Jonathan Gaffney's '70 Cutlass

It was truly on a lark that I bought this 1970 Cutlass Supreme from a gentleman in Fairfax, Virginia in 1997. It was overgrown with weeds, had not been driven in close to four years, and was cosmetically - a complete disaster. The best guess was that it had 134,000 miles on it (and it looked it). It did start up, however, and - $300 lighter in my wallet - I drove it home to Arlington.

It didn't take long to conclude that restoring it was completely out of the question. Under the hood one of the preceding owners decided to slap a Holly, a new intake manifold, headers, and some other junk that simply made it run really poorly. The fenders were bad after-market; the front floor pans, trunk, and rear quarters were rusted through; and the top and complete interior were completely destroyed. What was left of the paint was a burnt orange/red. From the looks of the front of the car, there was a small collision in its past. With a restoration out of the question, a home "remodeling" was planned with an emphasis on not throwing good money after bad and learning something in the process.

Sticking it in a single-car garage, the very best investment was a set of four "car skates" (Hemmings) which allowed me to push it around my garage and give me a good 4 feet of work space per side. Stripping the car of everything but steel, I cut away as much rust as possible, pretty much painted it with POR-15, and fibre glassed all the remaining sheet metal. (As the rear quarters were pretty much destroyed, I used the stainless wheel trim and some aluminum roof flashing strips to create a new mold). For the front grill work I scoured some local junk yards for some replacement plastic and - since none of it was perfect - used a "metal epoxy" to repair and shape repairs. I traded my bumpers in to the Bumper Boyz for replacements.

After a few cans of Bondo and a ton of sanding and cans of spray primer, I had it towed -- stripped of everything -- to Earl Scheib (no kidding) for a paint job. Frankly, it didn't come out half-bad (and every square inch of car was painted).

The only significant investment was $1,000 spent with the great folks at Year One on lots of odds and ends. I buffed and polished out every piece of stainless and chrome and bought new seat upholstery from JC Whitney. Some of the chrome (specifically the hood center trim and eyebrow molding) were pitted very badly and, instead of buying replacements for $400-$500, I had a local chrome shop try to clean them up. All of the interior black plastic was washed and re-painted. I replaced some of the electrical switches and wiring under the dash, but have not bothered to trouble-shoot either the heater or windshield wipers.

Under the hood I decided to take out the AC hardware and needed to replace the alternator and fuel pump. The really heavy work was replacing all the gaskets and rings (which actually can be done with the engine still in the car). New wires and distributor later, I experienced the ultimate thrill - tuning up a car with a timing light.

I sent back to Year One all the materials for the replacement top (I simply couldn't figure out how a bunch of unidentifiable pieces of fabric somehow fit together to make a convertible top) and bought four new Goodyears. The total damage? Approximately $3,200 and 250 hours of work in my spare time. While it is certainly not a "show car," it is almost in perfect cosmetic and mechanical shape. It runs like a watch and have driven it as much as 200 miles at a time. I have received countless offers to sell it. It is a blast to drive, and when those four barrels open up you think you're driving the Space Shuttle.

For those who dream of having a car like this, the aspect I am most proud of is that - while mechanically inclined - I never did automotive work like this before. I just had some good books (Chilton's is a must and the GM Assembly manual was invaluable), some good tools, and a ton of energy. For those who might be too intimidated, these cars are remarkably uncomplicated. Not a microchip, excess wire, or emission control device to be found.

Finally, I did it while I was engaged......I wouldn't have the guts to do it while I was married.

(ps - for those nautical types, the pennants in the picture spell "1970")

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