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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Read next Up next: Stock Stories: 1948–1971 BSA Bantam


    One additional indication of a 1968-69 Cutlass parading as a 442 is the Cutlass emblem on the dashboard. While it is common for exterior badging and the front grill to be swapped, a frequently missed detail is the correct badging on the dash.

    Another trend which adds important drivability value IMO, but done way too poorly and all too often, is to replace the clock on the 1968 442 with a ‘tic-toc-tach’ but many of the aftermarket ones available at various parts resellers use the wrong font. So while it may seem to be a ‘factory correct option’, the visual execution of it just plain sucks!

    1963 and 1964 Chevy 340hp 409’s with the chrome valve covers never had the 409 Turbo-Fire valve cover decal. Only the air cleaner had 409 identification.

    It’s YOUR car. If you want to put non correct stripes on it that you like the looks of, DO IT. That stuff is easy to remove.

    I never cared for the “Mustang” stripe at the rocker panels on 66′ Mustangs. To me it was like hangind a sign on a horse that said “Horse”.

    All stripes are not easily removed. Another common restoration mistake is painting them on and then clear-coating them.

    I have a 70- 442. W 30. After a minor parking lot, Leaving the scene after causing property damage, I collected the insurance, (we caught the perp) and I had the 70 repainted. NO STRIPES. That was in 1977. Same paint on it today. White Coupe Black Vinal roof. Not perfect, but she’s a RIPPER! It’s funny how the people that don’t own a Car Show Automobile, are the first ones to see a flaw. I have a sign that says: ((Weekend Driver)),
    (All Flaws accountable)) !!!

    My personal gaffe is rattle can black engine compartment or splatter trunk paint on any Mopar. It’s a sure sign that whoever worked on the car didn’t know Chryslers.

    One that bothers me are fender louvers on 1969-70 Novas. First, they were only available on 1969 and 1970 Novas. Second, they were never all chrome. The came either fully painted body color (part of the ZJ5 Exterior Decor Package) or body color with chrome edges (part of the ZJ2 Custom Exterior Package and the Z26 Super Sport Package).
    The problem is fully painted louvers were made of just pot metal and then painted over. The ones with chrome edges were fully chromed first and then painted to match the body while leaving the edges chrome. When you buy replacement louvers, they come fully chrome that then should be painted to match the body. They should not be installed fully chrome. And if you see an unrestored Nova with chrome louvers, it’s not that they came that way from the factory, it’s because the paint has flaked off the chrome.

    MMmmm, I think it just said AFT,.. closer to the door Jam, not vertically down the fender… The Blue 442, deserves a restripe, in the right spot. I just wonder how much “Detail” …..went into the “Details”

    Heck, there’s an easy dozen restoration errors common to Mopars alone. It’s somewhat baffling that some folks apparently do no research. As for catalogs, and incorrect decals and such: I guess there’s plenty of money to be made from incorrect parts and/or applications of parts, and again, one has to do the research and examine known-original examples.

    My pet peeve is the blue/aqua metal ‘GM’ decal on the end of the door (above the latch). GM used them on both doors in ‘67, and then they quit. They are not correct for ‘68 or newer GM cars despite what the aftermarket sellers say.

    The MOPAR engine colors remind me of a mistake people make when painting Ford engines. Ford Blue is not the same as the much darker Ford Corporate Blue introduced in 1966 for all engines and used until 1980 when they went to gray. The lighter Ford Blue was a early 60s color only used on some engines, not all of them. The 221, 260 & 289 engines could be found with a black block and gold, yellow and even white valve covers depending on the year.

    It also depended on which model car the engine was in. Same engine in two different models (eg, Galaxie vs Falcon) had different color valve covers and air cleaners. Like you said, it all went to Corporate Blue in 1966.

    OK I get it – if you have the bucks to own one of those cars with all the correct boxes checked that make it a “one of XXX” car – go ahead and put the correct stripes and colors and badges. The rest of us? (at least among my friends) We do whatever we think looks cool, feels right, and is within our budgets. I’ve removed the badging from every car I’ve ever owned simply because I think they all look better without them. I’ve painted stripes where there were none, painted engines the “wrong” colors, installed seats from other cars, added rollbars, changed stance, etc. Most of the cars I tend to love were altered as soon as they were brought home new. I have never cared what it looked like from the factory. In my mind, that’s what hot-rodding is all about.

    Right On Dave
    Unless you are buying for an investment, Make the Car Yours!
    Most of the purists that I know are snobs that are full of themselvs and should not be in the car hobby.
    They are only in it for the investment and not the fun.

    i Really dislike those Pontiac air cleaner decals that it seems like Every one of them has these days. Did not know it came from Buick.
    Another Firebird quickie: a simple way to spot non-400 is the lack of the 400 emblem on the trunk lid. Seems to be an easy one that a lot of folks miss

    1967 Firebirds have a 120 mph speedometer and the numbers are positioned radially around the speedometer. The plastic lens also comes to a point. in 1968 this was redesigned to 160 mph and all the numbers were positioned horizontally to be easier to read. Also, the plastic lens cover has a larger radius in the middle (less pointy) to reduce glare and be easier to read.

    I know this article was on ’67’s and ’68’s but my ’69 350 H.O.’s speedometer goes up to 160 mph. Never had it that fast though.

    I put new seats with headrests in my 1968 Camaro convertible. Purists might have a fainting spell, but I won’t have whiplash. Classics should be driven, not put in glass boxes for car-show judges. Keep your trophy. I’d rather have burnouts.

    Fords… The “Caution Fan” sticker on 1969 and old fan shrouds (only a B9 got it in 69 on the finger guard). FRONT sticker on 1969 and newer air cleaner assys.

    Seems like e ery 1969-70 Mustang Mach One now has Magnum 500s on them, when , in fact , none came with them from the factory. The only 1969-70 Mustangs that could be had with Magnum were the Boss 302, Boss 429, and a few Shelbys because of problems with their two piece wheels.

    Personally, I prefer the styled steel wheels anyway. My ‘69 428 CJ Torino GT fastback has them as well from the factory.

    Correct but they look so much better. I started that trend(maybe others did also?) in the late 70s along with louvers and spoilers on 69 and 70s. My latest 69-a 428 SCJ 4 speed red drag pack Mach1 I bought with magnums on it still with the original wheels as spares and I made no apologies drilling holes for louvers and spoiler. The Shelbys with Magnums were all recalled for the Shelby wheel but some owners never went back to change out the Magnums.

    My Red 69 Mach1 428SCJ Drag Pack had been freshly repainted in it’s correct and original to the car candy apple just prior to my purchasing it in the summer of 1977. It had the chromed styled wheels which I never cared for. (I personally preferred the magnums) I did like the black rear window louvers though which kept it’s black interior much cooler under that large glass.

    There is a fellow who runs a rather small, one-bay, service shop a few blocks from my home. He tends to drive a two-door Plymouth GTX to his shop, the decal and bright yellow seems to say it is a GTX – except, when I looked into the interior I saw a bunch of aftermarket gauges hung on the dash, including a Tach, and the dash itself had a horizontal speedometer. Ergo, the car is really a Plymouth Satellite. My Dad drove one and I later drove it for some 6 years. GTX models had a completely different dash with round guages, including a tach.

    I used to have a 1970 Plymouth Sport Satellite, which many would say had better looking trim than the same year Road Runner. I was young and remember using a few graphics (and horn) from the Road Runner (which I wanted but couldn’t afford). We do what we can with what we can afford, and more importantly with what we like! And I truly loved that car….

    My brother had one of those satellites with a slant six. He put mag wheels on stripes, found a hemi hood, put it on because it match the color. Then pulled off the muffler and replaced it with a glass pack. He then pulled one of the plug wires so it sit there and shake at stoplights had everybody fooled.

    From what I remember the SportSatelite was more expensive than the ‘Runner, at least in the early years.The Road Runner was a low trim low option entry level MUSCLE CAR. the Sport Satelite was a highly optioned performance car. I’d take the Sport Satelite iver the Road Runner any day of the week.

    The Sport Satellite came standard with a 318. It was a regular car with interior trim on par with the performance-oriented GTX.

    You could order Mopars with the rectangle speedometer if that’s what you wanted. I have a 1968 Coronet R/T with a non rally dash, the difference is my rectangle speedometer goes to 150mph instead of 120.

    The article is focused on some key words. “Concours-caliber”. We all do what we want, and we are proud of it. Judging has a tendency to keep us between the lines!

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