Influences in one's life can come from many directions (magazines, friends, television, parents, etc.). But the same can be said about hot rodding-images and early experiences in life will add to the ones later on to shape a person's thoughts on what kind of cars they like.

Matt Slezak was a child when he was influenced by his uncle Mike Gamble. Mike opened Matt's eyes to both hot rods and customs, having a life-long affinity for building both styles of cars. But 10 years ago Mike moved from his northern California home and opened up a rod shop just outside St. Louis, Missouri, but that didn't mean he didn't lose any influence over Matt.

As Matt got older he naturally fell into a deep appreciation for hot rods and, when he found a fairly nice '61 Chevy parked outside a roller rink for sale in his hometown of Redwood City, California, he called his uncle to ask him if he should buy it or not. Mike asked him if it was a bubble top to which Matt replied "What's a bubble top?"

Mike asked Matt "if he could, when sitting in the back seat, tilt his head back and see straight up and out the window" and Matt said yes. "So that's a bubble top." Mike then explained it was a more expensive type of car than a standard '61-something Matt should be aware of when figuring out how to customize it. The interior to the car was pretty far gone and the seat springs were sticking out, which had become multi-colored because they'd been covered by Mexican blankets for many years.

Though he thought he might be able to handle the build himself, Matt wisely chose to drop the car off with his uncle, and he felt Mike would know what to do. As it turned out, Gamble did. Mike's shop, Gamble's Street Rods, does everything from restoration to all-out wild rides, so a contemporary custom job on the Chevy wasn't going to be a problem.

The chassis was reworked to accept a Ford 9-inch rear (4.11:1) outfitted with Moser axles and a Wilwood four-piston disc brake setup. Up front another Wilwood disc brake kit was used along with a set of lowered spindles and all four corners got Air Ride Technologies suspension pieces installed. For rollers, big 18- and 20-inch Billet Specialties wheels were wrapped with Pirelli 235/40ZR18 and 275/40ZR20 rubber.

During the 13-month build Matt and Mike talked a lot by phone (they were separated by more than 2,100 miles), bouncing ideas off each other and discussing every aspect of the build. Mike's expertise and Matt's desire to have a big stereo, big wheels, a low stance, and choice on the color all melded together to create a sharp-looking ride.

Mike was able to locate an LS1 engine at his shop, and it was detailed to match the exterior of the car. Certain performance goodies (an American Autowire wiring system, stainless Magna Flow mufflers, a Street & Performance air cleaner, etc.) upgraded some of the stock items on the engine before it was mated to a 4L65E trans that was gone through by Transmissions To Go in Imperial, Missouri.

Just as comfortable doing custom bodywork on a car as doing a restoration, Mike jumped into doing a handful of custom body mods to make the '61 look even more slippery, which included shaving the handles, mirrors, and badges. Gamble's also hand-fabricated the grille for this project from stainless steel flat and bar stock, and it is so well made it could be taken out of this car and easily fit in to the stock grille opening of another bubble-top.