Introduction

From The Scratch-Built Hot Rod

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Photo 1-This roadster was my first hand-fabricated steel body. Photo attribution
Whether you have sticker shock from the high cost of hot rods, or you are just a hardcore do-it-yourself fanatic who would like the challenge of building your own custom-fabricated hot rod body and handcrafted frame, this book is meant for you.

It is written by a hobbyist, for the hobbyist. I am not a professional, and I have no particular expertise as a metalworker. I would also be the first to admit there may be far better ways of going about the construction of an automobile body. This book simply describes what I've built and how I've built it. I make no claims for knowing the right way or the wrong way. This is, simply, one way.

My intention is to fan the creative fire in other minds, and hopefully provide a bit of inspiration for you to achieve your longtime dream: to build the custom car that is in your head. In that respect, this is not a recipe book for how you can build my car. Rather, it is a collection of small ideas for how you might approach building your car.
Photo 2-The car was built for $4,700 and required 1,700 hours to build. Photo attribution
Photo 3-A spartan interior and flat enamel paint simplified the build. Photo attribution
Before fulfilling that dream, there is one major hurdle we all must cross: shedding the mistaken belief that body fabrication, often called "scratch building" or "coachbuilding", is beyond the abilities of your typical hot rodder.

It is ironic that in a hobby that prides itself on individuality and creative genius, hot rodding has seen precious few scratch builders over the years; folks who go out and build their own custom bodies from nothing. In fact, the opposite seems to be the norm. Scratch builders are virtually non-existent except for icons like Ed Roth and George Barris or very high-end builders like Chip Foose and Ray Brizio.

When I first started talking about my plans to build an all-steel car body from scratch, nearly 100% of the rodders I talked to responded with a) it can't be done b) it's not worth being done or c) a simple roll of their eyes to indicate total disbelief. And for good reason: a little problem I call "The Metal Mystique". The Metal Mystique is the unfounded belief that only the highly-skilled with the assistance of very expensive machinery can shape and form sheet metal into anything even closely resembling a hot rod body.
Photo 4-Don't go overboard on your first attempt. Keep it as simple as possible. Photo attribution
Photo 5-After completing the roadster, I tackled the more complicated sedan delivery body. Photo attribution
My hope is that this book will begin to dispel that myth. As I've told many others, if a guy like me can do it, virtually any rodder can do it. And while I would never claim that metalshaping is not a challenge, I would argue strongly that it is well within the grasp of nearly anyone reading this page.

I began creating steel bodies in 2004 without any prior experience, or any of the high-end tools normally associated with sheet metal fabrication. Using wood stumps, PVC pipe, a beater bag, and an assortment of mallets and hammers, I set out to prove that a common ordinary hot rodder, with no particular skills or training, could create affordable, safe and eye-catching hot rods by hand-forming them from sheet metal and tubing.

My first completed car was modeled after a '30s-era Ford roadster and was finished and on the road for $4,700. It required a total of 1,700 hours to build. (See photos 1-4. Click on any picture to see a larger version). Topless, fenderless, and with a spartan interior and paint, the car served as a proving grounds for my theory that coachbuilding was within reach of virtually any hot rodder who had access to fairly common tools and a willingness to devote the necessary time and effort. The roadster is fully licensed and insured, and is driven whenever our nasty Northern Wisconsin climate permits.
Photo 6-The roof, fenders, operating windows, full interior and base/clear paint more than doubled construction time. Photo attribution
Photo 7-There is no sophisticated or expensive machinery needed to create a body like this. Photo attribution
Buoyed by the results of this initial effort to create a simple, traditional, old school-type rod, I next raised my sights to something more challenging: a steel body with a full top, fenders, working windows, creature comforts (stereo, cruise, GPS, heat, defrost, AC), a somewhat plush interior, and a show-worthy paint job (well, at least worthy of the friendly local shows in my neck of the woods). It is the step-by-step experience of building that car, my "sedan delivery", that is the subject of this book. (See photos 5-8)

Even if you have no intention of fabricating your own custom body, and simply want to build a rod in traditional fashion, this book can hopefully still be of use to you. The chapters on frame construction, chassis development, and paint and upholstery are all essential elements of building any modern-day hot rod. And within each chapter of this book are dozens and dozens of ideas, from building your own tail light lenses to mounting electric windows, that can be applied to virtually any hot rod project.

Most of all, I hope to encourage others to pick up a mallet and start banging away on some metal. There is no better teacher than experience, and there is no better way to learn metalshaping than to simply start shaping metal.

Photo 8-Aside from the ability to weld, you can fabricate a body with virtually no prior metalworking experience. Photo attribution
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