Just the Facts
First impressions are always important, and when it concerns an automobile, the things you initially see and feel when introduced to something new will probably stick with you for a lifetime (think about those Ford versus Chevy family arguments). When he was a child, Michael Bunch, who lives in Morristown, Tennessee, can distinctly remember when he first saw the rear end of a '59 Chevrolet.
Having grown up watching the Batman television series, the bat wings and cat's eyes (as he described them then) made sense to him but, now, more than four decades later, he can appreciate the unique lines Chevrolet incorporated into their late-'50s vehicles. Michael's father, Don, is also into cars (he still owns about 30 of them), and Michael can also remember traveling cross country with his dad and riding in his '32 five-window, instilling a lifelong love of all things automotive.
A few years back Michael started searching for a '59 convertible, and a friend, Tommy Steadman, was able to put him in touch with a fellow who had owned a '59 convertible for over 20 years. It was a pretty solid car, even though the floor had been cut out, but the owner had a decent floor he'd give up if Michael bought the car. Bunch had been working on a '67 Nova project, but that got sold to provide funds and space for the '59, which he was soon able to bring home. He still owns a Dearborn Deuce convertible, but it really isn't a “family” car, so having the '59 would solve that.
We all have to start somewhere! Rutterz Rodz certainly had their work cut out for themselv
The concept for the car was to keep many of the things Michael likes about the '59 Chevys, but to bring the trim level on the car up to the SS trim level introduced in late 1961 or full year in 1962. To bring the car to life, Michael took his ride to Mike Rutter of Rutterz Rodz in Bristol, Tennessee (not to be confused with Rutter's Rod Shop). Rutterz, who recently built the 2013 Painless Performance Products/Street Rodder Street Rod of the Year vehicle, has assembled a long string of winners for their customers.
When they got the big convertible in their shop, they blew apart the body, separated the body from the chassis, and had the whole thing blasted to start from bare metal. That work began by using a portion of the original chassis along with a new front clip from Art Morrison. Rutterz also added a Ford 9-inch rear (3.89:1) with Moser axles and custom four-link suspension they made for the car. Wilwood disc brakes were installed on each corner (six-piston units up front) as was an air spring system Rutterz fab'd using Air Lift Company parts. An ididit retrofit steering column, along with Borgeson Universal Company joints and shafts and a power rack, upgraded the car's steering and, to give the car a decidedly hot rod appearance, 17x8 and 20x9.5 Billet Specialties Legacy wheel were fitted with BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW tires.
A Chevrolet Performance crate engine made its way into the engine bay of Michael’s convert
Up under the hood a Chevrolet Performance 502 engine went in, dressed up with a customized Cadillac air cleaner for the twin Edelbrock four-barrel carbs that features a Corvette crossed-flag trim piece. Cooling for the engine is taken care of with a pair of SPAL fans and a Be Cool radiator, and a Billet Specialties Tru Trac belt system keeps everything turning.
The valve covers, with their Chevrolet script milled in the top, came from PML Inc. and spark is generated with MSD parts and Taylor wires. Drawing the spent gases out of the heads is a pair of Sanderson headers that run to twin Flowmaster mufflers. Rick Smith, at A-1 Transmission in Bristol, Virginia, worked on the 4L80E transmission and incorporated a CompuShift controller to aid shifting, and a driveshaft from Bowman Driveshaft in Johnson City, Tennessee, connects the trans to the rear.
Rutterz Rodz, along with Johnathan Tolley, Greg Whitehead, and Mark Lowery, all worked on the big Chevy body, getting it prepped for the Axalta (formerly DuPont) Super Jet Black paint they would apply. Besides being straightened and smoothed out, no major body modifications were done to the exterior before the paint went on and Dan's Polishing Shop in Adamsville, Tennessee, had their hands full with the car's brightwork.
Michael rarely runs the car with the top up, and who can blame him? At nearly 17-1/2 feet
Following a design penned by automotive illustrator Eric Brockmeyer, Rutterz used '65 Chevy Impala bucket seats and a '65 Buick Wildcat center console as a base from which the interior would come. Paul Atkins Interiors stitched up the nutmeg-colored leather, finishing the speaker grille in the rear seat with a '65 SS trim piece.
Up on the dash Rutterz removed the radio (putting a new JVC head unit wired up by Benny Broyles of Memphis Audio in the glovebox) and added another factory-looking pod to house the tachometer. An American Autowire kit provided the necessary wiring to finish up the car, and a Vintage Air A/C system keeps the Bunch family cool on those muggy Tennessee evenings.
Even though the car is a convertible, you may never see it with the top up, as Michael much prefers his ride topless. The Chevy won a Painless Performance Products/Street Rodder Top 100 award in Columbus last year, plus a Pro's Pick in Louisville, and time permitting, Michael hopes to drive his convertible out to SoCal for the L.A. Roadsters Show. Maybe he'll be able to include his kids in the trip, giving them the opportunity for a great first impression by traveling cross country with their dad in a hot rod, like Michael did with his dad.