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1962 Chevrolet Bel Air - Bespoke Bel Air

With nearly half of its items custom-made, this bubbletop has the two-toned twisted testosterone to take home the trophies.

Isaac Mion Jun 9, 2011
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Chevy aficionados may have heard of the word "bespoke." It essentially means made "in house" or custom-made. Going through the extensive spec list of Dennis McClendeon's '62 Bel Air, the amount of items made by Dennis and his team is astounding. From the tube-frame chassis to the gauges to the windshield, seemingly every other piece of this red and white rider is bespoke or "scratch-built" as Dennis likes to call it. Who knows? Maybe it's an Arizona thing, which is where Dennis is from and where this story started.

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Dennis is an experienced car builder/project coordinator who has built more than a few Chevys back to their original state in what he terms "museum quality." Whether the Smithsonian has any Chevys in it is a good question, but one thing is for sure: If Dennis can resto-mod a Bow Tie like the one you see before you then you can imagine the state of his other classics. In fact, when he got this one he originally thought it would be a good restoration project.

"I bought this car off of eBay by accident," says Dennis. "I had been watching the car for about a month off and on. When it came back on eBay with a minimum bid of $18,500, I placed the bid on Friday, not even thinking I would get the car at this price."

Dennis packed up his gear and headed out to Bridgetown, Missouri, on a Wednesday, paid the tab, and had the car back to Arizona, by Friday. Pretty good time for a cross-country drive, but that's what happens when you're eager to do to a car what Dennis has done to his.

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"The car was in great condition with all original sheetmetal except for one quarter-panel. Plus, the interior and paint were in good condition," he says. Once home, he called his friend Ryan at Ryan Butler Fabrication, with whom he got started plotting the outcome of this stellar Bel Air's destiny.

"I have restored many of these rare cars," says Dennis. "But I always wanted to bring one into the 21st century." Dennis did that and brought one lower to the ground than seemed humanly possible at the same time. "I wanted the lowest '62 Chevy in the world," he said.

During the shoot adjacent to a pier in San Diego, an astounded passerby asked what the Bel Air did in the quarter-mile. It made us wonder if someone can see a car decked that low and not know it's for show purposes. We told them it does 8.3 seconds at 170 mph and lapped the Nurburgring in 2 minutes 14 seconds, and they went on their way none the wiser.

The same planning that goes into a record-setting drag car went into this Bel Air, though. Steve Stanford did a half-dozen renderings including the interior, exterior designs and the graphics before Dennis and he finally came up with a final rendering. As usual, the rendering changed again before the car was completed, but isn't that how it always goes?

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Chevy purists might frown on a ride height that seems intended for nothing else but scraping detritus off the tarmac, but you have to admit that when you see a bubbletop laying frame it warms the cockles. Dennis calls his rig "Showlow." And it is low. It's on 'bags and is essentially a lowrider. But the lowrider guys don't like it because it doesn't have 100-spoke D's.

One of the biggest challenges occurred when our feature car owner and Rich Thayer from R&J customs chopped the top. They chopped it 2 inches and pushed it back the same distance while also removing the drip rails. As those who have done this before realize, getting the A- and C-pillars to line up can be like getting a rock star into rehab. It definitely takes a while.

The roof wasn't the only thing massaged. The bumpers are shortened, and they've also been filled behind the top of the bumper. On top of that is a hand-fabricated lower valance that also serves as a center airfoil. Styling cues are always nice when they are functional as well.

The list of "scratch-built" items extends to the hood and under it. The hood, both the outer skin and the inner structure, is custom, as are the motor mounts and the entire floor panùnot to mention the exhaust, the motor mounts and the entire dash. Denny John of D&D specialty installed that and the custom leather that enshrouds the rest of the cabin. The rollcage is discretely hidden there, and you wouldn't even guess that it connects to an entire tube frame chassis.

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An entire feature could be done on the chassis alone. "This car took 12,000 man hours and two and a half years to build," said Dennis.

Needless to say, a lot of those man-hours went into this piece of metal and the ability to have it nearly completely enclosed within the Bel Air's body (although it does peek out at you from the fender if you need proof it's really in there). Way to go, Ryan Butler and crew.

But the cage isn't in there for show. The power from the bored and stroked/balanced and blueprinted 482-inch W-engine would no doubt bend and break the body of a stock Bel Air. Of course, the bay surrounding the motor and the one-off Algon intake manifold is as smooth as the power delivery from this fully built motor.

Ride Tech components bring the ride height down to ridiculous levels over the Colorado Custom wheels. Just like all cars with big motors need to come to come to a halt, so do the articles about them. Baer 13-inch brakes do the former while a closing paragraph usually does the latter.

With its diabolical stance, massive motor and a cage that could be in the Guggenheim and all of it covered with a Maserati Red and Mustang White two-tone paint, Dennis has not only expanded the bubble, he may have burst it.



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