When we last left you, the Golden Star Auto giveaway 1955 Chevy, built by Woody’s Hot Rodz, looked very little like any Tri-Five you’ve ever seen. The car, which will be awarded to one lucky soul at the inaugural Danchuck Tri-Five Nationals presented by Super Chevy and produced by Woody’s Hot Rodz, in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on August 14-15, 2015, has come a long way in just a few short months.
For anyone unfamiliar with the project, or those in need of a quick refresher, the car is based on a stock ’55 Chevy chassis, upgraded with a Woody’s Hot Rodz Weld-In X Member and Rear Shock Crossmember. It is suspended on Woody’s tubular control arms, features Viking adjustable shocks and stock rear leaf springs. A Chevrolet 350ci, 195-horsepower crate engine, topped with a Holley intake manifold and carburetor provide the go, and a Phoenix Transmission Products-built 700-R4 deliver power to the refreshed original differential with 3.55 gears.
After the last installment, the crew had completed a solid and thoroughly modernized foundation of suspension and powertrain for the car. It was now time to get to work on one of their reproduction bodies to set on top of the rolling chassis. We caught up with the guys to observe how a stack of non-discreet stamped-steel body pieces take shape into an official, Chevrolet-licensed 1955 Chevy body. The recipe seems pretty simple: quality parts, modern construction processes, and talented hands. While that may be a gross oversimplification of the process, the crew at Woody’s makes it look that easy.
You’ve heard the expression “built from the ground up.” Well, Woody’s approaches a body build in the same way – it all starts with a freshly stamped floorpan. That pan is bolted onto an original frame. That frame has been straightened and corrected to tolerances much tighter than could have ever been achieved on a 1950s GM assembly line.
Next, the firewall and front cowl are welded into place. Anyone that has spent time working on a factory Tri-Five body will recall that it is the result of hundreds of spot welds, linking together the panels. Even though Woody’s builds bodies in much the same way as Fisher originally did, they use modern MIG and TIG welding equipment to fasten panels together.
Sure, they could spot weld panels together for the sake of period correctness, but manufacturing technology has improved hundredfold since the last ’55 Chevy rolled off the assembly line. And, having a rigid, durable chassis is much more important than period correctness in this instance.
“A lot of technology has been improved in the last 60 years,” said Woody’s owner Chris Sondles. “Just because a vehicle was built a certain way in the 1950s doesn’t mean that is the best way to construct it now. Any welder will tell you a MIG weld is much stronger than a spot weld.”
Modern welding practices are also applied to body gaps that Chevrolet would have originally filled with lead. Every one of these joints is welded and metal finished, which adds overall strength and provides for a joint that will not crack paint due to flex.
With the floor, firewall, and upper/lower cowl pieces stich-welded into place, the doors can then be installed on the body.
“In a restoration process, you would be fitting the doors to the quarter-panels,” said Sondles. “What we do, because we have the luxury, is we build the car around the doors. We build the cowl, mount the doors to the cowl, then we can set our rocker panels, our inner/outer quarter-panels, and our roof based on the doors.”
This order of operations allows Woody’s to get tighter panel gaps all around the door seams.
“You used to have to make your door fit the car,” added Sondles. “That’s like trying to make a square peg fit a round hole. What we do is we start with the peg and make the hole fit the peg.”
After the doors are on the car, the quarter-panels, rockers, roof structure and roof all follow suit and Tri-Five lines begin to emerge from what was once a stack of panels.
Each panel is slightly different than desired so as the body goes together, trimming and fitting is needed to achieve the desired fit and finish.
“Just because a panel was stamped in the same press doesn’t mean it’s the same,” said Sondles. “Every body is handcrafted and every panel is hand fit.”
To ensure that the body is spot on, Woody’s uses original GM components to verify everything is placed correctly. Components such as glass, moldings, and bezels fill the role of go/no-go gauges, making sure that when a customer receives a body, all of their original parts fit perfectly.
The roof is one of the last panels to be added to the body and it is also the recipient of some new-age construction practice. A chemical bonding strip adheres it to the support structure, which is far more rigid and durable than the original factory mounting style.
Once the body is whole and all of the metal finishing is complete. The team rolled the new body into a paint booth where Brian Graber, Woody’s painter and body shop manager, sprayed the car with PPG primer. It was then treated to a hardened enamel undercoating that mimics the red-oxide coating Chevrolet would have originally used under the car. Graber then masked and shot the body with a coat of PPG Envirobase water-based paint.
The car is rapidly taking shape and will be ready for its new home in just a few short weeks’ time. All that is left is some interior work and installation of the American Autowire Classic Update Series harness.
Stay tuned for more build updates as the car becomes whole. But, before we leave you, let’s cover one of the most important details of the build: How you can win the car. It’s simple, really. The first step is to register at www.trifivenationals.com before noon on August 15, 2015. Lastly, be at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on August 14-15, 2015. Yup, that is all it takes to win yourself a beautiful 1955 Chevy built by the talented crew at Woody’s Hot Rodz.
|Engine||Chevrolet 195-horsepower 350 supplied by Hirlinger Chevrolet.|
|Transmission||Phoenix Transmission Products 700-R4.|
|Chassis||Stock ’55 Chevy with Woody’s Hot Rodz weld-in X member and Rear Shock Crossmember.|
|Suspension and Steering||Unisteer rack-and-pinion upgrade, Woody’s Hot Rodz tubular control arms, Viking adjustable shocks.|
|Brakes||Right Stuff Detailing disc brake conversion front and rear.|
|Electronics||American Autowire Classic Update Series harness installed by Bud Kocher of Specialty Automotive.|
|Wheels and Tires||Cragar wheels with Coker Tire bias-ply Firestone whitewalls front, and blackwall cheater slicks out back.|
1. The body build all starts with the floor. The team at Woody’s mounts the car on an original frame, which they’ve straightened to better-than-factory tolerances.
2. Shown here, the upper cowl shoulder is joined to the cowl via a MIG weld.
3. All of the MIG-welded body joints are smoothed with a 1-inch belt grinder.
4. With the floor, firewall, and cowl in place, the doors can be fit onto the car. Building the rest of the body around the doors helps achieve tighter gaps.
5. Next, the quarter-panels are fit into place by hand.
6. The roof support rail is being precision cut to match the roof panel (the yellow stripe is a tape line). Panels never come out of the press exactly perfect so Woody’s hand fits and trims them all to their specifications.
7. The outer rocker panel is being welded to the floor after the door has been installed.
8. These clamps hold the roof structure in place while they are stich-welded to the car.
9. Rather than use lead (which is a major health hazard) Woody’s uses a MIG welder to connect the body seams then metal finishes them to perfection.
10. Here is a shot of the body seam after welding, but before grinding and smoothing. An original taillight bezel will be used to double check that the body panels are aligned correctly.
11. With all of the body panels in place, the car is cleaned and prepped for paint, then sprayed in primer.
12. Brian Graber, Woody’s painter and body shop manager, lays a coat of PPG Envirobase paint on the ’55’s firewall.
13. A rotisserie makes seam-sealing the underside of the car a breeze.
14. From the factory, a coat of red-oxide paint was added for rust prevention. Paint technology has come light years since the ’55 rolled off the assembly line, so Woody’s keeps the red-oxide color for period correctness but uses a hardened enamel instead.
15. At this point, the underside of the car and the firewall are complete and it’s time to lay paint on the fresh body.
16. This seal, designed by Woody’s, wraps around the inner fender and keeps moisture from getting in between it and the outer fender. The yellow section in the center has small teeth that rigidly lock the seal in place once it is applied. The flexible, tapered edge allows it to form to the fender for a watertight seal.
17. Here, the team installs polyurethane body mounts in preparation for dropping the body onto the frame.
18. With the firewall painted, the body is lowered onto the Woody’s prepared chassis. There is still a lot of work left on the table before the car is unveiled and given away to one lucky winner at the Tri Five Nationals. Stay tuned for more build coverage and don’t forget to register at www.trifivenationals.com and be at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, KY, on August 14-15, 2015 to win.