Project Chevy Nova: Time for Some Sheet Metal Pulling

For the next step in the restoration of my 1969 Chevy Nova, my dad and I did some sheet metal pulling. Let me rephrase that. My dad tackled the sheet metal pulling while I stood by entranced by his skills. He is the sheet metal whisperer and makes it look so easy.

For laymen like me, sheet metal makes up the various parts of a car’s body (like the roof, doors, hood, etc.). In the Nova’s case, the sheet metal is made of thin pieces of steel cut, bent and folded into shape. Did you know that the Chrysler Building in New York City is covered in sheet metal? I think that makes my Nova and the Chrysler Building something like second cousins!

Sheet Metal Pulling | 1969 Chevy Nova

I am dying to cut the roof off (it involves flames!), but first we needed to take the time to get the car roughly back into shape by doing some sheet metal pulling.  Having been flipped upside down, the Nova’s sheet metal is no longer in alignment and the doors don’t shut properly. So, sheet metal pulling literally involves pulling and shoving and adjusting the pieces of sheet metal until they look just so. The adjustments are relatively small (we’re talking fractions of inches), but will help ensure that the car looks tip top when it’s done.

Anchors: Not just for ships.

First order of business: We installed anchor pots into the holes we drilled into the concrete floor.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Anchor Pot

My dad secured the Nova to the ground using one of the anchors.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Nova Hooked to the FloorThe Roof: Before and After

Even though the roof will be removed, we needed to fix some of the damage in order to get the doors to fit correctly. With the car anchored to the floor from below, the electric chain hoist (this jumbo metal machine aptly named “The Comet”) pulled the roof back into place.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Nova Hooked to the CeilingHere you can see the sad saggy roof before we started and the still crumpled, but straighter roof after The Comet had its way.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Roof Before and After

On the driver’s side, more roof damage required attention. This nasty dent prevented the door from fitting properly. My dad used a giant sledgehammer to send the roof back into place, allowing us to move on to the doors.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Using a Sledgehammer to Straighten the Roof

Adjusting the Doors

The doors required more careful attention since they were not, unlike the roof, simply destined to be discarded. My dad, the precise perfectionist, slowly and quietly mediated on the necessary adjustments while observing the car doors, taking measurements, and feeling along the seams for imperfections. Once a course of action was decided his pace turned expeditious and things began to move swiftly.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Taking Measurements

1. This is the cowl, a thick wall between where the engine goes and the people sit. We adjusted how the doors attach to the cowl.

2. You can see how meticulous my dad is when it comes to sheet metal pulling. His adjustment was complete when the two pen lines, which began perfectly aligned, reached this ever so specific position. The bolts pictured here attach the door to the cowl.

3. The cowl needed to be pulled straight back toward the back of the car so the passenger side door would close properly. Here, my dad attached a metal bracket for this purpose.

4. Chains are going every which way– to the anchor under the car, the bracket attached to the cowl (photo 3) and another anchor near my dad’s feet. Somehow this crazy chain action and the cranking of it pulled the cowl back as needed. I think I need to go back to physics or astronomy or something to understand how this all works.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Door Adjustments

Once the cowl cooperated and moved into the desired position, we moved on to adjusting the space between the door and the car, which should be even all the way around the door.

You can see in this photo how the door (on the right) is lower than the body of the car (on the left) and that the space between the two is uneven. While this is not terribly noticeable when you stand back from the car, eliminating these imperfections will make it so that no one could tell the car had ever been upside down.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Uneven Door

We loosened all of the bolts so the door could slide around freely, adjusted the position of the door, and then tightened the bolts. This took about a bazillion small adjustments to achieve perfect door position.

You can also see the realities of working in the shop– it’s impossible to keep your hands clean. I have lost all hope of having a proper manicure while this project is ongoing.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Adjusting the Door

Along with the usual arsenal of tools, including hammers, wrenches, and sockets, my dad uses anything in arms reach to maneuver the sheet metal. Here he is with a 2X4 doing further adjustments to the door. The top of the door frame (near where the 2X4 is positioned) needed to be pushed ahead toward the front of the car, so the gap between the body and the door is even all the way around.

Sheet Metal Pulling | Using a 2 X 4 to Get the Door in Place

And on the adjusting went, with the project taking about a full day to complete. While the adjustments are small, it takes quite a bit of planning and experimenting to get things Goldilocks style just right.

Next, we will tackle removing the roof . . . and there will be fire, so stay tuned!

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