Contributed by Russ Muller
If you have spent hundreds of hours and/or thousands of dollars doing bodywork trying to restore a tri-five Chevy, 2nd generation Chevy II, or a 1st or 2nd generation F-Body (Camaro or Firebird) because you have not been able to find good aftermarket body panels, I have the solution for you: Real Deal Steel (RDS). I spent some time with Randy Irwin and Joe Whitaker, the company founders and owners, to get a little more information about them and what they do.
How did Real Deal Steel start?
“Joe and I were working at Classic Chevy/Eckler’s, and back in 2003 we started helping the guys develop parts. Floors, doors, quarter panels, so that we could retail it over here. And it kept growing. These guys (Golden Star) were building aftermarket Camaro and Mustang body parts at the time, and they started talking to us about having someone build a complete body.” They approached Joe, and Joe approached Randy and they discussed the idea of starting a business building complete cars. Both partners were ready for a change after being with Eckler’s for many years, so with their parts supplier producing all of the parts needed for a complete car, Real Deal Steel opened its doors in February 2011.
Their initial product offering was limited to the ’57 Chevy convertible, then as more parts were being made, the ’55 and ’56 convertibles were added. From there, they added the tri-five hardtops and sedans. Customer demand for different products has guided a good deal of their product development. In addition to stock restoration parts, they have added offerings like smoothed firewalls, larger transmission tunnels and wider wheel wells (mini tubs) to make resto-mod builds easier and cleaner. Those larger transmission tunnels, for example, make it much easier to add a 4L80 or other modern transmission to a tri-five or 1st gen because no cutting is required to make it fit.
How long does it take to build a car?
If you have all the parts ready to go, it takes roughly 64-68 hours to build a ’55 Chevy hardtop. Convertibles take about 6-8 hours less. It takes almost a full day longer to build a roof car because of all the added parts and structures. The Camaros and Chevy IIs, the unibody cars, take about 5-7 hours longer because of all the extra bracing since there’s no frame underneath it.
The next product line RDS took on was the 1st generation F-Body. Although they primarily build Camaros, they have made several Firebirds as well. Then came the 2nd generation Chevy II. The Chevy II has proven to be a popular platform, and RDS showcased theirs both at the F-Body Nationals in Memphis in 2017 and SEMA in Las Vegas in 2018. In fact, the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association 2019 Grand Prize giveaway car was a ’67 Chevy II built by Designer Street Rods, who used an RDS body to build their car. Most recently, the 2nd generation F-Body has been added. Although they advertise ’70-’73, they can do the later year 2nd gens as well.
With the added product lines, the customer requests have continued to evolve. In addition to larger transmission tunnels and mini tubs, all RDS cars can be ordered for race car setup; with no floor pans, trunk pans, a firewall, with the roof fitted and cut off to make roll cage installation easier, or any combination of those mods.
Each added product line also meant adding an assembly room. They are currently up to four in their facility in Sanford, FL. Currently, each room turns out 30 bodies per year, so roughly 120 RDS bodies are produced every year. All of the sheet metal RDS uses is 18 gauge, which assures a quality part that is also factory thickness. It’s worth noting that all of these parts are also licensed by GM, so they meet the standards of the original manufacturer.
RDS has been featured on multiple episodes of Chop, Cut, Rebuild on Speed TV. In 2019, the show Week to Wicked wanted to build a hot rod ’55 Chevy, and instead of finding an existing car to restore they opted to use an RDS body. You can see the episode here: https://youtu.be/EEqIlbArBOY watching it gives you a much better idea of just how much craftsmanship is built into each RDS body.
This is just a quick introduction to Real Deal Steel. I’ve seen their stuff, and the name is correct. They are the Real Deal. For more information, or to order a catalog, please visit their website http://realdealsteel.com