Once we got the Checker back home, it was time to tear it down and to figure out what species of creatures were lurking inside the body of the car. We were extremely surprised to see that no mice or insects decided to inhabit the Checker, which is very rare for a car in this condition, especially since it has been sitting for so long.
We started sanding down the body, which revealed a larger issue. Many people have owned this car before, and they all had very different ideas of how to do repairs. We found many rot holes that were filled with Bondo, rags, and spray foam. Almost every screw and bolt has been replaced with one that is a different size. Many of the actual components of this car have been replaced with parts from different cars, including the engine, brake system, and most of the drivetrain.
Back in the day when this car was built, car parts had much better interchangeability in general. There were less makes and models, making it easier for parts to be compatible. For example, we were able to replace the headlights of the Checker with headlights from a 1958 Bel-Air because they are the exact same units. This made it very easy to find and replace parts due to more compatibility at the time – however, fifty years later, these replacement parts are beginning to fail, and the ease of finding some of these compatible parts has significantly decreased. If we need a new master brake cylinder, we can’t just install one from another 1968 Checker Marathon because this car’s engine and brake system has been replaced with GM components. This means that a Checker Marathon master brake cylinder will not fit this Checker Marathon anymore, making it harder to identify and replace.
We started to look at the price of body panels online, and we suddenly realized why Beau was willing to sell this car to us. There was so much rot and rust that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace all of the bad panels. Luckily, my dad had a different idea. He has been collecting antique license plates ever since I can remember, and decided that the Checker would be a creative way to put them to good use. After grinding away all most of the rust, we covered all of the holes using license plates.
This is the moment when the vision started coming together. Every time we saw another rust spot or rot hole, we covered it with another license plate. We even fabricated a visor out of rebar and welded it over the top of the windshield.
Here’s the finished product, complete with a cow skull. Don’t worry, no small cows were harmed in the making of this visor, it is made of acrylic.
Eventually he started to run out of license plates, so we went to our stash of old car parts and found my old Chevy Cavalier hood. It was basically worthless because I cut fifty holes in it to install four hood scoops, which I thought was a great idea at the time. Since it was made of steel, we cut it to pieces and screwed it to quarter panel of the checker.
Rust is dangerous when it compromises the integrity of a panel or component, but surface rust can be quite beautiful to look at, and is not as much of an issue. We did some research and found out that if you spray a mixture of salt, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide onto bare metal, it causes the metal to rust and oxidize within minutes. Since we’re mad scientists, we sanded the entire car down, and soaked it down with the strongest rust solution we could make. Once the car was completely covered in rust, we clear coated the entire car so that the surface rust we created could not continue to rot away the body of the car. Rust requires oxygen to eat away the steel of your car, so if you cut off the rust’s oxygen supply, it can’t do as much harm to your vehicle.