People who enjoy building modified cars have always favored Chevys. They’re great cars in stock form, so they take readily to customization. Many trends have come and gone, but some of the best remain perennial favorites. When it comes to classic Chevys you can’t go wrong keeping the exterior close to stock. Chevy designers got it right the first time. Under the skin, anything goes.
What continues to change are things like paint schemes, drivetrain components, and wheel/tire combinations. Some Chevy models and body styles vary in popularity, but they rarely ever go completely out of style. Most trends are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
The aim of this photo/caption feature is to showcase some trends that are currently popular and provide ideas for people looking to build a new car or improve an existing one.
Large and low, roomy and zoomy are operative words for the kinds of Chevys that are currently hot. Many street rodders have turned to early sixties Chevys for their attractive styling and ample room. One school leaves the bodies virtually stock including colors, but installs air bag suspension systems, giant wheels, ultra-low profile tires, and contemporary engines and transmissions. This ’62 Impala is a great example of that trend.
Bubbletop Impalas and Bel Airs are very popular. This stunning and slammed bright red example belongs to Chuck McCoy of Bellingham, Washington. It has that ground-hugging air bag stance with a slight rake. Oversized American Torq Thrust mags never seem to go out of style.
Second series ’66-’67 Nova hardtops and two-door sedans are super hot. Many top-notch builders have used this platform recently as a basis for some incredible cars. Two body themes prevail: the factory look as seen here and more contemporary two-tone paint schemes with subtle graphics. This Nova has a radical supercharged/turbocharged engine.
All ’62 Chevy body styles are in vogue including the massive station wagons. They’re receiving the same high tech, super smooth treatment as the hardtops. Subtle two-tone paint jobs done in custom-blended shade of green are popular.
The rear 3/4 view is a great one for station wagons. The caliber of paint and bodywork far exceeds anything ever found in a Chevrolet dealership in 1962.
The opposite trend of stock-appearing interiors is the totally custom, high tech interior as seen on Chuck McCoy’s ’62 bubbletop. The rich red leather with black highlights upholstery is reminiscent of the high-end interiors found in M-Series BMW sedans. The center console was custom made.
The clean factory lines of first generation Chevy Novas make them ideal for the super smooth style cars. Sedans and hardtops are more prevalent, but the rare convertibles are great if you can find one. This blue beauty was completely shaved of all trim items and the bumpers were painted body color.
Traditional style tri-five Chevys will never go out of style, especially if they are built to the exacting standards seen on Pierre Barmore’s ’56 Bel Air sedan. The flawless black body covers a 454 big-block and an exquisite leather interior.
Wild engines often reside underneath relatively stock bodywork. The super wild injected 409 has an incredible induction system. The hood has two subtle blisters to clear the big tubes. The totally smooth inner fender panels continue the black and silver two-tone of the exterior.
Brilliant orange hues, especially candy tangerine, have seen a huge popularity increase. Many cars go with a single solid color paint job, but a more unique look was achieved by J.F. Launier who two-toned his ’55 in PPG Orange Mika and Galaxy Gold Metallic. The contrast of the brilliant orange and softer gold works well together. The Budnik wheels are 20’s in back and 18’s in front.
Lightweight ’62-’65 Chevy II sedans have seen a big upswing in popularity. Many builders favor the drag racing look, but the more refined Pro Touring style is also popular. A red interior makes a nice contrast to black paint.
Exhaust tubing was used to make a unique twin element air cleaner on the black Pro Touring Chevy II. Notice the smooth black valve covers with airbrushed emblems.
Here is another variation on the twin K&N style air filters being attached to two sections of exhaust tubing. The tubes are joined above the carburetor. This version doesn’t have as radical a bend as the black example.
Late-model Corvette engines have almost become the standard engine for modified Chevys. These engines can’t be beat for power, reliability, and decent fuel economy. This one was painted to match the exterior of Joe Freeman’s 1957 Bel Air hardtop.
A popular trick with color is to paint a car something very close to an original color, but not quite. That’s what Joe Freeman did with his orchid Bel Air. It’s reminiscent of a stock ’57 color, but it’s a custom-mixed modern two-stage paint.
First generation Camaros have been getting quite popular lately. Builders are making them more high tech than the traditional drag racing look. This Air Ride equipped ’67 belongs to Wade Bonds. The wild two-tone paint is PPG Rotten Pickle and Black. The 18-inch wheels are Intro Matrix billets.
All types of Chevy wagons are in vogue. This stock-bodied white over red ’57 Bel Air wagon gets the job done with air bag suspension and modern wheels and tires. It doesn’t take a lot of radical modifications to get an instant winner.
Chevy wagons of the fifties didn’t use much wood, not even the fake kind. The wood trim on Roger DeWitt’s 1952 wagon really sets off the dark maroon paint. This wagon has the rare third row seat.
People debate whether Chevy El Caminos are trucks or cars, but when they’re customized like this gorgeous blue ’59 belonging to Garry Sutherland they function as a car. The wild styling of the ‘59’s is much more popular than the slightly more conservative ’60 El Caminos.
Not many people do a lot of radical things to ’57 Chevy bodies, because their classic good looks are hard to beat. Beautiful paint and bodywork with modern wheels, tires, and running gear are a winning combination. Russ Moen owns this “Vet Air”, which has a LS1 and a six-speed transmission.
The interior in Moen’s ’57 Chevy is custom, but it uses stock-looking materials. The handsome result is an updated version of a classic interior.
1968 Camaro SS/RS convertibles are getting quite valuable as 100 percent restored cars, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with a few easily reversible modifications. Contemporary wheels and tires give this black ragtop a look that’s more exciting than stock.
Some people own more than one set of wheels so they can easily change the personality of their car. The three basic choices are factory style rally wheels, traditional 15-inch mags like Torq Thrusts, and larger 18-20-inch high tech wheels.
The black ’68 Camaro convertible has sportier bucket seats and a custom steering wheel. These items can easily be removed at a later date.
Filled dashboards are a not too difficult way to really change a car’s interior. This ’55 Chevy pickup dash is under construction at Retro Rods, Inc., but ’55-’57 Chevy passenger car dashes are very similar. The techniques used are the same.
Patina is a fancy word for well-worn paint. If you’re lucky enough to find a survivor classic Chevy you can have a lot of fun even without fresh paint. This ’59 Parkwood wagon’s paint is tired and has a little surface rust, but the car still has lots of character.
Paying attention to the little details is always in style. These swoopy rear view mirrors have small built-in turn signals. They’re from a Japanese motorcycle. A trip to a motorcycle salvage yard can turn up lots of neat items that can be adapted to cars.
Currently, the first series Nova two-door sedans seem to have a popularity edge over the more luxurious hardtops. The handsome hardtops still make great contemporary customs. All early Novas require wheelwell work to fit modern wheels and tires. This ’62 has very wide tires and deeply dished wheels.
This red 1960 Biscayne two-door sedan has 16-inch Billet wheels that are little dated, but the car is a good illustration of how easy it is to make neat street machines out of a base model. This one still has the 235 cubic inch six-cylinder engine and three-speed manual transmission, but that doesn’t lessen its fun factor.
A six-cylinder engine can be quite powerful if it is a high performance ’53 GMC 270 cubic inch truck engine that’s loaded with speed equipment such as Weber carbs, Arias pistons, Carillo rods, a full-race cam, and a ported and polished cylinder head. Ray Huston’s blueprinted Jimmy puts 330 horsepower through a 700R4 transmission.
Staying very close to traditional formats is always safe. Clarence Steineke chose bright red paint, a big-block Chevy engine, and slightly larger diameter polished Torq Thrust wheels for his ’56 210 sedan. The bigger wheels and tires help the car bridge old and new trends.
Even though the exterior of the Steineke ’56 210 sedan is traditional, the extensively chromed 502 cubic inch Ram Jet big-block features modern fuel injection, air conditioning, and a serpentine accessory drive belt system.
High tech engine covers are a matter of taste. Some people think they do a great job of cleaning up an engine compartment, while others think they hide too much of the engine. The body-matching finish on this massive cover is beautiful.
Modern gas struts are a slick way to hold open hoods and trunk lids. On this big-block powered ’62 the struts made it easier to obtain a smooth firewall and inner fender panels.
A simple two-tone paint scheme in contrasting colors like the black and silver on this ’56 Chevy 210 wagon is both conservative and bold. It stands out, but not in a garish way. All emblems and door handles were shaved and the vertically slanted stainless trim piece that normally goes behind the door was eliminated. These modifications accentuate the two-tone paint.
Upgraded front and rear disc brakes are becoming almost standard equipment. Chevys with powerful engines need adequate stopping power and the old drum brakes just don’t cut it.