(Words and photos: Joe Grippo) When we last left the saga of Project Phantom, our revival of my wife Stacey’s 1969 Mustang GT, we had made the tough choice to send our ’65 Dodge Coronet down the road in order to get some funding to really dig into the project. The realization that the extent of the amount of rust and needed structural and metal repair was beyond my capability and the want of having the car back in service in this century being very real, the decision was made to farm out the metal work to a professional. With a pile of cash in hand the search was on for the right shop.
Living where we do in southeastern Pennsylvania, we had a bevy of shop choices ranging from full blown high-end resto facilities to traditional hang and bang body shops and one man shows working out of their backyard garages. Each of those came with pros and cons and a wide range of price tags. We set three main criteria for ourselves to guide our selection: Quality of work, budget (and holding to it) and timeframe. Being realistic in our needs and expectations was also key to our choice of shop, we knew the level of car we are trying to build. This car is not going to a daily driver, it will see lots of street miles but also plenty of car shows and cruise nights and will also have plenty of dragstrip appearances. A concourse finish is not the goal, but we wanted the unibody and sheet metal done to the best level our modest budget could get us. Speaking of that, I can’t emphasize enough that we are on a budget, good budget but in no way, shape or form an unlimited one. This project is a bit of a stretch for us and the money from Stacey’s Dodge had to get us from the hulk we are starting with to a painted rolling chassis, we had no back up fund. So, the shop search was on, we started with our wide array of car friends and acquaintances, picking their brains for recommendations and maybe more importantly, any horror stories they may have encountered. This is where our last criteria, timeframe, came to be…we had heard several tales of projects in body shop jail. This was going to be a non-starter for us. We had money now and we didn’t want this work to drag on for months or years and have the cash slip away a few bucks at a time bit by bit as life’s obstacles got in the way. It’s a common tale it seems, give a shop the car and a chunk of cash to start and then months and then more months go by and during that time, shit, the old washing machine broke, gotta get a new one. Just dip into the car fund, you will put it back, right? No, you probably won’t. Then something else happens…we couldn’t let that happen. We weren’t in a rush, but we didn’t want to waste precious time. After talking to a few traditional body shops that have reputations for quality work, none could say our car would be priority as collision and insurance jobs would always be their focus and thus relegating Project Phantom to fill in work. No thanks. Along those same timelines, we found talking to some folks who went the guy-who-does-it on-the-side route, working part time and weekends on a project of this scope could also drag on longer than we wanted. The lower estimates and work rates were intriguing but something else came to light when Stacey asked about their business insurance situation, or lack of it to be precise. We moved on. There are a few higher end restoration shops in the area, but the estimates and shop rates were budget busters.
We weren’t left with many options. We were extremely fortunate to have a few friends with experience with a semi local, mid-sized shop who just happened to specialize in Mustangs. We had never heard of Rides Restored before but had unknowingly seen their work. We went and visited the shop and talked with the owner Bob Mihalcik. Bob is a Mopar guy but had worked at a few Mustang specialty shops before striking out on his own. Rides Restored is a family operation, manned by only Bob and his son Shawn and occasionally son Bobby. It is not a huge facility, so thereis no room to house stalled projects, they get theminand get them out. Mustangs are the bulk of their work, so they have experience on where the rust and problem areas live. Bob is also a Dynacorn Replacement Panel dealer, this would come in very handy.Things were looking up! So, we loaded the car in our trailer and brought to the shop for Bob to look over and come up with an estimate. The stress level ratcheted up at this point as we had a number in our head, but a reality check was coming. Bob looked over the car carefully discussing with us the major problem areas and reminding us that once the torches and cutting wheels come out it would be an almost certainty that more bad stuff would come to light. We knew that and we reminded ourselves that the estimate was just that, an E-S-T-I-M-A-T-E. We left ourselves lots of monetary wiggle room and ultimately it was smart to do so. Rides Restored’s past and current project work looked high quality to our eyes, the estimate worked for us and the assurance of steady progress and focus on our car sealed our decision. nother bonus in choosing this shop was its location, being under an hour from our home would make it easy for frequent visits for documenting progress, pop ins for decision making and parts drop off, something to consider if you are staring down your own project.
These articles are being written a year or so behind actual events, so the estimate happened in March and Phantom was then slotted to go under the knife later that year in December. The next phase for us was de-construction, the tear down to get it ready for delivery to Rides Restored, we spent the better part of the spring and summer getting it ready. This step was tremendously important as anything we can do ourselves would save the shop effort and time and which translates to less billable hours thus saving us money. We will be reassembling the car, so seeing how it is disassembled will help us in putting back together. My wife and Phantom owner, Stacey is the manager of this project and she put her organizational skills to use with scheduling, planning, and setting up a logical progression of steps to get it ready for the shop, complete with Excel spreadsheets! The goal was to deliver the car as close to a bare rolling chassis as possible. We pulled the engine and trans, all the glass, gutted the doors, gutted the interior, pulled the wiring and removed every piece trim. We bagged and tagged every piece of hardware and took photos of all the sub-assemblies for reference. We reached our goal the week of Christmas and rolled Phantom back into the trailer and dropped it off for surgery.
Check out the photo gallery below for a selection of tear down process photos, aka the easy part.The next installment of the Project Phantom story will get into the nitty gritty of the sheet metal issues and will raise some eyebrows for sure.Check out the previous parts of the story: