1956 Chevy Bel Air - Cool Baby Blue

Out of the Time Capsule, Straight to the Tarmac

Ro McGonegal Dec 11, 2013 0 Comment(s)
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Got a good one for you. Nothing less than movie script stuff. You couldn't make it up. Nobody would believe you.

Imagine yourself a budding high-school testosterone factory. You've got a penchant for, or at least an innate sense for, design, form, and the inevitable feeling that cars would become the taproot of your life. Would you wind up racing them, powering them up, or simply straightening out-of-alignment frames and re-arranging bodies to their original visage?

1956 Chevy Bel Air 2/9

Let's trip back to The Day, 47-year-old Lonny Moore's day, as it were. One of his teachers was a woman named Helen who taught at North High School in Wichita, Kansas. He liked Helen and he especially liked her car, a clean, bright, second-generation 1956 Chevy Bel Air.

"This car was all original and I bought [it] from the original owner. I named it Helen. The interior is all original, dash moldings, etc. She drove this car daily, back and forth to work. When I bought the car, it was easily a nine on the 1-10 scale. I drove it to Desoto, Texas, [a round trip of 750 miles] like that, original drivetrain and all."

Lonny went on to become the owner of a body shop. He eventually bought the car from Helen and spent two years on the completion, rolling out his sparkling rendition in 1995. On his way to being a body maven, Lonny learned how to do all the rest of the things a good car builder would be expected to know, so when it came to the chassis, brakes, and drivetrain, he was solidly in the program. Since Helen was completely rust-free, his body shop acumen per se wasn't really an issue.

But because he's detail-oriented, it just wouldn't do to leave the body on the frame without separating the two and having a look beneath. Lonny didn't react; he anticipated. He kept the stock frame but cleaned it up, ground the welds flush, and put glossy paint on it.

While the body, accouterments, and trim deviate not one iota from the way they were in 1956, the marrow in his hot-rodding bones vibed "good stuff gotta follow" and allowed him nothing less than to underwrite the theme with a contemporary suspension system, a modern engine, flash wheels, and low-profile rubber. But as you will discover, the basic form remains as stock as it was the day it was driven off the Kansas City assembly line.

1956 Chevy Bel Air 3/9

In his quest for the perfect ride, Lonny forsook all the usual hot stuff that overwhelms most people and the pages of most buff magazines. He wanted a sharp-looking driver to be seen in and to tacitly advertise his business. To him, it's all about form and not particularly function. No zillion horsepower motor, 93-speed transmission, 20-inch brakes, or neon skull and crossbones leering from the hood. No. He just wanted a simple, easy driver that would keep on ticking until the next millennium.

Though he claims to drive the Chevy weekly, the middle of America can get real nasty in the dark months and stay that way long after Punxsutawney Phil has slid back into his dirt sanctum. This leaves the hideous flatland heat … but at least the roads are dry. Lonny shows off his death-defying pupil at Goodguys and Darryl Starbird's annual gathering in Tulsa (the fabled customizer hails from Wichita, so Lonny would always be part of this regale).

So you know how it goes...low riders ride a little slower. Top speed? Lonny says 65.

Drivetrain
Lonny honored Helen's motor with pin-neat detailing, which immediately shifts your focus from "how much does it make to who cares how much it makes?" We said the mill was stock, a ubiquitous 350, a refugee from the early 1990s. Lonny perked it up with an MSD sparker system, affixed Street & Performance headers and he ran the accessories with a March serpentine system. What's the net? Barely above flat-line? Who knows? Lonny doesn't care. What the engine animates is much more important. An overdriven top gear comes through the 700-R4 automatic that's fitted with a Neal Chance (Cheney, Kansas) 2,200 rpm stall speed converter. Fluid temperature is checked by a B&M remote cooler. Torque ropes languidly down the Power Drive prop shaft to a Ford 8-inch housing churning a 3.50:1 gear ratio and a limited-slip differential.

1956 Chevy Bel Air Engine 4/9

Interior
Though the exterior sports "freshened" paint, the interior is, according to Lonny, completely and unequivocally original. Look at that thing. Factory fresh is not to be believed. The instruments, steering wheel, dashboard, upholstery, panels and even the wiring are as they came from the factory. Note VIN tag on A-pillar. Tunes are strictly AM but the Bel Air's got a thoroughly modern Vintage Air HVAC system to thwart the Kansas broiler. He clicks gears with a modified column shifter.

Body
Lonny in his element. He smoothed out the metal but didn't have to fix any it, and the trim and moldings were shined up but are otherwise original. When he was certain of the contours and the crevices, he applied the glorious two-tone: DuPont Indian Ivory and Jaguar Teal Green.

1956 Chevy Bel Air Front Three 5/9

Chassis
To get the look for his Bel Air, Lonny spent a lot of time installing a suspension system that would allow adjustable ride height and provide solid cornering along as well as pleasing road manners. He adapted the Ride Tech notion, using an 8-inch housing from a 1969 Mustang. For its mission in Helen reborn, he narrowed the banjo 4¼ inches (new overall length is 52¾ inches) partly to accommodate the burly back wheels and partly because the suspension system required it. He hung the 8-inch with Ride Tech's 4-link and stubbed it with air springs and KYB shock absorbers. Up front, the Bel Air navigates with a stock steering box directing Williams Classic 2-inch drop spindles. Ride height and ride quality are maintained by AR control arms, air springs, and KYBs.

Brakes & Wheels
A large part of the tableau rests with the wheel and tire combination. Though Helen might first appear mild-mannered there's nothing more intimidating than some fat hogs on the business end to sway a thought when Lonny jacks the air and reveals the goods. BFG and Budnik 18s are all around, 245/40 and 315/35s on 8 and 9.5-inch hoops.

1956 Chevy Bel Air Rear Three 6/9

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