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Step 10: Body Work

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If you don't follow anything else out of all of this there is one golden rule. Get your chassis finished first, then start work on the body.

Before doing any body work is a really good time to take some benchmark measurements.

It's also a good idea to perform any modifications whilst the car is still together as it will give a good over all perspective of what the finished article will look like. Have a look at things like steering columns and pedals

Stripping Paint

There are basically 3 methods for getting rid of old paint, each has it's pro's and cons.

Chemical Stripping

This is where the whole body, chassis or panels are dipped in a bath of acidic solution. After coming out of the bath the parts are washed and usually sprayed with a neutralizing agent. If you want to get rid of all the paint on a body this is a way of doing it. However it is not uncommon for the solution to continue seeping out from some of the hidden or sealed panels for years after, destroying your nice new paint but also continuing to eat away at those metal panels. Best used where drainage is good and there is no opportunity for the acid to remain. NOTE: You must be careful with what parts you leave on the car as some parts, especially those made out of pot metal will disappear in the bath.

SandBlasting / Bead blasting

This is another very effective and reasonably quick way of getting rid of old paint. However the body has to be properly prepared with all rubber and clips etc removed. One of the big problems with sand blasting is the heat generated by the process. On some large flat panels this can cause buckling and expansion which will require further work to restore to original. This is why the blasting companies have experimented with other mediums such as baking soda and very small plastic pellets which have both been very successful.

Striping / Sanding

Probably the most time consuming method, but just as effective. The stripper is applied to the painted areas, left for few minutes then scrapped off. After the car has been stripped, it is then mechanically sanded and finally hand finished, smooth

Molasses Dip

A really good and cheap means of removing years rust from panels. Just let the parts soak in a mixture of water and molasses. The chemical reaction will produce metal parts clean of rust and with just a quick rinse with the hose, looking as good as new. To get the most effect make sure to scrape off as much surface build up prior to placing in the solution.


This is where buying a good body to start with will really pay off. Any body that's 50 plus years old is going to have some rust repairs, but if the larger panels are basically straight you are at a tremendous advantage. There are an enormous range of patch and replacement panels available on the reproduction market, so long as these were factored into the total cost of the project. But if they now come as a surprise they can very quickly turn that bargain you thought you got, into a big budget blow out.

As an example a rusted out or poorly repaired lower pan on a '36 Ford Coupe will cost you over $400 for a replacement panel, plus then you have to either have it fitted or fit it your self, costing maybe another $200, ready for paint

If you have the skill and time is on your side, you have an advantage in maybe buying a body that requires a bit of work at a lower price. Consider taking up a TAFE course, not necessarily for the skills you will learn but for the access it will give you for tools that you don't have or normally need.



Chopping the roof on a car is still one of the most dramatic and effective ways of changing the appearance of a car. Bodies from the 20's and 30's are a lot easier to chop because the pillars are a lot more upright than cars of the 40's and 50's. How much to chop is usually left up to the owner, but 3 inches or 75mm is very common. And there's good reason for it too. It gives the car the required new look as well as still remaining practical.


This is where the body is lowered over the chassis. To do this the floor must be raised inside the body. It gives the effect of a lowered car without changing any of the mechanical components.


To give a body cleaner lines the builder will sometimes remove door handles and or side trim. This is called shaving. This often involves the filling of hundreds of small holes which the trim attached to the body via clips.


Most original older cars had chrome trim and badges on the bonnet (hood) and boot (trunk), either as original equipment or as an accessory. By decking the bonnet or boot a builder would remove all these items. Even the keyhole for the boot lock, which would be modified to operate remotely.


A radical body modification not performed very often. The builder makes a longitudinal cut down the middle of the body from front to back, either adding or removing a section. This makes the body either wider or narrower. This will usually require additional chassis and suspension work to match the chassis to the new body.


If the factory didn't make a particular body style in a year that you really like, you can make one yourself. This is the new growth area for reproduction body manufacturers as the produce bodies that resemble existing years, but are now reproducing bodies of heavily modified concept cars. Examples of the Phantom are the 2 door tourer and extra cab closed pickup.

See Cost - Glass vs Steel
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