Even from a distance, the car looks good. The stance is purposeful and the body and paint look amazing. When it drives by, gripping the road and howling with more than 600 hp, it’s clearly something out of the ordinary. It deserves a better look to see just what it is about the car that sets it apart.
We got our first up-close look at the 1962 Chevy bubbletop when Andy Leach, owner of CAL Auto Creations, debuted the car at the Barrett-Jackson Cup during Hot August Nights 2015. We had Leach walk us around the car and point out the myriad sheetmetal tweaks, because otherwise we would have missed them. For example, the headlight bezels were cut into a dozen pieces and put back together to fit the new grille and reshaped hood and fenders. The modifications give the car a concept-car look, how Chevrolet might have built the bubbletop if it didn’t have to crank them out on an assembly line.
The build began when Leach and his team put the car on a chassis table with the wheels and tires mocked up to the proper ride height. Everything else on the car was built from there. The team—Nick Zoucha, Erik Hanson, Sam Kita, Bob Thrash, Jeremy Tate, Luke Ward, Dave Larsen, Tim Fromm, Taylor Bonnstetter, and Matt Summers—took the car from bare shell to prize-winning in two years.
From the wheels in, the chassis came together using an Art Morrison frame with 2005–2013 Corvette front suspension and a four-link rear suspension all riding on Ridetech coilovers. Because the bubbletop originally had an X-frame and the Art Morrison chassis is a perimeter-style ladder frame, CAL Automotive Creations built a new floorpan to better fit the chassis. It also added front and rear bellypans and a whole new firewall. That takes us to the engine bay, where the team fabricated inner fenders and a core support from scratch to frame a Chevrolet Performance LS9 crate engine. Internally stock, the supercharged LS9 V8 wears a set of long-tube headers built by CAL Auto Creations and ceramic-coated by Trail Performance Coatings in Papillion, Nebraska. From there, the exhaust is routed through dual 2.5-inch exhaust into SpinTech mufflers and Magnaflow resonators. A Bowler T56 six-speed manual transmission and Ford 9-inch rear axle with a 3.73:1 ring and pinion put the 650 or so horsepower to the ground.
The exterior uses numerous clever modifications that followed Bob Thrash’s rendering, including reshaped bumpers, a subtle wing on the quarter-panels and decklid, lengthened hood and fenders, and a new grille. The hood, decklid, and door gaps are all consistently tight, a testament to the precision coachwork in the custom panels and the excellent bodywork by Adam Krause who helped prep the car before it was sent to painter Charley Hutton, who made the final checks on the bodywork and sprayed the magnesium silver PPG paint.
Keeping with the exterior sheetmetal’s subtle manipulations, the interior looks like it could have also come from a factory show car. Dark red upholstery by Recovery Room Hot Rod Interiors covers the custom-built seats and door panels. Classic round gauges, specially made by Classic Industries, fill custom gauge bezels. Even the steering wheel was custom-tailored to the car, with a resized 1962 Impala wheel better fitting the car’s quick power steering.
We were impressed with the bubbletop from our first sight of the car, and the judges at the 2015 Barrett-Jackson Cup agreed, winning top honors among a field that was packed with worthy entrants. But it’s not just fun to look at, it performs well, too. Leach blasted up onramps, tearing through the gears like a proper hot rodder when we visited the car where it was built in Omaha. With the bubbletop and the Ridler-winning Checkered Past in its rearview, and another Ridler contender on the chassis table, Cal Automotive Creations has proven they are a shop to watch for some seriously well-built machines.