Chances are if you’re thinking about getting your own street rod, you know something about cars. But, you’ll need to take a long hard look at your skills, your tools and your available time to determine if you can take on the entire project, or even portions of it, yourself.
Contrary to what many newcomers to street rodding believe, building a rod out of reproduction parts requires more than the ability to bolt components together. Due to subtle differences in the molds or patterns used, these parts may not fit together correctly. Often, the assemblies require elbow grease and sometimes modification to get them to work. While buying a chassis and body package from the same company will help reduce many problems with getting the parts to mate correctly, you’ll almost always have to source your own wiring, upholstery, paint, gauges and audio system. Sometimes you’ll also need to purchase certain suspension and brake components, an engine, wheels and tires, and numerous other items to complete your rod. All of this takes time, storage space tools and skills.
Once you’ve determined what kind of rod you’re going to build, ask yourself honestly what you can and can’t handle in terms of your time and skill. If you aren’t sure about what’s required, make an estimate and double it, or perhaps even triple it. Often things are more complicated than you imagine, which means they’ll take longer than you think – especially if you’re learning as you go. Keep in mind, too, what tools you’ll need. If you don’t have a good stock of tools or a friend to loan you what you need, you’ll want to add it to the budget.
The most common approach is to opt to do some of the work yourself and hire a pro to do the rest. You may choose to hire several different people to complete different aspects of the process. For example, you might hire an engine builder, a painter and an upholsterer.
The first step any rodder should take in hiring a professional is to query fellow rodders and general auto enthusiasts. Instead of just asking for a recommendation, ask your sources a few other key questions about the pro they used:
• Was the project completed on time? If not, how much of a delay was there and what was the reason?
• How close was it to the original cost estimate?
• Were any cost overruns due to unforeseen issues or an error in the quote?
• How were your calls or visits to check on the progress greeted?
• Do you have any concerns about the work performed?
• Would you hire the shop again for your next project?
As you meet professionals and discuss your project, you’ll need to discuss the basics of what you want and get an idea of the estimated time and cost involved. You should also ask each pro for local references and for detail photos of projects they’ve completed. In addition, here are some other questions to ask.
• What is a reasonable time frame to expect the work to be complete? What are some of the reasons that might cause delays?
• What cost (or range) should I expect? What are factors that might increase the cost?
• What are some unexpected issues/challenges that might arise that would cause a time delay or add to the cost?
• How do you feel about me stopping by occasionally to check out the progress?
It takes time to develop good sources able to provide you with the kind of special parts that you need for each vehicle. Fortunately, there are many reputable companies out there who offer the items you are looking for it’s – just a matter of finding them.
Advertisements in major rodding publications and vendors at street rod shows will be a great resource. But what about for the more obscure parts or when you’re looking for a used item? One way to locate the parts you need is right at your fingertips – on the Internet.
Access Hemmings Motor News (Hobby Directory) lists contacts for many rodding companies. From the search page, just choose the “make,” "state," or "Search by Company Specialty" link. You’ll also find a comprehensive database of aftermarket manufacturers as well as other automotive businesses at the Performance Marketplace (www.performancemarket.com). Listings are divided into categories with links to each individual company’s web site, if it has one.
Also, at Hemmings Motor News, lists classifieds online at www.hemmings.com. As an alternative to scouring a swap meet for a specific item for a nostalgic-style rod, you may want to go to Car-Part.com, which has many links to help you find parts for vehicles built far back.
Once your rod is complete, it will fit nicely into one parking space, but unless you’re hiring a pro for the entire project (and he is ordering and storing all your parts), you’ll need some serious storage space.
Your most obvious option is to clean out the garage. If you only have a one-car garage, consider setting aside space in a basement or storage shed for smaller parts. If you need to use space far away from your work area, make sure you put all the parts you need for a particular portion of the project in your workspace before you start that job. This will save you loads of time walking back and forth.
To ensure that you have all the items you’ll need for your project, create a catalog and storage system when you begin your project. Use a notebook or computer to inventory all of the items as they arrive, as well as anything you remove from a project or donor vehicle. Be sure you note where you stored every item. Create another database to keep a record of the parts that you still need to purchase: List the item needed, the date it was ordered and from what company, the price you were quoted and how you paid, and when you expect it to arrive. Add a section for notes so you can jot down the company's phone number and the name of the person you spoke with. You will then have all the information you need right at your fingertips.
Before you begin the project, figure out how you’re going to store everything. A variety of storage shelves, crates, boxes and small jars are good items to have on hand to hold a range of parts of various shapes and sizes. Number or label all the containers so that six months into the project, you’ll be able to easily find the part you’re looking for. Numbering is usually more useful because you can put whatever items fit nicely into a box or on a shelf. If you restrict a box to one category, say wiring, you may find yourself with a half-empty box, and you’ll need even more space.
Parts that have unusual shapes that don’t fit well on shelves can be hung from the beams or the walls of your garage. This also makes a great way to “decorate” your workspace while keeping it clean at the same time.
This whole process may seem time-consuming right now, but being organized will make your buildup a lot smoother in the long run. The amount of time you spend setting up a solid system now will save you loads of time looking for a part that you can’t find but know you have later.
While you don’t want to order too many parts before you need them, do spend some time thinking about what you need and when. Often the positioning of one item can be affected by another item that you might not think of ordering until much later. For example, the position of your steering column in relation to your body when you’re drivings is critical, yet often new rodders use a milk crate or an old seat in the vehicle to figure out the steering column position, only to discover when they take their first long road trip they’re not at all comfortable. Ron Domin advises rodders to purchase the seat they plan on using before they install the steering column. It’s a great tip, but you need to make sure you have enough space to store the seat until you’re ready to do the final install.
Next month, we will address “How to Make Sure it’s Safe,” which offers tips and instruction on making your new rod as safe as it can be.