Unless a suspension component rattles, squeaks, or gives up the ghost entirely and drags the pavement, the average motorist pays little attention to a car's chassis. Street rodders, however, are a different breed; we actually handpick the components for our cars. We take greater car yet when those components are exposed, like on this year's '32 highboy Road Tour car. When others can see the suspension on our personally-built cars, we take more interest it- to the point that we paint, chrome and polish everything in sight.
Now, not every street rodder has to be an engineer to put together a car, although that was the case a the beginning of the hobby when most lessons were learned the hard way. Today, there are professional rod shops all over the country that can offer advice and install just about anything. Furthermore, the many aftermarket companies in the street rod industry have done the engineering for you in almost every case. The frames, suspension, springs, brakes, and other chassis components you can readily buy have been thoroughly proven on thousands of street rods. Manufacturers simply ask a few questions to determine exactly what components will work for your application and your specific make/model/year car.
For most popular street rod applications, there are enough newly-make, ready-to-paint frames and parts that it's often a false economy to spend time and effort resuscitating tired, rusty, bent old original components. The performance and safety of your driving experience is literally riding on your chassis, so it's got to be right.
Hot Rods & Custom Stuff (HR&CS), owned by Randy and Peaches Clark, built our Road Tour roadster. They are not only known for their superior workmanship and winning cars, but also for their unusual '32 Ford frame (called the Deuce Steel), which was perfect for our needs. What is special about the Deuce Steel frame is how it allows the car to sit, which is to say loooowww. Most street rodders like low rods. The admiration that early-day street rodders had for the channeled lakes roadsters of the time is still very much with is in contemporary street rodding.
Once you've decided to set the car as low as is practical, there are only a few ways to accomplish that, particularly on a highboy roadster. To get a roadster really low in the past, the body was channeled down over the frame. With this approach, the car looks really low and the chassis remains relatively the same, although you lose a lot of interior room, and can wind up sitting on a stadium pad instead of a seat to get your head down out of the wind.
The alternative traditional approach to "the path of the lowered " was to cut up the frame. By Z'ing the rear of the frame, the back of the car was lowered considerably and the back of the frame pretty much hidden from view. The same procedure performed at the front usually meant hacking of the frame horns (which was okay when Deuce frames were $10), so today's traditionalists prefer not to go that way.
Fast-forward to a few years ago. David Iverson built a nice, traditional-looking Deuce highboy that sat truly baaadd. Randy Clark was a longtime friend of David's and liked how he managed to lower the car's stance by subtly changing the profile of the front of his framerails without doing any Z'ing or bobbing the horns. The pair then decided to collaborate on a frame design that Hot Rods & Custom Stuff would produce.
The Accompanying photos present a graphic idea of how the Deuce Steel frame differs from a stock-shaped '32 frame in terms of ride height. Basically, the framerails rise up in a subtle arc from just ahead of where the revel is near the firewall area. At the risk of oversimplifying the process, this is accomplished by taking commercially-available stamped '32 framerails, chopping them off just ahead of the reveal, and adding new rails form there forward that have the Deuce Steep profile.
At HR&CS, Charlie Virgin handles the main job of building the frame. He's the weldor (person) who wields the welders (machines). In addition to cutting off the front of the framerails, the rear of the stamped rails receives a C-shaped cut with a plasma cutter right at the real-axle centerline. This provides additional axle clearance do that the rear of the car can be lowered more than usual.
From here on in, the rails are placed in a fixture, one for each siderail, which located the rail so nothing can move during the following welding operations. Many clamping stations are welded to this steel fixture and set right against the rails, which are tack-welded to the tops of the stations. The new front framerail sections are not stamped, but rather made from joining three pieces of 1/8-inch steel, a side plate, and a top and bottom. The new sidepiece is welded to the stamped rail with a slanting joint that provides strength due to a longer weld that a straight cut would have required. This is further reinforced by the addition of a plate welded down over the backside of this joint.
The side plates not only have a different vertical profile, but are also 3-inches longer than stock. The frames are "pinched in" at the front (if viewing from above), which makes for a better look where the hood sides meet the rails on a highboy, and the extra wheelbase allows more room for the lengthier engines, like a Ford or our LS-1.
Now the strips of 1/8-inch steel that will become the top and bottom of the new front sections are handformed over bending fixtures. When they fit the rail fixture's curve precisely, they are clamped in place and tack-welded to the sidepiece already in place. Tack-welding is done at intervals all along the new section, and when that is completed, Charlie welds the full seam at the top and bottom. At the rear of the frame, a new piece of steel is formed to fit the fixture to make a new bottom for the area that was notched for the rear axle clearance. This is then tacked and welded like the front of the rails.
Hot Rods & Custom Stuff boxes their Deuce Steel framerails. The modification imparts greater strength and rigidity to the frame and is very common in the hot- and street-rod world. In short, boxing a frame requires a fourth wall to an otherwise C-shaped framerail. Once they weld the fourth wall in place, they grind the welds' protrusions are dress the ground welds for paint. At HR&CS, their boxing plates are set back a short distance inside the framerail before being welded, which adds additional stiffness to the frame. With this method, the welds aren't as prominent, so they can be full-strength without having to be ground. As you'll see in the next chapter, this inset-boxing is an extra plus when you plumb the car because the brake and fuel lines can be more "tucked in." To properly position the boxing plates, many spacer plates are welded top and bottom to the inside of the rails about every 5 inches. These are all cut to the right length to hold boxing plates in perfect position for welding, eliminating the chance that the boxing plates will sink or move.
Once the frame rails are fully boxed except for the area where the front crossmember will go, the rails are removed from the fixtures. Now a separate frame "table" is used for construction of the rest of the frame. Since the front crossmember (a reproduction of a Model A crossmember traditionally used to lower a '32) must mount inside of the rails, it is mounted to the frame fixture first, and then the new rails are positioned over it. Starting at the spreader bar area at the rear of the frame, the rails are clamped into position, working forward until they are clamped at stations along their whole length. The first welding done on the frame fixture is to attach the front crossmember to the rails, and then to add the rear crossmember. A locating fixture secures each piece that is added to the rails so that every frame comes out the same.
The center of the frame is then fortified with a series of 1x2-inch steel tubes that make up a central crossmember, or X-member, since that is the shape. The HR&CS X-member is a two-level affair; first, the pieces of the lower section are installed, located, and welded in, and then a transmission "hoop" is added. (This "hoop" is the center of the X-member, acts as a driveshaft safety loop, and is a place to mount the interior trans tunnel when the body is mounted.) The pieces of the upper level of the X-member are then added to the picture.