Since you're reading STREET RODDER, whether you want to admit it or not, you're guilty of falling into car lust. Come on now, admit it. You've come across a car that you just had to have. You had visions of what you'd do to it, what it would look like with your favorite wheels, and the parts you'd bolt on. Maybe it's a car you still have or perhaps it's a car you didn't even need ... but you still ended up with it.
The challenge is to make this...
The challenge is to make this '51 Chevy Sport coupe into a reliable driver after 30 years of sitting. The desert climate was easy on the metal and aged the paint to perfection. We'll be watching our dollars to try to keep the entire project, including the purchase price, well under $15,000.
We're guilty on numerous counts, but this 1951 Chevy coupe is our latest offense. The roots of our desire for an early '50s coupe stems back almost 25 years to our high school days at the local cruise on Dixie Highway in Waterford, Michigan. Back then it was all about muscle cars, street racing, and cubic inches, but every week a bone-stock '51 or '52 would glide by and pull our attention from open header rumbles to its whisper-smooth tone. From Rock Crushers to "three on the tree" or cast-iron 'glides, for some reason that early, light blue coupe reminded me of quiet, easier times. It seemed comfortable, something my big-block '67 Chevelle was not. For whatever reason, that car made a lasting impression as I still find myself fawning over the '49-54 Chevrolet cars.
Fast forward 20 years when I first set eyes on this '51 parked in the back of a friend's body shop. The car was all original and intact. The two-tone green and white paint was worn and aged and the interior matched. The factory steering wheel accented with its horn ring and the dash was complete. Most of the chrome and lights were in place with only a couple small trim pieces missing, along with the DeLuxe-issued skirts. I immediately questioned the availability of the car, which was met with the all too familiar, "Not for sale. He's going to fix it up someday." A couple years later and the car was still out back but the answer remained the same. Another year later it was just gone, but not forgotten. Soon, while cruising eBay, it appeared. There it was with a "buy it now" price listed. Mind you, I'd never really inspected the car thoroughly. I looked in the windows, saw it had an engine, but since it wasn't for sale there was no reason to crawl under the car and dig in. But here it was up for auction and without much hesitation I shot over an offer that bordered on embarrassing, but what could it hurt? I already had three cars apart in the garage, but the rationale was if I could get it for a cheap, good deal. Obviously, I was meant to own this car since it came up on my screen. Shortly after, an email confirmation came in. It was mine. "Now what am I going to do?" was the first thought. But I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
The DeLuxe models came with...
The DeLuxe models came with stainless trim that ran from the front fenders to the end of the doors as well as trim around the front, rear, and side windows. Chrome gravel guards were also a part of the package, along with painted fender skirts.
One thing that made us fall for this particular '51 is the paint. The faded, dusting green paint is perfect to us. It appears that it was painted at some point in its 59 years, which just seems to add to its worn, scratched look. Ditto for the chrome and stainless. Sure there are a few dents, but the trim matches its age perfectly. We want to replace the couple of missing pieces, but overall the look will be staying as is.
We want the car to be a driver, so suspension and a drivetrain swap are the first order of business. Not to mention that stance is going to be imperative to the overall appearance of the coupe. However, budget and time are the rulers of this project so we've decided to build this '51 into a reliable driver for under $15,000; including the purchase price of the car. Our original goal was under $10,000 but when we put pen to paper and really started adding things like a transmission, radiator, brakes, and engine, it added up quickly. (We're really shooting for about $12,000 total.)
The amazing part of this car...
The amazing part of this car is that it sat outside for over 30 years and was never pillaged for parts. A couple pieces of the DeLuxe accessory trim are missing but we'll find replacements.
We'll be starting with the rear suspension and moving our way forward. A used small-block Chevy has been chosen since one was available on the cheap as well as a TH350. But you'll have to wait for the next issue to see how that comes together. We'll be keeping tabs on the retail prices of the parts we use to keep track of our target. For now, we're just getting started as we tear into the '51 for $15,000.
|PROJECT '51 FOR $15K
|'51 Chevy Business coupe
|Rearend Mount Kit
|Brake Line Kit
|SB Chevy Mounts
|What Were We Thinking?
You have to love desert cars,...
You have to love desert cars, just look at those doorjambs. We'll have to replace all of the side glass down the road, but we've budgeted for a complete kit. New glass makes a car. The Sport coupe models shared the same smaller rear window and larger trunk of the Business coupe.
The goal of our new '51 Chevy project car is to preserve the aged appearance of the coupe, while upgrading the drivetrain and suspension to create a smooth and reliable cruiser. The challenge to the project is the budget. We have $10,000-$15,000 max ... including the price of the car, which was $2,750.
That may sound like a lot of money, but when you start adding up the numbers that include the big three (suspension, engine, and transmission) followed by items like tires, radiator, wiring harness, and more, you're looking at $10,000 quickly.
We have a small-block Chevy that's been stuck in the corner for years, the result of a trade for a '74 Duster body. The 350 Turbo was also part of that deal. We don't know the condition of either besides being told "they were running when we pulled them," so that could come back to bite us and our budget.
For suspension, we decided to go with Chassis Engineering. They have a nice rearend package that includes custom brackets and leaf springs to install a rearend from a '68-74 Nova as well as shocks and a mount. Their frontend kit consists of a bolt-on IFS crossmember, A-arms, spindles, calipers, rotors, manual rack, tie rods, bushings, and shocks. Plus we'll go with their trans mount as well.
There aren't a lot of parts that we can sell off the '51 besides the engine, trans, and rearend. The chart gives you an idea of a few of the parts we're planning to use.
Last time the car was legal...
Last time the car was legal was in 1977. The coupe sat around in the desert then a few different shops over the course of three decades.
The rear bubble butt view...
The rear bubble butt view shows the perfectly worn matching bumpers, taillamp trim, and of course the matching diminishing paint. All of this will be staying on the car.
The interior is crowned with...
The interior is crowned with its original steering wheel (we think) along with an uncut dash and original cluster. The radio is missing but appears to have been removed with care. Stock seats are a bonus for the pocketbook.
The engine casting number...
The engine casting number revealed that an engine swap took place at some point as it was a '57 block. The valve cover wasn't bolted down and there were no push rods or rocker arms. Perhaps a failed engine swap is what took the '51 off the road?
Substantial trunk space was...
Substantial trunk space was designed with the traveling salesman in mind. We were surprised to find the original trunk mat and very happy to find a solid pan and seams.
The gauges and speedometer...
The gauges and speedometer should clean up nice once the years of desert sand are washed out.
Moving under the car revealed...
Moving under the car revealed a custom dual exhaust complete with Cherry Bombs. The original trans was in place with the solid driveshaft connected to the rearend. Parking brake cables were even connected.
Not everything was as rust-free...
Not everything was as rust-free as we thought. The inner panels in front of both rear wheels are in pretty rough shape as years of goo and water accumulated in these little pockets. These two spots are the only really bad areas we found.
After seeing that little bit...
After seeing that little bit of cancer, we closely inspected the rest of the undercarriage and were pleased to find little else. The frame and support brackets along with the rest of the floor and panels were solid.
We figured we'd drop the tank...
We figured we'd drop the tank down to get a better look at the trunk pan. Two nice surprises: the great condition of the trunk floor and the fact that the tank appeared reusable after a thorough cleaning and inspection. That will save us some dollars.
There was never even a thought...
There was never even a thought of keeping the inline-six so the deconstruction began. The intake/exhaust manifold was pulled to make life easy. Note the "custom" dual outlet on the exhaust manifold.
The engine was easily pulled...
The engine was easily pulled from the bay complete with the three-speed attached. We know they're not worth much, but every dollar counts.