Youre lucky if you can...
Youre lucky if you can score an original-bodied car like this 32 three- window. Even so, reproduction doors, hood, and possibly fenders may be part of the completed rod.
The quality and selection...
The quality and selection of fiberglass reproduction bodies has improved since the 70s. This 32 three-window coupe is one of 17 bodies in the Wescott catalog.
Theres a reason this...
Theres a reason this Brookville Deuce roadster was displayed in bare metal. Steel cars, even repros, still carry a certain prestigebut you pay for it.
When Chuck Shepler and his...
When Chuck Shepler and his son CJ decided to build their first street rod, they selected a fiberglass full-fendered 33 coupe body from Gibbon to make the homebuilt project easier.
This original steel-bodied...
This original steel-bodied 32 came from Australia, where Ford used wood for the subrails and floor.
Jay Kennedy at Early Iron...
Jay Kennedy at Early Iron disassembled and reassembled the car, adding replacement doors, floor, and lower quarter-panels from Brookville. He said it was close to a bolt-on deal, although he made his own door hinges.
Geoff Mitford-Taylor at GMT...
Geoff Mitford-Taylor at GMT imports these glass bodies from Deuce Customs in Australia. The high amount of steel bracing adds strength and provides plenty of places to mount components.
Ron Marshall blew a tire on...
Ron Marshall blew a tire on the way to Americruise and tore up his fiberglass rear fender. He can start hitting swap meets and salvage yards or order up a brand-new replacement from Cutting Edge for around $235.
Legendary street rod builder...
Legendary street rod builder Andy Brizio chose a brand-new steel body from RodBods when building his new Deuce roadster, photographed at Andys Picnic in August. Photo courtesy of RodBods.
Advantage of glass cars...
Advantage of glass cars is the variety of options available. Hal Hannemans 32 can be built with a rumble seat (shown) or with a conventional trunk. This roadster is not painted. The finish is red gelcoat.
The panel underneath the dash...
The panel underneath the dash of Hannemans 32 is wood, which makes it easy to bolt in parts.
Grounds are harder to find...
Grounds are harder to find on glass cars. John Steele at JPS typically runs a gang ground for the gauges. A sheetmetal screw or bolt mounted to the steel subframe underneath the dash serves as a ground post.
Fiberglass versus steel bodies. A few decades ago, this wouldnt have been an issue among street rodders. Original steel bodies were easier to find, and reproduction bodies were still a novelty.
Times have changed. To drive an original sheetmetal car is no longer the norm, but a rare distinction. Repro glass bodies have improved in quality and are accepted as valid street rodding material. But there is still something that makes a steel body, even a reproduction, a bragging point in our hobby. We asked some prominent body manufacturers and rod builders about the pros and cons of glass and steel. As we expected, we got a variety of opinions. Manufacturers promote the advantages of their own products but back up their ideas with valid reasoning. How you choose is a matter of which reasoning best suits your taste and your budget.
One of the biggest things going for steel bodies is the brag factor. There is some measure of pride in being able to say that your rod is the original steel body. Even repro steel bodies are sometimes perceived as somehow being more genuine because, like the originals, they are steel.
The fiberglass body industry has had a bad rep to overcome. Fiberglass repros were once regarded as low-quality knock-offs or as cheesy kit cars. Unfortunately, some still may be, but for the most part, bodies from the leading manufacturers are first-class products and offer a good alternative to original or repro steel.
In many cases, todays high-quality fiberglass bodies are better than originals, due to the ability of modern manufacturers to correct potential original engineering flaws. Also, the quality of many bodies makes them virtually indistinguishable from steel cars. Shop carefully and glass can be a smart way of achieving your goal of driving a street rod.
Theres nothing like a nice original steel solid 32 three-window, but good luck finding any these days, observes Darren Bond at Gibbon Fiberglass. It used to be that primo original bodies were always popping up in farmers barns, but those farmers wised up, sold those cars for big money, and are living on their yachts now. Virgin steel has either been hot rodded by somebody else or has rusted into the earth. Finding a survivor typically means spending a lot of time and money repairing or replacing any remaining sheetmetal. Buying a ready-to-go reproduction may be the solution for people who are eager to hit the street.
The advantage of original bodies is that, whatever you want to build, there is a possibility that youll find one. Go the repro route and youre limited to whats on the market. This may also be the deciding factor in the glass versus steel debate. Deuce roadsters are available in steel from Real Steel, Rod Bods, and Brookville, but for something like a 39 Ford repro body, fiberglass is your only option.
As Kenny from Brookville points out, if steel is the first choice of rodders seeking a true replica, fiberglass may be a better choice for those with more radical tastes. Many glass bodies are design extensions of traditional bodies. Trying to turn a gennie 33 into something as wild as the Speedstar is not realistic for a backyard rod builder and would end up costing more than buying one from Rats Glass.
Factors such as firewall location, roof styles (chopped or stock), and hinge styles (hidden or stock) will also affect whose repro body you buy.
For most rodders, availability is not a question of what is on the market, but of what is in their wallet. Every builder we spoke to mentioned cost as the primary reason for selecting a fiberglass body.
Economics is the biggest factor, Dan Fink tells us. A glass car will be far less expensive that a steel-bodied car. Geoff Mitford-Taylor echoes that: Its really a budget thing. A first-time builder is going to be conscious of the cost. A steel body is going to add at least 10 grand onto the price, after you consider bodywork and having it painted.
There is more to budget than just the initial cost. Buy the cheapest body you can, and chances are, youll pay in other areas, such as quality or the amount of work required to turn that body into a decent rod.
Resale value is another important budget consideration. A few years down the road, a steel-bodied car is likely to bring a higher price than a glass car because of desirability and other factors. Should you get in an accident, though, fiberglass replacement parts are more prevalent than steel.
Fiberglass and steel are extremely different materials with extremely different characteristics. To the experts, these characteristics can help determine which is better for you.
Moisture is the enemy of steel, and rust is a problem for anybody living in the snowbelt or near the ocean. On the other hand, fiberglass is impervious to corrosion. Heat is the worst enemy of fiberglass, says Darren Bond at Gibbon. Fiberglass cures with heat, not with time.
John Steele at JPS Motorsports builds a lot of glass rods and sport car replicas. According to John, Heat can reshape the glass before you get it, even if the mold is good. Ive seen pieces that were perfect out of the mold and when they shipped, but go out of shape all of a sudden.
As Bond explains, Once the glass hits a higher temperature, it will turn * green as they say, becoming more pliable and releasing some of the styrene and chemicals in the glass, leaving kind of an orange-peel effect in the gelcoat.
For Steele, this pliability can be an advantage. Fiberglass is plastic but it does not have a memory. If you apply heat, like sunlight, or apply pressure like weight, you can actually shape it and it will keep a permanent shape. You can even reshape it in the sun if you have to.
Steel is ductile, meaning that it moves and stays without breaking, Karl Wescott explains. Steel will bend and stay bent. Glass is not ductile, but is flexible. It will bend without cracking or breaking up to a point. Hal Hanneman at Hanneman Fiberglass silently demonstrated this principle by walking over to a glass roadster body in his shop and giving the quarter-panel a solid karate kick with no damage. Impressive.
Working With the Material
If youre not going to be doing the bodywork on your rod, working with the material is not an issue for you. Otherwise, there are some things to consider. According to Kenny at Brookville, Working on a steel car is a lot less messy than working on a glass car. The average guy can weld and file on steel. Not everyone can mix and lay fiberglass to patch a glass car.
John Steele works with both. For me, its easier to fit fiberglass, because you can build it up or cut it down easily. But if youre not experienced with glass work, its easier to repair a mistake in metal. You just cut a new piece, weld it in, grind it down, use a little finish material, and youre done.
Its no fun to grind, its itchy, and the smells not the best, but glass is a little easier to work with, says Darren at Gibbon. If the lines are off, it requires as much bodywork to fix a steel car as it would if you had a poor-quality glass body. Steel and Bondo are not two of a kind, whereas with fiberglass the characteristics and raw materials are very similar to Bondo. If properly done, it adheres to the fiberglass and will not come off like it will on a steel car. The gelcoat will tell you where its high or low, which makes glass good for beginner bodymen.
Glass and Steel in Combo
Unless you are building a street rod from scratch, you may not need to buy a complete new body, and could build up an existing body with aftermarket reproduction components. Perhaps youre starting with an original body and only need to replace the hood and decklid, fenders and running boards, or a couple quarter-panels. Adding glass fenders to an otherwise steel car is a typical option. Of course, this requires doing some investigating ahead of time to find out how well an aftermarket part will fit with other original parts.
Steel replacement parts are a very good way of repairing worn-out original sheetmetal. Brookville was in the replacement body panel business for more than a decade before introducing its Model A body. Since its parts are created as exact reproductions with stock mounting points, repair and replacement is generally a straightforward job.
Jay at Early Iron has had a lot of success making new steel panels work on original cars and has used repro steel subrails on original-bodied coupes. Some modifications have been required, but he finds it a lot easier than having to fabricate parts.
Not knowing you, we cant give you a definitive answer as to whether your next street rod body should be original steel, repro steel, or fiberglass. Perhaps weve given you some criteria for answering the question for yourself.
Talk to as many rod owners as you can about what type of body they built and whether or not they were happy with the results. Study the car features in R&C, paying attention to which bodies are prominent. Go to street rod events where these companies have booths set up and talk to the representatives there. As virtually every expert told us, rodders can have fun at many levels and any body style can be built into an outstanding street rod. Select the body that will provide the greatest fun for you and you will have made the right decision.