"If you can't find it, build it" could well be a street rod builder's motto. In the old days there weren't many choices, so fabrication was a vital hot rod construction skill. These days, there are catalogs full of trick, ready-made street rod parts. The wide range of stuff extends from tiny clamps to complete bodies. Besides most of the popular early Ford bodies, there are many phantom bodies also available.
Converting a '32 Ford coupe into a sedan delivery is a matter of swapping bodies. If you're building something like a '40s or '50s truck variant, the fiberglass folks aren't much help. Ray Doe of RB's Obsolete Automotive found himself with a beautiful '47 Chevy panel, but a desire for a Suburban. The panel was too nice to pass up, so he decided to have master metalman, Alan Swedberg in Centralia, Washington, convert the truck into a Suburban. While Alan had the Sawzall and torches out, Ray figured they might as well make a few changes, including chopping the top.
The top was lowered 3 inches in the rear and 2 inches in front for a slight rake. Since it was a modest chop, no metal was removed from the center of the roof. The roof pillars were slanted slightly to adjust the fit. All new glass was called for, so there wasn't any need to match the chop to existing pieces of glass. After all the bodywork was completed, plywood templates were built to serve as glass patterns.
After the glass templates were checked and double-checked, they were shipped to Mike Cox at The Glass House in San Dimas, California. Mike transferred the patterns to tinted safety glass and sent the new glass back to Washington. The glass looks like it came from the factory, which is pretty slick considering every window opening is unique to this truck.
Instead of the factory-style Suburban side windows, they slanted the B-pillar Nomad-style and made the side windows one-piece units. The C-pillars were also slanted forward in keeping with the Nomad look. Since the top was chopped and the rear of the body was slanted forward, it became obvious that the original barn doors wouldn't work without a lot of modifications. They considered welding the doors together and hinging them at the top.
While looking around for possible hinges, they noticed the rear tailgate in Ray's Chevy Trailblazer. The hinges were beefy enough, but what about using the whole tailgate? This was another one of those "what if?" discussions that resulted in more work but a unique rear end treatment. More investigation and lots of measuring led them to the late-'90s Chevy/GMC/Olds S-Series SUVs as the donor vehicle of choice.
Grafting the rear of a modern Trailblazer to a 55-year-old truck isn't a task for inexperienced fabricators, but it was easily within Alan's skills. After the basic grafting was done, there was still a great deal of work necessary to make everything fit. The tailgate is a two-part affair where the glass can be opened independent of the lower tailgate. About 8 inches of additional metal had to be added to the framework, so a whole new lower tailgate skin was formed. To make everything look factory correct, Alan made the beltline molding wrap around the back corners and across the tailgate. A remote latch is used. A whole new inner sill area had to be fabricated inside the tailgate. There's almost as much work on the inside as the outside on a complicated grafting project such as this.
A custom lower pan was fabricated to fit between the tailgate and the rear bumper. The license plate holder was recessed. Two Fifth-Generation Corvette taillights were installed along with a third brake light. At first glance both the front and rear bumpers and splash aprons look stock, but they're not. Alan Swedberg shortened the bumper brackets, tightened the arc of the stock bumpers, and made custom splash pans to match.
While the top was being chopped, Ray decided he would like more modern-looking doors. Removing everything above the beltline yielded hardtop-style doors. After a great deal of searching, they determined that the rubber door molding from a late-'90s Chevy Silverado pickup would work to seal the new hardtop windows. While the truck was still at Swedberg's shop, Alan filled the cowl and side vents, peaked the hood, and moved the gas filler from the side of the body to the right rear fender.
After Swedberg completed the custom bodywork, the truck was transported to Kimbridge Enterprises in Clearview, Washington, where Gary, Shawn, and Terry stripped all the old paint and made the body panels perfectly straight. A lot of work was done to the hardtop-style doors, including installing modern door latches, remote locks from Spal, and power window mechanisms from Specialty Power Windows.
New, smooth running boards from Gateway Rod & Custom in Collinsville, Illinois, were installed. The new boards are designed to fit closer to the fenders than the stock running boards. This might not seem like a big thing, but the gaps are much tighter in keeping with street rod standards. It's another one of those things that can be overlooked, but the truck just looks better with the trick running boards.
Once they were happy with the bodywork, the Kimbridge crew applied several gallons of epoxy primer from House of Kolor. The panel is going to be painted brilliant House of Kolor orange and blue hues, so their products were used throughout the entire painting process to ensure compatibility.
The body shell had been separated from the chassis during the bodywork phase, so all areas inside and out were readily accessible. That made it easy to apply a new state-of-the-art, spray-on insulation from Cool Car Ceramic. Keeping a street rod interior cool and quiet can be a challenge, but this new spray-on product has a lot of plusses. It insulates, deadens sounds, and reduces condensation.
After the insulation was applied, the body shell, fenders, hood, and doors were sent to Chris Odom's Extreme Metal and Paint in Anacortes, Washington, for the color coats. Chris and his crew blocked and sanded the body so it was as smooth as possible in preparation for the color coats. The actual painting and application of the graphics will be covered in the next installment of the Urban Suburban.
At this point the truck is nearly ready for the paint booth. Stay tuned for the next installment for the painting process.
By the time we got to Alan...
By the time we got to Alan Swedberg's shop, he had already made the preliminary cuts on the roof. The rear windows were cut out of the previously blank panel sides, and the window frames were removed (hardtop style).
Chopping the top was radical...
Chopping the top was radical enough, but the original barn doors were replaced with a two-part tailgate/hatch window from a '98 Olds Bravada. The width was fine, but there was a huge gap at the bottom and the general contours needed a lot of refinement.
The top was chopped 3 inches...
The top was chopped 3 inches in the back and 2 inches in front. The front windshield posts had to be cut off and slanted back. No metal was removed from the center of the roof. This shot also shows that there is a lot of work left to convert the doors to hardtop-style units.
Along with converting the...
Along with converting the doors to hardtop-style units, the B-pillars were slanted forward for a Nomad look. New driprails had to be fabricated, as well.
The Olds Bravada lower tailgate...
The Olds Bravada lower tailgate was about 8 inches too short to fill the gap left by the original panel doors. A template was made for a complete new outer skin. In the process the outside handle was removed. A remote release latch was installed.
This rear 3/4-view shows how...
This rear 3/4-view shows how perfectly Alan Swedberg integrated the modern tailgate with the '47 body. The rear corners are complex, but the tailgate looks like a factory item. The taillights weren't installed at this time.
Fifth-Generation Corvette taillights and a recessed license plate holder were fitted to the lower valance. This shot with the tailgate lifted shows how the inner sill area had to be custom fabricated to mate the new tailgate to the original cargo floor.
Originally, the panel's gas...
Originally, the panel's gas filler was between the door and the right rear fender. A modern gas filler door was installed in the right rear fender in alignment with the new Rock Valley gas tank.
Gary, Terry, and Shawn at...
Gary, Terry, and Shawn at Kimbridge Enterprises put in a lot of tedious hours removing all the old paint. The body was virtually rust free, but it still needed a lot of straightening and fine-tuning to bring it up to street rod standards. New, smooth, metal running boards from Gateway Rod & Custom in Collinsville, IL, will replace the ribbed stock units.
After the main bodywork and...
After the main bodywork and related modifications were complete, the truck was prepped for a new spray-on insulation material from Cool Car Ceramic. Cool Car Ceramic insulation looks pretty much like paint after it has been applied, but this space-age material insulates again heat and cold, as well as providing excellent noise reduction.