There is nothing more visually impacting than the first glimpse of an engine bay - the finishing touch is the period correct air cleaner. Usually the last item on a restoration list, the search for the right one can be costly and time-consuming. Go through our journey, as we present an in-depth look at what detail, knowledge, and availability goes into our air cleaner business.
ORIGINAL, REPRODUCTION, OR RESTORED?During the muscle car heyday, originality was quickly discarded in favor of new owners gaining additional performance. Fast forward 35 years and the resurrection of the performance years and originality began. Buyers yearned for that nostalgic muscle car romance once again - a little older, wiser, and far more appreciative of the way things used to be. As time went by, originality became the desired state - creating a need for parts that were available in large quantities at one time, yet dwindling as time goes by.
ORIGINALThe state of a muscle car as it rolled out of the factory doors. It has often been said that a car can only be original once. A mass of parts were designed, engineered, and assembled in order to provide a car that would be unique by brand. The way it came from the factory is key to today’s collector car market, as well as car shows across the globe. Original parts are becoming increasingly more difficult to find - namely because of attrition over 4 decades.
Mother Nature has also added to the reduction of original parts, making them scarce and desirable at the same time. Keeping those original parts with the car is the mark of originality today - helping to sustain stronger values on properly documented muscle cars. Original simply retains all of the exposure (patina) to a part over its lifetime. It may appear rusty, tattered, bent, or faded - but, it is an original (survivor).
REPRODUCTIONA copy of the original. While in most cases, today's reproduction parts are very good. In fact, some are even better than the original! These parts fill a niche where original parts are far too expensive (Hemi Chrome Dome, Cowl Induction, Ram Air, Air Grabber, OAI, Shaker, etc...). By obtaining the original tooling, or retooling altogether, companies bring products to market that otherwise would not be available. This keeps the muscle car hobby alive, as the amount of original scarce parts remaining continue to be consumed in restoration or sustaining original cars. Also worthy of mention is the chrome enhancement option.
Both GM and Mopar offered varying forms of engine dress up kits - from valve covers to air cleaner lids. In some instances, these were standard fare, while others were dealer installed options. Early GTOs featured the chrome lid, while later Judge models were black. 427 Impala SS, 70 Z/28 Camaro, 68/69 Chevelle SS 396 came with chrome lids, while 350 SS cars came with either style. Judges usually accept either style - the owner's preference determines which is desired.
RESTOREDThe art of carefully returning an original part to the state at the time of production. The restoration process requires an original candidate - one that isn't so far beyond repair or so costly it isn't worth it. What was once considered "junk" in the 80's is selling for 5 digits and beyond today - so restoration continues to evolve with time. Reworking an original piece back to a period correct appearance takes time, patience, and desire.
Researching paint colors, graphics, and obtaining parts that return it back to that status - coupled with refinishing - leads to a finished product that creates an original look. Adding authentic date/production code stamps also lends to further authenticity. During the initial inspection process, if date codes or PN stamps are visible, they are documented and added to the finished product. Making an item appear "period correct" is a reflection of how the item should have looked "back in the day."
So which is right for you?
AIR CLEANER PRODUCTION INFORMATION
GM air cleaners all featured similar production processes when manufactured through Delco. Bases were stamped repeatedly over years, often times yielding stress marks as the dye aged. Small wrinkles, abnormal dents or waves, and slightly undersized lips were all part of the process. Most were finished in a 60% gloss black from the late 50's forward; exceptions being the 63 red wrinkle Buick Riviera assemblies and 60s Oldsmobiles (Silver/Black and Red). Since the metal was galvanized or copper plated, primer was non-existent (nor cost effective). Assemblies were hung on a jig (usually snorkel down) and painted. Runs and drips were common - these were parts to a car, not a perfect car judged by overzealous car enthusiasts (no offense, but this was the true process).
The "twin bar" marks on the bottom of the air cleaner lid are a true sign of original paint. The factory placed the lids on an assembly jig and painted them, leaving two paint lines void of paint. During the restoration, this step is omitted, as bare metal makes a perfect invitation for rust.
The inside of an air cleaner is often a place for water to accumulate due to storing in the open, or a faulty lid seal - all with no means of draining. Some air cleaners (Buick GS/Mopar Air Grabbers/earlier Mopar Dual Snorkels/AMC Cowl Induction) featured drain holes in the event water entered. While this is a great idea, it is not original to most closed element air cleaners.
Use of higher quality GM licensed restoration products enhances the appearance and makes that initial first glimpse of your engine stand out to onlookers. Not all air cleaner service decals are available, largely due to being initially silk screened at the factory. The next best thing is a reproduction decal - most onlookers will never know the difference, but it is a detail worthy of mentioning. Using correct decals provides distinct original appearances, as well as improved lifespan. Many decals were foil based, while several of today’s decals are vinyl or paper backed - a big difference when installing and maintaining them in considered.
Mopar assemblies were in large part produced by Fram (Allied Signal) based in Canada. Once engineers were satisfied of the flow characteristics and functionality, Fram was largely the Tier 1 supplier. Painting was applied to bare metal surfaces, often featuring orange peel and drips. Mopar added a black wrinkle finish starting late 66 that stayed with the performance cars all the way up through 71. This process created a very flat, but visible wrinkle that was unique to them. Hemi orange became the norm on oval Air Grabber lids, then onto the entire assembly by 1972. From Mopar air cleaner service decals looking similar, but carrying a different PN, to chrome dome Hemis and 273 four barrels, Mopar assemblies changed every year. However, assembly plants were known to use leftover parts for the early builds of the following year! This often creates conflict - it is best to retain an open mind for what is correct (there are a lot of original owners who have deviations from the norm and have supporting details).
Waves are factory anomalies that are stamped into the metal - most typically found in the air grabber bases along the side where the air grabber seal would come into contact with the base. In most Air Grabber and Six Pack bases, there are vertical waves that run from the front to the rear of the base on the flanges. This is common on both sides, as the stamping process from 1969 - 1972 wasn't about quality or aesthetics beyond 5 years. Original parts feature these waves - with all due consideration, Ma Mopar was not concerned about authenticity of parts 40 years later - tier suppliers were in a business to provide parts at the most cost-effective rate possible. The breather tube was pressed into place as well (some reproduction pieces feature welds around the tube on the outside). This challenge was largely related to the changes of the dies used for stamping after so many products were formed over the years.
Drains are another area where originality clearly shows blemishes (blems). Crude brass welds are evident at the base of the drain tube on the bottom of the air cleaner. Again, this was done to meet the OEM requirements, not become a show piece 40 plus years later. Maintaining authenticity allows original parts to easily be distinguished from after market products - keeping in mind that there is a place and time for both types of parts. Modern reproductions are void of these details. At one point, GM, Mopar, and AMC had some type of small drain for select products. These were typically associated with the high performance (Cowl Induction, Ram Air, etc...), but not exclusive.
Another interesting point centers around the "ribbed" vacuum and breather hoses. Mopar and GM sourced bulk reels of specific sized vacuum and heater hose from various vendors...all featuring ribs running along the side. The ribs are actually extruded rubber edges that bonded the reels of vacuum line together from the molding process, whereby handling large quantities was far easier. As the lines were used, they were literally "peeled" off the reel, leaving the famed rib lines. While this is a trivial fact, it at least explains why there were there in the first place. Most reproduction pieces are no longer manufactured using this approach, but some actually add it back in through a line forming process while adding the specific hose stripe color.
Media blasting requires equipment, media, and patience! Cleaning parts prior to going into the blast equipment can indicate problem areas before spending time in the blast cabinet. A typical 40+ year old part will have an accumulation of grease, dirt, and oil residues that clog and absorb media. Removing this helps to improve the quality of the blast, as well as enhance the finished product with an etched surface.
Blasting media comes in many forms. glass, garnet, oxides, shells, etc...all have their place when removing unwanted surface material. It is this distinction of knowing what media to use, the aggressiveness of the media (grit), and the technique required to leave the desired "white" finish, or overheating of metal that can lead to distortion. Each use requires investment (media typically sells for $35 or more for 10 #'s or volume equivalent). Selecting the right media for the job is an important step in the process. Aluminum components are very soft - this requires a media that will not "eat" into the material; steel is much stronger, but subject to rust and "blow through" - where holes below rust scale show up very quickly. Use of the correct material for the job is essential.
A typical air cleaner takes 1 hour to blast - this includes the top (both sides), the inside, outside, and snorkel(s). Larger surface area takes longer, as does any finish outside of factory paint. Over the years, we've seen multiple layers of paint/primer/who knows what on air cleaners. To get the best end result, it takes a great deal of patience to clean down to metal. Overhanging air cleaners (early Buick Rivieras) have a lot of surface tucked up under; Mopar air cleaners have multiple grooves; later GM products feature flame arrestor filters that have to be covered in order to reduce deflection of media inside the mesh. Each item can take a lot of time, which is why price points aren't as economical as someone who simply sprayed over existing finishes with the obvious still underneath!
Having an air compressor that can handle the blasting chores is essential. Small units are good for very a short duration, while screw compressors are ideal for big jobs. Each is relevant to time spent in the media machine. Industrial blast cabinets that feature a pot, self-returning, and self-cleaning systems are best. This effectively recycles the material, sifts out dust, and maintains visibility within. Maintenance is expensive, but continues to keep the process focused on the job, not on problem solving.
Once items have been blasted, they are left in an etched stage (white finish). This is the difference between old fashioned hand-sanding, wire brushing, etc...and clearly makes a difference in the restoration process.
The parts are now ready for the next stage of restoration that leads to priming, drying, wet-sanding, final preparation, and final coating. My preference is a self-etching primer - it adheres very well to the fresh metal, as well as providing a strong base for any final work to be applied.
Research, experience, and persistence are some of the requirements to successfully restore muscle car parts.
Having grown up in the 60's around muscle cars, we can recall the performance and image each brand personified. Hot rods were king in the early 60's, then muscle came on board. From Mopar to Chevrolet to Buick to Oldsmobile....each had a place in history. This exposure to these brands solidified our appreciation for all - and helps us today to recreate the air cleaners and ancillary parts to the correct appearance with the right accessories and images.
air cleaners, valve covers, and other image-conscious parts takes time - time
in research to ensure the part presented is correct; time in preparation, and
time to find the correct reproduction parts. Simple items like air filters are
difficult to find in many parts of the country, let alone in
Europe/Scandinavia, or Australia. Getting the right filter is essential in
making the air cleaner function as intended. Air cleaner service decals also
come in many forms, letters, part numbers, etc...Some were even introduced as
"early" or "late" during the production years (thanks GM!).
Air filter breather adapters are also specific - GM typically used
"ribbed" hose as the adapter between the breather filter and
the hose for crankcase ventilation (not your typical Goodyear heater hose
section). The OEM lid seals are also essential to ensure a good seal between
top and base; reusing a dried out seal is out of the question unless
there is no good alternative.
Each manufacturer used a variety of means to paint items. Mopar and GM didn't prime any of their air cleaners - a point that leads to rust after time. GM lids in particular were set on twin bars about 9" apart, then conveyed through the paint booth - leaving two unpainted areas behind. All GM bases were painted vertically - over-zealous painters typically caused runs. In the restoration world, while these flaws could be recreated, it seems that owners don't want this level - they expect their assembly to look new and be protected from the elements.
Date codes were applied to many GM air cleaners in the 60s up through the late 70s. These generally followed the Julian Calendar (1-365), along with a month and shift number. In some instances, an actual month/day/year stamp was used (depending upon the factory it was made in). Mopar used "Made In Canada" stamps - largely due to the home of Fram/Allied Signal at the time. These stamps add value and authenticity - a nice touch that differentiates my products from others. We have seen calendar style stamps featuring the month in 3 letters, followed by the numerical day, and year; others follow the Julian date stamp. Stamps have been found for as late as 1978 models (in Silver), on the interior flange, and on the bottoms of snorkels. These factors are hard to determine which is absolute, but knowing they vary by researching original units helps us in the restoration process.
The wing nut - a very simple and common item - shows them selling for quite a bit! This is a stamped piece that has been zinc coated. Getting the right one is essential in properly securing the air cleaner to the carburetor. Many "DIY" stores offer solid wing nuts - an obvious departure from the OEM mentality of function and cost-control. All of our assemblies include the right stamped wing nut - it is a part that makes your installation complete without ridiculous charges.
Displacement decals, pie tins, and plates are also critical as a finishing touch. Matching the right vintage to an air cleaner (63 Buick Riviera vs. 64-66) requires a clear understanding of what the manufacturers were striving to convey at the time (Cubic Inches vs. Net Torque in this case). Mopar used a variety of pie tins and decals of various colors to distinguish their muscle; Buick Ram Air, Oldsmobile 442, and Chevrolet cowl induction nomenclature adds eye appeal and function - provided they are correct. AMC also added eye-catching graphics to help differentiate their product line as well.
Each manufacturer varied designs of the air cleaner assemblies over the years. Mopar contracted with Fram to build their performance air cleaners. All were made in Canada - home of Fram. While it is 'cool' to have a dual snorkel air cleaner, the correct version for each year is essential. Several so called "restorers" like to sell motor home air cleaners as a true muscle car assembly - a practice that often dupes first-time Mopar restorers. Others add decals/stickers that make the assembly look close - another means of taking customers for a ride. Rest assured that we thoroughly research each item to avoid these pitfalls - customers deserve better.
AMC offered a variety of homologated assemblies using tier suppliers such as Ford/Autolite, AC Delco, Fram, and Carter. In order to match components, previously developed air cleaner bases incorporated a different brand of snorkel, or simply used an existing competitor brand straight off the shelf (i.e. Jeep with the Buick V-6 engines). As an example, similar Ford and Chrysler air cleaner assemblies were adapted to meet the AMC V-8 hood lines, but used longer snorkels. Cowl Induction pieces were recycled from Ford/Oldsmobile starting in 71 - a great idea since the product functioned very well. AMC was very frugal for product development and chose not to reinvent the wheel again and again.
Getting it all together, correctly, and ready to make an enthusiast very happy is the goal of our business. Simply spray-bombing and turning items is not acceptable - customers deserve better. Our time is invested in all of these aspects to ensure you get the very best assembly that we can produce. As with all of our sales, you have 14 days for satisfaction - although it will only take a minute to install it and get that smile with a great feeling of pride!