1976 Pontiac Firebird Build (Part 2)

Josh leatherwood Aug 09 2019

A lot of time has passed since we last updated you on our 1976 Firebird build, and A LOT has happened in that long, 16-month span. Like any classic car restoration, surmise turned into surprise and simple turned into sublimity.


When text was last uploading to our RK Motors blog, a full soda blast was relieving this Poncho’s metal of four layers of paint that had been intermittently sprayed over the span of four decades. That’s when the decision was made to just go ahead and bite the bullet and order a full suite of new doors and new fenders. Simply put, given the condition of the car’s original metal, and the fact that our new, properly mounted quarters were creating alignment issues with that original metal, going all-new was our best option. So, we completed a much needed firewall repair that further corrected the car’s old A-pillar wound and started test-fitting panels.






Now, ordering a new profile is all well and good until you consider the fact that new stuff simply isn’t stamped like old stuff. The fresh doors fit real nice, only needing a little finishing to be aligned and ready to roll. But the fenders… well… they weren’t quite as precise. In fact, master fabricator Fran Cipriano had to add almost a half an inch of steel to really dial in the tight gaps we wanted. With the fenders finished, hours were spent pounding out minor dents and straightening the car’s rockers. Then it was time to start working on the clips.


Judging by how much its rear bumper was shimmed, we’re guessing the back of this ‘bird has been impacted pretty heavily at one point. Could that damage be related to the A-pillar impact? Who knows? But here’s the thing: most classic cars have survived heavy road use for at least 25-30 years. That means it isn’t at all shocking to find issues like this during a restoration. In fact, it’s so common that it pretty much comes with the turf. As long as you hire a skilled fabricator, sheetmetal, like most anything else these days, can be made as good or better than new. Fran spent quite a few hours pulling and straightening the rear of the car and, while he was back there, filled the corners of the quarters to build in even more strength.


At the front of this Firebird, a compromised radiator support was carefully remedied, so as not to require any shims. And, as happens on old school urethane, the car’s nose had, over the years, developed quite a few stress cracks that needed to be filled.


Once everything had been expertly aligned and cured in high quality Glasurit primer, new front and side glass joined a carefully reinstalled backlite. Since the whole idea of this frame-up restoration was a color change, prep and paintwork included all the car’s seams and jambs. Starlight Black always looks great over a second generation F-Body, and that goes double for one that’s been as well adjusted as this beast. And, after some sanding and buffing, it was time for a full array of familiar gold accents. But not just any accents, the car’s owner wanted to convert this ‘bird into a Pontiac 50th Anniversary Trans Am. That meant a roster of outlining stripes that would be joined by Screamin’ Chicken decals, gothic “TRANS AM” scripts, cool 50th Anniversary fender callouts, and color-keyed grille and headlight surrounds.


Painting anniversary gold on a Firebird isn’t as easy as you might think, since there seems to be a wide variety of codes floating around claiming to be correct. Hurst Olds gold, which is a common go-to, seemed a little too green to our skilled painters’ eyes, so they custom-mixed some pigment that had a bit more red in it. That mix came in especially handy when we sourced a set of vintage 50th Anniversary Honeycomb Wheels that took a positively massive 60 hours of labor to bring back to life. But, as you can tell from our photos, that was certainly time well spent. The Honeycombs give the car a macho retro demeanor that’s hard to beat with traditional Rallies or modern billets.


One pet project was to take a day and totally refinish the car’s door handles, which, as things do, had fallen to the mercy of weather. That transitioned to reinstalling the interior of the car, which, already Black vinyl, didn’t need any help fitting in with its, dare we say, Bandit-esque theme. The dash was supplemented with a gold insert, and we thought the gold Formula Wheel was a nice touch.


At the RKM Performance Center, we’re big fans of functionality. That means most of our builds go through a rigorous shakedown period before they go home with their happy owners. We say “most” because, obviously, we’re not going to jeopardize the value of something like a low-mileage, NOS museum restoration by driving it up and down the road. In shaking down this Trans Am, we discovered a few issues that were immediately addressed. The jack was rattling a bit, so we tightened that up. There was a minor fluid leak, probably due to a faulty gasket installed during the engine’s rebuild. And we fine-tuned the A/C to ensure hot days are punctuated with cool rides.


And there you have it! A fantastic example of how a buyer can leverage the extensive skill at our in-house RKM Performance Center to create the car of their dreams. Looking for a place that can sell you a first class classic AND perform all the service, restoration or modification work your heart desires. Call, click or visit www.RKMotors.com!


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