Fat Fenders - Building Your First Fat Fender
A Portly Product Guide
From the February, 2009 issue of Rod & Custom
By Jim Aust, Kevin Lee
Nobody ever wants to be called fat, but a special place is reserved in the world of rodding for rotund rods, and nobody gets upset when you call their 1935-48 vehicles fat-fendered. The term comes from the bulbous styling of early vehicles that ended pretty much in 1949 when nearly all manufacturers switched to a decidedly "boxy" slab-sided design christened the shoebox by most enthusiasts.
While certain fat-fendered models, such as '36 and '40 Fords, have always been popular with rodders, today just about any make and model is fair play, and aftermarket suppliers have stepped up with pieces to make rodding all brands a possibility.
Fat fenders are gaining momentum because they can still be bought for a fairly reasonable price, and, once done, they're very comfortable to drive and have plenty of room for the family or fairground supplies. The prices are even better once you move away from the Fords and Chevys and start looking into the off-brands.
The fact that these rods have fat fenders helps keep the build costs down. There's no need for the budget-minded at-home builder to spend extra money on flashy suspension and chassis components because they're all out of sight. The money saved here can be put into the wheels and tires, bodywork and trim, or the interior. Their extra weight also makes them ride better in most cases and can give the passengers an added sense of security thanks to the mass of metal around them.
We've gone though and listed a few brief tips you should look for if you're starting your first fat-fendered project, as well as a list of suppliers we've had great experiences working with on our own projects. So embrace the fat and wear it proudly!
Once you've made the decision...
Once you've made the decision that your next project will be fat-fendered, one of the most important parts leading to the success of that project is the condition of the car and pieces with which you start. Buying the cleanest car you can find will certainly help, but it's not just shiny paint that makes a good car; it's the structural condition that will make or break a car. Plenty of projects, like this weathered '40 Ford, are still hiding around the country just waiting for someone with some time and talent to get them back on the road.
Don't overlook the off-brands...
Don't overlook the off-brands like this '36 Olds project because, although many of the kits offered today aren't designed specifically for them, most suppliers offer universal kits that can be adapted with a little skill to get beauties like this old girl back on the road.
With prices of restored or...
With prices of restored or nice original complete cars at reasonable levels, it doesn't make much sense to start with a project this rough, no matter the price (what you can't see is the rear pan that has been crunched 1 1/2 ft closer to the rear seat). This one was for sale for $3,000, but we've seen several nice running examples for just twice that. Once you factor in bodywork costs and missing parts, you'd be better off spending a little more up front for a nicer car.
One look at this '46 Ford...
One look at this '46 Ford Tudor and it's easy to see why these rods are so popular. Here you have a great-looking family cruiser with nothing more than a few inches taken out of the stance and some 15-inch solids and radial whitewalls.
This '42 Chevy Fleetline would...
This '42 Chevy Fleetline would make a great starting point for a number of reasons, such as the fact that there are no missing pieces to track down and nothing is hidden under multiple layers of paint since this Bow Tie is still wearing its factory black paint. If you can work a wrench, you can bolt in an IFS kit, rear suspension, and small-block Chevy motor mounts from RB's Obsolete and have a great low-buck cruiser.
The firewall is one area guaranteed...
The firewall is one area guaranteed to clue you in on the history of a vehicle. One look here and you will know pretty quickly if the car has been cut up for larger engines. It's also an area that gives a hint as to how many paint jobs have been stacked up, as most people don't properly prep this area during a respray. As you can see, this '47 Ford is pretty virgin; the center crossmember and steering are both still original.
The body mounts are an important...
The body mounts are an important area to check for any rust or damage, as this is the main connection point of the body to the frame. If these areas have been bent due to prior collision damage, or repaired improperly, the car will never sit square, even on a new frame.
A common problem area for...
A common problem area for rust on fat fenders lower front corners and rear body arch where the fenders connect to the body. This area collects road debris and mud, holds moisture, and rusts right through over the years. This spot on the '47 Ford is pretty minor and could be seen only once the front fenders were removed.
The rear pan is another area...
The rear pan is another area prone to both rust and common abuse from other cars "bumping" into the area. Through the years, amateur bodywork typically fills this area with copious amounts of plastic body filler. Reproductions of this problem-area panel are available for most popular makes and models from companies such as Bob Drake or Dennis Carpenter (for Fords) and Chevs of the 40's (for Chevys).
The dash is another area prone...
The dash is another area prone to overzealous hacksaw artistry. Luckily for most fat fenders, the dash is a bolt-in piece that can be easily replaced with a nicer original unit or a reproduction item. This one is in good shape, but it's hard to tell just what pieces might be missing when it has already been disassembled and the parts are in boxes.
Don't be upset by a lot of...
Don't be upset by a lot of extra junk inside a car, as it can turn out to be a major bonus if you wind up with a few extra trim pieces that you can sell to recoup some of your cash. The seller of this coupe not only had most of the original trim but quite a few N.O.S. pieces to go along with it. Always check under the carpets (if there are any) and underneath the car, as rusty floors are a common sight. This one isn't bad, but replacement panels are usually only a phone call away.
Control arms can come in a...
Control arms can come in a few different finishes and materials depending on the company from which you order, and range from stainless steel to chrome to bare metal. The great thing about this era of hot rods is that you can order plain pieces if you want to save some money and no one will see them.
One of the advantages of building...
One of the advantages of building a fat-fendered rod is that you can make choices when it comes to suspension that you might not feel comfortable with if you were trying to build a traditional highboy. The beauty of having fat fenders is that they completely hide the suspension so you can run a straight-axle if you wish or opt for a more up-to-date IFS, such as this bolt-on kit from Chassis Engineering available for '35-48 Fords and '37-48 Chevys.
Just as the name implies,...
Just as the name implies, fat fenders are heavy and are going to take a little more brake than a standard highboy. Thanks to kits like this one from ECI, you don't have to swap your entire suspension to get some better braking. This kit will install on the stock '37-48 spindles and is priced less than $400 so it won't break the bank.
Engine swaps are natural in...
Engine swaps are natural in most fat-fendered cars because the engine bay will hold a small-block, and in many cases a big-block. Swapping is easy thanks to bolt-on engine-mounting kits like this one designed to mount a small-block Ford in a '35-40 Ford with a straight-axle.
Chassis Engineering also offers...
Chassis Engineering also offers complete kits for mounting '68-74 Nova or '67-69 Camaro rearends into a variety of chassis. The advantage to this swap for the at-home builder is that there's absolutely no modifications to the rearend and the only tools you'll need are a drill and some wrenches. Adding front and rear sway bars is also a good idea.
Retrofitting a new transmission...
Retrofitting a new transmission and power brake assembly is relatively easy thanks to various bolt-in crossmember kits, such as this one designed for '37-39 Chevy passenger cars.
The Roadster Shop is another...
The Roadster Shop is another company that can help you get your Ford on the road a little faster and riding a lot better. Their complete chassis for the '41-48 Ford comes with an IFS, triangulated rear four-bar, and a stout center crossmember.
If your frame is a little...
If your frame is a little tweaked or rusty, the quickest way to get your fat fender on the road might be to go with a complete new chassis designed to slip right under a '35-40 Ford from Fatman Fabrications (pictured here) or Total Cost Involved.
Art Morrison can design and...
Art Morrison can design and build you a complete bumper-to-bumper custom-made chassis for one-off applications like the one under our cover car this month. The low roll center of the Morrison chassis will make your rod handle like a late-model sports car.
Most of the cars of this era...
Most of the cars of this era were designed to twist some to compensate for roads that, in many cases, still weren't paved. Today, we don't have this problem, and with higher-horsepower engines, we need to add some strength into these frames. This center frame kit from Art Morrison will greatly strengthen an original chassis and can be adapted to many frames.
Heidt's Mustang II suspension...
Heidt's Mustang II suspension kits come in different levels, which are illustrated by their deluxe kit on the left with tubular A-arms and their standard kit on the right with fabricated pieces. Kits designed for '34-48 Chevys and '35-48 Fords are available, as are universal kits for other applications.
Total Cost Involved might...
Total Cost Involved might not offer a frame for your Chevy, but they do have IFS kits designed for it, as well as universal kits for other makes with options for conventional coil springs or airbags if dropping the nose deep in the weeds is your style.
In case you want to get a...
In case you want to get a little more ambitious than just bolting on some new parallel leaf springs, Art Morrison can supply you with an entire rear clip that can be used with coil springs or airbags (welding required).
The always-reliable four-bar...
The always-reliable four-bar rear kit is an old standard that performs well and adapts to most fat-fendered chassis.
If you're running an automatic...
If you're running an automatic trans and want to free up some floor space or just want the convenience of a tilt steering column, Flaming River offers columns in various lengths that'll make taking those long trips just a little more comfortable.
Power brake assembly kits...
Power brake assembly kits are available from Total Cost Involved to fit many of the Ford and Chevy applications and might be adaptable to other makes.
The steering boxes in these...
The steering boxes in these cars leave a lot to be desired after 60-plus years of service. Flaming River has several new boxes that can be adapted to keep your new hot rod pointed in the right direction. They suggest using their completely new Mustang-style steering box (pictured here) in heavier cars like Lincolns and Packards and using the Vega-style box for cross-steer setups in not-so-nose-heavy "fatties.
The focus of this story is...
The focus of this story is getting your fat-fendered ride on the road as quickly and comfortably as possible, and EZ Boys Interiors is a company that has those same goals in mind. They can make new upholstery to fit virtually any stock seat (along with matching door panels), even if it is not original to your car or if your front and rear seats are mismatched. Just tell them the year, make, and model of the car that your seat(s) came from and they'll make upholstery specifically for those seats. The EZ Boys seat covers are easy to install and are offered at a price that won't burn a hole in your wallet.
One look at this pair of Chevys...
One look at this pair of Chevys can explain better than words why we're seeing more non-Fords all the time. The fact that the aftermarket is supporting these models more makes it much easier to build and enjoy one.
It doesn't take a whole lot...
It doesn't take a whole lot more than a set of wheels and the right stance to make a fat Ford look good, whether it has shiny paint like this '40 standard or suede like the '46 coupe.
Most aftermarket parts are...
Most aftermarket parts are still geared toward Fords and Chevys, but thanks to dedicated rodders, off-brand cars like the '39 DeSoto or '37 Dodge shown here are starting to show up more and more.
Engineered Components inc. (ECI)
800 Poertner Dr.
EZ Boy Interiors
Total Cost Involved
1416 W. Brooks St., Dept. SRM
Jim Weimer Rod Garage
Art Morrison Enterprises
Heidt's Hot Rod Shop
111 Kerry Ln.
P.O. Box 70
Chevs of the '40s