Photos provided by Real Deal Steel.
When even folks outside of the Rust Belt discover a lack of project-level examples of a particular car without terminal rust, that typically means the market’s ripe for steel reproductions of that car. Such is the case with the 1966-1967 Chevrolet Chevy II, replica bodies of which recently began production.
Though Chevrolet sold more than 140,000 Chevy II hardtops those two years, Joe Whitaker of Real Deal Steel in Sanford, Florida, said it’s extremely difficult to find any that haven’t already been restored or hot rodded and that don’t have significant rust. “The ones you do see have huge holes in the fenders, the cowl and the roof skin,” he said.
Yet they remain popular, and the Taiwan-based supplier of sheetmetal panels for Real Deal Steel’s other fully assembled reproduction bodies – the tri-five Chevrolets, the first-generation Camaros, and the 1940 Ford – already had reproduced many of the Chevy II’s 60 or so panels. “When enough of the car is already finished and there’s not that many more pieces to do a full car, it just makes sense to go ahead and assemble entire reproduction bodies,” Whitaker said. “All the tooling for the Chevy II became available about two years ago, so we let them know we’d like to do it. We’d like to be somewhat eclectic and not do just ’57 Chevys but spread ourselves out a little in the enthusiast market.”
Whitaker said the 20- and 18-gauge high-strength automotive steel bodies, which Real Deal Steel assembles in Florida, replicate in precise detail the stock and largely original vehicles that the Taiwanese supplier uses for reference. “So if a model car has a flaw or modification, they’ll duplicate that to a T,” he said. “Sometimes we fix things as we go, and sometimes we let them know to modify their dies.”
The Chevy IIs, which Whitaker said will be available to accommodate floor-shift, column-shift, bench seat, and bucket seat configurations should take 10 to 11 days to assemble to begin with, but he anticipates whittling that down to eight days as production takes off.
“There’ll be no seam sealer, no body filler, no finishing, no sound deadener, no customizing, just a raw steel body,” he said.
Typical reproduction body customers, Whitaker found, tend to approach him for the same reason: Somebody enthusiastically buys a car expecting to restore or restomod it, sends it off to a shop, then finds after media blasting that the body had extensive rust hidden away and that the cost to repair all the rusted panels can exceed the original purchase price of the car. “All they get back is a pile of scrap metal and a VIN tag,” he said. “Now it’s just an excellent parts car.”
As for the legality of VIN transfers from the parts cars to reproduction bodies, Whitaker said that he tries to get involved in that issue as little as possible.
“I realize that’s a fine line because there are guys buying new bodies and putting factory VINs on them and passing them off as original rust-free cars,” he said. “Even if somebody builds a car and is honest to whoever he sells it to, who’s to say the buyer will be honest to the next guy? We just remind the shops we work with that it’s completely illegal to switch VINs. We can’t really give individuals legal advice, but generally if they destroy the old body and make it known, then the DMV or their sheriff or whoever, they’re not going to care.”
And while Whitaker said he knows of a few instances in which a shop built a handful of reproduction bodies into spec cars to sell at auction, he said nobody has yet taken advantage of the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act of 2015 to offer turnkey replica vehicles based on Real Deal Steel-assembled bodies.
“Though somebody could certainly do eight or 10 or 20 cars a year,” he said. “I predict in the next two to three years you’ll see that happen.”
Real Deal Steel’s reproduction Chevy II bodies will range in price from $11,600 to $16,400. For more information, visit RealDealSteel.com.