Body: A Gallery of Scratch-Built Cars
Chapter 7: Body - A Gallery of Scratch-Built Cars
In keeping with the rest of this book, the cars shown in this gallery are all owner-built, shadetree hot rods fabricated by hobbyists in their own garages or backyard shops. The purpose here is not to show what can be created by high-end rod shops with open-ended checkbooks; you can find plenty of those cars in almost any glossy magazine. Rather, this gallery demonstrates what can be done, and has been done, by ordinary weekend hot rodders using an assortment of common tools and easily replicated techniques.
The focus has purposely been kept on cars that are within the skill set of most typical hot rodders reading this book. As a result, you won't find Ridler Award Winners or elegant cover cars in this gallery. What you will find here are true American hot rods built with the ingenuity and persistence found throughout this sport.
Since hot rods first appeared on the scene after WWII, observers and rodders have held widely divergent opinions of each custom car, based on their own personal tastes. That is the beauty of the sport: there are no rules. Each hot rodder has his own dream and his own vision, which is personified in the cars he builds.
Not all of the cars shown below may appeal to you, and they may not represent the dream you have in your own head. What each of these cars will provide is a wealth of practical ideas, novel techniques and cost-cutting inspiration. They are presented here with one thought in mind: to encourage you to take that idea you have in your own head and turn it into a reality. If you don't like a car pictured here, the great joy is that you can pick up a hammer and dolly and make something you do find appealing. Hopefully the stories and pictures in this gallery will help get those creative juices flowing.
Iron Man Joe
Iron Man Joe is from Southern Louisiana, and is quite literally a shadetree builder. In fact, he sometimes can't even find a tree big enough to build under. Joe does almost all of his frame construction and body fabrication outside in his yard. He has no fancy metalworking machinery and relies almost entirely on his "buzz box" for welding. When the rains do come, he erects a temporary shelter of poles and canvas to keep things dry.
Joe sometimes begins his creations with an existing frame or chassis, while at other times, he builds his frames from scratch. Although Joe has by now lost exact count, friends say he has has fabricated somewhere between 30 and 40 cars from scratch.
What Joe lacks in tools and facilities he more than makes up for with ingenuity and a willingness to try almost anything. He builds most of his bodies with heavier-gauge metals without a lot of subframing necessary to support the body panels. Build times for his cars vary, but usually he has them finished within a few weeks, or at most, a few months.
Follow along with these build sequence highlights from a couple of Iron Man Joe's projects, as well as a small gallery at the end showing a few of his creations.
Rob "Certain T"
Rob is from Adelaide, Australia and goes by the moniker "Certain T", for good reason. He has scratch built an amazing clone of Steve Scott's "Uncertain T", a wild rod originally built in the 1960's and adored by hundreds of young rodders who bought and built the Monogram scale model kit of the car. Rob was inspired to build the car by a picture which hung for years on his workshop wall.
The clone was built using a skeleton and skin technique. As shown in the photos, thin-wall square tubing was used for the body framework, and then Rob used what he calls a "stretch material" attached to the framework. This material is similar to that used by lightweight canoe and boat builders, and also hobbyists who construct fabric-skinned airplanes. Once in place, this stretch material is saturated with resin and then cured. Regular fiberglass mat and resin is then added to the back side of this smooth skin to provide additional strength.
Rob also built the chassis and suspension, and notes that the only parts of the car NOT handmade are the motor, transmission, differential, front end and wheels.
We begin Rob's gallery with a picture of his inspiration, the Monogram box cover for the "Uncertain T", and then provide a few build pictures along with shots of the final product.
Rob (Chuck) Berry
Rob Berry is another scratch builder from Australia. After retiring from his teaching job at a technical school for mechanics in the Queensland area, Rob Berry set out to prove his hot rodding buddies wrong. They told him it would be impossible to build his dream: a '34 Ford from scratch.
"Tex Smith says, 'You can do absolutely anything with a hammer and dolly...and there are body parts from newer cars that you can adapt as hot rod parts'", noted Berry. "Well, I took Tex quite literally."
With vintage cars extremely difficult to find in his country, Berry set out to create the body style of his dreams by salvaging the curves, corners, shapes and panels he needed from late-model automobiles with similar lines and shapes. "I have for a long time believed there are suitable panels out there that are very close to vintage lines," Berry went on. "I first went to a car show and politely asked an owner if I could use his (unfinished) '34 as a template and he was happy to oblige," says Berry. "I cut out cardboard templates of what I viewed as critical lines and took about 500 measurements using dressmaker's tape."
With his templates and measurements in hand, Berry headed for the junk yard. "Not having an English wheel, I started to search for a car with the same curve(s) as a '34." Berry said. "I found [the shapes I needed] in a Toyota Hi-Ace 12 Passenger Bus."
Berry proceeded to cut the panels he needed off the bus and then headed back home where he retrieved a photo of Jamie Musselman's beautiful '33 roadster built by Boyd Coddington. Rob traced the side profile of Musselman's car onto a transparency, and, with an overhead projector, he focused the image outline on a flat wall.
To get the size and scale of the drawing right, Berry used a 15" wheel and tire leaned against the wall where his image was projected. He then moved the projector forward and backward until the car was in relative proportion to the wheel. With the image correctly eyeballed to size, Berry drew the outline of the car onto the wall, and, from that outline, fashioned a buck with plywood and tubing. "To my amazement," says Berry, "the panels fit onto the buck pretty well." After some cutting and trimming of the various pieces, he clamped them to the buck and began the long, slow process of welding them together just a bit at a time to reduce heat build up and minimize warping of the panels.
"I guess I really just wanted to prove that I could do something different and still end up with a recognizable rod," said Berry. "I was told by so-called experts that it could not be done. So that just made me more eager to try."
To make the moldings around the bottom of the body, Berry fabricated his own bead roller from scrap steel. And to make the reveal around the rear wheel well, Berry bent 1" thin-wall tubing to the shape he wanted, and then he drove over it to flatten it into an oval. The bead was then welded to the sheet metal and filled and smoothed. For fenders, Berry determined that it would be cheaper to buy fiberglass aftermarket fenders than to fashion them himself.
Like Dr. Frankenstein meshing together an assortment of body parts to create his dream, Rob (Chuck) Berry did the same to create his long-desired '34 Ford. Here are some photos he took along the way.
Randy's Street Rods
Randy, of Randy's Street Rods in southern Louisiana, seems to have tried and mastered nearly every method there is for scratch building hot rod bodies. He built the yellow roadster body shown in the previous chapter (Photos 6-16 to 6-17) using the 3-step fiberglassing technique, he is currently building a body using the skeleton and skin technique, and as shown in the following pictures, he is a master at building in the "heavy metal" style.
"I have always said: the only thing that holds you back from doing something in life is yourself," says Randy about his success constructing scratch built hot rods. "I'm living my dream to the fullest. And I look at myself as your everyday kind of guy, just doing what I love to do. I believe that all things are possible. If you set your mind to it, you can do it. Building your own car is just a lot of homework," notes Randy. "It's not as difficult as some might think. Make your plan, then work your plan."
"I hand-build everything on my cars," Randy continues. "The frame (on the car shown below) is made of 2x4 tubing. The floor is 14-gauge steel and the car's shell is 12-gauge steel. I didn't try to get too fancy with this build. I just wanted to build a nice and safe rat rod while keeping the cost down."
Randy builds his creations in a very modest backyard shop. "Like every rodder, I wish I had more room in my shop," Randy says. "I have a 32'x22' shop. Some day I hope to have a 40'x60'."
As far as high-end tools go, Randy notes that, "All the steel on this build was cut with a cutoff wheel on a grinder. I do have a roller to shape some of my metal pieces, but other than that about the only high-end tool I use is my welder."
"I'm just your everyday hot rod guy, having fun and living my dream to the fullest," says Randy. "I do hope that a lot more hot rodders start to scratch build their own bodies. We need more builders like the guys a lot of us remember from the past. Guys we looked up to for their ability to create great looking cars without breaking the bank."
"I want to keep my cars easy to build," Randy points out. "Hopefully that will help motivate other rodders out there and show them that it's not that hard."
Follow along as these photos from Randy take you chronologically through the fabrication of his traditional pickup hot rod.
Dewey Lindstrom lives in northern Wisconsin and has been hot rodding since 1958 when he first customized his Jawa 125 at the age of 13. After building everything from T-buckets to a full race C/A drag machine, Lindstrom was bitten by the scratch building bug in 1992.
"As I got older what really appealed to me more and more was the traditional rods based on 20's or 30's-era body styles," says Lindstrom. "But decent metal bodies were just getting too expensive and difficult to find. And fiberglass bodies seemed pretty steep for the amount of work you had to put into them once you got them home."
"The other thing that stuck in my craw was that young people were being driven away from hot rodding because of the extremely high cost of getting involved," Lindstrom went on. "So I got this idea in my head that somehow hot rodders ought to be able to build their bodies from scratch, and do it in their backyards with a minimum of tools and expensive equipment."
Lindstrom's first attempt at scratch building was done in his basement (his garage was not heated) where he fabricated a '32 sedan body out of plywood, with the intention of covering the wood with fiberglass. The major problem was that he couldn't get the car out the basement door without sawing it in half down the center. So, the body was taken apart before glassing and the project was abandoned.
The following year, however, he set out to build a smaller body and to do it out in his shop. This body was built using the fiberglass "sandwich" method. The basic shape of the car was created using a lightweight wood framework covered with a combination of aluminum roof flashing and wood veneer. This "core" was then covered with fiberglass and resin on both the inside and outside. Fenders were made by shaping and welding 3/8" fence post rods, and then wrapping aluminum roof flashing over the rod. The flashing was then covered with fiberglass. (See photo 6-20 in prior chapter.)
The car was a disaster in terms of looks, but was an effective learning experience for the builder. After a couple of years' hiatus from hot rodding (so he and his wife could move to the west coast where she finished graduate school) Lindstrom returned to northern Wisconsin in 2004, where he set out to build his first all-steel street rod body.
"I wanted to prove to myself once and for all that a safe, fun and eye-appealing hot rod could be built on what a high school kid might make working at McDonald's," Lindstrom recalls. "I had a target budget of $3,500 for that car (the roadster shown below). Unfortunately, I ended up going about $1,000 overboard. But, I think the point was still made. With a minimum of metalworking skills and virtually no specialty or high-end tools, I was able to get the roadster completed and on the road. "
"I can't say this often enough," Lindstrom concludes. "If I can do this, any hot rodder reading these pages can do this. I had no metalworking skills, training, or experience going into this project and no high-end tools to speak of other than my welder and a chop saw. Mostly it just takes time and tenacity. If you are willing to devote yourself to the project, you can create almost any dream you have in your head."
Here, in chronological order, you can follow the fabrication of Lindstrom's replica 1931 Ford roadster.
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