Basic sheetmetal alignment tips for a muscle car restoration.

Poorly aligned panels will stand out even on the nicest of paint jobs.  These are a few basic sheetmetal alignment tips  will help make your gaps nice and straight.

Poorly aligned fender on a 1972 Olds 442

Don’t call it done until everything is fit.  Often the inexperienced person will take one panel at a time and spend hours trying to make it fit the adjacent panel.  This can be a huge time waster as one thing may affect the other.  For example when fitting the front clip on a muscle car, an adjustment to your right fender may work its way back to the necessary adjustment to the left door.

 I like to start with my doors.  With many cars of the muscle car era, adjustments are almost unlimited. I will get my doors aligned to the quarter panel as best as possible. Making sure the gap on both sides are even with each other.

Alignment on this 1972 Buick GS door is great even with the aftermarket quarter panel

 I will next move to the fenders.  Fit one, then the other.  Matching them to the door making sure both door to fender gaps are even as possible with each other.  Fitting fenders can be tricky, just like the doors, the adjustments can be almost limit less.  Over the years I have seen many untouched vehicles come from the factory with shims, so don’t be afraid to use some.  Obviously the fewer the better, but they will serve a purpose.  When aligning fenders know that even if you have pre fit you panels before paint it can be the order in which you tightened the bolts that made it fit in the first place.  This means that even if you mark all of your shims and bolt locations the order in which you tighten the bolts can affect the alignment.  Fenders sometimes have to squeeze and contort to match its adjacent panel so patience is crucial.

1972 Chevelle

I will then move to the hood. The hood will be the tell tale sign of how well everything is fitting.  The core support may need shifting. Adjustments up or down, forward and backward, and side to side may be necessary.  The adjustments that are necessary may affect how you need to readjust you fenders and doors, with possibly tweaking something here or there.

Once a hood is fit, and the other panels are also in their final position, all bolts need to be rechecked for tightness.  During the fitment process things get forgotten, and now is the time to double check your work.  Never try and install any trim until all panels are fit and if possible give your weatherstrip a test fit before securing everything into place. Trim and weatherstrip will only get in your way and cause possible problems if installed before all panels are aligned.

1980 El Camino

One thing to remember to when reinstalling, have patients!  Take your time and be careful.  Use plenty of tape when putting painted panels in place.  Pre-fitting panels before body and paint will help the process of reinstalling painted panels and don’t be surprised if it takes a few more or less shims on the final go round.

1966 Mustang on a frame alignment jig