Rust NEVER sleeps! That old cliché is true, but barely scratches the surface of how insidious the “ferrous worm” can be to a vehicle. The extent to which rust can decimate a car’s body is not only limited to what we can see. Removing rust will often go deep within a car’s body to ensure that all the rotten body panels have been removed so rust won’t have a starting point to return.
Such is the case with this 1973 Chevy Nova undergoing a complete resto-modification at Muscle Car Restorations (MCR) in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. No strangers to completely restoring, or resto-modding a vehicle back to better-than-new condition, the team at MCR is able to handle the entire project from the ground up. This allows MCR to guarantee its work by ensuring that the project gets started correctly at the earliest stages of the build. Once complete, the car is as rust-free as the day it rolled off the assembly line many years prior. But there is a lot of work in getting to that point.
This 1973 Nova is a customer’s car. It was his first car, purchasing it from its original owner with money he borrowed from his grandmother. He and his wife also went on their first date in this car and he’s held onto it all these years. Of course, there is a lot of sentimental value and family history connected with the Nova, and the plan is to pass it on to the next generation.
How Much Rust Is Too Much?
One of the first questions many ask when considering a project is, “How much rust is too much?” The answer to that question depends on the one asking it. For a seasoned body shop such as the team at MCR, unless the car comes to them as a flaky, brown powder in a bucket, there’s always a solution. Keep in mind, that the well of pristine bodies dried up a long time ago!
Rust typically starts from the inside and works its way out to the surface. If you can see rust, rest assured there is more rust hiding underneath!– Jared, Muscle Car Restorations
All tasks, including bodywork, interior, engine, and final assembly are completed by specialized technicians in each department at MCR, and we were privileged to ride along as the talented team worked their magic on this rusty body. This 1973 Nova is a great example of why it makes sense to go that extra mile and rid the body of rust entirely.
During the process, we were amazed at how prevalent rust was throughout the car’s body, and how much needed to be cut away to eradicate it. The MCR team informed us that this Nova is typical of the amount of rust found on most cars they redo, and is actually in better shape than some they have completed. The key is to address rust everywhere, not just what you can see. That means cutting away areas to reach places where rust has already taken a foothold.
Stripping, Snipping, And Cutting Out Rust
There are several methods used to remove rust from a car’s body. The first step at MCR is chemically stripping the body of all rust and coatings by dipping it in a solution. When the metal parts are removed from the tank, it becomes very obvious how insidious rust had been over the years.
Once the body was returned to the shop, the process of repairing all the areas damaged by rust began. Even though the rust is gone, those areas are now damaged and susceptible to rusting again. They need to be addressed, which often entails cutting out sections and removing more of the body panels.
The MCR team has a system of marking what areas to keep, and which parts require cutting out. Deciding how much to cut is different for each car, depending on which panels are affected and how much of each panel contains rust. Also, knowing how large of a repair panel is available can dictate where to make a cut.
The MCR team also informed us that a small repair on a stable panel is quite easy, but if you try patching a roof panel, you may find yourself chasing an irritating “oil canning” issue for weeks. That is why they chose to replace the entire roof on this Nova. Another reason is, while the roof itself looks relatively solid, rust had affected the structure underneath, and the only way to repair that was by removing the entire roof panel. Putting the effort in now will save you work down the road.
Removing Rust At Every Level
One would think that completely dipping a car’s body in a solution would get rid of any instance of rust, but the reality shows something quite different. Yes, chemically stripping a body is a great way to remove rust throughout the entire body, but it also allows rust to get a foothold again if not treated.
Our ’73 Nova’s body still shows areas where rust could re-enter the picture if not taken care of properly. That is why the body shop technicians at MCR continue removing sections, so they can remove rust at every level within the car’s body. When several panels were cut away and removed, you could see how much damage resided underneath, and there were some areas where surface rust had already started to reappear.
Further removing sections allowed the necessary repairs to be made, and also permitted a coating of epoxy sealer, or a rust encapsulator to be used before applying the new panels. An epoxy sealer is used wherever possible and during the assembly process, a special sealer is used for areas such as the door innards and rocker panels to prevent rusting. Areas, where panels will be joined, get a copper-colored, weld-through primer that helps seal the panel but still allows welding where necessary.
Rebuilding The Body
Rebuilding the body by installing repair panels is always an exciting time. The car once again begins to take shape, but this is not a time to race to the finish. Even with brand-new panels, there will be some amount of fitting and trimming to get it all to fit perfectly, and that’s the goal with every project that comes through MCR’s doors.
Just as the team worked its way down through the various layers to get to the lower structure to make repairs, the process of rebuilding started from the bottom and worked its way back out to the outer surface. As mentioned, some areas were repaired with patch panels, while others had an entirely new panel installed.
Many repair panels are available for Chevy Novas, but one item that is not available, and necessary for this particular project, was the driver’s side drip rail. The talented technicians at MCR grafted together two different drip rails for a 1967 Nova and reshaped them to fit the ‘73’s body perfectly.
Rebuilding Better Than Factory
One of the benefits of rebuilding a car at this level is you can design the build precisely to your needs. While many restoration skills are used, this was never intended to be a numbers-matching restoration. Instead, the car’s owner wanted to modernize the build to make this one of the baddest 1973 Novas on the street.
Once complete, the car will have around 600 horsepower, a far cry from what it had when it left the factory. To handle all that additional power, it will also feature a modern driveline and chassis. That said, now is the time to make changes to the body to include items such as mini-tubs to help hide those extra-wide tires to help the car get traction. As of this writing, the metal masters at MCR are finishing up the body in preparation for the last layer of body panels.
This 1973 Nova is just one of the many projects the team is focusing on this year and we’ll be sure to keep you abreast as work continues. Stay tuned as this rusty, rotted Nova comes back together much better than it ever was when it first left the factory so many decades ago.