If Chevrolet is truly the...
If Chevrolet is truly the Heartbeat of America, this should quicken the pulse. Suddenly building a ’57 Chevy just got a whole lot easier, thanks to Real Deal Steel bodies through Woody’s Hot Rodz.
Every time I see a new, all-steel reproduction body I take a serious reality check. Had someone mentioned 35 years ago that one day all-new steel bodies would be available we would have scoffed at the idea. After all, this was a time when you could barely get a patch panel that actually fit your car, let alone an entire replacement body. If you were working on a ’50s or ’60s car, OEM replacement panels were the only way to fly, and even back then they were becoming both pricey and scarce. But an entire body? Never happened. Ah, but never is a long time and Woody’s Hot Rodz has “shortened” never into now.
By the turn of the century there were several all-steel reproduction bodies on the market. It began with Model A, and then of all things a ’32 Chevrolet roadster, and progressed to the ’32 Ford, then the ’33-34 Ford, and Waddington’s Model A closed-cab pickup. Next, first-generation Camaro bodies was being assembled and now we have actually watched the entire assembly of a ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible and hardtop body, complete from headlight to tailfin. Finally, came Bob Drake’s ’40 Ford coupe.
Laid out in an orderly fashion,...
Laid out in an orderly fashion, we can see that these are high-quality stampings. This is the front section of the floor, rockers, and complete cowl.
So how exactly do we come from being unable to find reasonable replacement panels to top-quality entire steel bodies? Well, two things come into play: a shrinking world and the computer—but not necessarily in that order. Technology has changed so dramatically over the past 20 years that many projects once deemed financially impossible are now a reality. Offshore manufacturing has also provided us with competitive pricing on big projects, such as reproducing ’55-57 Chevrolet bodies. Technology has made it possible to “reverse engineer” parts, a process where a perfect original piece can be 3-D scanned and put into production faster and cheaper than ever before.
The rear section is a bit...
The rear section is a bit more complicated with inner quarter-panels, crossbraces, and the trunk floor. On surviving original cars, virtually all of these panels would be rusted.
Like most steel body builds, this one did not begin as one cohesive project to build a complete Tri-Five Chevrolet body. Much like the Camaro body, it began with replacement panels, such as floors, rocker panels, quarter-panels, doorskins, and fenders. These panels were first stamped to help enthusiasts repair old and rusted vehicles. Anyone who has ever repaired a rusted car knows rust is seldom skin deep and rust never sleeps. Peel back that rusted quarter-panel and you will likely find rotted wheelhouses and floors. And so, more and more parts were being produced to repair the original cars. Enthusiasts soon realized they were better off purchasing a complete replacement door rather than simply a doorskin. Floorpan and foot well patch panels soon gave way to complete floor replacements. Structural rust in the firewall area brought with it demand for a complete cowl section in stock form, particularly for convertibles. It was about this time the concept of a complete ’57 Chevy body became realistic. If they manufactured roof skins, inner roof structures, and complete inner quarter-panels they could assemble a complete car.
Every piece of external sheetmetal...
Every piece of external sheetmetal is also available and this is how it all goes together, somewhat like a giant model. Quality is very high throughout the body building process.
And so the stamping continued, until this year when every brace, inner panel, and exterior panel was finally stamped in brand-new steel. The next major project was the fabrication of fixtures to precisely assemble complete car bodies. This body is an exact reproduction of the original, which means if you find a good set of doors, a decklid, or front clip on a parts car they will bolt right on this body.
The steel is all stamped in Taiwan to a very high standard. Every panel has been reverse engineered from perfect original parts and there have been a few improvements along the way; things like the one-piece floor. The original Tri-Five Chevrolet didn’t have a seam down the center of the transmission tunnel. Current aftermarket floorings are two-piece with a seam. However the new Real Deal Steel floorings do not have a seam mimicking the original factory floor. On these new bodies the floor is one big stamping, eliminating the center seam and enhancing the strength of the floor in the process.