Even if you haven’t heard of Unique Performance, we’ll bet you have seen some of the incredibly sexy vehicles they produce, including the Foose ’69 Camaro, and most significantly the G.T.500E of “Gone In 60 Seconds” movie fame. And, while some custom shops produce incredible one-offs, Unique is in the, well, unique position of manufacturing as many as eight of these highly-customized vehicles a month.
We stopped by their Farmers Branch, TX shops to give you an idea of what’s involved in the process, and to introduce you some of the people and the tools they use to convert rusted junkers to $150,000+ supercars en masse.
The Body Shop
All GT500Es are registered under their original year model, which deprives Unique of the opportunity to use any of the all-new body shells available on the open market. In order to retain the car’s history — and meet emissions standards — Unique must start with a no-kidding late 60’s Mustang. So, the first step in the process of creating a GT500E is locating a body. It’s a full-time job, to say the least.
Once they locate a body with a clean title — in virtually any condition — they purcase it, retrieve it, and drop it off at their dedicated body shop.
Note: Most all of the photos below link to larger versions. Click on them to check out more detail.
The body shop is in a separate building from the showroom-pretty main shop, and as they say on ‘Cribs, “This is where the magic happens.” We were blown away when we saw the toad “cars” — believe us, we use the word “cars” loosely — that come though the doors of Unique’s body shop on the way to becoming Super Snake princes. In many cases, we were told, the only salvageable parts are a few pieces of the A-pillar, the dash, and some of the firewall.
When the cars arrive, they’re stripped and sent off for soda blasting to remove rust. Mother nature wasn’t kind to these cars over the last forty years, and sometiems what comes back doesn’t even look like a car any more.
In order to accomplish these massive “restorations,” the body shop team first bolts the cleaned body to a custom, in-house-fabricated rolling body jig. This holds the body together while it goes through sheet metal work — the process of cutting out any un-repairable panels and repairing those that can be salvaged. As they cut away huge sections, the car can start to sag. To prevent this, they bolt supports onto the jig and temporarily weld them to the car.
Unique’s sheet metal guys use a variety of tools, many of which you may already have in your home shop: body hammers and dollies, cordless drills, corded drills and saws, and numerous air tools including die grinders, side grinders, and other pneumatic finishing tools. With eight cars in sheet metal, three in assembly, and up to 12 in body at any given time, they stay busy — really busy — which means that they put some serious wear on their tools. Consequently, when they started telling us about some of the issues they’ve had, we listened. For example:
- They do a lot of drilling, and go through quite a few cordless drills. One major issue they mentioned that we hadn’t thought of was battery “droppability.” When a tool’s design attaches the battery externally, it’s more likely to break off when dropped. Fitting the battery internally in the tool helps to provide additional connectivity and shock protection.
- Wooded-handled hammers of any type — but specifically body hammers, in this case — wear out and/or break when used heavily. We’ve heard this same sort of thing from building framers, and the need for more durable hammers in the framing industry has driving the creation (and marketing) of all-steel hammers. Since there aren’t any readily-available all-steel body hammers, the guys at Unique go through a lot of wood ones.
- Air tools become almost totally expendable items in such a heavy work environment. While name brand $300+ air tools do indeed last longer, they don’t outlast fifteen (!) $20 cheap, Chinese-made air tools. Also, as a decent amount of labor turnover is unavoidable in such a massive operation, it’s difficult to assure that air tools receive daily cleaning, oiling, and maintenance attention. Add to this the gritty environment of a body shop full of filler and metal particles, and you’ve got the definition of hell for air tools. So, lots of cheaper tools end up cheaper in the long run than fewer more expensive ones.
Read on to Page 2 for more body shop goodness.
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