Know these 4 common muscle car restoration gaffes to save yourself a costly mistake

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Do you find yourself lost when trying to learn concours-caliber details about cars? Are you filled with self-doubt when checking out a car for purchase, especially from afar? You’re not alone, fellow enthusiast! But rather than focus on the nitty gritty that’s out of your league, why don’t we hone on the things that are easy to discern and go from there?

Below are several examples of common restoration mistakes that crop up with popular cars, particular in the muscle car world. Some may be considered negligible, but even the smallest thing that doesn’t add up with a car could be a sign that some deeper scrutiny is in order.

1967–68 Pontiac Firebird and its many stripes

The 1967 Firebird was introduced several months after the Camaro. Unique to the Firebird was five models marketed for different kinds of drivers:

  • Firebird
  • Firebird Sprint
  • Firebird 326
  • Firebird H.O.
  • Firebird 400

Within these five there was the Magnificent Three, a trio of Firebirds to garner the most desire from enthusiasts: Firebird Sprint, Firebird H.O., and Firebird 400. The sleeper of the bunch was the Firebird H.O. (“High Output”), which consisted of the 4-barrel 326 H.O. for 285 horsepower; for 1968, the H.O.’s engine was bumped to 350 cubic inches and horsepower rose to 320 horses. For both years, the H.O. came standard with a longitudinal stripe with “H.O.” script on the front fender. A similar stripe was optional for other Firebird models but it was continuous without any script.

Pontiac FIrebird HO Solid Stripe
1968 Pontiac Firebird 400 Convertible Mecum

In recent years, you may have happened across a 1968 Firebird 400 with the H.O. stripe—even in books—but that would be incorrect for the period. The reason for this blunder may have something to do with a new engine upgrade introduced for the 1968 Firebird called the 400 H.O. As the first step-up option for the Firebird 400, this 335-horse engine was essentially equal to the 360-horse 400 H.O. available for the GTO.

However, the Firebird H.O. was its own distinctive model, so the application of the H.O. stripe on a Firebird 400 would be a no-no for purists.

Firebird stripe restoration gaffe
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Pontiac decals that never appeared on Pontiacs

Mecum’s recent auction in the Phoenix, Arizona, suburb of Glendale featured a first-generation Firebird with an air cleaner decal that’s commonly seen on Pontiacs at cruises and shows. You may have seen it on Pontiacs with engines ranging from 350, 400, 428, and 455 cu. in.

Pontiac engine decal gaffe
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Perhaps it will surprise you to learn, then, that Pontiac never ever used a decal like this back in the day.

It gets even stranger. If the decal looks somewhat familiar yet you can’t put your finger on why, there’s a reason for that: it was adapted from a Buick design that first appeared in 1969 and lasted through the mid-1970s.

Buick 350 V8 engine
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Despite this fact, many restoration catalogs feature this decal for a myriad of Pontiacs, though such example concedes that, “These air cleaner decals for Pontiacs are aftermarket-style only.” Other catalogues are not so forthcoming.

1968 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 stripe

Nineteen sixty-eight was a big year for the 4-4-2 for a number of reasons: a complete redesign brought all-new styling while becoming an actual model instead of a performance package. Additionally, a new long-stroke 400 replaced the short-stroke 400 that had been used since 1965, plus 1967’s Turnpike Cruiser option jumped from the Cutlass Supreme to the 4-4-2 series.

1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 W-30 Convertible graphic
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Visually, there was a nifty “W36” Rallye Stripe that was standard on cars equipped with the W30 package and optional for other 4-4-2s. This interesting stripe, which was available in white, black, red, and orange, ran vertically on the front fenders. In recent years, when people apply or paint the stripe, they often do it incorrectly. Witness this example:

1968 Oldsmobile 442 side stripe gaffe
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Notice how it hits the wheel arch at the bottom? The factory never did it that way. In fact, for cars equipped with the stripe, Oldsmobile moved the 4-4-2 badges slightly towards the door so the stripe could extend uninterrupted to the bottom of the fender. A properly applied stripe will never hit the wheel well, though even that is no guarantee the stripe has been applied to factory specs. Just do an online search and notice the variations.

1969 Plymouth and Dodge 383 engine colors

It seems every other Mopar guy or gal will tell you that the 383 as installed in a 1969 Road Runner was painted orange. Ditto the Super Bee. However, that’s not quite true.

Road Runner engine bay
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Let’s begin with some history. Both the Road Runner and Super Bee came standard with a 383 rated at 335 horsepower. It was painted orange. Non-performance models like the Belvedere, Satellite, Sport Satellite, and the Coronet Deluxe, 440, and 500 could be equipped with a 383 4-barrel rated at 330 horsepower, and this engine was painted turquoise. The main difference between the two engines was the camshaft.

Super Bee engine paint
An AC-equipped Super Bee with the correct engine color. Mecum

However, if you ordered a Road Runner or Super Bee with air conditioning, Chrysler downgraded the engine to the milder version, meaning AC-equipped Road Runners and Super Bees featured a turquoise 383. This fact was hardly publicized (though the Dodge dealer album mentions it), but today we have supporting documentation from build sheets and the enthusiasts who understand the archeology. Even more interesting—Chrysler handled this dynamic differently in 1968 and 1970 … though perhaps a story for another time …

What other common, model-specific restoration gaffes can you think of that may serve as red flags? Post them in the comments below.

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