Hands on Cars Episode 1- How to Inspect and Evaluate a Project Car

The first episode of Hand on Cars, from Eastwood and Kevin Tetz, body work expert, paint wizard and all around car guy. In the first episode Kevin takes you through the process of inspecting a prospective project car before buying it. The car in question? One of the nearly quarter million 1978 Camaros Chevy built, but this one is a Z28 which makes it one of only about 50,000.

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Is it a classic? Yes, it can be argued that it is. Is this particular example worth building? That’s what we are here to find out. Before buying a particular example of a car you have your heart set on you want to make sure you are buying the best one you can find. In the long run buying a solid car to build will cost you much less than the money you save buying a barely held together pile of rust.

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The first thing you should be doing before even looking for a project car is doing your research. How do you know this is a real Z28? Is there a special notation in the VIN or trim tag and where are those located? Do you really care is it’s a Z28? Does that make it any better for the project you are going to build? From all indications this is in fact a real Z28, with the original engine. That or else someone went to a lot of trouble, swapped all the trim and interior parts, and replaced every single GM vacuum hose after a swap.

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But for the purposes of the pro-touring car we are building it doesn’t have to be a real Z28, but it doesn’t hurt. As far as F-bodies go, the aftermarket is so strong turning a run-of-the-mill Camaro or Firebird into a Z28 or Trans-Am is just a matter of writing a check.

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Once you know what you are looking for and find one for sale, it’s time to go check it out. Everything needed for the project car remote location inspection kit fits in a handy 16” Eastwood tool bag. Here’s what’s in Kevin’s kit:

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1. Bug Spray – It’s not important to kill everything, but old cars that have been parked for a while sometimes attract bees, wasps, hornets and other nasty stinging bugs. Worth than that, sometimes they will set up shop, and get very upset when you start poking around their 1978 Chevy hornet’s nest. You’ll also want to look out for black widows and other poisonous spiders, but those don’t often jump out at you. If you looking at cars in the desert remember to watch out for snakes, also scorpions and other such creatures.

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2. 3/8 inch Socket Set – Pack your basic complete socket set. If it’s self-contained in a blow molded plastic case so it stays organized, all the better. Bring along both inch and metric sizes, because you never know. And if you are looking at a car from the dark days of the Carter administration, up through the end of the Fox Body Mustang, there will be both types of fastener on it. From the factory. Because they just couldn’t make up their minds. If you know for a fact some important bolt just can’t be gotten at with a socket, bring the correct wrenches too.

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3. Sun Block – Chances are the car to be inspected is going to be outside. And chances are you’re going to be in the sun looking at it for a while. Alternately, it will be pouring down rain, and the car will be in 2” of water, or it will be about 1 degree outside in the unheated barn where the car is sitting. Basically, plan according to the location and weather forecast.

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4. Eastwood 4 Piece Utility Tool Set – This handy set includes a gasket scraper, an awl, a pick and a radiator hose pluck. These are really useful for the literal poking around you’re going to be doing. The most important piece is the awl for testing rusty patches for poke through.

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5. LED Flashlight/WorklightWhy does it always happen that you end up out looking at a black car after sundown on a moonless night? Even with good planning and the noonday sun, these are great to have. You’ll be able to see under the car, under the hood and elsewhere with a portable light source. This one is a Eastwood 30 SMD LED Retractable Worklight/Flashlight Combo, and it makes a great gift too.

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6. MagnetThe magnet is for testing suspect body panels for filler. After you’ve tested a few quarter panels with amateur collision damage you’ll get a feel for the stickiness of the magnet to filler vs metal.

7. Inspection Mirror – The mirror is to be able to see places you can’t get your head. It may just be that you don’t want to lie down in the mud, or you may just need to see something like the ID tag on the rear end. An inspection mirror on a stick is great for that. Alternately, a digital camera or cell phone on a selfie stick can be used the same way.

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8. Phillips and Slotted Screwdrivers – These are kind of obvious, right? If it’s a newer car you may want to include Torx and Allen drivers too.

These few tools and supplies are all you need. Now you can find out if this turd you are considering is worth polishing.

Now it’s time to get down to business and start inspecting. This is another area where it pays to do your homework. The more familiar you are with a particular car the more you will be able to tell on inspection.

1)      Paint and Bodywork Inspection – On the urethane nose of these F-bodies certain areas weren’t painted. By removing the trim and inspecting this example Kevin immediately knew this car had been repainted at least once.

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These cracks in the corner of the hood are also a bad sign. Is it crash damage? Did something bend a corner of the hood? Who knows.

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On these cars, a major stress point is the area where the roof meets the sail panel, just above the door glass. When you do your research beforehand look for information like that. The problem can be especially bad on T-top cars. This car has rust and cracking there from a bad repair in the past.

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1)      Rust Inspection – The most obvious rust spot on the whole car is this area just in front of the rear wheel. This is a common area for cars that have seen a few winters on salty roads to have rust. How bad is it though?

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Take the awl and start poking, you’ll soon find out. Typically with rust through like this once you start to poke you’ll find there is a lot more of it hiding around that area under the paint.

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This inner door striker plate is also showing signs of serious rust damage, without even poking it. The screwdrivers were useful for removing the panel that screws on here, to make it easier to see inside. This is another way it pays to do research beforehand: A replacement for this panel is not available from the aftermarket.

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Here’s where the awl really comes in handy. A quick poke or two of the floor with it will reveal if it’s solid still or not. The pointy end will go right through the carpet and punch the metal below. The floor in this area is okay.

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The back seat on the other hand is a different sound. The awl makes a dull thud, and occasionally goes right through what was once metal. All the rust on this side of the car is probably related to a leak on one side of the cheesy aftermarket installed sunroof this car has in it. If you are looking at a car with a sunroof, even a factory one, be especially careful about rust in the interior.

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Amidst all the rust and ruin Kevin did find one bright spot: The 4th missing center cap for the Z28 specific wheels. That’s pure eBay gold, when the time comes for new wheels.

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1)      Glass Inspection – Next inspect the glass. This being a common GM platform that was produced for many years, windshields are readily available. That’s good because this one is cracked and scuffed in a few places.

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The side glass isn’t cracked, but it is badly scared from going up and down for years in a door without felts in the top of it. Eastwood does sell a kit to polish glass, but these scratches may be too deep. Again, something else to research before: What glass is available for this model? For early 1960s and older cars this isn’t as much of a problem; the side glass is usually flat. Most glass shops can make replacements from a template.

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1)      Mechanical Inspection – The next thing you want to find out is: Is it the original engine? On this car the answer is probably, and who cares? If it is the original engine, it’s a low compression smog era 350 ci motor rated for 175hp.

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We are likely putting something much more modern and much more powerful in it anyway. However, if originality is something you are looking for, or you are inspecting a rare car for number matchingness be prepared with casting numbers and such. On this car we guessed that it is the original motor because except for the missing air cleaner and smog pump, and the long tube headers it all looks very factory under the hood. Chances are nobody in the 70s or 80s would swap a motor into this car and leave the factory Quadrajet carburetor either.

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Now to find out if it runs, and how. Kevin cranks and cranks, but isn’t getting anywhere. Don’t crank continuously on a motor for more than a minute or two. The starter isn’t made to run very long and can get very hot and burn out.

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A better idea is a little gasoline down the carburetor, or starter fluid. Never try this on a hot motor, or near any sparks or open flames.

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And it runs again! Not all that badly even, except for the cracked header. No rod knocks. No clouds of blue or white smoke to signal major engine issues.

Now its final decision time: Is this the car you are going to pay good money for and start building? We have a car that is rusty, but the body is straight. The interior is totally trashed. The motor is original, but it’s tired and underpowered and needs attention anyway… So does it deserve to be saved?

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YES! Kevin’s buddy had one just like it in high school when he was 17, and the nostalgia is just too strong. Also strong is the aftermarket support, allowing pretty much every issue to be resolved pretty easily.

But one final test, one final question to be answered: Will it do a burnout?

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