Just the Facts
Model: Bel Air
Owner: Sean Spearman
Street rodders have been rediscovering a period in American automotive history that muscle car guys and others have been talking about all along. Some of the coolest raw material for post-war projects was built in the early 1960s when GM, Ford, and Chrysler were building big-inch, big-power engines and dropping them into full-size vehicles. Racers caught on instantly. Restorers and street machiners have kept these cars in demand. In the last several years we've seen a lot more early-1960s iron customized for the street and rolling through the gates of rod and custom shows. And since everything needs a label, the one that seems the most appropriate for these is street cruisers.
Sean Spearman's 1962 Bel Air hardtop is an excellent example of what we're talking about. These cars were instant classics when they were introduced, due to a combination of beautiful styling and the legendary 409 big-block that was introduced in the Impala a year earlier.
Today, 1962 bubbletops are hard to find, especially if you don't want to modify an original restored car. Builder Darryl Nance at D&P Classic Chevy in Huntington Beach, California, had to go all the way to Cleveland for this one. Life in the "rust belt" hadn't helped the condition of the car, but it was salvageable.
Owner Sean wanted to maintain the car's beautiful stock lines, moving them a bit closer to the ground. Otherwise, the goal was to turn a high-performance classic from the early 1960s into a high-performance classic of the early 21st century. That goal raises the classic question: How would Chevrolet have built the 1962 Bel Air if today's technology was available then?
The two-tone trunk is as well appointed as the interior. Tubs for the wide rear tires are
Nance and the rest of the builders at D&P decided that the best place to start was with a brand-new chassis from Art Morrison Enterprises. In addition to front and rear Bilstein shocks, the Art Morrison chassis features a RideTech air suspension at all corners of the 1962 to plant the stance low to the pavement. The Ford 9-inch rearend is located by a parallel four-bar setup. Steering was upgraded with a rack-and-pinion system.
The engine that originally elevated these cars to early muscle car status was the song-inspiring 409, introduced the year before. By 1962, a 409hp version was available. By 2009, Chevy was pulling 638 horses out of the ZR1 Corvette's 376ci supercharged and intercooled LS9 engine. When the LS9 became available as a crate engine from GM Performance Parts, Sean and Nance agreed that this was the engine to power the bubbletop. Positioning the engine on the chassis and fitting it under the hood, however, took some engineering, including building a custom firewall and inner fenders.
The 4L85E automatic with a 2,800-stall converter is plenty stout to handle the LS9. A custom driveshaft from Drivelines Inc. runs back to the 9-inch rearend with limited slip and 3.70:1 gears.
The chassis and powertrain modifications go a long way toward improving the Bel Air's performance. When it came to external modifications, it was recognized that there really isn't a lot of room for improvement to Chevy's classic design. But after taking a beating in Cleveland's climate, quite a bit of sheetmetal improvement was required to make that design recognizable again. In addition to all the metalwork necessary to transform the body from basket case to beauty, all the desired stock trim and hardware had to be repaired or replaced. The bumpers, handles, and grille are stock, re-plated by Sihilling Metal Polishing to shine like new.
The tan upholstery, the handiwork of Stitchcraft Custom Interiors, makes the Bel Air’s roo
Some invisible but significant changes were made with the body to accommodate the updated chassis and engine. We mentioned the custom firewall that required fabricated hinges for the hood. A new raised floorpan and wheeltubs were built to further drop the body while ensuring there would be room enough for the supersized rolling stock. Instead of choosing period-themed wheels, such as steelies with caps or Torq-Thrusts, Sean opted for one-off Asanti five-spokes to complement and contrast the exterior's 1962 styling. The 22x12 and 20x8 diameter wheels are balanced by the size of the Bel Air. The low-profile tires are Pirelli P Zero performance radials, measuring 315/30ZR22 and 255/35ZR20.
The two-tone paint adds the finishing touch to the outward appearance. Alex Rodriguez at D&P used PPG Mineral Gray metallic for the body, and GM Bright White for the top. New glass with a smoke gray tint was installed.
The interior is an unbroken blend of the best of yesterday and today. The factory dash was restored with only low-key modifications. Classic Instruments built retro-styled fuel, temp, and voltage gauges to fit the stock instrument pods below the stock speedometer. D&P constructed a center console around the Lokar shifter and mounted a reduced Impala steering wheel on an ididit tilt column. Cold air is provided by Classic Auto Air with controls and vents supplied by Vintage Air. A RetroSound audio head unit, Memphis Car Audio amp and speakers, and a Kicker subwoofer provide tunes. Stitchcraft Custom Interiors handled the rest, dressing the custom door panels and Glide Engineering seats in tan distressed leather, and covering the floor with Porsche carpeting.
As you'd expect, the finished 1962 was an immediate hit on the car show circuit. These days it's still getting looks and thumbs up whenever Sean drives it. Restorers can breathe a sigh of relief that no pristine original cars were harmed during the buildup, and the rest of us can cheer the fact that this early-1960s/21st century high-performance classic is still on the street.
The Asanti wheels—20s in front, 22s in back—are unique to this specific car. Fourteen-inch
We don’t know what we like more, the original sweep speedo, the aftermarket but retro-look
No 409 here, just a 638hp blown LS9 from Chevrolet Performance. It features one-off header