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unique-headerpic.jpgEven 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.

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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. 

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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.

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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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5 Responses to Shop Tour: Unique Performance (Part 1: Body Shop)

  1. Jon says:

    I like the part about using up lots of inexpensive air tools instead of higher quality, more expensive units. It’s my opinion that much of the success of setting up a home shop comes from knowing when you can and can’t skimp on your tools and supplies. Some categories deserve more quality than others. Thank goodness for Harbor Freight for all the low end stuff.

  2. Nick says:

    That is a fantastic article! I have only recently come accross the unique performance company and i am loving every single car they have produced. I would just like to thank you guys for such a change in the automotive industry and also for having such a great taste in the classics, keep it up guys!

  3. california special says:

    I understand that Unique Performance is suffering financially. I can not confirm the following but I have heard from greater that four very reliable sources that Unique Performance has accepted deposits without performing any work. I drove by their offices and it’s a reflection of “Bad Times”. Apparently they layed off nearly 20 employees in their production staff. The place is like a grave yard. No more vehicles sitting around like they are in business. This past summer (06), production was shut down for around roughly 30 days to fix problems with cars they sold customers. The cars have a constant over heating issue(s). Additionally the paint is cracking a bubbling in multiple areas. The cars carry about 12 gallons of bondo. If you were are SEMA, you would have seen it for yourself-The bubbling and cracking of paint.

  4. Mister Beefy says:

    California Special has it right. I have a friend who used to work in the fabrication department of Unique, and he says that the cars aren’t made the way they should be. He told me that while he was cutting a section of the tailpan out to make an exhaust pass-through (the section right below where the filler neck is, for those not in the know), he had to cut through an inch of filler. An Inch! ALL manufacturers of plastic body filler (Bondo being the most recognized name brand) as well as every body man I know recommends no more that 1/8″. I did a restoration on a 65 Cadillac hearse, a 16 foot boat of a car, and I was upset about using a gallon and a half. My friend said that when he asked one of the body shop guys about the filler, he was told ‘well, we were using about 20 gallons, but now we’re down to 15’. Ridiculous. The only cars they’ve put out that have weathered the year or so they’ve been out were the ones that Foose was involved in. Says alot about the shop, and the man.

  5. cody says:

    this is a really bad ass car it is my favorite car in the world and i woud die for it!!!!!

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