One of the most interesting quandaries for any company is deciding how to expand its product line to match the demands of its customers. In the case of Real Deal Steel (RDS), supplying auto enthusiasts with a completely new steel body for their desired vintage car has been the formula for the company’s success.
The RDS line currently consists of the Tri-Five Chevys, first-generation Camaro/Firebird, and the Chevy II/Nova. These are obvious choices to match auto enthusiast’s popularity with customer demand for a “new” 50-year old body. By visiting the RDS website, you can also view its inventories of individual body panels and components for a wealth of additional vehicles.
A massive amount of effort is invested in constructing and acquiring high-caliber body panels, engineering, and fabricating the intricate fixtures used to build a General-Motors-approved reproduction body properly. The need to achieve a return on demand for that investment means choosing the next body platform wisely.
We spoke with Joe Whitaker, one of the partners at Real Deal Steel, about taking that next step. “It’s been a matter of keenly listening to our customers and enthusiasts through calls, email, and events,” comments Whitaker. “When we completed the ’67 to ’69 Camaro coupes, a flood of requests came to us for a convertible body. We then made the judgment call to work towards completing the first-generation Camaro convertible as the next offering.”
With those convertible bodies now available as part of the product line, Whitaker notes his focus has shifted onto the next project. “No one calls looking for a Ford Falcon or Chevy Corvair, but we have received a flood of calls for the second-gen Camaro coupe.”
It’s All In The Jigging
The final piece of the puzzle was when Mike Vineyard, head of the RDS Camaro division, expressed his outlook on the popularity and demand of the earlier half of the second-gen Camaro, the ’70 to ’73 models.
Construction of a new body shell requires an intricate array of jig fixtures varying significantly between body models. Whitaker explains that even the construction process between a first- and second-gen Camaro is very different.
We go after the most dimensionally accurate floor and rocker panel assembly. Just like building a home, this is critical since it is the proverbial foundation for the remainder of the assembly process.– Joe Whitaker
“Though both generations are unibody designs, that is where the similarities stop,” Whitaker describes. “The newer Camaro does not have drip rails along the roofline, and those panels require less effort to properly fixture. But on the other hand, there is more complexity in places such as the door-hinge pillar. It takes a similar amount of labor for each car; it is just more time and effort spent in different places.”
RDS begins R&D with a pristine original body to start designing the fixtures. This body is double-checked many times against others for overall accuracy. Whitaker adds, “Mike Vineyard has a pristine gen-two Camaro; we stripped it to a bare hulk and built the fixture. GM licensed us, and then we were off and running.”
Every time RDS builds a new fixture, the guys find the equipment seems to get a little more involved. However, they make a better body each time. Whitaker is also quick to point out that the body shell contains 25- to 30-percent more spot welds than an original.
Starting At The Bottom
Just as with nearly all body construction, the second-gen Camaro begins with the floor pan and firewall. An overall jig with small add-on fixtures holds these individual panels — especially the inner and outer rocker panels — to extremely tight tolerances.
When RDS chooses the panels to create a body, they are most often sourced from different stamping companies. “We want the most accurate stampings possible,” Whitaker adds. “If each component is just slightly off, it can add up to big problems when achieving a dimensionally accurate body.”
The old saying, “if you want a job done right, sometimes you must do it yourself,” comes into play for RDS with this new body. The front trunk-wall panel between the floor and the package tray speaker panel is not currently available from any stamping company.
General Motors originally stamped the rear window tray and wall panel as a one-piece panel. The only available reproduction piece is just the upper package tray section alone because there is a demand for use as rust repair.
“We worked with General Motors to develop our one-piece panel that would meet its approval,” Whitaker describes. “We laser cut our panel, and then have seat-back hooks made. We bend these one-piece panels in our shop, spot weld them to the deck panel, and put in the cutouts to appear just like a factory piece.”
Along with the floor fixture, there is an in-car body fixture. The latest RDS design uses a lift and rotisserie system. Everything is held together using Allen bolts and nuts, along with straight-line clamps that fit into the factory tooling holes. Individual sections of fixtures are frequently installed and then removed throughout the process.
“The fixture also utilizes various go/no-go gauges,” Whitaker explains. “During assembly, these gauges assure the doors, all hinges, and window openings are accurately located and are to shape.”
The factory gauging and tooling holes are also part of the process RDS takes very seriously. Duplicating the tooling tolerances to General Motors’ dimensions ensures no new bodywork of door and window glass fitment issues are needed for the final product. As a group, these panels are fixtured to exact dimensions at more than 40-points on the finished body.
Whitaker notes they have received multiple questions from enthusiasts since they debuted the Camaro body during the 2019 SEMA Show. “We have fielded many convertible and Firebird questions for this body.” He explains in both cases, it is not a matter of just putting together different panels.
“The 1970 to ’74 Firebird door doesn’t have the step along the bottom like a Camaro does,” Whitaker describes. “No one is stamping a Firebird door that matches the different design. We are working with companies to make an exact door; we’re just not willing to cut corners. The Firebird version will come with time.”
The same scenario currently exists for a convertible version of the second-generation Camaro. Panels to create the convertible’s top box assembly, special supports, and the inner quarter structure aren’t currently available for a quality end product.
RDS also now offers race body versions of the Chevy II/Nova and’ 67-’69 Camaro bodies. This body option excludes the floor and frame rails, firewall, dash, and wheel tub panels which are removed and customized. The new Camaro body will offer the same optional design.
If you are an aficionado of Chevrolets like the Tri-Five, Chevy II/Nova, or first- and second-gen Camaros, you probably want to achieve a perfect restoration or hot rod. A Real Deal Steel body constructed with all-new metal and exacting fitment quality, is a viable option when compared to the accumulative cost of panels and labor required to restore a rough, 50-year (or older) body shell.
A GM-licensed reproduction body from Real Deal Steel is a more cost-effective option when you want an exceptional car, right down to the windshield clips and body-bolt fitment.