Body off: It's one of those terms that gets tossed around the car world to signify the amount of work one has put into their project. Whether it's a restoration or a custom, when a person throws those words into the mix you know that they weren't messing around when they built their car. And let's face it, pulling the body off of the frame can be one of the more challenging steps in building a car; a body is big, heavy, and there's a lot of "stuff" keeping the frame firmly attached to it. Combine that with nearly 50 years of leaking oil, caked on mud, and road grime and you have a big, greasy, dirty job on your hands.
Since we are replacing the crusty old frame with a brand new Art Morrison Enterprises (AME) Tri-Five chassis, it's not as bad of a job as it could be. With all the suspension, body, drivetrain, and bumper mounts jig-welded onto the new AME frame, countless hours spent cleaning, repairing, and updating the original have been eliminated. It's simply a matter of rolling the old frame out from under the body and replacing it with the new AME chassis, leaving us with some serious hardware for the next swap meet.
Since the body is now off of the frame, we have a great opportunity to prepare it for the new chassis and to repair any sheetmetal and any rust spots that the floor may have. While we thought that we had a rust-free car, we were surprised to see a soft spot in the driver's foot well.
Danchuck supplied us with a replacement panel and we were able to quickly repair the area, saving us hours of headaches. Since we are running the massive T56 six-speed from Keisler Automotive, capable of handling our Bill Mitchell small-block, we also needed to make some modifications to the transmission tunnel. This is the only transmission that requires tunnel mods, as even a TH400 has plenty of room under the stock tunnel.
With the Danchuck panel welded into place and the transmission tunnel fixed, we were able to direct our attention to the rear half of the car that needed a few little touches to accept the chassis. Once Art disconnected the fuel line and sending unit wire, he was able to remove the fuel tank. After closer inspection, we found that it was full of rust and had a small but dangerous leak. Thankfully, Danchuck makes a direct replacement, complete with sending unit.
In order to get the body to properly fit onto the chassis we needed to remove the stock pinion snubber and a small brake bracket. A little work with a cutoff wheel and they were no longer an issue. Since the Tri-Five trunks are offset to the driver side, we had to make some room for the left rear shock bracket. A few taps with a ball-peen hammer provided us with more than enough clearance for the bracket as well as the coilover's mounting hardware. Thankfully GM provided Tri-Five Chevys with cavernous wheel wells. As a result we are able to fit a set of 275/45ZR18 BFGoodrich g-Force/TA tires mounted on Boyd Magnetos into the stock wheel housing.
If nearly 11 inches of rubber weren't enough for you, this would be the perfect time to move the wheel wells in a few inches to accommodate up to 345mm of tire. At this point, you can also take the floor down to bare steel and paint it, undercoat it, or just leave it as-is. With track time already booked for testing, we left the floor as-is and will address it when we take the GT55 to the body shop.
Gearheads are a creative bunch, and lifting a body off of a frame will definitely require use of this creativity. Thankfully, we had access to a two-post lift to raise the complete body off of the frame. While we are not telling you that this is the only way to lift the body off of your car, it is definitely one of the easiest. Some buddies, a couple of jacks and a few 2x4s can achieve the same results.
Whatever you can do to safely lift up and support the body while you replace the frame will work. What we are showing you are the things that need to be loosened, removed and unbolted so you can do the job at home and prepare to install AME's new Tri-Five chassis. So have a look at the following pages and see what's involved with a body-off project.