When Is It Necessary to Remove Your Imperial's Body from its Frame

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Question from Mike (1953):

I own a '53 Custom Imperial 4-door. I've owned this car for about 20 years, I bought it when I was 14 or 15 with the hopes of fixing it up. Well my major triumph, other than driving it from Connecticut to California when I started graduate school, was to keep it garaged for most of those years, thus slowing the deterioration process.

I'm finally getting to the point in my life where I have the time and resources to dive into this car. Looking it over anew, it's clear to me that I must fully dismantle the car, including lifting the body from the frame. This is where I'm hoping for some advice.

I have a decent-sized 2-car garage, half of which is occupied by my wife's car. The Imperial is on "skates" (steel dollies under each wheel), so that I can push it around the garage (gee, I wish my back was still as good as it was when I first bought the car) and maximize space usage. I have no room to store the body outside of the garage, except that many of the panels--hood, doors, trunk, fenders, etc.--will be housed in crates in the backyard. Thus I'm thinking of a "double-decker" arrangement, where I can suspend the body above the frame by a few feet, so that I can pull the frame out from underneath it independently whenever I want to work. To do this I will fabricate some sort of structure out of tube steel, or perhaps light I-beams (or even lumber).

My questions--who out there has done the frame-off approach in their own garage? How did you manage the main body section once separated? Do you have to reinforce it with structural steel to prevent it from flexing? How did you first lift the body from the frame? Can it be gradually jacked up in sections; or would it be better to jack up the frame & body together, support the body and drop the frame?


From Kerry:

I guess my first question is, "Why do you need to pull the body?" About the only thing you can't do is paint the top of the frame and contact points between the body. I just finished a complete brake job including master cylinder and booster. You can pull the engine without doing the body although I'd pull the hood. Chrome comes off easily.

However if you want to pull the body for a full frame off you will need some serious lifting capabilities and storage and probably will take up more than 1/2 of your garage. You might look into a 'backyard buddy' type lift that will allow you to park one car under another and even roll it around on casters

From Bob:

My advice - don't! I'm STILL trying to finish the one complete disassembly of a rare car I did many years ago and even with professional help, it's still a few years away. There was no choice with that car, but in the interim I've done several "rolling restorations/rebuilds". A much better idea, if at all possible.

I think you are better off getting the car running, licensed & driving as soon as practical. Then make a plan about how/when to rebuild the major assemblies - trans, engine, brakes, suspension, interior. With luck, it will never be off the road for more than a month.

Then if you still think it's necessary and you still like the car, take the chassis off the body and complete the needed work. You will not have lost much effort and gained a lot of experience and fun.

I think we would all be surprised about the number of uncompleted "full dis-assemblies" of cars and many of those wind up scrapped.

From Marc:

I am in the process of an almost complete restoration now. The only parts that are in tact is the dashboard, front and side glass, and the body is still attached to the frame. I have brakes, exhaust, gas tank, upholstery, engine and transmission, and back glass all out of the car. I still need to redo/repair all the inside wiring, and then prep and paint. And I NEED to have all this done in about 10 months. Everything that I need to do, is on hold because something has to be done first. I walk out, look at the car, then just walk back inside!!!! It is soooooo overwhelming. After 6 months of working on it, I went from having the goal of a show car, to a goal of I JUST WANT IT TO RUN, SO I CAN DRIVE IT!!!!!!!!!! I would definitely consider all options first. 

P.S. I was going to do a frame off at first, and the only way I found to separate the frame and body was to rent a forklift and pick the body up off the frame. But my garage will not accommodate the frame, and I too was concerned about the flexing of the body, and then it was this concern, and then that concern, when finally I said Forget it. And I am still in almost over my head. Its hard when you work and also commute, and still try to have a life.!!!!!

From Arran:

I remember after I bought my car I was talking to a local fellow, who owns a 55' DeSoto, about my new acquisition. One of the fist questions that he asked about it was," Are you going to do a frame off?". This is a fellow that bought his DeSoto in a cosmetically restored condition, and although he meant well, he obviously didn't know what was involved in carrying one out. Many people keep telling me about how expensive old cars are to restore and how much of a money pit it is. 

The one thing that I have noticed is that it depends on how much of the work you do yourself. The other thing that it hinges on is how far do you go with the restoration and how perfect do you want the car. The only cars that I would do a frame off job on would be the old ones built from the mid thirties on back with a wooden skeleton under the body. The main reasons being that the skeleton is usually rotten and that the body panels are screwed to it and are usually small enough to pack away in a corner while you work on the rest of the car. 

These old beasts are also a lot less complicated in overall construction as well. You can't pack away an early fifties car body to the same degree as a vintage one. If the rust in a body is so bad that there is no alternative but to remove the body from the frame to repair it then I would seriously consider finding another car. Part of keeping this hobby enjoyable and affordable is knowing when to draw the line. I don't see why the floor and rocker panels can't be cut out and repaired while the body stays on the frame. If one were to put the frame up on blocks, after removing the drive train, sandblast the bottom thoroughly, cut out and patch the rust holes, and paint everything in sight with rust inhibitor before undercoating it again, would that not suffice?

Follow-up from Mike:

Anyways, why do I want to pull the body? I guess I'm tired of compromising my efforts. I've been working on cars for a long time, doing the rolling-resto thing on a '67 Beetle (never finished, sold it when I moved) a '74 BMW 2002 (my current daily driver--looks like hell, but the 121cid motor will rev to 6400 and take you over 100mph easily), an '84 Volvo (well, rolling maintenance, now being cleaned up for sale) and numerous others. I'm tired of compromising, and the work is at least as fun as the driving to me. Someday I'd like to build a few complete cars up from scratch--maybe use an old frame, certainly use available drive train, but body parts my own. I have lots of spare 2002 parts, and someday I might build a little sports roadster using that running gear. I also picked up a spare 331 Hemi/4-bbl, and I'd love to build a '50s vintage racer like the Cunningham C4R (if you're not familiar with it, it was an American-made LeMans competitor based on the early Hemi; looks kinda like a Cobra).

But first things first, I'm itching to get going on my Imperial. At the rate I go, I'll probably be dead and buried long before I accomplish half the projects I have in mind.

I was thinking of a "backyard buddy" type arrangement, though I'd probably build one myself and integrate it into the structure of the garage. My garage roof has a sag in it anyways, so I was thinking that I might replace the main beam with steel, or at least run a steel beam alongside of it. I could probably build a structure capable of supporting the weight of a body (can't be more than 1500lbs, right?) that fits within the perimeters of 1/2 the garage. So long as I don't burn everything down with my arc welder.

This page was last updated January 19, 2002.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club