Emerson Blue grew up like many hot rodders, with drag racers and street rodders in his neighborhood to influence and shape a young man's ideas. A couple of years ago Emerson had to make a choice between starting work on his recently acquired '56 Bel Air or to keep his customized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. With some influence of her own, Emerson's wife suggested he sell his bike and get going on the Bow Tie, which he did in short order.
Hot rod upholsterer Paul Atkins did the stitchwork inside Emerson Blue's Chevy, and create
Emerson had seen a lot of Tri-Five '56-57 Chevys while growing up, and he was particular to the '56 and to hardtops, and he had a pretty good idea how he wanted his to turn out. He contacted One Off Rod & Custom, located in Middletown, Delaware, to do the build, which would include bodywork and paint on the project as well as the chassis.
Adding an inch to the wheelbase (up front) gave an overall measurement of 116 inches, the chassis was built using a Fatman Fabrications Stage III clip (with QA1 coilover shocks) equipped with Wilwood Engineering drilled and slotted 12-inch rotors. A Ford 9-inch rear (3.50:1) outfitted with a triangulated four-link and another set of QA1 shocks went in out back, as did a Rock Valley stainless steel gas tank and a rack-and-pinion steering system. For rollers, Emerson chose an 18- and 20-inch combo from Billet Specialties, wrapping them in Toyo rubber.
The dash has been shaved clean, and a simple trio of Classic Instruments Tetra gauges (the
Custom motor and transmission mounts were used, too, to accommodate the new LS1 5.7L Chevy engine and 4L60E transmission. But the biggest changes with the car came with the custom body modifications, most of which only add to the subtle approach Emerson took with his vehicle. Headlights from a '66 Porsche were set into the fenders 1 inch, while the taillights were pulled in the same amount. To accentuate the hardtop design, the heavy strip of stainless that is usually found at the top of each Bel Air door window was removed in favor of a cleaner trim piece from an Oldsmobile, which necessitated removing the vent windows and making new side glass.
Down the side of the car the stock Bel Air trim was shaved and replaced with 210-type trim. Up front the grille was flipped and hood humps from a '57 Chevy were added to the '56 hood (remaking them into mini hood scoops) while out back the bumper was notched (for the twin exhaust pipes) and then moved closer to the body. Custom motorcycle mirrors were tastefully added to the base of each A post, and slim door handles were sectioned into each door. One Off finished their work with a well-done but low-key paintjob, using a combination of Olive Silver and Jade Green metallics along with a dose of Galapagos Green paint from PPG.
Impressive to look at without going over the top, Emerson's LS1 uses a drive-by-wire fuel
From the paint shop the Chevy rolled into the workspace of famed upholsterer Paul Atkins, who is based in Cullman, Alabama. Atkin's work is well known in the pre-'49 hot rod crowd, but he is just as at-home with the bigger, newer cars as well. He began by custom fabbing the rear bench seat, then added re-stitched front buckets from a Toyota Solara, separating them with a long center console he created. A combination of cement green- and oyster-colored leather and Ultra Suede was used to cover the car's interior-perfect color choices to augment the ride's exterior colors. Dynamat was used under the carpet, and the trio of Classic Instrument gauges was added to the smoothed-out dash before being wired with a kit from American Autowire. A high-end Kenwood stereo system was installed, too, as was an air conditioning setup from Vintage Air.
Most folks who want to build a Tri-Five Chevy not only want to make a statement, but more often than not they say it loudly. For Emerson, who lives in Fort Washington, Maryland, his take on his '56 was to take a clean and unobtrusive approach, allowing anyone viewing his car to take in all the changes gradually without hitting them over the head with a laundry list of modifications. It's the subtle approach that got Emerson Blue and his '56 noticed, and we expect the trend to not fade with this car anytime soon.
One Off Rod & Custom did the subtle custom bodywork on the Bel Air before painting it usin