I bet most of us would love to claim a major hot rod parts manufacturer as part of our family. And who wouldn’t, really? Think of the connections and the resources, not to mention the potential discounts on parts. Yeah, you could build a really nice car, couldn’t you?
Make that have to build a really nice car. Along with great fortune comes responsibility, specifically the obligation to build a car worthy of promoting a business. Because that’s what the car would do; by dint of its owner’s association with the manufacturer, people would judge the company by the car. Make sense?
They say the LS-series engine...
They say the LS-series engine changed everything. It sure changed Don Willette’s mind. After years of dealing with the fussiness of powerful engines he said the effortlessness of the LS2’s 400 hp and its extremely favorable fuel economy is refreshing.
It sure does to Don Willette. His brother-in-law’s business bears his name: Art Morrison Enterprises. The fortunate part for Don is that quality comes natural to him. Case in point, this is his 1953 Chevy Bel Air. And it’s worthy of the suspension parts it bears.
Not that it always was, mind you. When he found the car, “It was in a field sunk to the rockers in the mud,” he notes. “It took two four-wheel-drive trucks to pull it out.” The quarters and trunk were near wasted, “but, as they say, it was all there.”
Don naturally replaced the antiquated suspension with an Art Morrison front crossmember kit and a rear four-bar setup. The front suspension employs Heidts Hot Rod Shop dropped spindles and a manual Flaming River rack. The rear suspension features a Ford 9-inch axle with a Strange Engineering limited-slip gear carrier and 31-spline axles. Both ends ride on Strange rebound-adjustable coilover dampers.
Don’s judicious use of zinc...
Don’s judicious use of zinc plating gives the car a very sophisticated, factory-made feel. The hood hinges and numerous other brackets enjoy the same treatment. Best of all, zinc is inexpensive and doesn’t chip or scratch as coatings or chrome will.
He devoted the remainder of the year to swapping a modest 283/TH350 combo and rewiring the car with a Painless Performance kit. “I did just the basics so it was safe and would go down the road,” he says. “I drove it to one event, hated it, and took it home and started over.”
He devoted the two years after that by thoroughly reconditioning the car. His friend, Jason Perkins, replaced the body’s rusty panels and nosed, decked, and otherwise straightened it. Another friend, Tacoma’s Ron Johnson and his sidekick, Chris, applied the Honda Galapagos Green and Chrysler Cool Vanilla acrylic-urethane paint.
The stalk sprouting from the floor suggests that Don did a bit more than merely make the car prettier. It tops a Long’s Machine and Tool sliding-rail shifter, a piece of incredibly heavy-duty hardware nearly exclusive to road racers and all but the hottest street cars. It’s because it mounts to another race-worthy piece of equipment, a Richmond six-speed transmission.
Until 1955, Chevrolet mounted...
Until 1955, Chevrolet mounted the master cylinder under the floor. A Kugel swing pedal kit mounts the clutch and brake master cylinders to the firewall. The conventional inverted-flare fittings and steel Bundy line rather than slicker-looking AN fittings and stainless tubing means he can repair it on the road with real car parts.
What warrants the transmission is an ’06 vintage LS2. Though created for Corvettes of the era, the 364-inch thumper came in a crate from Sunset Chevrolet. Street & Performance fabricated the harness necessary to command the fuel and spark systems. “They were really good to me,” Don observes. He built the accessory drive system from a combination of factory parts and his own and adapted the engine to the chassis with crossover mounts and a pair of Art Morrison Enterprises 1-7/8-inch headers. They feed a pair of Dynaflow mufflers vis-à-vis 2-1/2-inch pipes built by Mike Sader at American Auto & Muffler in Puyallup, Washington.
In the end Don built a car more than worthy of his brother-in-law’s equipment. In fact he admits he exceeded even his own expectations; had he known how well the car would’ve turned out, he once said, he would’ve stepped up to a completely new Art Morrison chassis.
Oh well. That’s why follow-up projects were invented.
Don replaced the gauge cluster...
Don replaced the gauge cluster with an aluminum plate, which he filled with Autometer Z-series instruments. Though he kept the stock wheel, he replaced the column beneath it with a Flaming River C1 tilt column. He tucked a Vintage Air Super Gen II climate control system behind the dash.
Tacoma’s Bob Jasper trimmed...
Tacoma’s Bob Jasper trimmed the interior in the stock roll-and-pleat pattern only he used Sage Green velour and cream vinyl. The three-point retractable Seatbelt Pros system offers greater protection than just a lap belt. A Custom Autosound Secretaudio head unit hides under the seat.
The Boyd Coddington Smoothie...
The Boyd Coddington Smoothie II wheels measure 17x7 and 17x8 with 4-3/4-inch and 5-1/4-inch backspace, respectively. The BFGoodrich g-Force T/A tires they mount measure 235/45R17 and 245/45R17 although Don says in hindsight he’d go wider in the rear. Wilwood 13- and 12-inch rotors and six-piston calipers peek through the spokes.