How to Prep For Your Project Car Part 2

A rotisserie makes things a whole bunch easier. Most examples allow you to rotate and move the car with ease. The example I’m using was built by an outfit called Accessible Systems, but they’re no longer in business.

How to Prep For Your Project Car Part 2

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Part 2 of Wayne Scraba's Prepping Your Project series tackles the cleanup portion of getting your project car ready for resto work.



In our last issue we looked at stripping a car and starting the process of prepping it for restoration or chassis work. Sounds easy enough, but it’s almost always grueling, time-consuming work. If there is any good news on the topic, a super clean bare chassis makes for a really nice finished product. It will also make your chassis builder or restoration shop much happier.

As noted in that last issue, we regularly start with the easy stuff. Generally speaking, this means starting with the engine compartment. Pull out your plywood "bed" and shampoo the engine and compartment first. Some engine shampoos aren't biodegradable. This means you'll need plenty of water to flush away the residue. When the engine compartment is done, work your way rearward under the car, concentrating on the center section (between the frame rails or rocker panels). Use the Easy-Off and brake cleaner, Scotchbrite pads and rags to clean up the grime. Once that's out of the way and clean, you can begin removing undercoating.

In most cases, vintage cars are undercoated in the wheelhouses (mainly in the rear) along the rocker panels and in the area to the rear of the wheelhouses. To be honest with you, there's no easy way to remove undercoating. Some of the goop is so tough; it's pretty much unfazed by sand blasting. The only solution is to heat the mess with a propane torch and scrape it off. This isn't difficult work, but it's definitely tedious. Once heated, work quickly, because the undercoating hardens immediately as it cools. Usually, only a small section (approximately 6" X 6") can be stripped at once. After all of the big chunks are removed, soak the area with brake cleaner or oven cleaner and scour with the Scotchbrite pad (don't forget to use your rubber gloves). Wipe off the residue with a rag and re-soak the area with brake cleaner. Use another Scotchbrite pad and clean the surface again. You should be down to bare or clean painted metal.

Depending upon how heavy the undercoating is it will probably take three to four hours to clean each wheel well. Once it's shiny and clean, scrub the area again with a good laundry detergent mixed with warm water (a used car wash brush works great for this job). Similarly, scrub the balance of the undercarriage with the soap mixture and then rinse with clean water.

How long does a cleanup like this take? You can’t do it overnight. The ’71 Nova you see in the accompanying photos consumed roughly 60 hours in mechanical disassembly and at least another 20 hours or so in the actual clean-up process (OK – we bagged and tagged everything that came off the car, and that added considerable time). The car was basic (no options) and it was also an unmolested low mileage Grandma piece. Factor in more time if the car isn’t pretty (or clean). Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. Chassis or restoration work will go a bunch faster and your wallet won’t be lightened by nearly as much.

For a closer look, check out the following photos:
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How to Prep For Your Project Car Part 2

The inner wheel wells on the car looked like this. Although completely functional and pretty much rust free (aside from surface rust), they’re double ugly. The idea is to remove the undercoating so that wheel wells can be sectioned (mini-tubbed), painted and detailed. Your chassis builder will appreciate it.

How to Prep For Your Project Car Part 2

While scrubbing is self-explanatory, heating and stripping undercoating might not be. The idea is to heat a small area (roughly 6"X6"), with a propane torch. If you heat an area that's too large, then the undercoating cools and you won't be able to strip it easily. You might be surprised at how quick this stuff cools, then sets up. When undercoating sets up, it's usually as hard as a rock (again).

How to Prep For Your Project Car Part 2

After a section is adequately heated (when it smokes, but doesn’t ignite, it’s just about right), peel away the undercoat with a gasket scraper. A smaller screwdriver works well for tiny crevices while a putty scraper comes in handy for larger expanses. Basically, the idea is to heat and strip an area until it's large enough to clean with oven cleaner. Scrub with Scotchbrite and repeat the scrubbing process with cleaner. Finally, when all of the undercoating is gone, flush the area with soap and water. FYI, a pressure washer works wonders.

How to Prep For Your Project Car Part 2

Once you’ve finished the dirty work, this is what the wheel well should look like. Your body man or chassis builder will love you.

How to Prep For Your Project Car Part 2

A rotisserie makes things a whole bunch easier. Most examples allow you to rotate and move the car with ease. The example I’m using was built by an outfit called Accessible Systems, but they’re no longer in business.

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