Regardless whether your hop-up is undergoing a full build or a number of well-planned enhancements, one of the most important facets to focus on is preserving the body's structural integrity. Starting at the bottom and working your way up is always a good way to build a strong foundation. Unless you're fortunate enough to have purchased a car from a bone-dry environment, chances are you will have to undertake either patching or replacing your floorpan.
On a recent visit to Competition Specialties in Walpole, Massachusetts, shop owner Peter Newell showed us a '55 Chevy Bel Air that had recently arrived to get the full custom treatment, complete with an Art Morrison GT Sport chassis. The car had suffered a lifetime of abuse thanks to the harsh New England winters, and its body, fresh back from the blasters, revealed its sad overall shape.
When having to deal with the devastation and abuse to classic steel bodies, where does it leave a hot rodder who needs to conduct a full resurrection? Thankfully Real Deal Steel specializes in top-quality, factory-style replacement panels for the Tri-Five with a myriad of components available to refresh even the most dilapidated example. Newell wasted no time in contacting Real Deal Steel for one of their one-piece stamped (like the original) full replacement floors. The unit is made from high-quality, original-gauge steel, is seamless, and includes all factory-style braces as well as inner rocker panels, rear floor brace, and all original mounting points for seats and the emergency brake spring bracket.
Taking on a job of this magnitude is no small feat and requires plenty of preparation for the installation. Our body had been picked clean and blasted as the car is undergoing a full build. Newell advised us that if you are taking on the floor replacement to a complete car you will need to remove the interior, carpeting, fuel and brake lines, as well as any other miscellaneous items to be ready for the removal and installation of the new floorpan. Getting started, the bare body was properly anchored on the lift using a combination of jackstands and a transmission jack at the rear to maintain balance. Since the floors are the foundation of the car, special care must be taken to maintain the body's integrity once they are removed. For this step, sections of 1-inch steel tubing were cut to size and tack welded in place using a MIG welder to adequately brace the doorjambs and inner body structure from any potential movement
1. Real Deal Steel produces a one-piece high-quality stamped original gauge steel replacement floor, which comes complete with all braces and inner rockers included. The unit is completely seamless and looks factory original.
2. Here you can see the completed cross-bracing to strengthen the inner body structure. The floors can now safely be removed.
3. While wearing safety glasses, Newell used a Sawzall to begin gradually cutting at the original floorpan seam from side to side.
4. Continuing along the seam for the inner rocker panel area great care must be taken as you are cutting through multiple layers of steel and bracing.
5. The tattered original floor of the '55 is now history and we're ready to take on all the prep work to fit the new one-piece floorpan.
6. Using blue masking tape for a guide you can now see the slight amount of trimming required to the inner floor seam to make it perfect.
7. A 5/16-inch drill bit was used to drill out all of the factory spot-welds along the outer firewall area to separate and remove the balance of the original floorpan.
8. Newell followed with a body hammer and dolly to straighten the area and prepare it for the new floorpan.
9. Working his way to the back of the car there was more final trimming required as seen here of the rear floorpan to the trunk floor seam.
10. An air-chisel was then used to remove the balance of the rear floor bracing. This takes care and time to work through. A Sawzall was used to remove any remaining balance.
11. On the new floorpan any surfaces to be welded to were also ground smooth to remove any new paint using a 36-grit disc on a disc grinder.
12. To ensure a proper fit, the body was then lowered onto the new floorpan to check for any needed minor revisions prior to welding.
13. Using various Vise-Grips, the sides of the new floorpan were clamped in place to maintain their position for welding to the inner body structural areas.