El Cheapo: Building A Rat Rod For $1,500. Episode 3 – The Body Pt II

If you can ever get it into your mind that a hot rod is just a piece of metal, your build will go a whole lot smoother. I believe that Ed (Big Daddy) Roth realized this early on. Just remember, when you’re building a hot rod, if you cut something too short, you can weld it back. If you warp it, you can straighten it. If you burn a hole in it, you can patch the hole … you get the picture.

Here’s what we were starting with.

Is this over simplifying things? No, not at all. All of the old builders that are legends today, built outside the box. They were not builders that just bolted on new parts. They took chances and came up with something really cool and unusual.

What We Were Working With

With the frontier spirit of all of this leading us, we began building our ’48 Ford, 3/4-ton truck. The pictures in the previous body article can’t even do it half  justice. This truck was laying in a field for twenty-five years, uncovered, and sitting in mud. That should paint the picture, but just to be clear and drive the point into the ground, I will expound even further.

The doors were severely rusted seven to eight inches from the bottom, the floor and dashboard were rusted out, the top windshield groove totally eaten away by rust, and the list of afflicted metal goes on, and on. So why would I even tackle such a piece of junk. The $400.00 price tag on this P.O.S. was exactly what a customer owed me on a project, and since he didn’t have the cash to pay… Henceforth, I could either accept this junk pile for the $400.00 owed, or forever be screwed out of $400.00. It was a no-brainer! I’m never gonna get screwed out of money if I can help it.

Getting Started

After getting this prize home (and pulling several hands full of hair out; don’t worry I’ve got plenty), I had to come up with a cheap plan. Here is where the $1,500.00 hot rod idea was born. I decided the top was too rusted to use, so building a roadster seemed like the only logical choice. The second decision was to shorten the windshield frame, as it looked hideous at it’s original height with the roof eliminated. I decided that 10 inches would be my windshield height. With the top off, and the windshield shortened, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tie down straps help hold everything in place when you get ready to do surgery.

The next step that needed to be taken was obvious. The body was way too tall to be a roadster, and the door bottoms were shot anyway, so I started cutting. I removed the bottom hinges and shortened the doors by 8 inches, then reinstalled the hinges. This is not as big of a deal as it sounds. With all the tools we have in todays market, you can cut another hinge cradle with a side grinder and cutting wheel, or Sawzall, or a multitude of other tools. I mention these because we’re building this rod on a dime, and these tools are plenty cheap.

The next piece of the project came strictly from standing back and saying, “Hmmm… something doesn’t look right.” The windshield looked out of proportion, and the issue was in the area of the body where it makes a slight turn up for the side glass. Even at 10 inches of height, it looked disproportionate, so I cut that lip off all the way around. That really helped the look, but of course left a gapping hole along the doors.

You can take some out of the middle and some off of the top. The amount is up to you and what looks right.

We’ll come back to this in a minute, but first let me clear something up. Anytime you start surgery on a rod, even if it’s just a top chop, you always have to X-brace the vehicle. This can be something as simple as a 1/2-inch rebar tacked from left front to right rear, and opposite, to something a lot more creative. The reason for this support is to keep the body square and the doors aligned while cutting.

Go With What You Like

I did all these modifications on the ’48 cab, however, the next step I took made it all useless. Here’s why: I never miss a weekend at a car show somewhere, even if it means driving forever. Of all the shows I’ve been to, I’ve never liked the looks of a rodded truck with a full-size cab that didn’t have a hood or fenders. You get the idea, that open roadster look. I dig truck rods, but the bodies seem to dwarf the exposed engine. It’s as if the engine is buried in the mix.

For this reason, I decided to take 12 inches out of the center of this ’48 Ford. Thus the X-brace theory goes out the window. It also takes us back to our intro addressing the fact that a hot rod is nothing but a piece of metal. I know this sounds scary, but believe me when I say, “It really shouldn’t  be.”

In this price range you will be working with some rough metal, but there are ways to make it right.

Everything gets started by finding the center of the vehicle – both back and front. You continue this center mark up the back and from ground to the cowl. If the vehicle has a top, continue it there as well. Once this line is established, make a mark 6 inches on both sidesway from top to bottom. These marks must also be on your dashboard. That’s why X-bracing won’t help you much for this process, so it’s a good idea to space your doors before hand. Shim the doors and actually tack weld them into place. I’m not talking monster welds, instead use light tacks that can be easily ground off.

Cut It Out

Once these marks are done, a cutting wheel will cut through the metal like butter. This is much the ame way we took 8 inches off the bottom of the cab and doors. We simply sat the cab on the floor, marked up 8 inches and continued to mark all around the cab.

Our body was starting to come together nicely.

After all of this cutting, your rod should be sitting in two pieces on the ground. Shove the two halves together and line them up according to body lines. After sectioning several body’s, I’ve found it’s easier to start your tackwelds at the front. With cowl and firewall lined up, it’s best to make one tack at the front of the cowl, and one at the midpoint of the firewall. It would seem better to make one on the front and one on back of the body, but this doesn’t work out near as well. Once the tacks are about 6 inches apart, up the firewall and down the cowl, move to the back.

The body will be sprung and appear to be impossible to connect. This is where a body band comes in handy. If you don’t have one, a ratchet strap or a cable come-along with rags under the cable to prevent marring the body will work. With a little ratcheting, the body will come together like it was meant to be that way. This is true with trucks or cars.

All of that rusted window area is gone and replaced with fiberglass and filler.

Once the rod is tacked back together and everything lines up, you can add short 3/4-inch welds in different places until it’s all seamed together, After that, simply grind the welds smooth. Space the welds far enough apart as you make them, so as not to warp the body from the heat.

First Time Freak Out

The last step of the surgery will probably freak you out at first. You’ll notice that when the body is together, the dash is still apart. Don’t panic. Take a come-along and hook it to the kick panels inside and start ratcheting. The dash will come together perfectly, and the job is almost complete. You may need to cut a hole in these kick panels to pull from.


After the freak out, you can get down to business and put your body together like you want it.

Now, back to those gaping holes along the tops of the doors where the side glass normally comes through. Install 3/4-inch plywood that is cut to fit, around the inside of your windshield frame. You can glue it into place, and hold it with a clamp. Once done, cover these areas with fiberglass and mesh. Once the fiberglass is set, sand and cover with Bondo to perfect it.

Now we have a good foundation to work from.

With this surgery completed, the cab becomes a brand new creature, and the best $400.00 I’ve ever been screwed out of. I’ve tried this surgery on trucks, coupes, sedans, and yes, even a station wagon – It works every time! In the next issue, we will build a pickup bed and ready the body for frame mounting, followed by building the frame.

Make sure to check out Ring Rods Hot Rod Shop at www.ringrods-hotrods.com.

Article Sources

About the author

Tommy Ring

Tommy’s love for Hotrods was passed down from the elder Ring who wrenched on cars and welded. Tommy’s living came from music as a road musician in venues across America. Tommy also worked as a studio musician and wrote for a jingle company, yet always had a project Rod going on the side. In 2009 Tommy opened RingRods HotRod Shop and in 2012 began writing for RatRod Magazine. Tommy also has a Rod Building Video sold worldwide. Tommy has been featured on TV, Radio, Podcast, and in several magazines.
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