When taking on the build of a car that’s over 60 years old there are typically a lot of areas that will need a load of attention. Regardless of whether you’re going to run the car in its original state with enhancements or take on a full chassis-up resurrection, you’re bound to run into a bag full of surprises when you turn a particular corner. This is especially true when you decide to tear into a body to bring it back to life. Once you have it blasted clean to let you know exactly what your playing field looks like, there’s no turning back when the results are in. While some returns yield a clean rust-free shell there are other times where the form can literally turn to dust once the rust and filler are removed.
The latter was the case for an old hopped-up 1955 Chevy Bel Air brought to Peter Newell, owner of Competition Specialties of Walpole, Massachusetts, for a full rebuild into a modern Pro Touring car with a nostalgic edge. Owned by father and son team of Gary and Peter Caruso for over 25 years, the car possessed plenty of sentimental value where the pair had put down thousands of miles together while exercising the car’s big-block mill. The challenges, however, for bringing the body back to life were not for the faint at heart. The deeper Newell got into the body, the more surprises he found. The decades of East Coast winters, road salt, and abuse had taken their toll on the vintage sheetmetal, leaving its mark virtually everywhere. The crowning touch, however, appeared when the rear quarters were removed for replacement, showing off totally devastated inner quarter-panel structures.
Thankfully Real Deal Steel is devoted to the restoration of cars suffering such a fate. They specialize in top-quality, factory-style replacement parts for the Tri-Five with a wide assortment of freshly struck sheetmetal components available to breathe life back into even the most dilapidated examples. This car has already been treated to their one-piece stamped (like factory original) full replacement floors and trunk by Newell. Seeing that it was going to run a wider rear tire combination he ordered a pair of their complete inner quarter structures with mini-tubs. The panels flow from the doorjamb all the way back to the rear trunk opening. The wider tubs were a perfect match to Real Deal’s narrowed trunk floor exclusively designed to accommodate the update. The larger wheel tubs are 2-5/8 inches wider and are designed to accommodate up to a 13-inch-wide (335mm) rear tire, perfect for putting plenty of rubber to the pavement.
With the inner body structure fully braced, Newell worked his craft in removing the complete original inner quarter structures one side at a time, and preparing the body for the installation of the fresh panels. It’s imperative to wear eye protection when taking on a project of this magnitude due to all the cutting, grinding, and welding required to complete the job. Paying close attention to your measurements throughout the fabrication process, which is very labor intensive, will yield great results. Let’s follow along as Newell moves forward through another chapter in bringing the Caruso 1955 back to life with great products from Real Deal Steel.
Once the rear quarter-panel was removed for replacement the ugly truth hidden underneath was revealed. The entire inner quarter structure had been devastated by decades of corrosion, requiring it to be replaced.
To prepare for removal of the inner structure key measurements were taken to ensure the proper structural balance upon reassembly. First was the trunk floor to the quarter-panel top, our car was 17 inches but this may vary slightly from car to car.
Peter Newell of Competition Specialties in Walpole, MA, continued on cross measuring from both sides of the trunk area at 54-1/2 inches.
The inner rear quarter structure was then measured, confirming 60 inches in width.
To maintain the structural integrity of the body prior to removing the inner quarter-panel, Newell braced the body using 1/2-inch steel tubing. It was cut to fit from roof to floor and opposite inner structure to floor and MIG-welded in place.
While wearing eye protection, a Sawzall was used to begin removing the structure from the body, starting with a number of rough-cuts from the deck filler panel and hinge area.
Newell continued along the upper structure, carefully working his way toward the front of the car. Note how far reaching the rust and decay were to the structure just under his blade.
With the rear quarter glass and all related parts removed, another series of cuts were made to remove the remainder of the structure just ahead of the doorjamb.
Here you can see the window tract area cut and ready to be removed from the body.
With the majority of the structure removed, Newell continued on using the Sawzall to final trim away the remainder of the panel to prepare for the replacement.
A 5/16-inch drill bit was used to drill out the factory spot welds on the deck filler panel, followed with a chisel and hammer to break apart the areas and pliers to remove the remaining portions.
The doorjamb was then removed using a Sawzall to complete the job. Here you can see what’s left of the old inner structure as well as some of the tools used to complete the task.
Check out the completed area of the body all prepped for the installation of the new sheetmetal. Attention to detail is a key to proper fitment of the replacement panel.
The perfect reproduction of the original inner quarter structure from Real Deal Steel is complete from doorjamb to rear trunk opening and features a wider inner wheeltub to accommodate a larger rear tire combination.
Newell continued on with a bit of additional fine-tuning of the body using an air-driven grinder topped with a 50-grit disc.
Finally a hammer and dolly were used to bring the deck filler panel back to perfect balance.
Prior to any welding, the new mini-tubbed inner quarter-panel structure from Real Deal Steel was first mocked into place to confirm fitment and secured using an assortment of Vise-Grips.
All initial measurements were then confirmed, with any minor adjustments being made at this time.
Check out just how nice the fitment is from the new integrated mini-tubs to the Real Deal Steel replacement trunk floor designed to accommodate them.
To also prepare for fitment of the new structure and doorjamb the original door was reinstalled to validate all the bodylines and measurements.
Here now you can see the final fitment of the panel to the body prior to any welding being started.
Newell used a 5/16-inch bit to drill holes in the new inner structure, preparing it for plug welds.
A MIG welder was then used to secure the new structure in place, methodically working his way from the rear to the front of the panel
The installed unit looks factory fresh and here you can see the line of spot welds working their way down the panel.
Once the install was complete a solid coating of bed liner was applied to protect it from any potential future corrosion as well as act as a sound deadener.
At the front of the new inner quarter structure you can see where the doorjamb panel will need to be added to complete the installation.
Real Deal Steel offers new factory replacement doorjamb panels fashioned from 18-gauge steel. Here you can see the unit clamped in place using a variety of Vise-Grips to confirm fitment.
In this close-up you can see the new doorjamb panel properly lined up to match the openings of the inner structure as a guide for placement.
The new doorjamb lock plate from Real Deal Steel was then test-fitted to the doorjamb panel.
With the new doorjamb panel clamped in place it was scuffed using a small circular grinder to prepare the surface for welding.
Here the new panel is clamped in final position and ready for welding.
Newell proceeded to MIG-weld the doorjamb panel into place, completing the installation. The new sheetmetal from Real Deal Steel fit perfectly to the body and gave the car a new lease on life.