1956 Bel Air Sedan
This is not your typical tri-five story. I actually had muscle cars as a teenager, a 1967 Chevelle SS396 and 1969 Malibu 350 that I spent many a night street racing. I also had a 1957 Bel Air 4 door in my late twenty’s. I always liked the old cars, hot rods and tri-fives. My wife, Leah, also had a muscle car as a teenager a 1973 Plymouth Gold Duster and then a 1955 Chevy Bel Air when she was married to her first husband which they street raced on Saturday nights.
I had been saying for years that I wanted a 1932 or 1934 Ford five window coupe. In February 2002, I told my wife that by the time I got a coupe I would be too old to enjoy it. I told her since we both liked the tri-fives that I had made my mind up to buy a tri-five that our daughter and I could restore. Samantha was turning 14 and I knew our time for being close was limited with high school and boys looming in the real near future. Leah agreed, so we found and purchased a 1956 Chevy Bel Air two-door post March 9, 2002. The car had a 350 small block with a 350 turbo automatic transmission. The interior badly needed help with no front door panels, torn seats and hanging headliner. The exterior paint job was old but not bad, it had a few pieces of stainless missing, but the most important thing to me was no rust and a straight body.
The next week we started the rebuild by having shocks installed and a new doughnut on the passenger’s side to stop an exhaust leak. Then about three or four months later my cousin Charles Roppolo (yes he is in the club and drives the big blue 1956 Chevy panel truck, Samantha, and I jumped in and installed a chrome Ididit tilt wheel, 605 power steering box, a B&M Meg Floor Shifter, and a pair of ceramic coated Sanderson headers then it was back to the muffler shop to have a new Flow Master exhaust system installed along with a pair of Flow Master cutouts. Now it was a little more fun to drive and it had a little sound too. Samantha was a big help! She jumped right in bolting up the headers and getting her hands dirty! It was a lot of fun!
From that point on Samantha and I started accumulating parts and brainstorming with my wife, and friends as to what we wanted this car to be and look like. Every car show we went to and hot rod magazine we read we would pick up ideas. Samantha was starting to learn a lot about how a car works. We would occasionally climb under the car just to discuss how it all worked from the crankshaft all the way to the rear end ring and pinion gear. Her knowledge of cars grew and our time together was great.
Then in the summer of 2004, the car took on some major overhauling, with the help of a good friend, Ronnie Barryhill, who by the way has a sweet 1970 El Camino with a big rat motor. We began the next phase in Ronnie’s garage out in Lone Oak, Texas. We went to work pulling the motor and transmission. Samantha and Ronnie were underneath the car disconnecting the drive shaft and transmission lines while Charlie and I were up top disconnecting the hoses and radiator. Samantha really liked the air wrenches that Ronnie has, she had a blast taking things apart plus she was starting to see first hand some internal parts that we had been discussing like the torque converter or "Jello Mold" as she calls it.
Mike Malone of Machine Works in Greenville, Texas showed up just in time to pick up the extracted motor. Mike had built motors for Ronnie and Charlie so I felt good putting the motor in his hands. After the tear down was complete, he described the motor as one tired 350 Chevy. The block was a four bolt main and the crank was in good shape so those are the only two things remaining from the original motor. Mike had a bare set of Chevy double hump fuel injected heads and a good set of hi-performance rods that he had been saving for the right person to come along. I took him up on his offer and he went to work on the rebuild. Mike bored the block 30 over and sent the crank and rotating assembly out to be balanced, while Graylyn Zito got nasty with the heads porting, polishing, he did a 5 angle valve job, matched and pinged the intake, then the motor was reassembled with hypereutectic forged pistons, triple springs, Hardensharp roller rockers, Comp Cam Xtreme Energy 284H hydraulic cam, polished Air Gap manifold, Holley polished 750 double pump carburetor with four corner idle, and a lot polished aluminum.
At the same time the motor was being built, the car was taken to Fred Taylor out at Cedar Creek Lake for a complete paint job and make over, doors, hood, fenders, and trunk was removed. The fender wells, firewall, dash, door jams, and inside the trunk was painted. In the middle of this project Fred, let us take the car back to Ronnie’s for a few months to rebuild the front end and put the power plant back in place.
Back at Ronnie’s with the fenders gone, we completely rebuilt the front end with new bushings, ball joints, tie rods and rubbers. While installing the new front springs, 2 ˝ "dropped spindles, power disc breaks, and a sway bar we picked up some additional help and knowledge from Tim Neece another good friend who has a T-bucket and 1940 coupe. We then reinstalled the newly rebuilt motor, and a new 700R4 automatic transmission with a 3000 stall PTC torque converter. Tim built a cross-member to help steady the 700R4 then with Samantha’s help pumping the brake pedal Ronnie and Tim bleed and adjusted the brakes, after fixing a few leaks and waking Samantha up who fell asleep behind the wheel, it was time to load the car on Charlie’s trailer and head back to the painter.
Several weeks later, the silver blue paint job was completed and it was time for the graphics. Leah, Samantha and I had spoken several times about colors and the types of flames that we all liked. I had told them that in the old days I always thought it was cool when a car had graphics on the trunk. I had silver and white pearl flames on my mind but I told the girls to do what ever they wanted. Samantha drew the flames and a solar planet scene on one of her art pads with colors she and her mother decided on. They discussed the theme and colors with Fred, and within about three weeks he turned it into reality. Purple, light blue and silver flames trimmed out in hot pink, and a mural of solar planets on the trunk. It is one of a kind and I can only thank Leah, and Samantha for their vision, it turned out better than I could have imagined.
Next, the car had a complete wiring harness installed, so it now has all the modern circuits and fuses that a new car has. A set of new tires were installed on new Cragar SS wheels with a complete front-end alignment. Radiator support, braces, interior molding, and bumper’s were re-chromed. New parking light assemblies, mirrors, door handles, chrome hinges, and new 4-core desert cool radiator, tail light assembly, custom grille, and hood bar was purchased and installed.
Back at Ronnie’s it was time to for the finishing touches and to fire up the motor, everyone was there and pitching in. Mike and Tim helped Ronnie fire it up and broke in the cam. When that engine fired, we all were amazed with the sound. Charlie and I added a little something I had been holding out a set of electric cutouts on the exhaust. There is a button mounted to the console that I can push and they automatically open and close the headers. Everybody thinks the electric cutouts are cool.
During the past months for Samantha’s sophomore year AP English project, she wrote about the restoration and made a scrapbook to show our progress. Leah drove the car up to the school, for the entire class, and her teacher to see it. Samantha did a presentation describing the project as well as teaching the class the basic way an engine powers a car. Needless to say the principal, coaches, and just about anyone who appreciates cars found a way to the parking lot. Samantha received an "A" for her report.
Then the car was taken to Top’s Auto Trim upholstery shop in October 2004 to get a custom interior including the trunk area. Martin Gallardo, also installed a lot of new components, custom gauge cluster with a new electronic speedometer, new windows, channels, window felts, window tracks, billet gas pedal, billet brake pedal, billet steering wheel, seat belts, dome light, door handles, sill plates, to go along with the high back bucket seats, stereo, custom speakers, custom aluminum dash, that Samantha and I installed. I also built a custom center console that Martin covered. Leah and Samantha once again got their creative minds together with Martin and came up with the colors and scheme. One note, I did come up with the embroidery design on the inside door panels.
After eleven long months, we got the car back and I took it to Joseph’s Auto Toy Store and had them install a security remote pager system, ground effects (LED lights), automatic door locks, and power windows.
September 2, 2005, Samantha and I entered the car in our first car show. It was a small show at the Burger Street on Town East Blvd. in Mesquite. We were very excited when we took the First Place trophy in the 50’s class, it is something that Samantha and I will always remember.
What is next? Hopefully a new Ford 9 inch rear end with posi-traction and 4:11 gears, or Vintage Air/Heat, who knows? Oops! My wife just informed me that college is next for Samantha! Time has really flown and I would not trade a moment of it for the time spent with my daughter and friends making this car a reality from my dreams!
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