Quarter-windows, especially the opera windows of mid-'70s cars, are pretty useless. In fact, our Laguna originally had louvered covers that served a strictly decorative function. For some reason, these were missing from our Laguna when we bought it, so we improvised with these aluminum block-off plates. We felt they would look racier than the louvers, and we could make them faster (and cheaper) than we could find original louvers. The original NASCAR stockers used the factory louvers, and it's painfully obvious from looking at period photos that they did so because they were required, otherwise they would've done what we did!
We made a rough cardboard...
We made a rough cardboard template of a block-off while the car was being painted, scanned it, and converted it into a digital template. We emailed the cover template, along with the headlight template and a few other template scans, to Advanced Waterjet in Anaheim, CA. (Price for the pair came to $78 for materials and labor.) We had the 1/16-inch-thick aluminum waterjet pieces in time for when the car came out of paint. Without access to this software, you can simply cut a piece of cardboard and send it to Advanced; they can create a smooth digital template for you. If you've got a Laguna, Advanced already has our templates on file.
The aluminum block-off will...
The aluminum block-off will be riveted in place like a real race car would have. Here the holes are being marked on the greenhouse with a center punch. It's important that the rivet holes in the block-off plate match those in the roof perfectly.
We used the rivet gun--a staple...
We used the rivet gun--a staple of race car builders everywhere--liberally throughout the Laguna. They're fast, the rivets are strong, and they have the perfect look for what we wanted. It took just a few minutes to attach all our block-off rivets.
Start With A Rendering
As much as you may be tempted to jump right in with both feet, just remember that few people have the ability to visualize a project in their head and follow it through. It's also a problem when other vendors or shops get involved who cannot see what's floating in your head. Take the time to produce a good rendering, stick to it, and provide it to all parties--you'll be rewarded in the end. After seeing Chris Gray's rendering of a fantasy 1970 Chevy Nova Trans Am car, we knew he had the chops to pull off our NASCAR Laguna idea. Chris did about a half dozen versions for us before we settled on this one. Chris works on computer, so once the body template has been modeled, it's relatively easy for him to change out graphics and color schemes. If you work with an artist who draws freehand, changes are going to be more costly. Chris charged us $500, but he also had to render a complete 3D body shape for a '75 Laguna--which jacked the price up. If he's already done a body style--say a '69 Camaro--the price is much less.
Sometimes inspiration comes...
Sometimes inspiration comes from existing sources, like this old photo of Neil Bonnett's '75 Laguna race car. We used Bonnett's car number, and even put his name on the roof. Note the headlight covers, and the rear spoiler, which does not extend all the way to the corner of the car.
We also liked the look of...
We also liked the look of cars in pre-season testing, which are usually primered, and have very few sponsor logos. The suede/satin finish of our Laguna mimics this primered look. Down the line, we plan on thinning out our decals to come closer to the pre-season test style. One thing that didn't translate from the rendering to the finished car is that the graphics look a lot more imposing on the finished car than in the rendering.
Converting a fresh rendering onto a real car calls for special equipment and special skills. You'll need someone to produce your graphics, and Heath Elmer of Arizona Auto Trim is one of the best. Most graphics can be applied at home with a few tools such as a razor blade and masking tape, but you only get one chance to get it right. Heath can do a graphics package like the one on our Laguna for about $400, including the installation. (It runs about half that if you do the install yourself.) Compared to having graphics painted on, it's a lot less expensive, and it's temporary, too (in case you change your mind or mess up). Vinyl graphics like this typically last 6-7 years when stored outside--just make sure to use top-quality exterior vinyl like the Calon Arlon line Heath uses.
Arizona Auto Trim
Vinyl graphics can be big...
Vinyl graphics can be big and bold, like on our Laguna, or classic and subtle, like the SS stripes on our '68 Chevelle project car. Either way, it's a quick, inexpensive way to get the look you're after. They're also easily removed in case you lose your sponsor! (During the mid-'70s, Neil Bonnett had different sponsors just about every time he raced.)
Heath Elmer runs Arizona Auto...
Heath Elmer runs Arizona Auto Trim out of his house with a computer, and a Roland graphics plotter. Roland is more widely known for their musical instruments and keyboards, but they are a top manufacturer of plotters and cutters for vinyl graphics.
You will receive your vinyl...
You will receive your vinyl graphics from Heath with a protective paper adhesive backing on top. This will allow you to position them on the car with masking tape before you peel off the sticky side.
Maybe the proper title for this tip is "Don't Be A Dork!" Seriously, if you drop thousands on parts and spend years working on your car and it still looks like a refugee from Hurricane Katrina, then it's time to quit. Cutting your coil springs is a relatively unsophisticated and cheap way to arrive at the right stance, and within reason, won't cause any handling problems. You were planning on upgrading your suspension later on anyway, so why not make the stock springs work for you in the meantime? Later on, we'll be putting legit suspension parts under Project Talladega, but until then, we can have some fun with the junker stock springs.
Here's our de-dorkified Laguna...
Here's our de-dorkified Laguna after the springs were cut two coils in the front and one in the rear. We're ready for Talladega now! Keep in mind that this type of mod is strictly for looks. If you plan on actually hitting the track, you need professional help with a properly matched suspension system. We'll get to that later this year, but for now, this look is working for us.
We started with the stock...
We started with the stock ride height and these outcast third-gen Z/28 wheels with too much negative offset. It's about as goofy as you could make it. Wheel offset, ride height, and tire size all have a tremendous visual impact on a car. Clothes might make the man, but wheels, tires, and stance make the car!
All you need is a cutoff wheel...
All you need is a cutoff wheel and you're there. Unless you've done this before, you'll want to proceed one coil at a time until you get the ride height right.
Narrow The Bumper
The '70s had some inspired automotive designs that were almost always destroyed by fugly bumpers. Like the '76 Camaro that we finished last year, our '75 Laguna also suffers from big-ass bumpers. (Chevelle and Malibu owners of this year also have a massive front bumper to deal with, but we're lucky that our Laguna has a sleek aero nose, so we kept the front as-is.) Our huge rear bumper can fortunately be corrected with simple surgery, and since we planned on painting it, we didn't need to have it rechromed. Our operation consisted of cutting roughly 4 inches out of its width, shortening the mounting tubes by 2.5 inches, and trimming the urethane filler panels.
Our narrowed bumper now looks...
Our narrowed bumper now looks properly proportioned to our car--like it should. Note the cool "12" vinyl decal on the taillight!
The original disco bumper...
The original disco bumper by comparison is supa-wide, and sticks out from the car enough to mount a continental kit on it. Fix this hideous problem, and any '74-77 Laguna is golden. Other GMs--Novas, Caprices, Camaros, etc.--suffer from the same affliction.
Start by removing the rear...
Start by removing the rear bumper from the support struts. You can shave 50 pounds or so by removing the steel reinforcement that's inside virtually every bumper from the '70s.
Figure out how much you're...
Figure out how much you're gonna chop out, mark it, then get out the cutting torch. Note that we also removed the rub strip and its metal backing plate (about 20 more pounds gone). This left us with a half dozen square holes that needed to be welded closed, then ground flat. We closed up the jack slots while we were at it.
The filler panels were removed...
The filler panels were removed and trimmed after we shortened the mounting tubes. Before you take a torch to the mounting tubes, remove them from the struts! The struts are filled with oil, and will explode if they get too hot.
Mock up the two bumper halves...
Mock up the two bumper halves with some clamps, ensuring that everything is straight, then weld them together. We're leaving out a lot here, like how to fab and move the strut mounts, and how to prep and paint the bumper, but you get the picture. Just make sure to think everything through, and double-check your measurements and your mock-up before you start cutting or welding.
Quick Trick: Waterjet Cutting
We discovered our local waterjet shop (Advanced Waterjet) a few years ago, and wondered why we didn't use them sooner. While owning your own waterjet machine is prohibitive, it's very inexpensive to design templates for custom parts, and have them cut out at your local job shop. You'll feel the pride of designing your own parts that nobody else has, yet that everybody wants. And in our experience, it's very inexpensive, too. All the parts we've made in this story came from Advanced Waterjet in Anaheim, CA (714-278-9874, (www.advancedwj.com). The digital templates for all our parts are on file, and can be ordered directly from Advanced, or you can send them your own template. They'll scan it, verify it with you, and cut it. (You can even have a dummy part cut out of masonite.) A week's turnaround time is pretty normal for most small jobs like ours.