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.
A custom aluminum console was fab'd by Gamble's to house items such as the DVD monitor as
Mike Roth (Perryville, MO) is the go-to guy for all upholstery needs that come out of Gamb
Most trunk areas aren't well-detailed, but not in this case. Some of the stereo's amplifie
After the Sikkens custom-mixed paint went on, the car was rolled out of the shop where Mike and Matt studied what they had created in the sunlight for the first time. Mike made an off-hand joke about "it looks so good without the mirrors we should just leave them off." Matt agreed, and was soon at an electronics store to purchase a mini camera that would be mounted inside the front fender and aimed down the side of the car to act as a side-view mirror. The image gets transmitted to a 7-inch DVD monitor mounted at the front of a custom aluminum console Gamble's made up for the car. Of course wiring the camera into the stereo and DVD player was a chore, but it works just fine and keeps the exterior from having too many bumps.
The rest of the interior revolves around a stock dash design, but with a Dakota Digital gauge insert mounted where the stock gauges used to be. Matt got his big stereo system-half of which are the JL Audio amplifiers mounted in the trunk while the Alpine head unit also controls the Sirius satellite signal.
Classic Auto Air was tapped to supply the cool air, but Mike didn't want A/C vents in the dash so he routed them through the console (including the ones for the rear seating area). Upholstery is about the only thing Gamble's doesn't do in-house, and they left the stitching of the 2001 Cavalier front seats and stock rear bench to the guy they trust with all of their car projects: Mike Roth of Perryville, Missouri.
With the 13 months over and the car back in California, Mike does get to see it (and Matt) when he travels to NorCal to visit friends and family. His observation is "It's a pretty cool car" and is a comment no one could argue with. For some extra photos of Matt's cool Chevy check out the extended feature at www.streetrodderweb.com.
An adjustable air bag suspension system from Air Ride Technologies is set up on Matt's rid
An LS-1 engine was installed and mated to a 4L65E trans. A Griffin radiator and fan keeps