I know better. I know to stay away from eBay, yet there I was bidding on a really clean, mostly original '49 Chevy Fleetline. Before I could stop myself, I bought it.
I have no idea why. It's a curse.
That summer, I drove the Chevy in its original condition just to get a feel for it. Then the question arose: what to do to it? Most builders believe in sticking to a theme or an era. Not me, although I did make extensive notes about what I hoped to accomplish, and tried not to deviate during the process. Changing directions once you're into a project makes things more complicated, less pure, and more expensive. I used photos of features and details from cars I'd seen at shows-then determined which details to integrate into my project. I have no problem stealing features from other cars. After all these years, there isn't much left that hasn't been done already. At the same time, I like to do things a little differently-like the visor. I knew for sure that the visor had to stay. Everyone who builds these cars removes them. I have no idea why. It also seems that everyone builds these cars as customs or lowriders. Not me. I'm a hot rodder. I have a '32 highboy roadster and a '36 five-window coupe and this car was built the way they were-hot rod stance, big 'n' little tires, louvers, and pipes-a hot rod.
Early in the plan I decided to forego the ubiquitous small-block/automatic transmission combination. I actually briefly considered a Ford Flathead, then ultimately settled on an inline six-cylinder. I'd seen many of these cars built with inline motors, but never in a fully detailed engine compartment. I went a little crazy with the engine compartment detailing. I smoothed the block, head, and manfiolds. All bolts are nickel-plated with ball-milled heads. I did the wiring, stainless trim restoration, metal polishing, and powdercoating. My friends, Nick Kraly and Vince Spretnjak, pitched in as well.
This engine is a 235ci '60 Chevy and, with the exception of a Delta cam and hardened exhaust valve seats, it's stock. I chose dual Carter/Weber carburetors, which seemed to make more sense than the ancient Rochesters that are prevalent on these engines. My choice was correct; the car gets 28 mpg on the highway. I retained the original radiator, fitted with a three-row core. With the stock fan, it doesn't overheat. The exhaust consists of split cast manifolds, with one small Cherry Bomb glass-pack muffler and one straight pipe. The sound is hard to describe. Loud, shrill, and crisp come to mind, but that still understates it. Let's just say it will make your teeth hurt.
A slightly modified Chevy pickup bellhousing connects the engine to a hybrid Astro Van/Camaro T5 transmission, with a lengthened '36 Ford shift lever to give it some pizzazz. Surge Friction in South Holland, Illinois, built the driveshaft. The differential is from a four-wheel-drive '88 Chevy S-10, with the factory 3.73:1 gears. At 70 mph, it's spinning 2,200 rpm.
Rebuilding the stock front suspension wasn't cost effective, so I installed a Mustang II frontend with 2-inch dropped spindles and Firestone air shocks, homemade upper spring towers, and an aftermarket crossmember. The rear suspension includes de-arched parallel leaf springs and rear shock absorbers purchased from Carquest. I made the axle housing saddles to incorporate 2-1/2 inches of lowering. Altogether the car is lowered 5-1/2 to 6 inches in the rear, with the driveshaft tunnel modified for clearance. The brakes are 11-inch Raybestos discs in front with Chevy S-10 brakes in the rear. No power brakes or power steering-or power anything for that matter.
The 5.60-15 and L78-15 whitewall tires roll on 15x4.5 and 15x7 steelies from Wheelsmith wearing Chevy dog dish caps.
After hand-stripping the car, I discovered a very nice body. Some trim was removed here and there, but otherwise I left it alone. An abundant effort was put into the grille. The parking lights were removed, the upper and center bars were welded together, and most of the lower uprights were removed. The Chevrolet name stamped across the upper bar of the grille was removed. All this wasn't as easy as it sounds, but Tim O'Connell in Plainfield, Illinois, made it look simple. O'Connell also tightened up some gaps and hand-formed the inner fender panel inserts. John Olay from Flint, Michigan, louvered the hood while I waited.
The finished bodywork was done by Ron Cirrencione at Ron Kral's Body Shop in Lockport, Illinois. Kral painted the car using DuPont paint. My friend, Jim Talaga, calls the color Stripper Red, but it's a Vespa Motor Scooter color. Letters, Lines, and Designs in Highland, Indiana, applied the subtle pinstriping.
Dave Schober, of Schober's Hot Rod Interiors in Sandwich, Illinois, finished the interior. The original seats are covered in vinyl with cloth inserts using material from our couch. The steering wheel and column come from a '53 Chevy. The factory speedometer has been preserved in the original dash, restored by Classic Instruments.
This was an 18-month job that stretched over a three-year period-and it's my last car. I won't do another. No more eBay browsing for me. Except for the '49 Chevy pickup I bought recently. I have no idea why. It's a curse.
Jim Evans can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.