CLOSING THE GAP
HOW TO ALIGN BODY PANELS WITH PRECISION
How to align body panels with precision
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a good paintjob is one single job, when in reality it’s a series of smaller jobs that most always have to be done in a specific sequence. Getting proper panel alignment and gap is one of those jobs, and getting proper results means starting well before you start priming and painting. As you’ll see, gapping panels is a simple operation that can be done at home with a modest assortment of tools, and even if you’re having a body shop do the actual paintwork, it’s an area where you’ll be able to save money and create a better outcome.
Panel gapping is something you’ll want to address fairly early in the body and paint process. Once major areas of rust and collision damage are fixed, panel gaps should be checked and set. This will potentially expose other hidden problems well before they become really expensive, thus saving you time, money, and headache. The last thing you want to be doing after paint is grinding, twisting, shimming, and drilling!
Alloy Motors in Oakland, California, specializes in muscle car restoration, and Mopars in particular. Shop operator Geoff Gates is a big fan of Mopar A-bodies, which means our ’68 Plymouth Valiant is right up his alley. Gates was gracious enough to take our Valiant in, and show us step-by-step how to get an old classic like this ready for paint, with the focus on how to do it at home with only a modest investment in tools. Gapping panels and setting alignment is a bit of an art, but there are some neat tricks to make it simple, and that’s what Gates is going to show us here.
“One of the things that can take a mediocre job into the realm of show quality is the little details. Panel gaps are one such detail,” says Gates. “We’re not going for show quality here on the Valiant, but half-inch door gaps are just too much for us to let out of the shop.” Gates notes that Chrysler in the ’60s wasn’t known for their superior fit and finish, and the Valiant wasn’t even close to being a premium model, so the gaps on these cars were never that great from the factory. “With a little bit of work, we can get all the panels on the car to line up right and make the gaps a bit tighter, and certainly more even,” says Gates. “Now is the time to get that work done, when the heavy metalwork is finished, and before the bodywork starts. After all, some of the magic in gapping the panels may require a bit more of both!”
There aren’t a ton of tools here, just a few sockets, wrench, drill, 2-inch grinder, and a DA. The Porta Power is for heavier work, but you can get them cheap from Harbor Freight, or go in with some buddies and share one.