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Black Beauty

  • Greg Parsley’s 1963 Chevy Bel Air 2-door sedan looks like it’s a block long thanks to its super low stance and modified B-pillars. The car was built at Greg’s shop, Retro Rides, Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington. The “Octane” front wheels are 17x7-inches with 225/45 ZR17 tires. Air Rid Technologies air suspension and 2-inch dropped spindles provide the super low stance. GM front disc brakes aid stopping. - 0
  •  - 1
  • Paintwork inside the engine compartment is as flawless as the car’s exterior. - 2
  • The firewall was smoothed. A modified 350 cubic inch small-block provides ample power. A Demon carb sits atop a polished Edelbrock intake manifold. - 3
  • Sixty-three Chevy trunks are enormous, but Greg still chose to hide everything. The sound system is in the left trim panel and the battery is on the right. The air tank and pump are above the rear axle behind a carpeted panel. The gas filler is now in the trunk. - 4
  • It’s dark inside the car, because everything is black or charcoal. The original bench seat was recovered in a simple combination of cloth and vinyl. All the usual dashboard items are hidden. Dakota Digital gauges are blue when lit. - 5
  • By slanting the B-pillars to match the angle of the C-pillars and eliminating the front vent windows, the car almost looks like it was chopped. The sedan roofline makes the rear deck look longer. - 6
  • An Impala trunk lid was substituted for the original Bel Air lid. The Impala trunk has six taillights surrounded by a large trim panel. The trim panel was chromed. - 7
  • The rear wheel wells easily accommodate the Billet Specialties 18x8-inch wheels and 245/40 ZR18 Goodyear tires. Notice the rectangular exhaust outlet in front of the wheel well. - 8
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by Bruce Caldwell  More from Author

Greg Parsley’s ’63 Bel Air is as Much About What You Don’t See as What You Do See

Understated simplicity and refinement often produce a more attractive car than lots of brash, obvious modifications. It’s cars like this stunning super black 1963 Bel Air two-door sedan that stop people in their tracks, but not for any readily apparent reasons. Besides the impeccable black paint and perfect stance there isn’t much about the car that warrants immediate attention.

Yet, the car has a magnetic pull. There is something about it that draws you in. The car is just so clean and so right. The closer you look, the more there is to appreciate. Many of the modifications are so subtle that owner Greg Parsley has to point them out. Even if you can’t spot all the changes somehow you know that the finished result is something special. This is a car that appeals to hardcore car guys, not the Sunday stroller set.

That’s fine with Greg, because Greg is in the business of building first class street rods, street machines, and custom trucks. His daily driver Bel Air is a rolling business card for Retro Rods, Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington.

Greg obtained the Bel Air in 1998 by trading a ’68 Camaro RS for it. The car had tons of miles on it, but it was a rust-free California car that ran and drove great. Greg used it for daily transportation for two years before starting the project.

Greg discussed his ideas with Scott Divers. Scott is a multi-talented street rod builder, master upholsterer, and automotive designer who plies his trade with brother Tim at Divers’ Street Rods in bucolic Startup, Washington. Greg has painted cars for the Divers. Scott did a concept illustration that exactly matched Greg’s ideas. The drawing became the inspiration for the car.

Greg performed a total frame-off restoration on the old sedan. Many changes involved hiding common components. Greg wanted the Bel Air to be as smooth and hiccup-free as possible. To fully appreciate all the subtle changes it helps to have an unmodified ’63 Chevy parked next to Greg’s car.

Greg completely gutted the interior. He filled the dashboard and moved all the control knobs and switches underneath the dash. Power windows and door locks were installed with hidden controls. Even the original speaker grille was filled before the dashboard was sent to Just Dashes for a new solid hydroformed vinyl pad. The vent windows were eliminated and replaced with one-piece door glass. He went through three different rear windows to find the best one. This piece of glass isn’t currently reproduced.

The body was completely shaved of all emblems. The gas filler door was eliminated and the filler neck relocated to the trunk. The most radical body change was leaning the B-pillars forward 2 7/8-inches so their angle matched the C-pillar angle. Changing the B-pillars meant the inside and outside trim pieces had to be modified. New rear side window glass was also required. What might appear to be a simple little modification was actually quite involved.

The combination of slanted B-pillars and one-piece side glass makes the roof look chopped, although it is stock height. The extreme length of the car and its ground-hugging stance also contribute to the chopped illusion.

Since custom paint is Greg’s specialty, the paint and bodywork had to be perfect on the Bel Air. The paint is PPG #9700 D.B.U. black basecoat with #2021 clearcoat. A great deal of block sanding and polishing were required to obtain the final mile-deep gloss.

Super shiny trim pieces provide a welcome contrast to the acres of black paint. Getting such perfect trim required a great deal of work. Wherever possible new old stock trim pieces were used, but such trim is much harder to find for Bel Air sedans than the more popular Impala hardtops.

An Impala trunk was used for its six taillights (stock Bel Airs have four taillights) and massive trim panel. The taillight panel was chrome plated to make it much brighter than the factory anodized finish. All the aluminum trim was stripped and de-anodized. Then it was laboriously polished to perfection. The result is trim that seems much brighter than pieces seen on other sixties Chevys.

The bumpers were straightened and re-chromed. The rear bumper brackets were altered to make the bumper fit as close to the body as possible. You have to look very closely to notice such subtle changes. Modifications like this make the car look perfect, but it’s hard to pinpoint such changes.

The chassis was blasted and powder coated black. The floorpan was painted charcoal/silver metallic for a little contrast. Everything underneath the car is tucked up close to the floorpan so nothing shows.

An Air Ride Technologies air bag suspension system was installed along with 2-inch dropped front spindles. The front wheel wells were mini-tubbed two inches for additional tire clearance when the suspension is dropped. The rear wheel wells were also slightly modified. The firewall was smoothed and the heater and wiper motors were relocated.

Sharp wheels and tires are an important element of a car this slick. Greg chose Billet Specialties Octane wheels size 17x7 in front and 18x10 in back. The Goodyear tires are 225/45 ZR17 and 245/40 ZR18 respectively.

Power comes from a reliable 350/350 combo. A ’79 four-bolt main 350 was the basis for a mildly modified engine. Additions include a Crane camshaft and kit, polished cylinder heads, Ross pistons, Accel ignition, Edelbrock intake with a Demon 625 cfm carburetor, and block hugger exhaust headers. The Turbo 350 automatic transmission was fitted with a shift kit and a B&M shifter.

Blue Dakota Digital gauges remain hidden until the ignition is turned on. A Billet Specialties steering wheel tops the Ididit tilt column. Hogland’s Top Shop in Everett, Washington, redid the stock bench seats in a combination of black vinyl and cloth. The door panels were done to match. Custom billet armrests are the only things on the otherwise smooth door panels. A remote control unit operates a Kenwood audio system that’s hidden inside the trunk trim panels.

Greg and his wife, Lynn, enjoy attending rod runs and car shows throughout the Pacific Northwest. They especially enjoy the double takes people do when they realize just how trick this car is.

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