Some cars are so loaded with details that it’s hard to do them justice in a typical magazine car feature. That’s the situation with Greg Parsley’s 1963 Chevy Bel Air sedan showcased elsewhere in this publication. Since the ’63 is so slick we chose it to demonstrate a number of great ideas for turning a sixties Chevy into a contemporary street machine.
Attention to details is a key difference between street machines of old and the types of cars being built today. Previously, it was enough to have a nice paint job, a new interior, a hot engine, and some custom wheels and tires. Outside of fixing dents and scratches most builders left body parts pretty much alone. Modifications were geared toward the obvious.
Then a number of forward-thinking professional car builders such as Chip Foose and Troy Trepanier started pushing the envelope. They applied what many people call a “street rod” approach to building fifties and sixties Chevys. A street rod style car is one that is much more refined. Typical street rods have evolved from basic stripped down hot rods to carefully massaged custom creations. Building a contemporary sixties Chevy is simply an extension of that philosophy.
Many middle-aged car builders got tired of the lack of space and comfort in many street rods. So they started building cars that were new (or only slightly used) during their teens and twenties. Those cars included lots of Chevys.
Contemporary street machines pay much closer attention to things like fit and finish. Stance is critical. A car that doesn’t sit right isn’t worth having according to these people.
If some body features might have been a little awkward in their original form, these builders tweak them. They frequently fixed seemingly small items but with big results. In many cases they made the cars as nice as the factory might have made them if cost wasn’t an object.
The added room of sixties Chevys makes them ideal for long distance driving. These builders wanted their cars to be comfortable, so they added lots of modern chassis, engine, and interior features.
The following photos and captions illustrate one approach to building a contemporary sixties Chevy. Greg Parsley took a rather mundane ’63 Chevy Bel Air 2-door sedan (a car that might have been a salesman’s car when new) and transformed it into a head-turning rolling advertisement for his business, Retro Rods, Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington. As beautiful as the car is, it still sees lots of use as Greg’s daily transportation.
This isn’t a glamour location for Greg Parsley’s ’63 Chevy Bel Air; it’s where it can often be found--parked in front of his custom painting and street rod shop, Retro Rods, Inc. of Lynnwood, Washington. Notice the slight forward rake—a key ingredient of a picture-perfect stance.
Simplicity is a central theme of Greg Parsley’s Bel Air. Hoglund’s Top Shop recovered the stock bench seat in vinyl and cloth. If you look closely you can see a key hanging down underneath the dashboard. The ignition and virtually everything else was removed from the dash and hidden below. The remote control unit on the seat operates the hidden stereo.
Door panels are as clean as the seats. There are no visible handles. Hidden solenoid switches under the dashboard operate the doors (there are backup safety features in case of battery failure). The power window switches are also underneath the dash. The original vent windows were removed and replaced with a single piece of glass.
All emblems were removed and the holes were filled. Trim items such as the grille look better than new because they were de-anodized and then polished to perfection. With paint this perfect the trim must also be perfect.
A great example of the “street rod” style of construction is how well the rear bumper fits. Greg wasn’t happy with the factory gaps so the bumper was custom fitted by modifying the mounting brackets. That allows the bumper to fit closer than it originally did.
A sign of a correctly lowered car is how the wheels and tires sit when the vehicle is all the way down. The wheels should be perfectly vertical. The front wheels are Billet Specialties 17x7 inch octane units with 225/45 ZR17 Goodyear tires. Front disc brakes are used.
Stock dash controls were retained, but relocated to underneath the dashboard. Switches are all within easy reach, but they’re just not visible.
This under dash shot shows the Dakota Digital control unit and modern fuse panel. The headlight switch was mounted to the emergency brake brace. The switch pulls out parallel to the firewall. The emergency brake release handle was modified and relocated so it, too, pulls sideways relative to its stock location.
It’s a little difficult to see in photos, but the black dashboard has been completely filled. The blue Dakota Digital gauges remain hidden until the engine is started. The tilt steering column is from Ididit with a custom fabricated mounting bracket.
A hidden pickup eye and remote control unit operates the Kenwood stereo and 6 disc CD player, which are mounted in the left trunk panel. The relocated gas tank filler is in the left front corner of the trunk. The factory filler door was welded shut and smoothed over. The original fuel filler box was removed for added tire clearance.
Upgraded suspension components include a popular 605 late-model power steering gearbox. Billet pulleys and brackets were used throughout the engine compartment.
An oversize 1 1/16-inch front sway bar was installed to improve driveability. Installing such a large bar necessitated notching the frame and adding longer custom built links. Valve guides protect the links. Poly bushings were used in all the control arms.
A look at the rear suspension shows that the control arms were boxed for extra strength. The air bags are from Air Ride Technology.
The car was painted off the frame so the bottom of the body was done in a contrasting charcoal/silver metallic. A special “low rider” two-piece driveshaft with a solid carrier bearing protects the driveshaft during raising and lowering of the car. Many people forget details like this when adding air bags.
Notice how the exhaust system exits in front of the wheels. That avoids the problem of routing exhaust pipes over the lowered rear axle.
A rectangular exhaust tip aids clearance and looks trick. The rear wheels are 18x8 inches on 245/40 ZR18 Goodyear tires.
A carpenter’s level was used to illustrate how all the undercarriage components are tucked up above the frame rails. The small mufflers are 12-inch long Cherry Bombs with 2 1/2 inch exhaust pipes. The inside of the interior floor is heavily insulated.
The rearend is a rebuilt stock style ’63 Chevy unit. A Panhard bar helps control side-to-side movement. The gas tank is its original location.
This is a shot of the rear air bags. Notice that full-size rubber snubbers were used to prevent frame to axle contact. The rear brakes are the stock style drum units. Poly bushings were used throughout the rear suspension.
The transmission is a Turbo 350 fitted with a shift kit. A very compact Speedway Motors finned auxiliary cooler was mounted to the frame. Little details like this help keep the engine compartment uncluttered.
Subtle changes are part of the contemporary look. The original four taillight Bel Air trunk lid was replaced with the deluxe Impala six light lid. The aluminum trim panel was chromed instead of polished for optimum brilliance.
Switching to one-piece side glass is quite involved. Cardboard templates were made first and then transferred to 1/4-inch plywood. The door skin had to be modified to remove the slight “jog” where the vent window met the original glass. The smooth and quiet power window mechanisms came from a ’96 Honda Accord. The “auto down” bushing was removed.
The reserve air supply tank and compressor for the air bags were mounted in the trunk in the area above the gas tank. A carpeted panel hides the tank.
Slanting the “B” pillar forward 2 7/8-inches is the major body modification that sets this car apart from other ’63 sedans. This seemingly subtle trick gives the car a chopped top appearance.
Slanting the “B” pillar meant that all new inside and outside window moldings had to be fabricated. Details like this are necessary for a factory appearance. This might seem simple, but a great deal of work was involved.
The immaculate 350 V-8 engine compartment is highly detailed, but it’s difficult to see because everything is so black. The firewall was shaved, the wiring was hidden and the heater box and wiper motor were relocated. The wiper motor is hidden 12 inches to the left behind the fender and hood bracket.
The inner fender panels were widened 2-inches and shaved. The expanded tire clearance allows the frame to rest a mere 5/16-inch off the ground. The car is still protected if an air bag should fail.
The super clean approach extends to little items such as the air pressure gauge for the air bag system. The gauge is mounted inside the glove box door and angled so it’s easy for the driver to read. The main air bag control switches are hidden under the dash like all the other controls.
At first glance the trunk appears to be nothing but carpet. Besides the hidden stereo gear the battery is hidden in the right side. The main floor lifts to reveal a large storage area. CP