Why the Restoration Industry Makes Parts Overseas

Posted by Michael Satterfield

Joe Whitaker is one half of the partnership that founded Real Deal Steel, a supplier of reproduction classic Chevrolet bodies and parts. He is recognized as one of the world’s most knowledgeable 55-57 experts and has been the Classic Chevy master judge for most of his career. Joe has always had a love for not only the cars but the wide variety of people and personalities in this great hobby. His real passion is taking a pile that is “nothing” and creating a car that is really “something!

In this article, he tackles one of the toughest questions that many restorers of classic American cars complain about, "Why can't you make parts for my American car, in America?" Having worked in the automotive restoration industry myself for a number of years, it was a common complaint by many classic car enthusiasts, but as Joe points out, overseas manufacturing is what makes this hobby so accessible to so many.

Where does it come from?
By Joe Whitaker
Real Deal Steel

We often receive questions from customers about the origin of the steel parts that we use to assemble our classic car bodies. USA? China? Taiwan? 

Certainly, it would be ideal if all of the panels we sold and used to assemble our cars were made in the USA. Right now, 100 percent of our parts used for body assembly are made offshore in Taiwan. Why? There are four main reasons:

Expense. We have had some items quoted for production in the U.S. and prices come back at three to four times the quotes we get from overseas. So, an overseas panel that we can import and sell for $799 might have to sell for $2,500, if made in the U.S. Unfortunately, that would just about eliminate our hobby altogether due to the sheer expense of restoring a car with U.S.-made parts.

Production availability. All of the remaining U.S. toolmakers and stamping houses (there are far fewer today than 60 years ago) are so busy making products by the MILLIONS for the aerospace and automotive industries that they do not have the time nor interest in stamping 200 '57 Chevy quarter panels for Real Deal Steel.

Quality. There was a time when companies like ours would be forced to make parts at a high price in the U.S. because the quality of the parts from overseas was so poor. That is just not true anymore. Many overseas companies based in Taiwan, China, India and Japan have improved their technology and quality so much, that they can and do produce parts that are better than those that are sourced here!

Tooling. To make products competitive, many U.S. stamping companies use what is called Kirksite tooling. Kirksite is a low-cost alloy that is easy to cast and form to make tooling, but, it is easily damaged and wears quickly. That said, a softer steel must be used resulting in parts with softer edges and weak lines. The overseas companies we buy from use steel tooling (like GM did originally) that can produce hundreds of thousands of parts precisely.

These steel tools cost more to manufacture due to the cost of the materials and labor to produce. However, the cost of a steel tool made in Taiwan can be far less than an inferior Kirksite tool made here in the U.S.

The last time I was in Taiwan, I was in the foundry that manufactures our tooling. Our production was backed up because the foundry was working on the tooling for the new series Tesla! That's right -- the American made Tesla is manufactured using steel tooling made in Taiwan!

The raw goods high-strength automotive steel used to make our parts is sourced exclusively from Japan by our Taiwan manufacturers. While production of many items in Japan has become expensive over the last 50 years as their standard of living has increased, raw steel is still relatively inexpensive due to the huge volume produced for Japan’s thriving automotive industry.

Like it or not, we live in a world where all items, automotive and non-automotive, are sourced globally. Parts to build new GM, Ford and Chrysler vehicles come from Japan, China, India, Pakistan, Mexico Canada, etc. There's just no way around it!

Find comfort in this: While many raw materials, subassemblies and even entire vehicles may be sourced offshore, industries that do this still employ millions of Americans to source, transport, import at the docks, transport to factories and distribution centers, advertise, assemble and ultimately sell to consumers. If it weren’t for foreign-sourced steel, Real Deal Steel would not exist. Though we are a small company, we pay our staff, ourselves, our rent, utilities, shipping, advertising … all of which puts money into the pockets of other Americans.

About Joe:

Joe Whitaker has been an automotive enthusiast since he was a youngster. The hot-rod and classic car influence of his dad and uncles left a lifelong impression. Along with his own small businesses over the years, Joe worked for OB Smith Classic Cars and Eckler's Classic Chevy for many years. As the owner of Real Deal Steel along with business partner Randy Irwin, he still loves the business and the hobby. He can be found most nights and weekends working on his own hot rod projects -- currently a '57 Chevy hardtop gasser he has wanted to build now for 40-plus years.


  1. Yeah but no. That article is poorly written and misleading, but for it to be written well it would end up being about 100x longer. For example the comment about Tesla, although it is correct, it’s not correct for all parts but some parts but reads to mislead you into thinking it’s all parts/tooling which is absolutely not true. There are large presses right here in Michigan that could handle the dies stated and are sitting empty...but it is more expensive to run it here than there, so yeah but no.

  2. I agree with you however, I am that guy that will pay a premium for an American made reproduction part of the fit is excellent and requires minimal work to get all the gaps to line up. I’m a firm believer in you get what you pay for and if you’re going to do something do it right the first time

  3. You make it sound so great and that we should get uesd to it. I'm not sending my money outside the US. in order for me to sell my children's book at Wal-mart, I have to charge $17 compared to $7 for book printing in China and I make $0.87. So instead of interesting material about a boy who has a monster truck that tows a train, they have to read Pete the Cat. It's the children thiat suffer minimonstertruck dot com.