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Chapter 1: Design, Donor and Tools of the Trade​
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Putting it on paper[edit]

A good way to move forward with your inspiration or motivation is to begin collecting as many pictures or illustrations as you can of the car or concept you have in mind. Photos 1-2 through 1-4 show just a few of the sedans and sedan deliveries that caught my eye.

Land vehicle Vehicle Car Motor vehicle Vintage car
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-2a.jpgPhoto 1-2 Pictures of sedans and sedan deliveries are gathered for the design process. Photo attribution
Land vehicle Vehicle Car Vintage car Classic
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-3a.jpgPhoto 1-3 Get photos from as many viewpoints as possible. Photo attribution
Land vehicle Vehicle Car Vintage car Motor vehicle
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-4a.jpgPhoto 1-4 A "dead-on" side shot is essential for creating a sketch of your design. Photo attribution

Normally a project design will begin with a series of sketches. But don't panic. This does not mean you need to be some sort of artistic genius with a gift for drawing cars in order to accomplish this part of the task. As you can see from the accompanying photos, the drawings used for this project were crude, at best. There is no need for a highly-stylized piece of art. What you are after is a rather simple side profile of the car - a silhouette of the car as it sits directly in front of you.

If you are comfortable around computers, there are a number of good graphics programs than can be of great help while doing your sketches. Photoshop was used extensively during the design of this project but there are other good programs as well, including the free "Paint" program that comes with many computers. Again, neither a computer nor software is necessary to create your sketches. A tablet of graph paper and a few sharp pencils will do the trick almost as well, but software does make the job easier and quicker. So, if you are handy on the computer and you can get access to Photoshop or an equivalent program, by all means use those tools.

Sketching the body[edit]

For the sedan delivery project, the design work began with scanning a side-view shot of a sedan, such as the one shown in Photo 1-4, into the computer. Then, using the lasso tool in Photoshop, the wheels and tires were separated from the car, hiding them on separate layers of the drawing. The eraser tool was used to eliminate any extraneous lines and background from the photo or illustration. This leaves a layer containing only the basic body.

Next, the ruler tool in Photoshop was used to measure the length of the body. This measurement can then be used to create a scale between the drawing and the full-size car we want to build. For example, if the photo or illustration on your screen is 1 foot long and the full-size body is going to be 6 feet long, the scale will be 1:6. This scale can then be used to start seeing how your finished car will actually look in real life. What you need is at least one fixed element of your drawing that is created and always maintained at that 1:6 scale (or whatever scale you determine for your car).

The "fixed element" used for this design was the tire size. To create tires in Photoshop you can just use ordinary circles, which the program can easily create to any size you want. If you want to use 32" tires on the rear of your finished car, for example, you know that your Photoshop "tires" must be 5.33" in diameter on screen (32" divided by 6, because of the 1:6 scale). If you want to use smaller tires on the front of your car, then do the same calculation to permanently fix the size of your front tires.

Once you have created these circles to the correct scale and put each of them on a different layer in Photoshop, you can move them into the approximate position they should be in relation to the body. This will give you a very good first impression of how your finished car is going to appear.

Your design may look out of proportion or downright awful at first, but Photoshop can remedy many problems. By using the scale, rotate, skew and distort tools, you can adjust the height and length of the car, as well as alter the size and shape of other critical components, such as the windows and the roof height. You can even alter the angles of the car, making it more wedge-shaped or more rectangular by using the skew and distort tools.

Motor vehicle Vintage car Vehicle Car Hot rod
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-5_finished_altering.jpgPhoto 1-5 Continue to shape and adjust the wheel position and body shape until you are satisfied with the overall look. Photo attribution
Using Photoshop, the body is continually massaged until you find the exact right combination of elements that give your design the character and look you want, while remaining in correct proportion to the wheels, the one fixed-size element of the car. Remember that by knowing the tires are correctly scaled to "real life" tires, and always keeping those tires that exact same size, the rest of the car (length, height, rake etc.) can be manipulated until it all looks like it's in correct proportion (Photo 1-5).The next step is to dummy up a correctly-sized engine and transmission for your drawing. In this case, a simple trip out to the shop produced the basic measurements for the height, length and width that were needed. Using Photoshop, you can then make a crude drawing of the engine shape and the transmission shape, both scaled to correct size. The engine and transmission drawings can then be placed on separate layers in Photoshop, so that you can move them and place them at will while you adjust such things as the cowl height, grill shell position and windshield angle (Photo 1-6).
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-6_body_with_engine.jpgPhoto 1-6 Use a dummy drawing of the engine drawn to scale and make further adjustments to the body. Photo attribution
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-7_body_only.jpgPhoto 1-7 Use the final body sketch to make sure it prints out to the correct scale. Photo attribution
When you are happy with the Photoshop sketch on screen, it is time to transfer your dream car from the computer to a usable drawing outside of the computer. Here is how that can be done.First, print out the simple side-view sketch that you developed earlier (Photo 1-7). Then measure this sketch to make sure it coincides with the measurements shown by the Photoshop ruler tool. This is necessary because occasionally printer software will not print to the exact size shown on the Photoshop screen. If yours does not print correctly, you'll have to make some slight adjustments to your on-screen sketch using the scale tool until it prints out correctly.
Text Drawing Line Line art Diagram
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-8_body_graphed.jpgPhoto 1-8 This is the body correctly scaled on graph paper. Photo attribution

Assuming the sketch prints out correctly, you next need to "graph" it. In other words, you want your sketched car to show up as if it were drawn on a piece of graph paper (I use the graph paper style with 1/4" squares). To do this, put a piece of graph paper in your scanner and scan it into Photoshop. Then, put that image onto a separate layer of your drawing, placed "under" the layer containing your car's image. What you should see on your screen is the drawing of the car superimposed over the graph paper. You then use the scale tool to resize the graph paper image until it fits on the graph paper to the scale you want to use.

For this project, we will scale up the drawing so that each 1/4" x 1/4" square on the graph paper represents a 2"x 2" square in real life. So, assuming that you want your car body to be 6 feet (or 72") long, the full-size drawing of the car would cover a total of 36 squares - each square being 2" x 2". Thus, on your Photoshop drawing, you want to enlarge or shrink the graph paper image until the body covers exactly 36 squares of the graph paper lengthwise. (Note: be sure you manipulate the size of the graph paper image and not your car body image.) As long as you keep the aspect ratio 1:1 while you do this manipulation, the height of the graph paper will turn out exactly proportional to the width.

When you are done, print it out and you should have a drawing looking something like the one shown in Photo 1-8. As you can see, this a fairly simple drawing and you can achieve something quite comparable with just graph paper and a pencil if you are not a big fan of computers.

Sketching the frame[edit]

We will return to this scaled drawing of the body and use it at the beginning of our chapter on body fabrication. At this juncture, we can put the body design work aside and turn our attention to the frame and chassis.

Text Line Font Diagram Parallel
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-9_frame_side_sketch.jpgPhoto 1-9 With the body now correct to scale, the frame dimensions can be established, including the length, wheelbase and frame kick-up, or Z, in the rear. Photo attribution
Once again in Photoshop, you can now use the body silhouette, engine drawing and wheel placement to determine your frame length, your wheelbase and your rear frame kick-up or "Z". Don't worry if your hand sketches or Photoshop frame are an inch or so too long or too short; this can easily be accommodated later. You can just factor a couple of extra inches of wiggle room into the design at this juncture, knowing that you'll be adjusting things slightly as the actual build progresses. What you should end up with is a very simple drawing of the frame like the one shown in Photo 1-9. Next, you need to determine the frame width and the location of your suspension mounts. The front suspension mounts are particularly critical in this particular design because of the Ford Twin I-Beams being used. These axles require special attention in order to get the front end geometry correct. The mounts are also a critical factor in determining the width we must make the frame.
Text Line Parallel Technical drawing Design
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-11_Chassis_top_with_engine.jpgPhoto 1-10 The width of the frame is determined by laying out the Twin I-Beam front suspension. Photo attribution
Line Drawing Parallel Technical drawing
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-10_chassis_top_view.jpgPhoto 1-11 Use the stock distance between the two axle mounting points (as measured on the donor vehicle) to determine where the mounting brackets must be located to set the wheels at the proper track width. Photo attribution
No matter what suspension you are using, it is a good idea to determine at this point exactly how and where it will mount to the frame, and include those mounts on your sketch. For those of you who might consider the twin I-beam suspension, the drawings and sketches used for this build have been included (Photos 1-10 to 1-13). It should be noted that twin I-beams can be mounted either under the frame, as was done with the roadster project, or they can be mounted over the frame, as we'll be doing with the sedan delivery. This creates an "underslung" chassis and puts the car closer to the ground. But be aware, the underslung chassis also creates challenges for achieving full suspension travel.It should also be noted that the mounting point (or pivot point) for each of the two I-beam axles is critical, both in terms of height and distance from each other. As you can see in the sketches, in order for the axle king pins to line up parallel to each other, and for the wheels to be correctly spaced, the I-beams must overlap one another at exactly the right position and angle. The most reliable way to do this is to set the distance between the mounting points (pivot points) at the exact distance they would be in a stock application (as measured on the donor vehicle).
Text Diagram Drawing Line art Line
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-12_chassis_front_view.jpgPhoto 1-12 The axle mounting (pivot) points are critical for establishing correct front end suspension geometry. Photo attribution
Line Text Diagram Parallel Slope
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-13_chassis_front_color.jpgPhoto 1-13 Construction notes for determining the location of the axle mounts and the width of the frame rails, which in this case is 32" outside-to-outside. Photo attribution
The distance between those two pivot points establishes where the brackets must be set to hold the pivots. And, to keep a nice, clean look, we want those brackets to mount directly to the side or top of the frame rail, and not extend to the outside or the inside of the frame by any noticeable distance.

We'll be looking at the chassis fabrication in much greater detail later, but Photo 1-14 might help explain how the axle pivot points and mounting brackets (see arrows) determine the width of the frame, which for this set of axles turns out to be 32" from outside-to-outside of the frame rails. Since we will be using a simple ladder-type frame for this project, the frame width will remain the same 32 inches from the front to the rear of the frame.

If the above is confusing at the moment, don't be too alarmed. Hopefully it will become more clear in the next chapter, where you will see the full-size frame and mounting brackets being fabricated, and you can see more clearly how the I-beam geometry dictates the frame width.
Tool Metal
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-14_axle_mounting_frame_width.jpgPhoto 1-14 This is how the axle mounting looks during fabrication. Photo attribution
Selecting a donor[edit]

Even though we are creating our own hand-fabricated frame and body, there are still a ton of parts and pieces that are necessary to complete any scratch-built hot rod. Most of those parts and pieces will come from a donor. If you want to keep your costs to a minimum and be certain the parts work together and are suited to the design, donor selection is critical. I own three scratch-built rods, and all three have used late 1970's Ford F-series pickup trucks as their donors. The reason is simple: bang for the buck...or if you'll excuse the pun, bang for the truck.

From one $300 donor you can salvage:

  • A decent V8 engine ranging from 302 to 460 cubic inches.
  • A hearty transmission, either C-6 automatic or standard 3-speed.
  • A very stout rear end, either a Ford 9" or a Dana 44.
  • An independent front suspension with the "look" of a traditional hot rod straight axle.
  • Disc brakes for the front and decent-sized drums for the rear.
  • Steering column.
  • Usable leaf springs.
  • An assortment of additional minor parts and pieces.

Every rodder will have their own ideas about what make, year and model they might want for a donor. For my particular purposes, nothing can come close to the 1978-1981 F-100 or F-150 in terms of cost and usefulness. Personally, I'm not choosy when it comes to Ford, Chevy or Mopar under the hood. They are all quite adequate engines for a hot rod intended purely for cruising and having fun. If you are a hardcore racer or have major horsepower demands, it becomes a different story. But for my needs and wants, I'm looking for the donor with the most usable parts possible with the lowest price tag. So, the F-series fits me perfectly.

For the sedan delivery project, a local 1979 F-100 was found in non-running condition for $150 (Photo 1-15). The non-running engine was not a factor since a complete overhaul would be done anyhow. It was also a 3-speed, which would make for an even more interesting project.

After getting the truck home, it was stripped down to the chassis as shown in Photos 1-16 and 1-17, and all the usable parts and pieces were salvaged, marked and boxed up . The rusted frame and body panels were tossed aside and donated to a local scrap collector who kindly visits once or twice or year to clean up the yard.

Land vehicle Vehicle Car Pickup truck Motor vehicle
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-15_F-100.jpgPhoto 1-15 A $150 F-100 contributed all the major parts for this project. Photo attribution
Motor vehicle Vehicle Auto part Automotive exterior Scrap
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-16_donor_stripped.jpgPhoto 1-16 The rusted body is stripped off and sent to the scrap yard. Photo attribution
Motor vehicle Vehicle Auto part Chassis Car
https://www.hotrodders.com/tw/index.php/File:1-17_donor_stripped_2.jpgPhoto 1-17 Tag and save every part you can. The F-100 provided an engine, transmission, rear end, front suspension, disc brakes and many other important parts for the project. Photo attribution

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