When it comes to restoring or modifying classic cars, there will inevitably be rust that needs to be dealt with. The classic cars we now work on were at one time daily drivers. That means they were subjected to driving conditions that took their toll on all of the pieces that make the car whole. What would you say if we told you that it is possible for you to build your classic dream car and not have to deal with rust? What if it was 1966 all over again, and you could build an all-new Chevy II? Would you? Thanks to the folks at Real Deal Steel of Sanford, Florida, now you can.
Real Deal Steel has been building all-new classic Chevy bodies since 2011, when they first released their 1957 Chevy hardtop, convertible, and sedan models. Since then, they have given enthusiasts the 1955 Chevy (also in hardtop, sedan, and convertible), the ’56 Chevy convertible, the ’67, ’68, and 69 Camaro coupe, and now, the ‘66-‘67 Nova versions.
The alignment of all the panels relies heavily on the foundation. The floor is first to mount to the jig system. The mounts protruding through the floor are other attachment points for more pieces of the jig that will be mounted later in the assembly process.
If someone had told us 30 years ago that all-new musclecar bodies would be available someday, we would have told them they were nuts. Heck, 30 years ago it was hard enough to get quality replacement panels just to do repairs. Back then, the only way to get a quality panel was to hope you could find an N.O.S piece. The problem with that is, even if you did find what you needed, it was usually pricey. We remember paying $1,000 for a ’69 Chevelle quarter-panel.
With the floor secured to the jig, the front subframe pieces and firewall are attached.
Back To The Future
The new bodies help make it possible to build your dream Chevy II without starting with an overpriced, rusty hulk. – Joe Whitaker
It’s hard to believe that complete, reproduction bodies are now commonplace. It still amazes us that at one time, the aftermarket that was unable to supply quality replacement panels has stepped-up their game in recent years, and not only supply quality-made repair panels, but entire steel bodies! When you think about it, the technology employed to make repair metal has changed drastically in the last 30 years, and that evolving technology has changed the way products are made. These technological advancements have made it possible to reverse engineer parts, which means a nearly-perfect original part can be scanned and developed into an exact replication, quicker and less expensive than ever before.
Getting back to our Nova body, the plan to build a complete ’66 and ’67 Nova body didn’t just “happen.” It began with the availability of new replacement panels, such as floors, rocker panels, quarter-panels, door skins, and fenders. Originally, these repair panels were made so enthusiasts could repair rusty vehicles. But, as anyone who has worked on rust can attest, it’s tough to get rid of.
All seams are welded using a pinch/spot welder.
As an example, when replacing a rusted quarter-panel you will often times find that the wheelhouses and floors are also afflicted with rust. This domino-effect of finding rust has led to a continuous supply of new repair panels. Eventually, repair panels gave way to complete body components. Why repair a rust hole in a fender when you can buy a new, complete fender?
Next comes the assembly and installation of the main jig assembly. This portion is comprised of several pieces that are bolted together, and mounted to the main table under the floor.
Rust poses a huge dilemma when restoring a car, and since all-new roof skins, inner roof structures, complete quarter-panels, wheel tubs, doors, and fenders are available, why not assemble a complete car? We asked Joe Whitaker, of Real Deal, how long they had been planning to build the ’66-‘67 Nova body, and he said, “The components for the 1966 and 1967 Chevy II body have been available to us for about five years. We have them produced by the same factory group that stamps all of our 1955 through 1957 Chevy body components.”
Getting A Title Is Easy
A major concern for many enthusiasts is the ability to get a title for these all-new bodies. We’re here to tell you that it is not a difficult process. If you go to the SEMA Action Network page, you can find all of the information you need to title any of Real Deal’s new bodies in any state.
This sounds good, but it is easier said than done. There is no possible way that these new panels and pieces could simply be welded together by the home enthusiast in his or her garage. If attempted, critical body measurements would not be within spec, and it would be impossible to build the car. So, the use of fixtures and jigs that hold each panel to a close structural tolerance had to be designed and built. This was no easy task, as Whitaker attests, “We have had our hands full developing the fixtures, production, and sales of our Tri-Five Chevy and 1967 through 1969 Camaro bodies, and have just within the last year been able to devote time to developing the fixtures needed to assemble the Chevy II.” One year! It took nearly one year to design, develop, and ultimately build the fixtures needed for assembling the new body – nobody said it would be easy. We had heard that Real Deal was working on the Nova body back in 2015, and in September 2016, we were finally able to go to the shop and see one be assembled.
Let’s Get ‘Er Done
When we arrived at the Real Deal Steel body plant in Sanford, Florida, we met the men behind the new bodies, Joe Whitaker and Randy Irwin. As soon as we walked inside the building we were greeted by no less than four Real Deal Steel bodies in different levels of completion. Being able to talk about these all new bodies is one thing, but actually looking at a brand new Tri-Five and ’69 Camaro body seems strange – in a good way.
The “skeleton” of the car was then attached to the floor of the car, and the internal jig.
To offer full disclosure, we have to let you know that most of the steel panels are stamped in Taiwan. But, that includes 98-percent of the aftermarket-supplied repair panels, not just the one’s Real Deal uses. At one time, that presented a quality issue. But as of late, the manufacturing processes have improved, and so have the quality standards. Whitaker said, “Some of the skin items we use, we do not directly import ourselves, (like items from AMD).”
Next comes the interior and exterior cowl pieces.
We also asked Whitaker why they decided that a new Deuce body was needed, and he gladly stated, “Since we are enthusiasts ourselves and constantly communicate with others in our hobby and industry, we knew the demand would be great for the new Chevy II body once produced. Twenty years ago, a 1966 or 1967 Chevy II coupe in good condition could still be found. Times have changed. Like many collectible GM classics, the good affordable cars have just about dried up. Demand from the enthusiast is still there, but availability is low. The new bodies help make it possible to build your dream Chevy II without starting with an overpriced, rusty hulk.”
Building A Better Body
Although the panels are made overseas, in order to maintain high quality completed bodies and keep the cost within reach, the bodies are hand assembled right here in Sanford, Florida. After the panels are stamped at a facility overseas, they are loaded into a shipping container and transported to the states.
With the car's inner structure installed, it was time to add the inner wheel tubs and package tray assembly.
This process allows Real Deal to order and ship enough parts to build 30 bodies in one container. This saves them money, which saves you money. According to Whitaker, “Large skeleton items like the full floors, trunk floors, and inner quarter-panels (not skin parts that are easily damaged) come loose in the container. Skin parts like quarter-panels, doors, roof panels, and fenders, and are boxed individually. Small items are bulk boxed.”
The tail panel and rear-deck filler panel get positioned.
Each body is assembled on fixtures that ensure each one will be the same as every other. First, the floor section is mounted to the base fixture. This base is what positions every piece and panel of the body. From there, the firewall section, cowl section, inner skeleton, and then outer body panels are welded in place. True to the original body, these new units are spot-welded using a water-cooled, production-style, resistance spot welder, much like you would see on a modern automotive assembly line – except the Real Deal guys fill in for the robots.
All panels are fitted, clamped and screwed, and then properly aligned before they are welded into place.
The introduction of all-new steel ’66 and ’67 Nova bodies will no doubt deliver an increase in Hot Rod Novas found at car shows. We understand that as a model, the ’66 and ’67 Nova is not actually considered rare by most standards, and their popularity definitely drives demand for the cars that are available. This all-new body can fill a need that many enthusiasts have to build the Nova of their dreams. Building a custom ride from a car that is original is something that many frown upon. This new body affords any enthusiast the opportunity to build the car however they wish.
To that end, the Real Deal Chevy II is a great option for a custom build. Whitaker told us, “The Chevy II body can be purchased as a skeleton with no skins (a DIY body), a shell with quarter-panels and roof skin installed, or a complete shell with quarter-panels, roof skin, doors, and deck lid installed and fitted.” Whitaker continued, “Our bodies can be ordered as stock or with mini-tubs installed, which allow use of up to 315 mm wide rear tires. Other options include bodies for those wanting a column shifter and bench seat, automatic floor shifter with bucket seats, or manual floor shift with bucket seats.”
These all-new steel bodies are a great way to get into building a car, but we also know that many people have concerns. For starters, these – and all reproduction bodies – do not have a vehicle title or VIN number. Never fear, there are ways you can get a title and VIN for your new body when a complete car is assembled. What you will need to do is register the car as a specialty-built vehicle with your state.
Once the body is fully assembled and welded, the fixture inside the car was removed.
In order to register the car, Real Deal offers a bill of sale which is the first piece of the puzzle when titling your new car. Many times, the state will ask for a Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin (MSO) from the car manufacturer. Since Real Deal Steel is not a vehicle manufacturer (they are actually a body assembly company), they do not issue an MSO. For all states, the Real Deal invoice will serve as the MSO when obtaining the state-issued VIN. If you have an existing title and VIN, do not try to use them on your new body. This is against the law, and can land you in serious trouble.
Ready to be secured to a pallet and delivered to its new owner.
Remember to keep meticulous records of every part purchase you make to complete the car. This is especially true of drivetrain components. Johnny Law likes to track these parts, and know where they came from, and where they belong. We also recommend that you contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles, and ask them what you would need to get your title. Follow their instructions explicitly, this is a government agency after all. You can find state specific information by visiting the SEMA Action Network’s page.