April 29, 2021

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

Visions of Norwood

A few years back, I went to a crash course in Corvette judging put on by David Burroughs — the founder of Bloomington Gold.

I flew to Illinois with a small group of writers and editors. We started in a large conference room, where we talked about Bloomington’s methods and theories. For cars to achieve the coveted Bloomington Gold certification, a car needed to be as it was on the day it left the factory — warts and all. The key was learning not just what items to look for, but how to look for them.

A day later, we were standing in an aircraft hangar at the end of a grass airstrip in Normal, Illinois. Inside were several Benchmark-level Corvettes, lined up for study in front of an imposing Stearman biplane. 

One of the things I remember most was overspray — we learned that the judges had interviewed line workers at the St. Louis Corvette plant, and they’d found out that in certain cases, overspray would be heavier in one place or another because of the routine of painting a line of cars, and how an operator would wield a paint gun in order to do it for an entire shift. 

If it was in their right hand, the paint overspray would look like this. it would be thinner here, because they waved the gun this way…

These factory intricacies translated into coveted knowledge for the faithful — those looking to preserve the essence of what a Corvette really was as it rolled out of the factory in 1963 or 1970, versus today’s glossy blown-apart restorations. 

Cars with the Gold, Survivor or Benchmark certifications are among the best out there — meaning as close to original as possible — with the clout and high valuations to prove it.

Back to the Factory

That brings me to this new book, offered by Camaro Central. “Visions of Norwood” is a similar type of look inside GM’s factories, but it’s instead focused on the 1980s — and specifically, F-body production at GM’s Norwood plant in Norwood, Ohio.

This is the second book in the series by author Philip Morris. The first, “Echoes of Norwood,” chronicles the history and earlier production at GM’s Norwood plant, which built cars from 1923 to 1987.

Building cars in a GM factory was an involved process — with subcomponents sometimes needing to travel up to a quarter-mile to their car for assembly. These parts needed to be correct for the build, and they needed to arrive at the right time to be installed on a car that’s moving down the line. This book gets into the details of how that worked, but it also gives a behind-the-scenes look at how these cars actually came together, and in what order, with stories told by the people who worked there at the time.

If you’re restoring a late-1980s Trans Am, how long would you take to get the hood bird decal lined up correctly and affixed to the hood? Borris’ book points out that the entire operation at Norwood took, on average, about 20 seconds.

Post-production fixes are a fact of life on the assembly line — this book highlights some of what needed to take place with GM’s Third-Gen F-bodies at Norwood.

According to this book, Norwood produced a car from start to finish in about 25 hours, with a car rolling off the line every 79 seconds. There’s a lot of detail here, from how the bodies were welded together through the painting process and order of final assembly.

Yeah, that’s pretty specialized info, but it’s also an interesting snapshot in time, and a new view of a generation of cars you’ve probably only recently started to look at twice. If you’ve ever had even a passing interest in how GM cars were built, you’ll find this interesting. 

Overall, my only gripe here is with fit and finish. Some of the images used are obviously stills from a VHS recording, but why that’s the case is well documented in the book’s introductory sections. For me, this is more about the information that’s presented than it is about a glossy overall presentation. It’s like taking a walk through the factory in the 1980s, guided by those who were building the cars.

This segment of the car market is growing in today’s market, and as I learned when I was at Bloomington Gold, in-depth information about how the cars were built can be key in finding a car you want to own — or in rebuilding one the way they were when they were new. This book gives those glimpses to the Camaro faithful — and is otherwise a fun read for a car nut.

Check out the book at Camaro Central.