Fat Man Fabrication Brings Knowledge And Experience To Rod Builders

Some folks can be know-it-alls when it comes to custom cars.

Yet when it comes to hands-on experience, few people in the car scene are as well versed about the subject as Fat Man Fabrication’s fearless leader Brent Vandervort. He is one of those men who has learned a lot about car chassis setups, personally working on many different variations over the years. In short, he knows what most of us have forgotten, or never learned in the first place.

Fat Man Fabrication, like so many companies, started when a need collided with a passion. Like many American males, Brent’s automotive career began when he was young. His first car was a 1930 Model A Ford pickup, which he used to haul around equipment for the band in which he played bass. He also began dealing in original 1933-34 Ford parts (and a few reproduction pieces) during his tenure in college.

Brent plays bass guitar and enjoys playing rock, bluegrass, and gospel music to this day. He used this Model A Pickup that he and his brother restored to haul the band’s equipment.

From there, Brent picked up a somewhat rare, 1933 Ford Victoria. He explains, “I learned a lot about metalwork on that car, as it needed EVERYTHING! But I got it done. I used a Volvo 122 independent front suspension (IFS) under the front of it. That involved learning a lot about IFS and proper geometry.”

Brent was always challenging himself with a new project. From the 1933 Victoria, he moved on to a 1934 Buick 60-Series club sedan — a rather unusual car to build into a street rod in pre-dare-to-be-different 1976. Brent reports the car ran pretty good, but it also moved aside, being replaced with a 1933 Ford Tudor.

Brent's first street rod was a '33 Ford Tudor, which he sold before it was finished to buy his wife’s engagement ring. Next was a '33 Ford Victoria, one of less than 1500 built. Brent learned sheet metal repair and chassis building on this car. The first image is from 1972, when Brent was working on the body. He used a Volvo 122 IFS on it (and the '33 Tudor later) and had the car completed in this photo from 1974. He would sell the car two years later to purchase a '34 Buick 60-series club sedan.

The 1933 Tudor was a real low-miles car and had a superb body. Unlike the Victoria, there wasn’t much bodywork to do, so Brent decided to lower its lid by a few inches. It was the first of more than 100 cars on which Brent chopped the top, and it was the car that really got him experimenting with IFS.

Fixing The Factory Chassis

In learning the proper geometry for an IFS system, Brent found a few examples of how bad a factory suspension could be; and how badly they needed an updated version with proper geometry. He lists as an example, a certain 1964 Falcon sedan delivery, that stands as a poster-child for the definition of bumpsteer!

We laughed then, but it sounds better than Brent’s Hot Rod Shop. – Brent Vandervort, Fat Man Fabrication

Brent continued to work both top-side and bottom on a variety of cars, doing a slew of top-chops and sheet metal repairs as a side job. In 1982, he moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and began working in different hot rod shops, doing chassis and sheet metal work.

Brent built this 1934 Buick (left) before many folks even considered them street rods. Then, along came the Citroen (middle). Besides the severe rust repair, Brent "had to get VERY creative to keep the front-drive IFS with a turbo'd BMW 2-liter and a VW type IV transaxle." After that, he picked up this 1933 Ford (right), the first vehicle he ever chopped the top on. It was the first of more than 100 cars to get that treatment by Brent.

A 1938 Citroen 15 Traction Avant continued the challenge of chassis building for Brent. The car was all unibody, stood 54-inches tall and featured front-wheel-drive with a six-cylinder engine. Unlike the previous hot rod chassis, this one had torsion bars for all four corners and featured rack-and-pinion steering, introduced on the car in 1937!

Brent went all-out in seeking a chassis solution and found it in a 2-liter BMW with a Volkswagen Type-4 transaxle set up for front-wheel-drive. He also installed British knock-off wheels and disc brakes to this car. He admits, “I learned a LOT on this one!”

 

(Top) The '57 Chevy was a joint effort with a very close friend who owned the car while Fat Man had a new chassis to market. Being Smokey Yunick fans, they chose to build a "what if" car that Smokey might have driven on the street. Many genuine NASCAR items such as seats, tin interior, window straps, and headlight covers were used to carry off the illusion. (Left) Brent built the 1950 Ford convertible from a real rust-bucket. As many of the cars through the years, it was used to create an entire line of parts and launch Fat Man Fabrication, leading the charge for hot rod parts for '50s cars. (Left Middle) Brent found a good deal on a low-mileage, frame-off restored '67 F100 and proceeded to develop and install an entire line of IFS and rear four-bar suspension for the later Ford trucks. Done in 2006, he still uses it and has hauled show displays and chassis all over the country. (Right Middle) Brent's oldest daughter needed a car, so they restored this '68 Mustang in "Barbie Dream car" colors — turquoise with a white top. The car was redone again and used to develop a McPherson strut IFS for those cars.

Fat Man Fabrication’s roots were first planted in the fertile soil of Brent’s backyard around 1985. He began focusing on chassis work and devised ways to improve some current products. Brent started reaching out to the street rod community as he was the state inspector for the National Street Rod Association.

“The 49 Chevy came along in 1992, with our first Mustang II IFS for those cars and powered by a 500 Caddy — the worst engine I ever had to deal with in a hot rod. After spinning the bearings a couple of times, I learned to add an engine oil cooler, which dropped the engine temp from 240 and above, to just over 200 degrees!”

The origination of the name “Fat Man” can best be explained by Brent. “The name came from a conversation at an MG restoration shop where I rebuilt and fabricated vintage British sportscar sheet metal,” he explains. “A man came in and asked for the ‘tin man.’ I was a little larger than the other guys, so another worker hollered out, ‘that’s the Fat Man!’ We laughed then, but it sounds better than Brent’s hot rod shop.”

Fat Man supplies dropped spindles for kingpin-style factory IFS, as well as dropped spindle assemblies for classics and muscle cars.

The first product made to sell (at the Charlotte Speedway Swap Meet), was a bracket to mount air conditioning and alternators to small-block Chevy engines. Ford’s Mustang II suspensions were finding their way under a myriad of different autos, and Brent figured out how to correct some of the bump steer issues that plagued the first retrofit kits sold by some.

Fat Man was the first to offer Mustang II lower control arms without a strut rod. They also developed MII-type coilover conversions in conjunction with Carrera Shocks (Left). Since then, they've devised ways to put coilover shocks, as well as complete Mustang II chassis (Center) under a plethora of cars and trucks. They even offer bolt-in systems, like this one for 1960-'87 Chevy pickups. (Right)

The Ford Falcon and Mustang II kits proved to Brent that even the OEMs still had a few things to learn about properly setting up an IFS. Word gets around, and Brent soon found himself selling bump steer solutions to some folks in nearby NASCAR. That opened the conversation for identifying and correcting geometry issues of a chassis.

That lead Brent to completely re-think the Mustang II suspension, and he began selling his first complete Mustang II IFS. He recalls, “They started to sell, and I remember thinking, if I could sell ten kits a month, I’d be thrilled. Now we sell that many on some days!”

Complete chassis was a natural progression. Using its years of experience, Fat Man created a complete chassis that utilizes the proper geometry throughout, thus improving ride quality, handling, and safety! The chassis on the left is for '49-'51 Fords, the one on the right is for Tri-Five Chevy.

Around this time, a 1950 Ford convertible found its way into Brent’s care. In his words, it was “a real rust bucket!” He attacked it headfirst, and all that oxide proved to be a blessing in disguise. This car was used to create an entire line of parts, which launched him and his fledgling company into supplying hot rod parts for ’50s vehicles.

Fat Man Fabrications bought a new property in 1988 with a bigger backyard. It featured a 1,250-square-foot shop, which soon grew to house five employees. The growth necessitated moving to its present location in 1990. Fat Man began leasing 3,000-square-feet as part of a building it now owns in a 7-acre industrial complex.

In Brent's words, "I chased a 28,000-mile 1933 5-window coupe for years and restored it when I got it. It was really too nice to hot rod. The flathead left me walking enough times that I sent it down the road for the cash to build the only glass-body car I have ever owned, the '33 fenderless Tudor. I drove that a couple of years, including two cross-country trips. I really enjoyed it, then sold it and built the Deuce Tudor, just to see what all the '32 fuss was about. I liked the car and it won awards but was too small to be comfortable, so down the road it went. By the way, the '32 and '34 Ford highboy sedans both had small-block Chevys disguised by putting DeSoto Hemi, and then Ardun, valve covers over the SBC valve covers."

Fat Man Fabrication has always specialized in chassis parts — particularly independent-front-suspension components, which naturally led to complete new chassis. It now builds more than 22 different types of hot rod chassis. Fat Man celebrated building its 25,000th suspension/steering kit in 2006, by giving it away to a rodder. He happened to be a veteran, returning to his ‘52 Chevy PU project. Brent reports, “We felt really good about that one!”

Other Projects To Feel Good About:

2001 Street Rodder Tour car (1936 Chevy Standard Tudor)

2012 Street Rodder Tour car chassis (1940 Ford coupe, completed by Hollywood Hot Rods)

2013 Street Rodder Tour car chassis (1951 Ford Tudor, completed by Honest Charley’s Garage)

1997 Goodguys Giveaway (1953 Ford Tudor)

Fat Man Fabrications has been on the receiving end as well; mostly for awards. Everything from its innovative new products, cars they have personally completed, and even Brent himself have earned awards for their contributions to the rodding community. In 2011, Brent was chosen as the NSRA’s Man of The Year. He has received several Hall of Fame inductions, as well as holds positions on several boards, including the Carolinas Air Museum.

As you look through Fat Man’s offerings, you find it offers chassis components to improve the ride and handling of a broad spectrum of cars. It can provide them, only because a passionate group of enthusiasts recognized a need through their various experiences, building and improving on a broad scope of automobiles. While a constant flow of new products and innovations does help support a growing company, it also greatly helps enthusiasts seeking a solution to a problem in their garages.

Many of these chassis haven’t been manufactured for decades, but the pursuit to make them better does not have an expiration date. Whether you’re needing a solution for today’s chassis challenge, or bring one home in a future project, rest assured that Fat Man Fabrication can help see you through to get your car safely on the road.

Article Sources

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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