main focus was to remove the factory EEC IV wiring and ready the engine compartment for firewall sealing and fresh paint. The coupe's engine bay will also get a lot of attention once the blown big-bore stroker is sitting between the fenders. Be sure to inventory all of the parts you remove and store them in a container where they won't get damaged.

We delivered the coupe at Johns Customz and Performance on the morning of February 27, 2006, a day after our 18-hour, one-day mission to pick it up from Chris Alston's Chassisworks, which was more than 750 miles round trip.

Both Johns immediately looked over the coupe and pointed out the flaws in the body and floor, and they gave us valuable insights on how a car in this condition should be repaired.

We noticed during the inspection of the car that both Johns rely on their hands and sense of feel to find bad spots on a car's body, instead of just their eyesight. "The eyes are the easiest thing to fool. In most cases, a fender or panel that looks straight really isn't," John M. says. "By using our hands, we can actually feel little contours that aren't supposed to be there."

We had been under the impression, after seeing it done at other body shops, that circling a problem area with a grease pencil is the proper way to flag flaws. We were wrong. "Paint is like a sponge and will absorb whatever material it comes in contact with. The residue left by a grease pencil, regardless of how well you think you've cleaned and prepped the area with sealer and primer, is eventually going to transfer through the paint," John M. says.

This is another sign we're dealing with a quarter-panel that's been compromised more than we can determine by just looking at it. John M. uses the brand new rear-quarter molding to demonstrate. The trim piece's poor fitment indicates that this car still has issues, despite the previous repairs.

For some of us, the '86 'Stang is the car of our youth and at 20 years old, it's somewhat hard to fully accept our coupe really is a classic Mustang now. Our project is definitely a full restoration with a few modern-day improvements added for good measure.

We're often asked what color we're going to paint the car. After a lot of thought, comparison, and even an old-fashioned coin flip, we chose Deep Black (PN 4220; $166.90) from the Series 4200 line of Semi-Opaque Graphic Colors by Auto Air Colors.

Auto Air Colors is a relatively new player on the auto-finishes scene and offers a hyped-up rainbow of water-based, semi-opaque, transparent, sparklescent, metallic, iridescent, pearlized, color-shifting, and candy-color paints from which to select. We got our first look at their wild array of colors at last year's SEMA show and since then have encountered a few other 'Stangs with Auto Air Colors paints. It's nice stuff, and when combined with the painting talents of John Morrow, we're confident our coupe will be beautiful once again.

When it comes to replacing broken or missing body pieces for just about any 5.0 or 4.6 Mustang, Latemodel Restoration Supply is the ultimate, one-stop source for many of the hard-to-find items that are used to restore a 'Stang's original style. Our project T-top coupe's resurrection is possible because of several exterior items from Latemodel's catalog, including a brand-new '85-'86 front-bumper cover (PN LRS-8190B; $190.95), which is the company's latest offering for the four-eyed Mustang crowd. It will replace the torn and battered OEM piece. We'll also install a complete set of weatherstrips from Latemodel Restoration Supply once the new paint is dry.

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