I am fighting a rust monster. I haven’t seen it, but the signs of its voracious appetite are everywhere. The monster’s corrosive, salty venom has taken its toll on my 1966 Chrysler Windsor, even eating away structural components such as frame rails and body mounts.
My first article on my Windsor ended in a cliffhanger in the fall of 2011, just as I pulled the trigger on restoring the body. I removed the grille, bumper, radiator, underhood wiring harness, engine and transmission.
Then the entire front clip was removed and replaced with good parts from my parts cars. Just about the only original part ahead of the firewall to be reused is the hood. I farmed out this part of the work to a local restoration shop. Surgery to the unibody structure was required in the front drivers-side corner to repair one of the body mounts, and I also wanted to get the engine compartment epoxy-primered and painted in the new colour when everything went back together. This picture was taken in early 2012, at the restoration shop.
A replacement front subframe came from one of my parts cars. I had it chemically stripped and powder coated, then I reassembled it with all new suspension and steering components. Then I delivered it to the shop to use in reassembly.
Meanwhile, I was working on other things such as the grille. Here you can see the major components of the grille, many of which are both chrome plated and have painted accents. I used the best pieces from three grilles, including one that I had shipped up from Arizona, plus one NOS part that I bought because I didn’t have one in acceptable condition.
I polished the chrome, then masked it off and resprayed the matte black and silver accents. I worked about 40 hours just on the grille. At least the masking was something I could do while sitting on my livingroom floor watching TV.
After having the rolling chassis towed back home on a flatbed, I reinstalled the drivetrain, etc. I made some improvements to the wiring, including a separate wiring harness for the electronic ignition, electric choke and headlight relays. The original inline fusible links have been replaced by a power distribution center with strip-fuses (on the driver’s fenderwell) originally from a Volkswagen. I also added the “heavy duty cooling” option by swapping the original 22″ radiator and rad support for a 26″ radiator, rad support and fan shroud. An aftermarket transmission cooler with custom bracket is mounted in the factory A/C condenser location. Heater hoses have been rerouted from the top of the passenger valve cover to the fenderwell for a cleaner look.
The front bumper has been rechromed, and the bumperettes were another factory option that I added. I drove the car to a couple of local car shows like this in the summer of 2013 before setting to work on it again in the fall. It was time to start disassembling the rest of the car, from the firewall back.
Some brave soul embarked on this quest before me, about 25 years ago. I can see from the well-formed floorpan patches that their intentions were noble. But the rust monster ground away at their resolve, resulting in increasingly shoddy repairs.
Holes in the trunk pan had been filled with tar-like sealer. Fenders were covered in riveted patches, then slathered in bondo. I discovered that rusted-out bumper brackets had been simply backed-up with pieces of sheetmetal behind them.
Whatever I set to work on, the damage was more extensive than anticipated. I had expected to be done with rust repairs a year ago, but still I trudged slowly onward. Here’s a patch I fabricated to repair a section of floorpan adjacent to the passenger-side rear wheelwell, including a seatbelt attachment point.
Under the rear seat, the passenger side had been patched previously but the same section on the drivers side had been deemed “good enough”. I found it to be paper-thin with pinholes and my awl readily pushed through sections. I cut out what I thought was enough, only to discover TWICE that there was more to be done when the MIG welder started to blow holes through the steel I was trying to weld to.
Here’s a before, during, and after collage of my progress on the rear of the car. In addition to repairing the bumper brackets, there is a boxed-in section behind the rear bumper, which is prone to rusting from the inside out. Moisture and road salt find their way in there, but apparently not rustproofing agents. My repair panels are made with galvanized steel, which should help in future.
I patched around the drivers side rear wheelwell, thinking that was the last of my troubles in the trunk. When the steel beside my patch started getting pinholes as I welded, I realized I needed to take a closer look. Ultimately I cut out a large section of trunk floorpan and replaced it with a good section I had saved from a parts car. (My car also inherited a US-style spare tire carrier in the process!) In retrospect, I wish I’d kept one of my parts cars around intact until I was done this stage, as I would’ve used even more from it, instead of fabricating other patches by hand.
Along the way, I also made some improvements to the chassis. Last winter (2014-15) I fabricated a set of subframe connectors to tie the front and rear subframes together to improve chassis stiffness. I made them from 1/8″ thick 2×2″ box.
Here is the driver’s side subframe connector welded in place. It just clears the parking brake cable, so no modifications were required there. For those not intimately familiar with the underside of a C-body Mopar, the front of the car is to the right in this photo.
I worked assiduously through the winter in my unheated garage to complete the floorpan and structural repairs by the spring of 2015. I believe that is now done. My next steps are to remove the rest of the chrome trim, glass and window regulators, and any final prep for exterior bodywork and paint.
I plan to have a professional shop do the exterior bodywork and paint. I decided not to take the car back to the same shop that did the previous work for me. I’m now on the waiting list somewhere else, but he won’t be ready to get started on it until early 2016. This one’s a one-man operation, working out of a shop behind his house. I was initially leery of such an arrangement, but this person comes recommended from a trustworthy source. I was hoping the car would be “done” in time for the Moparfest car show in 2016. That’s looking doubtful, as I’ll still have a mountain of reassembly work to do when it comes back from the paint shop. Regardless of the timing, my next update on this project will hopefully be the conclusion.