Hot rodder and Bonneville racer Larry Volk might be surprised to hear that his ’64 Chrysle
The Big Draw
One of the best ways to ignite excitement about a new trend is to call some talented illustrators and designers and let them have at it. So that’s what we did. On the following pages, a few of our favorite hot rod artists share their own ideas for cool street cruisers.
When we say the hobby is growing, this is what we’re talking about.
Street cruisers were the subject of Brian Brennan’s “For Starters” editorial in the Dec. ’10 issue. But Brian didn’t invent the idea. It’s something we’ve been seeing more and more in the last few years—full-sized ’50 and ’60s cars built for looks, but with a ton of attention paid to upgraded driveability, performance, and reliability. They’re get-in-and-go cars, perfect for fairground cruising, Main Street profiling, or cross-country road tripping—with plenty of performance, plenty of comfort, and plenty of seat space for the whole family or all your buddies.
One of the cars to inspire the creation of a Street Cruiser category at Shades of the Past
Brian described Street Cruisers as “’50s- and ’60s-era full-size cars that are neither street machine nor muscle car, or any other neatly packaged family of hot rods.” In talking to builders, enthusiasts, promoters, and manufacturers, we’ve realized that the Street Cruiser category is not a narrow one. As with every other corner of the hobby, there is room for every budget and every level of detail. We’ve seen extensively modified versions with six-digit price tags, but the largest segment will undoubtedly be at the other end. One of the big advantages of street cruiser raw material is its high availability and low price tag. Where ’32 Fords, ’50 Mercs, ’57 Chevys, and muscle cars typically sell for big bucks, previously neglected raw material from which street cruisers are typically built can be picked up for a fraction of the price of more highly desirable cars.
The Big Bang
Ronnie Poche and a few of his buddies from Natchitoches, LA, took advantage of the NSRA’s
Trends are not invented and they don’t appear in a flash. The street cruiser trend is no different. It’s been slowly rolling for a few years, but it got a real boost—and its name—from the Shades of the Past Street Rod Association and builder Bobby Alloway, who hosts the Shades of the Past Car Show in Eastern Tennessee every summer. Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop has been building outstanding plus-sized rides for several years, but has had a hard time finding a judging category to compete in. One such car was Chuck Rowe’s ’59 Chevy. “It was a super nice car, but nobody had a class for it because it wasn’t a custom, it wasn’t a street rod, and it wasn’t a street machine,” Alloway explains. He also built a ’55 Buick for Doyle Thomas and a ’61 Starliner for George Poteet that faced the same dilemma. “They were basically stock-bodied cars with an upgraded chassis, interior, and late-model drivetrain in them. And they didn’t have a category.” In 2010, Alloway and the Shades of the Past club remedied that problem at their own event by creating the Street Cruiser name and award category. It was an immediate success.
Alloway has shown many of his cars at Goodguys events and, although Goodguys does not have a specific Street Cruiser trophy, the organization very recently modified its popular Custom Rod of the Year eligibility rules to include these types of cars. The new criteria defines a custom rod as a ’49-72 “custom car that tastefully blends customizing techniques or factory stock bodies with modern-day performance, engineering, components, and styling.”
Street cruisers abound at both ends of the spectrum from beaters to top-shelf show cars li
“Those three words: factory stock bodies, are new in our criteria,” Harry Daviess, Goodguys vice president of event operations. “The category [Alloway] created as Street Cruiser is basically what we’re trying to encapsulate into our events for the Custom Rod of the Year award. For some people, the word ‘custom’ makes them think of a traditional ’50 Merc with lake pipes, Caddy caps, etc., and our criteria used to include major body mods on the car. What we’ve been finding is that that’s been disappearing for postwar cars. Those types of custom rods are still out there and are still eligible to win, but now we’re seeing more stock-bodied ’50s and ’60s cars with factory trim, modified suspensions, modified drivetrains, interiors, custom wheels, and paint—so we opened the award to include those.”
The Big Advantage
So why the relatively sudden popularity of these full-sizers, some of which many enthusiasts wouldn’t have touched with a 2-ton pole just a few years ago? Lots of reasons. One is expense. As with any type of car, you can spend as much as you want on a street cruiser, but unlike many cars, the raw material is still relatively cheap. “A lot of the more traditionally popular cars—I’m thinking about ’55-57 Chevys—are starting to get so expensive that guys are looking for alternative cars that aren’t as expensive,” Craig Morrison, from Art Morrison Enterprises, says. Art Morrison is where a lot of upgraded chassis and components for these cars are being built. “Plus, by starting with something that’s got a decent body and a level of patina you like, you’re saving all the money you’d otherwise spend making it look perfect.
Ron and Connie Thacker drive their ’59 Rambler as much as possible. The full custom leathe
“I look at Rivieras, Starliners, Chevrolets—a lot of those cars have great body lines to begin with,” Daviess says. “You can change them, but you don’t have to. It’s easier to keep them stock-bodied, and customize the interior, paint, and motor instead of going through the extensive work of smoothing and chopping.” The less you do to the outside the better you are, as Alloway puts it.
Daviess told us about one participant from a Goodguys event earlier this year. “He was a young guy with a stock-bodied, late-’60s Buick Electra. He lowered it, put a paintjob on it, some wheels, Flowmasters, and drove it to the event and had a great time. It was awesome! He was married with kids, and had the car seats in the car. He was looking for an inexpensive way to get into it and was having a blast with his whole family.”
These full-size rides don’t just appeal to young guns. Older enthusiasts appreciate the extra space, even if they aren’t filling it with kids. Alloway comments, “Older people—and bigger people—who drove Model A’s and ’32s before, like these cars because they’re just more comfortable.”
“I love my ’29 roadster, but I’m driving my ’58 Impala to Colorado, Indy, Des Moines, and Columbus this year,” Goodguys founder Gary Meadors says. “It’s a basic car with a 348 and a four-barrel, but it’s got a 700 transmission and dropped spindles, disc brakes, and all the good stuff for performance and handling. It’s comfortable and can carry more people and more luggage. I can take anybody anywhere at any time; you can’t do that in a ’32 coupe.”
Another advantage, to some, is that these cars are different. All custom car guys want to drive something distinctive. Street cruisers appeal to those with a super-sized appetite for out-of-the-ordinary iron, whether they are concerned about a budget or not. We’ve already seen impressive high-end street cruisers coming out of some big-name shops.
One more advantage is the fact that it is generally a lot easier to title and register a later-model factory car than a street rod built from aftermarket components.
We’re not done talking about street cruisers. In fact, we’re just getting started. You’ll be seeing more of these big boulevard bruisers within these pages, in the form of car features, event coverage, and tech stories on upgrading the ride and driveability of these jumbo jobs. The biggest is yet to come.
'61 Chrysler Station Wagon
A big ’60s four-door station wagon is the ultimate street cruiser and this ’61 Chrysler wagon definitely fits the bill. Although not the most popular of the early wagons, it certainly has potential. These cars have some interesting styling for sure and some very wild fins, but one thing that strikes me when I look at one is that the roof looks like it is running uphill behind the side windows because the side window profile is arcing down while the quarter window tries to stay level. I suggest reverse-angle chopping the roof to get the back of the roof down (think late-model Dodge Magnum). Obviously we have to slam this thing to the ground and stuff some very large diameter wheels up into the wheelwells. I painted the car super black and then painted the roof and side fin accents in metallic candy red to keep it interesting. A black interior with red piping and a metallic red steering wheel would set it off for sure. If you found one that was in good shape, and the original 360 ran well—then just change the oil and go. If a transplant was needed, how about a late-model crate 392 Hemi? Or keep it low-tech and build a small 331-354-392 Hemi with a good old carburetor. Now, being a wagon we’ve got to add something cool in the cargo area—you could go with surfboards, an old metal cooler, or a sweet custom bicycle mounted to the roof rails … yeah, that’s cool. Now everyone pile in and hit the road!
’62 Ford Galaxie 500
Street Cruisers! Isn’t that what our hobby is about—cruising on the street? The cool thing about a cruiser is that you don’t have to break the bank or possess amazing skills or work in a wonderland mega-shop full of trick tools to have one. This ’62 Ford Galaxie 500, affectionately known as “Edna,” is an excellent example of a car created for cruising. It’s what I drive when we load up the family. This car could easily be built in a very modest home garage right next to the family minivan. Simplicity at its best with a stock, rebuilt 352-cid V-8 and a Ford-O-Matic transmission guarantees many reliable hours of motor-vation. Edna is a big car, so there’s plenty of room for the whole crew, plus all the gear you need to make a show or cruise night comfy. This includes road trips because this one is a driver. Inside, the interior is factory-fresh ’62 Ford with maybe a Moon metalflake steering wheel for character. Outside, same thing: factory-fresh Ford metallic green paint with a mild de-chroming of the door handles and some trim. To keep the look together and balanced, a very retro set of Cragar S/S mags on some redline rubber. Edna also has a slight rake and mild lowering to nail the boulevard profile and appeal. Plus, we can’t forget a righteous set of twice-pipes twice-producing mellow V-8 sounds. Sometimes a simple and back-to-basics approach to our hobby is all that is required to bring more enthusiasts from the sidelines to behind the wheel.
’57 Ford 300
These little sedans, a cheaper alternative to the Fairlane, had a character and quality all their own. They share the same sheetmetal from the fenders forward, but that’s where it stops. The 300s were almost a foot shorter and had a smaller wheelbase—and make the perfect boulevard bruiser. This one’s based on my real-life Low Budget Bomb.
I love the old Y-block, but a 390 FE would be a better powerplant. It was popular in the ’60s and is a direct bolt-in—and parts are readily available.
This one’s prepped as a good street engine with proper manners—perfect for cruising the local scene at night or throwing the bags in the back for a long distance haul. FEs weren’t known for wonderful fuel mileage, but a Tremec five-speed with OD might help. These cars came with the venerable 9-inch, so the rearend is already secure. Headers are available and a 2-inch exhaust with your favorite aftermarket mufflers (Porters are my choice) would give the sweet sound I’m looking for.
A Granada spindle and disc brakes would drop the frontend 2 inches. Six-cylinder springs might drop it another inch. A LeBaron Bonney interior gives the granny go-getter look, with a Hurst shifter nestled in front of the bench and a early Dixco or Sun tach on the column for a sense of “uh oh.”
Dog dish caps on ’57 station wagon 15-inch steelies and a set of 225/70R15 T/As all around will keep it on the ice. I plan to nose and deck the hood and shave any other factory emblems. I will then wrap the finish in factory Raven black and off we go!
’63 Mercury Colony Park Station Wagon
This purple people pusher turns an old, unloved mor-dor long roof into a super bitchin’ swap meet wagon for you and your buddies to bomb around in. Then drop off the fellas and cruise up PCH with your lady. Slide back that VW bus length ragtop to soak in the ocean air! A relatively stock-style redo of the interior in factory lilac vinyl and cloth suits this purple ’n’ pink pachyderm the best.
The body is basically stock with most of the factory trim in place. The grille emblem was removed and the top half of a Tom Hanna–style dragster scoop molded into the hood to let that big Roush 427SR engine breathe. Fine metallic grape paint covers the majority of the body, with a lavender pearl paneled area with livery signage for a “not kidding anyone” delivery look.
The chassis is updated with narrow A-arms to tuck in those 16x8 deep offset five-spokes, with a matching set of 16x10s jammed inside the rear wheel arches, attached to a healthy 9-inch axle and truck-style ladder bars. Coilovers front and rear with large antiroll bars plant this thing in the corners like no other tuna boat ever was!
This whole scenario could be pulled off on the big time cheap with a truck issue FE engine and a four-speed (or maybe a 351W-based mill), and some moderate rear gear for “decent” mileage. Run the patina’d paint and swap the 16-inch rolling stock for 15-inch swap meet Americans and forego the sliding rag—who needs the sunburn anyway? Tint the windows to hide the shabby threads, fix the A/C, and cruise!
’61 Cadillac De Ville
If you have kids, a two-door can make things tough when loading up the gang, so a four-door ’61 De Ville is my idea of a Street Cruiser CTS-V.
We engineered our version to be nimble, smooth, and quick (as a 4,500-pound yacht can be), with suspension based on A-arms and a four-link—all on bags for that killer stance over huge luxury/performance alloys. We turned up the heat on a 390 by dropping the compression ratio to 9.75:1, and adding a centrifugal supercharger (bonus points for re-purposing a vintage McCullough). Carb enclosures hide under a stock-looking air cleaner for a more factory appearance, and the engine bay finishings mimic those on the body. Adapting a 480LE transmission increases driveability and 3.73 gears, while a bit greedy, make the boat fun in town.
The body got some royal treatment with the hood center slightly recessed in front, a shave, one-off handles following the body line, and fin lamps opened a touch to keep things in proportion. A coat of matte Wasabi Green (with an Olive toner) spices up the carbon gray trim. We painted the lower bumpers (after opening the front a touch and notching the rear for exhaust), but left the brightwork on the centers. A chrome spear on the lower flanks ties it up neatly. The lighting is modern; front halo lamps and rear LEDs.
Inside, medium gray leather covers front buckets and a rear bench. Creature comforts are plenty, but no digital gewgaws ruin the classic feel. This is still a ’61 Caddy and it should retain that personality. It’s a unique classic with modern convenience and looks, and literally tons of fun on tap.
’58 Pontiac Station Wagon
I love Pontiac wagons and have dreams of towing my vintage trailer with a Poncho long-roof. This two-door is loosely based on the ’57-58 Buick Caballero/Olds Fiesta wagon styles. Although they were four-door wagons, their hardtop styling with a non-existent B-pillar was impressive, to say the least. These are the elements that most influenced my Poncho two-door wagon design, which uses the roof lines of the ’58 Bonneville. The top is highlighted by a slight recess and stainless strips to add some detail and balance the style of the abundant side trim.
Adventurous Pontiac diehards might stick with a Tri-power-topped 370 and four-speed Hydramatic, but I might opt for the conservative route with a 283/700-R4 setup. With any wagon, stance is super important, so all levels would be achieved with an AccuAir e-Level system. Wide whites and chrome reverse wheels set that late-’60s vibe with a bit of restraint.
Remember ribbon candy? The color combination for the wagon was inspired by those teeth-busting hunks of sugar in my grammy’s candy dish. The two-tone lavender is accentuated by every piece of stock trim available. The two-tone theme is carried indoors. Road trips require comfort and many hours would be spent behind the wheel, so the interior is outfitted with good support, heated seats, A/C, and a smooth stereo. The interior trimming continues to work off of stock themes, but some additional stitch detail and sparkly threaded materials would bring it to that desired mild custom level.