Someone asked me the other day, how long have I been into cars. The question caught me off guard because when I hang around my car friends, we just assume that we have always been into cars. So, my response was, as long as I can remember. I was into cars long before I could drive, playing with Hot Wheels and radio control cars. Then progressed to owning my first car along with 10+ classic and muscle cars before I was 21 years old. Even when I got married and sold my ’67 El Camino to buy diapers instead, the passion for automobiles didn’t stop, it was simply put on hold.
Although I think that the love for all things mechanical is part DNA, I got the inspiration and love of cars from my Dad. He liked to buy projects that someone else got tired of working on and get it on the road again. He would usually get the project far enough along so that it was drivable and flip it on to someone else to finish. It had been around 10 years since I had owned a classic car and my Dad came to the house to let me know he had found a Ford Model A project for sale and planned to sell his ’56 Chevy Belair to fund the project. I have always loved Tri-5 Chevrolets, so I said, give me a price and before long, I was back in the hot rod game. The funny thing was, Dad didn’t have a garage, so he stored it at my house. All I had to do was walk into the garage and start working on it.
The car started its life in the Los Angeles, CA Chevrolet plant in 1956 as a Belair 2 door sedan. The Belair is the trim level, meaning that it comes equipped with all of the chrome and stainless-steel trim and the sedan means that the doors have full window frames (also referred to as a “post” car, due to the post between the front and quarter windows). Dad and I had done some basic updates to the car over the years including power steering, tilt steering column and relocating the battery to the trunk. Although the engine ran decent, the car had some electrical issues and wouldn’t always start. Well, that was not a problem, I was a 12 volt guy and even had the hookup at American Autowire through my job at Kicker so I ordered a new wiring harness and the project began.
I could have just removed the interior and all of the old wiring and installed the new harness but the car quickly became a larger project with a bad case of “while I am doing this, I might as well do that”. I started by cleaning up the surface rust on the floorboards and sealing with POR 15 and slowly progressed as more and more of the car was disassembled. It feels like one day I just walked out into the garage and the front clip was off and the engine removed. At that point I figured I might as well get the paint fixed up since it had a few small rust spots and some of the original paint coming through the poor mask job from the previous respray. What started as a basic rewire and clean up that should have taken a couple months was now a minimum 12-month commitment to paint and reassemble.
Here is where things really started to go south. I lost my job and spent a year looking for a job that was the right fit with no success, we ended up moving back home to Southern California. Fortunately, at the shop that had been working on it, I had only paid for half of the paint and body work job upfront and he was behind schedule so I figured by the time I got settled back in Cali, the car would be done and I could bring home a freshly painted car. Well, not so much. My wife went back to Oklahoma to check on the progress on the car, the shop’s electricity had been shut off and the owner had taken another job and was only working in the paint shop part time. It had already been in the shop for 12 months and I said if he could finish the car in 12 more months, I would continue to work with him. He said he could not commit to that time frame, so the car was out of there. In hindsight, at least he was honest about it or my car might still be there.
I rented a trailer from U-Haul and loaded up the car, stuffing boxes of parts in the trunk and passenger compartment and hauled her back to California. Luckily the frame had been over at my good friend, Dave Adams’ place where he had already done all of the difficult chassis work, removing the leaf springs and mounts and fitting the rear with a Heidts triangulated 4-link suspension. Now that the car was back home it was time to get the project back on track. I had sold the 350ci small block Chevy engine and TH350 transmission that was in it. I did not know the history on the engine and I didn’t really want to haul it across the country. Since I was fully committed now, I had to find an engine, transmission, paint shop, and upholstery shop.
Between work, life, and working on the car it took several years to get the car back together and on the road but the journey along the way allowed me to meet some great people both here in Orange County and online through the trifive.com forum. I met Rich Leonard from Americoat Powder Coating in Orange, CA. His team did a great job on powder coating all of the small bits and pieces. They even powder coated the inner fender wells matte black giving the engine bay a unique look. To complete the final body prep and paint, I turned to Rick Kreher from Rick’s Kustoms in Orange. They got the panels arrow straight and laid down several coats of Flame Orange and Diamond White. Under the body we sprayed a heavy duty rubberized undercoating. Rich Waitas from Magnaflow customized their Tri-Five stainless exhaust to fit around my 4-link rear suspension.
Now that it was time to trim out the interior, I started by fabricating a custom center console, package tray, and kick panels for the passenger compartment. I installed a custom Kicker Audio system in the trunk and built out all the trim panels. The car was then off to Wahl’s Custom Upholstery in Los Alamitos, CA where Rene and his team stitched up a full custom interior using ’63 Chevy Impala bucket seats and building up the custom foam on the rear seat to match. All the seat frames were stripped down to bare metal and powder coated.
We showed the car for the first time in the Magnaflow booth at Cruisin’ for a Cure 2017. We are very excited to be able to drive and show the car now. I can’t say that the car is “done” because they are never done but it is a completed, assembled car. The fun part of this hobby is being able to enjoy these cars while continuing to work on them. Here are some specs for this project.
- Rear Axle – Currie Enterprises, Ford 9 inch housing with 31 spline axles and 3.70 gears
- Wheels – Showwheels Streeter, Polished. 18×7 Fronts and 18×9 Rears
- Tires – General G-Max 215/45/ZR18 Front and 275/40/ZR18 Rear
- Engine – GM Performance 350 Cu In, 330 Horsepower
- Transmission – GM 700R4 Overdrive – Built by Roy’s Transmissions. Fullerton, CA
- Exhaust – Magnaflow Stainless-Steel 2.5” Tri-five System Customized
- Powder coating – Americoat Powder Coating. Orange, CA
- Paint and body – Rick’s Kustoms. Orange, CA
- Interior – Wahl’s Upholstery. Los Alamitos, CA
- Audio – Kicker Audio and Fueled Performance Electronics
- Wiring – American Autowire
- Chassis – Clever Crow Fab. Stillwater, OK