In 1954, at the age of 10, Larry Bennett and his best friend Mike Brown started building and customizing model cars. They got their custom ideas from car magazines and, when they were a little older, got their driver's license and started cruising Front Street in Mankato, Minnesota, looking for girls or a drag race. Three miles out of town they had a stretch of blacktop that was marked for a quarter-mile, and friends with C.B. radios would be on the lookout for the Highway Patrol (they never got caught).
By 1959 Larry was a freshman in high school and had found a seven-year-old, baby blue, 1952 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door hardtop that had only 42,000 miles on it. Though it was in perfect condition, Larry didn't think he could afford it. It was at the local Chevrolet dealership and had just been traded in on a new 1959 Chevrolet Impala two-door hardtop. The price was $300, and Larry had to borrow the cash from his grandmother with the agreement that he would repay her by repainting her three-story house that summer. He drove the car throughout his high school years, lowering it and adding some speed equipment along the way.
Fast-forward 39 years, and Larry would find himself looking for another hardtop like the one he once had. But it wasn't like he'd gone without a hot rod-he did still own the '37 Chevy two-door sedan he'd built in 1994-but he'd always kept thinking about that Chevy hardtop.
After hearing about a 1950 Chevy hardtop (which he felt was pretty similar to the '52) that had come out of Montana and was currently for sale in Superior, Wisconsin, he decided to look into it. It had been taken apart, a Mustang frontend and a Ford nine-inch installed, and some bodywork done, but the owner had lost interest in it.
Larry called the owner and, through emailing pictures back and forth and talking on the phone, they agreed on a price of $5,300. Larry rented a trailer, drove to Superior (about 250 miles) and brought it back to his home in North Mankato, Minnesota, to become his next project.
Bennett set up a time table for the project of less than two years but, as they always seem to do, it took a little bit longer than that! Everyone has heard how to budget time and money for a project, then multiply those numbers by three and then you get what you'll really have to pay. But Larry extended that theory to encompass working with various body shops, eventually using three of them to get what he wanted done correctly.
The first shop he took his car to removed the body so Larry could take the frame home to his two-car garage to build the rolling chassis. He comments "I always tell everyone that I only have half a garage because my wife wouldn't give up her half. I have carpeting on my half and the garage is heated. The winters are cold in Minnesota, you know!"
He had the frame sandblasted and painted, then built a 406 Chevy small-block while his friend Ron Krieger from Blue Earth, Minnesota, built a 700-R4 transmission for him. Larry installed the engine/trans in the frame, plumbed the brakes, fuel lines and finished the rolling chassis. "I was anxious to see what the engine was like with the open headers. I fired it up and it sounded great, especially with the 292 Comp Cam in it! It had a nice lope to it." After a few revs Larry's wife, Maggie, came out into the garage waving her arms trying to get his attention because the china in the kitchen cupboards were rattling so badly she thought they'd break!
After two years in the first body shop they had completed the dash and done some bodywork. Disappointed in the slow pace, Larry pulled his car and took it another shop, where it stayed for another year and a half before the body shop owner called and said it was ready to paint. After looking at it, Larry could tell that it was nowhere near ready, as the gaps were all wrong and it needed more block sanding. Finally, he took it to Denny Wanous from L& D Body Shop in Mankato.