It seems everybody has known the feeling when a project slips away. Whether it is the realization that you'll never get it to the level you want or, on the other hand, when it exceeds the original plan and becomes something more.
And it also seems you never know which path you're on until you're well on your way. What started out as a fun cruiser for Eric Barth and his buddies snowballed into a rather nice customized hot rod, with just enough balance between performance and style.
Eric is a 27 year-old rodder who runs Automotive Unlimited, a body collision and restoration shop in Leesburg, Indiana. Involved with cars for the past 15 years, he has not only immersed himself in his business, but also in the world of hot rods.
A. R. Racing Performance did the machine work and assembled the 383 small-block for Eric's
Three years ago Eric was checking out cars for sale on eBay and found a '55 Special. He just loved the lines of the big Buick, and he told his wife, Debra, he thought he'd do a quick pro-touring type of build on it and then sell it. So Eric piled a few friends into his car and they took off to Kansas City, Missouri, for a 600-mile, one-way trip to go check out the car. As it turned out, the trip itself was a blast, and exemplified for Eric what a good time he could have cruising around with his friends. But when they got to where the car was, it didn't look as good in person as it had in the eBay photos. Still, after driving 10 hours across three states to get there, Eric was determined to come home with the car, and that's exactly what he did.
Once back at the shop Barth found it hard to find time to put in on his new project, but started in on the chassis. A Mustang II front stub (with 2-inch dropped spindles) from Scott's Hot Rods went in up front along with a bag suspension system from Air Ride Technologies, a rack-and-pinion out of a T-bird, and a set of Wilwood 12-inch brakes (operated via a Tuff Stuff Performance Products master cylinder).
The rear got a new nine-inch Ford (3.70:1) outfitted with Moser axles, both a triangulated four-link and another pair of bags from Air Ride Technologies, plus another set of 12-inch Wilwood disc brakes. Rollers for the project came from Intro, with 18x8s in the front and 20x10s in the rear, and were shod in Toyo Proxes 4 rubber (245/55ZR18 and 275/40ZR20).
The engine compartment for the Special was dialed in for a small-block Chevy, which was prepped and assembled by AR Racing in Sumerduck, Virginia. Internally, the 383 is equipped with an Eagle steel crank, Speed Pro pistons (set up with Child & Albert rings and a compression ratio of 9.3:1), a camshaft from Comp Cams, Durabond bearings, and GM pink rods.
Up top, under a Billet Specialties air cleaner, is a pair of Edelbrock 1804 Thunder AVS 500-cfm carbs mounted to an Edelbrock RPM Air Gap manifold. The mix is fed through a pair of Dart Iron Eagle II heads, which use a 1.94/1.60 valve combo and 1.60 ratio rockers. Spark is delivered by a Pertronix ignition system along Taylor wires, and exhaust exits through Speedway Motors headers, 2.5-inch stainless steel tubing, and out a pair of Flowmaster stainless steel mufflers. The whole shebang is bolted to a 700-R4 transmission, which was assembled by Chuck's Engine Service in Winamac, Indiana, who also installed the shift kit. Other goodies in the engine bay are the AFCO aluminum radiator and the SPAL electric fan. The engine builder claims performance numbers on the 383 to be 450 horsepower at 5,700 rpm, with a torque rating of 468 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm.
Just as nice inside as it is on the outside, Barth's Buick command center is the reworked
After the chassis work was completed, attention could be turned to the car's exterior. Several hot rod customizing tricks (louvered hood, shaved emblems, parking lights, and door handles, frenched headlights) were incorporated, before Eric sprayed his car with a GM Pewter below and a BMW Boston Green color up top with paint products from Standox (based in Germany).
Much of the original chrome and trim pieces made their way back onto the car and, in the case of the re-chromed bumpers, they were tucked in closer to the body for a more streamlined look. The three portholes found on Buicks on the front fenders were replaced with three billet aluminum units designed by Eric and machined by B&M Instruments in Warsaw, Indiana. All of the chrome work on the car was handled by two Indiana-based companies; Reckon Plating in Fort Wayne and J&P Plating in Portland.
One of Barth's specialties-something found on the high-end cars he has built in the past-is the layout and design of the interior. That fact, coupled with this particular car becoming nicer and nicer as its assembly continued, guaranteed Eric wasn't going to go with a stock interior.
The basic shape of the dash wasn't altered, but Eric added a custom fiberglass center console that runs from the dash and down between the seats, which gives the car a contemporary feel. Forward of the Budnik steering wheel (attached to a polished billet aluminum column from Flaming River) are twin TPI Tech gauges mounted in a hand-fabricated aluminum insert. In the center of the dash is the Eclipse AVN 5435, which capably handles the DVDs, CDs, and navigation requests the owner may have. The audio system is extensive and, in conjunction with the JL Audio amplifiers mounted in the trunk and the JL Audio speakers (several of them mounted throughout the interior), pumps out tons of quality sound. Barth got the equipment through Millennium Sounds, a Warsaw, Indiana-based company that typically deals in audio-visual components for the home.
The front buckets, taken from a Lincoln Mark VIII, were recovered in green leather by Brian Bohde of Bohde's Custom Auto Interiors in Ligonier, Indiana. Brian also created the door panels, stitched up the rear seats in the same leather material, and added the tan square-weave carpet below. The same square-weave was used in the trunk, which is as well detailed as the rest of the car's interior.
After the interior was installed, the project was effectively finished, and Eric began to take it to some of the car shows around his home. One such trip, to the Goodguys Indy show last June, proved to be particularly memorable due to the torrential rainstorm that washed out a few of the show days. Eric shrugged it off, had a good time with his car and his buddies, and drove the car back home.
As a builder, Eric wanted to make the entire car work and flow together from the inside out, while the hot rodder in him wanted the car to have performance appeal. Judging by the results, we'd have to say he is firing on all eight cylinders!