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55 Chevy Rust Repair

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Derek’s trusty old 55 Chevy has been his go-to hot rod for several years, driving to events almost every weekend throughout the summer. At the end of the season last year on the way to a show the water pump bearing decided to eat itself alive. After hearing some nasty sounds from under the hood Derek pulled off the highway. There was coolant everywhere and the car ended up catching a ride home on the trailer. Once Derek assessed the damage and replaced the water pump it appeared as though it was a minor setback. After attending Greaserama in Kansas City the old girl gave up the ghost and blew the left head gasket, mixing up a nice milkshake in the oil pan.

The first order of business was to disassemble the car. Within just a few minutes we had the front end removed from the car. There is no turning back now!

With winter on the horizon it seemed like a good time to swap in the new small block we had put together for the car a couple of years ago. We figured, if we’re going to have the engine out, it sure would be nice to put an overdrive trans in there to improve its road manners. If we pull the motor and trans, while we’re at it, why don’t we… see where this is going? Pulling the trigger seemed easy too, since Derek had a floor pan sitting in the corner along with a pile of other parts just waiting to get bolted together. So why not tear the whole thing apart and build it all over again?

I know just what you are thinking, this car has way too much character to start over and end up with another restored red and white ’55 Bel-Air. Since Derek is a man of principle, he wanted to keep the spirit of the car just the way it was, mainly - the faded brown paint and that badass flower power dashboard. We knew there were a few areas that could use some, or even lots of attention. The goal was: new floors, a trunk pan, strip and powder coat the frame and install the new engine and transmission. That sounds easy enough, maybe it would take a month to do?

Just like that, the body was lifted off the frame for the first time since 1955. surprisingly, all but two of the body bolts came out with ease. A cutoff wheel made quick work of the two that didn't want to come out.

After careful consideration, night one - the body was off the frame and the rolling chassis was ready to come apart. All those years in a field certainly took its toll on the bottom side of this car. What was left of the original floor was accompanied by several old license plates, scraps of sheet metal and rusty pair of vice grips that were barely holding the driver’s seat in.

The toe boards were in need of replacement, so here we are carefully cutting the front firewall supports off to make room for the new panel. These went right back into the same place ensuring the body mounts would fit perfect.

The first order of business was to brace-up the body so the floor can be removed safely without folding in half. Derek used some 1-inch square tubing and ran braces from right to left on the a & b pillars, and then tied them together. Tackling the trunk pan first allowed for a solid place to bolt the back of the rotisserie to. On a Tri-5 Chevy, if the floor is rusty, the toe boards are likely to be in poor shape too, so replacing them before removing the main floor allowed for a great reference point once the new one-piece floor is ready to go in. With solid front and rear mounting points the body was mounted to a rotisserie which allowed the main section of the floor to be cut out.

Here is a neat shot of the floor removed from the car. It is absolutely critical to brace the inside of the car when you do something like this so it does't fold up like a cheap card table.
The bottom of both quarter panels needed patches. Derek took his time and applied tack welds one at a time allowing the panel to cool before continuing. This is essential to make sure you don't warp the panel.

Once the old floor was removed and all the pinch weld locations were prepped the new floor was lifted into place and fit like a glove. Along with the floor, the car ended up needing new rocker panels and a lower quarter panels on both sides. After final welding, smoothing, and applying seam sealer along the joints, it was ready for a coating of truck bed-liner material so that it will hold up for years to come. Derek’s Girlfriend, Jennifer happens to be a body and paint guru, so she stepped in and helped get the car ready for some color matched brown paint to cover the new metal.

The new floor is welded in, seam sealed and primed with epoxy in preparation for the truck bed liner.

Speaking of new paint, the original coral-pink paint on the firewall just wasn’t going to compliment that new powerplant very well. After much debate about what color would look good with the rest of the car Jen sprayed a candy-root beer metal flake that goes perfectly with the 60’s vibe of the car. While they were at it… (see how that goes?) the inner fender panels and radiator support also got a nice new coat of the same candy root beer paint.

Three months later, which is an incredible accomplishment for any do-it-your-selfer, the body is rock solid, undercoated and ready to go. You can’t put it back on the frame without that being freshened up can you? Keep an eye on the Toolbox to see how Derek will outfit the chassis next!

Check out more on Derek's '55 project:

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