So let’s get started. First...
So let’s get started. First the front floor panel is lifted onto the precision building fixture. This fixture locates the floor and also can be raised and rotated to ease assembly.
We had heard rumors of the new Real Deal Steel Tri-Five Chevrolet bodies since last summer and when Chris Sondles of Woody’s Hot Rodz contacted us about his new ’57 steel body and chassis packages we had to get a firsthand look at the project.
This brought us to the Real Deal Steel body plant in Sanford, Florida, where we met the men behind the bodies, Joe Whitaker and Randy Irwin. Walking inside the manufacturing building we were greeted by no less than five Real Deal Steel bodies in different levels of completion. Talking about these bodies is one thing, walking up and actually looking at a brand-new ’57 Chevrolet convertible is a whole other story. These bodies are simply gorgeous.
Next the rear floorpan panel...
Next the rear floorpan panel is placed on the fixture. Bolts go through the ’57 Chevy body mounts on the floorpan and pull down tight to the fixture, ensuring a perfect fit.
Of course the fact that Chris Sondles arrived the day before we did and had one of the new hardtop bodies perched atop his wild, straight-axle ’57 reproduction frame only fueled the Tri-Five flames.
The Manufacturing Process
Now, Chevrolet built 1,515,177 total cars in 1957, yeah, roughly 1.5 million cars, over 4,000 per day. Needless to say that is just a bit above the capacity of the Real Deal Steel company, but still their single production station is impressive and the productivity is ample to fill the needs of our hobby, turning out a couple bodies per week.
Using a spot-welder much like...
Using a spot-welder much like automakers use, Joe Whitaker spot-welds the front and rear floorpans together. The new front floorpan is a one-piece stamping, no center seam required.
One of the keys to maintaining high quality and keeping the price within reach is the fact that these bodies are assembled in the United States. After the stamping process is completed in Taiwan they are loaded into a shipping container and are transported by ship. That same container is then delivered by truck to Real Deal Steel for assembly. This enables them to put 30 bodies in one container, saving a tremendous amount of shipping cost in the process, costs that would have been passed onto the end consumer. To illustrate just how much is saved that same container that holds enough parts for 30 bodies would hold just two complete bodies.
The panels arrive in boxes on pallets and after the stamping, every panel is coated with a proprietary silver coating. This is a weld-through primer that prevents rust but allows perfect welding too. The silver color gives the car a real steel body look.
Next, the front foot well...
Next, the front foot well and firewall panel is installed. The piece slips into a slot on the floor so a bit of gentle persuasion is in order to set the firewall into the front floorpan.
Each body is assembled by hand on a precise fixture that ensures each body will be the same. First the floor sections are mounted to the base fixture and the front half of the floor is spot-welded to the rear portion using a production-style spot welder, much like you would see on a modern automotive assembly line. Additional welding is done with a MIG welder.
After the floor panels are connected a large (and heavy) fixture is installed atop the new floor panels. This fixture will locate the new firewall and inner cowl structure.
A second fixture is now bolted in place, connecting to both the main floor fixture and the front fixture. This jig precisely locates both inner quarter-panel structures. After locating the inner quarter-panels they too are spot-welded and MIG-welded in place, followed by the rocker panels that connect the inner cowl to the inner quarter-panel structures. A smaller windshield fixture is now bolted atop the forward fixture and the windshield surround is attached to the lower cowl area.
Here’s the completed floorpan,...
Here’s the completed floorpan, rotated for welding on the bottom side. If you live east of the Mississippi and are under 40, this may be the first Tri-Five Chevy floorpan you have ever seen without rust holes.
The inner fixture also locates the bracing connecting the two inner quarter-panels and the hinge points for the decklid. Of course the panels vary between the convertible and hardtop but the same base fixture is used for both bodies. After adding a myriad of other braces and inner panels the ’57 Chevrolet “skeleton” is complete. The good news is you can buy just the inner structure from Real Deal Steel and hang your own reproduction, N.O.S., or good used panels on this skeleton. If you had a decent parts car this could be the way to go. Original doors, decklids, quarter-panels, and the front clip will all weld or bolt to this skeleton just like an original car.