Throughout the years, car manufacturers have used various materials to produce car exteriors, often referred to as car shells. These shells do more than just provide an exterior, they also allow the designer to showcase their vision, and help provide protection to the occupants.
Very early automobile bodies were nearly universally made of wood, typically by the same craftsmen who built wagons and carriages. They were often given similar names as horse drawn transportation of the era, e.g. phaeton, tonneau, and landaulette, to name a few. Due to the limitations of wood, even with steaming it will only bend so much, very early wooden vehicles all had a similar shape. This all changed at the turn of the 20th century.
The Metal Years
In 1900, new metalworking techniques began to appear, allowing for the usage of both steel and aluminum sheet metal in the production and manufacturing of car bodies. Metal panels could be shaped into new and much more varied shapes and forms than the older wood-bodied cars were able to be. Advanced vehicle body panel manufacturing used new techniques to try and streamline the vehicle production timeline. Attempts to manufacture unibody car shells hit the market as early as 1915. By the time World War One had ended, virtually all vehicles had shells manufactured from metal. Surprisingly, by 1920, nearly all of the body manufacturing techniques in practice today had been introduced and attempted. Even gluing the car’s body panels together!
Body On Frame
From the early 1900’s until the 1930’s most vehicles were manufactured with a separate frame and car shell. Even today, large SUV’s and trucks will typically have a body on frame construction, utilizing both steel and aluminum body panels to maintain their strength.
Gradually, beginning with smaller cars in the 1930’s and 1940’s, manufacturers started to make the move to unibody car frames, a design where the car’s body and frame are all manufactured as one piece. This allows for lighter weight vehicles, boosting efficiency and power, while retaining and sometimes improving, vehicle safety. Car exteriors continue to be manufactured from primarily steel and aluminum, with some higher end vehicles using a carbon fiber unibody chassis to further reduce weight and increase performance.
While we may not know the materials used in the cars of the future, continued advancements in the strengthening of steel and aluminum will see those metals continue to be used for years to come! We can’t predict the future, but for now, cars are susceptible to damage through dings and dents. Call Prime Time PDR today if your car has been dented, and let us use PDR to repair your vehicle, regardless of the shell.