Mustang MonthlyProject Vehicles
Replacing Quarter Panels and Fixing Rust on a 1965 Mustang Hardtop, Project Road Warrior
The Point of No Return: Replacing the rusty bits on Project Road Warrior, our 1965 Mustang hardtop, with new sheetmetal from National Parts Depot
April 2014 was the Mustang’s 50th birthday. Think about that for a minute; half a century. That’s 50 years of use and abuse, exposure to the elements, incidents with other vehicles, and just general wear and tear. That’s why it’s rarely a shock to find rust patches here and there on an early Mustang, especially in the South and Midwest. But we live in a time when the aftermarket has everything needed to fix any part of the car, and that’s doubly true of the hugely popular Mustang—it’s now possible to “create” a brand-new Mustang from nothing but aftermarket parts, including complete bodies.
Thankfully, the car we’re starting with here, which we’ve named Project Road Warrior, didn’t need to be reborn from scratch, rather it just needed some rusty patches fixed on the quarter-panels and a new driver side floorpan where the old one had rusted through Flintstones style. At least, that’s what we thought.
After some inspection we decided it was easier to replace the quarters than to fix them, so we ordered new quarters (and wheel houses just in case) from National Parts Depot (NPD), but once we got into stripping the paint and cutting the old quarters off, the rust and damage underneath hit us like a Mike Tyson punch to the gut. This was going to be a lot more involved than just some simple metal repair—we were looking at basically rebuilding the entire rear half of the car. So what was going to be just a quick fix turned into a mountain of work, which you’ll see here.
This story won’t make you an overnight hero with a body hammer and MIG welder, but it will give you an idea of what’s involved with serious sheetmetal repair/replacement on a Mustang (any car really). We wouldn’t advise tackling this kind of project yourself unless you have been gifted with great levels of patience and a thorough understanding of bodywork, but it does illustrate why bodywork is so expensive and time-consuming—you often don’t know what’s involved until you’re deep in a project—beyond the point of no return, like we found ourselves in.
Beginnings of a Project Car
I first met Courtney Barber and her green 1965 Mustang hardtop (the two of which make up Team Mustang Girls) on the 50th Anniversary Mustang Pony Drive from Norman, Oklahoma, to the big celebration in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I rode shotgun in the car on the Guinness World’s Record cruise of Mustangs. A few months later the two of us made a last-minute decision to go on the Goodguys Hall of Fame Road Tour, so at the drop of a hat she drove the Mustang from her home in South Carolina across the country to my home in Burbank, California, to pick me up, and then we drove it up to Goodguys’ headquarters in Pleasanton for the start of the 2,000-mile Tour to Texas. Five days later we had just gotten to Ft. Worth when Courtney had to hit the road again for an open track day that she had committed to, back in South Carolina. She put roughly 7,000 miles on the car in a week and a half—and this was after an additional 25,000 or so miles in rallies like Bullrun and Rally North America that same summer—which convinced me that she was indeed the road warrior I had heard about.
On the Goodguys Tour it was apparent that while her junkyard 351W and C6 trans combination ran fine, it was a little bit underpowered and the lack of overdrive made it very difficult to keep up with the pro-built hot rods that were on the Tour. “This thing needs an overdrive, bad, and that mountain pass had your carbureted engine hacking and coughing,” I remarked at one point. When Courtney told me she already had plans to completely tear the car apart over the winter to do some sorely needed bodywork and rust repair, the plan started to come together.
And that’s how a project car is born. Unlike so many projects that you’ve read about over the years, where a car is built in the pages of a magazine then disappears never to be heard from again, this one is going to be different. This car gets used, and used hard, so it’s the perfect platform to illustrate the challenges of building a project car and then sorting out the inevitable new-car bugs. The goal is to upgrade the drivetrain to more modern and efficient running gear with EFI and an overdrive transmission, but first the rough body needs some attention. Watch for the rest of the buildup over the next few issues, and if you want to see video of it in action, check out both www.teammustanggirls.com and www.mustang-360.com, as well their respective Facebook pages. —Rob Kinnan
1. The car had undergone a quickie paintjob several years ago, but the trouble under the skin started showing up in cancerous bubbles here and there. This spot behind the right rear wheel was typical of the damage we had to fix. Looks like nothing, right?
2. The car’s home base for the start of the project was Stono Body Works in Charleston, South Carolina, where shop owner Dave Mahan gave us space to tear the car down in preparation for the bodywork to come.
3. Removing the carpet showed just how much rust was in the floorpans. This spot on the driver side footwell was the worst, but the passenger side wasn’t much better so the decision to install new pans was made.
4. There were several thick paintjobs on the car, so we began the labor-intensive task of stripping it all with chemical stripper, with a wire wheel on a drill for tight areas.
5. When we ordered new quarters from NPD they recommended that we replace the doors as well. We didn’t really want to since ours weren’t that bad, but the new doors fit perfectly and saved the time of fixing some minor rust on the bottom of the stock doors. We installed and lined them up first, to provide a good baseline for installing the quarter-panels.
6. As you can see in the opening photo to this story, we used a cutoff wheel to cut the quarter just below the upper bodyline. Then it just peeled off like the lid on a can of sardines.
7. Uh oh … this is what greeted us underneath. We figured we’d have to replace the wheelhouse along with the quarter, but the frame area behind it was severely rotted. As we got further into it, it got even worse. We replaced the quarters one side at a time, to make sure everything stayed lined up correctly.
8. Looking at the wheelhouse from inside the trunk you shouldn’t be able to see light through the seam.
9. After Courtney driilled out the spot-welds holding the wheelhouse in place, Mahan stepped in to remove it and see what was underneath.
10. The part of the frame/rear floorpan that mated to the wheelhouse was fairly well rotted away, so Mahan created a patch piece with his shrinker/stretcher to provide a more solid connection for the wheelhouse.
11. The first application of the MIG welder was to weld the wheelhouse in place.
12. With the wheelhouse in place, it was time to hang the quarter-panel and check the fit. There were some rusty areas that needed attention before the quarter was welded in place, so this step is just checking to see how it fits and to make any modifications or adjustments.
13. One of those rust spots was in the C-pillar. Mahan ground out the rust then filled it with a torch and brass rod on both sides.
14. Welding the quarter-panel in place requires patience. If you run a bead of weld from front to back, it’ll warp the sheetmetal in a way that’s nearly impossible to fix. Mahan tacked it in place every couple of inches, then went back and filled in the gaps in tiny steps. Don’t rush this step.
15. An area we hadn’t planned on replacing was the taillight panel. After stripping the paint and seeing what was under everything, it was obvious that the car had been punted in the rear and had other corrosion that made it easier to replace than repair.
16. It’s at this point where we wanted to curl up in a fetal position in the corner of the shop and just cry. Notice the new driver side quarter in place, but the passenger side still stock. This was to make sure we got the taillight panel located properly.
17. NPD came to the rescue again with a new taillight panel.
18. Mahan had to fabricate this patch to properly install the new taillight panel.
19. It’s a wonder the rear suspension stayed in the car so long with all of the cancer on the passenger side rear framerail. As you can see, we had to completely cut everything away and replace it with new metal from NPD. We were so far beyond committed at this point that there was truly no going back.
20. The passenger side quarter was next.
21. The passenger’s side also needed some rust repair before the quarter went in place. Mahan fixed it with fabricated patch panels and some brazing work.
22. Time to tackle the floorpans! We cut out the rusty parts in preparation for the new NPD floorpans, one for each side.
23. Mahan made sure that the mating surfaces between the floor substructure and the new pans were straight and solid.
24. The new pans were laid in place to check for fitment. Depending on how much of the stock floor is removed, the new pans will need some trimming to fit properly. That’s not a knock on NPD’s parts at all, but rather the reality of rust repair—you never know what you’re going to find.
25. The new pans are MIG welded in place, which requires Mahan to drill these holes required for plug-welding.
26. At that point, he handed Courtney the welder and said, “Get busy girl.”
27. New floorpans also mean new seat risers. Once we made sure they were fitted properly, we coated both sides with an epoxy primer to prevent any future rust.
28. While all the sheetmetal work was happening, we spent some quality time with stripper and a wire wheel in the engine compartment. After all, a brand-new paintjob requires a clean engine compartment, especially with the shiny new Ford Racing engine we’re about to drop in here.
29. Before the final bodywork and prep for paint could begin, we took the car outside and blasted it with 1,000 pounds of sand to make sure that there was no residual corrosion, dirt, grime, and such that would get in the way of paint prep.
30. With the majority of the bodywork complete, Courtney and Dave take a beer break. Stono Body Works does fantastic paintwork, but we had already committed to another shop to do the finish body and paint, so this was the culmination of our time at Stono. We want to thank Dave Mahan, his sister Danelle Fries, and his dog Diesel for their help in this stage of Project Road Warrior.
31. We hauled the car up to Mojo Performance in Concord, North Carolina, for the finish body and paint, and also for the entire drivetrain installation, which you’ll read about next month. After unloading the car and inventorying all the parts we brought with it, Mojo’s Kevin Kelly inspected the body to determine what was necessary to get it ready for paint. Here we are in Mojo’s paint booth priming the driver side front fender with R-M High Build primer surfacer.
32. The entire car was sprayed with three coats of the R-M primer surfacer, then guide-coated and block-sanded with 180-grit sandpaper. An additional two coats were then sprayed and the car was blocked in stages to 600-grit with wet paper. This is the laborious part of body and paint—if you think you’re done block sanding, you’re probably about half way there. Courtney got her workout and sanded all her fingerprints off in the process.
33. Next all the body panels were hung by “Body John” Jordan and aligned so that a record of what shims were required could be kept, so when the car came back from paint the panels could be hung correctly. Jordan is a Zen master of panel fit, gaps, and such, and is our Mojo’s go-to guy when it comes to this kind of work.
34. On Friday June 19, 2015, the car was delivered to paint. We choose David Fink at Minor Mistakes in Concord to spray the car for a few reasons: First, he has a state-of-the-art climate-controlled booth (a clean environment contributes greatly to the finish product); and second, Fink had the additional manpower to turn around the project in a short amount of time. This car was painted in pieces and having skilled extra hands in preparing the parts for paint saved many days of time.
35. Here’s Road Warrior in Minor Mistakes’ booth.
36. We used all R-M products not just for primer but also the basecoat/clearcoat. The color is the same Calypso Green that the car had been painted the last time around.
37. We need to extend a huge thanks to David Fink at Minor Mistakes for painting Project Road Warrior. It’s hard to tell in photos, but the paint on our 1965 is about 10,000 times nicer than it was before. The first rock chip is going to hurt like a Ronda Rousey arm-bar. With the car back at Mojo, attention turned to the drivetrain and assembly of the car, which you’ll read about next month.
From the non-magazine project car side, Courtney’s biggest sponsor is Kicker, the makers of high-end car audio speakers and electronics, so it’s no wonder that Project Road Warrior will have some seriously thumpin’ tunes when it’s done. While the car was gutted, Kicker’s John Myers stopped by to begin the fabrication of the subwoofer installation, custom kick panels and package tray, and wired up the amps and other electronic goodies. This will make everything go much more smoothly when it comes time to put the interior together. But that’s quite a ways down the road from here.