As a pastor, Ken Owen has always followed a simpler life, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune from being attracted to classic Chevy iron. For 26 years he was the President of Racers For Christ, a national organization that sends chaplains to more than 2,000 racing events a year. And, for 20 of those years, he was honored to be the official chaplain for the National Hot Rod Associating (NHRA). He also wrote for National Dragster for over a decade. A bit closer to home, he attended the very first Super Chevy Sunday event at Orange County Raceway in 1981 and later became the show’s first official chaplain for the series.
Yep, this preacher is a hot rodder and had been messing with cars for as long as he can remember. In 2001 Ken picked up a tired 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne, you know, the cheaper version of the Impala. He was drawn to the ’59 since it was the same car that his parents owned, and that he learned to drive in. The big fin Chevy was a Californian rust-free survivor with only 55,000 miles on the clock, but it didn’t run. The 283 small-block and Powerglide trans were yanked and replaced with a 350 mill and a 5-speed manual transmission. So, now the Chevy ran but it didn’t drive very well. Things went this way for about 5 years until Ken moved from Arizona to the San Diego area of California. It was here that he decided to get the Biscayne some professional help, so he took the ride over to Best Of Show Coach Works (BOS) in Escondido, California for an extreme makeover.
Of course, the original plan was pretty modest, but before long the car was in pieces and every mechanical part, in addition to the paint and body work, was on the to-do list. As Ken told us, “My plan was to do the Biscayne as an old school hotrod with a few modern custom touches. I wanted it to maintain an overall factory look but with a few late-model nuances. Like any early muscle car fanatic, I had to have a 409, but I wanted it to look exactly as it might have looked had Chevy offered a 409 from the factory in 1959.”
The suspension and brakes of Biscayne were completely rebuilt, but left stock right down to the four-wheel power drums. The small-block and 5-speed combo was removed and replaced by a sweet 409, built by Jack Gibbs in Northern California. For better drivability the 409 was backed up by a 700R4 transmission. The rebuilt engine was left internally stock but updated with an Edelbrock four-barrel carb and an MSD ignition system for improved reliability. To keep the vintage feel the alternator was built to look like an old-school generator. BOS also added a Vintage Air system to keep Ken cool on those steamy North Carolina (where he now resides) summer days. Out back a 9-inch with 3.70 gears took over the differential duties and combined with the overdrive transmission the Chevy has great highway manners. Ken deadpanned, “The Ford 9-inch is a sin for which I have prayed to be absolved.” Rolling stock consists of Billet Specialties 5-spoke wheels wrapped in 255/17 front and 275/17 rear tires.
There was a 1968 Camaro being built at BOS and Ken fell in love with the car’s hue, so the ’59 was massaged, gapped, and shot in 2000 Plymouth Prowler Orange. To break it up a bit the rear deck area was covered in vanilla-white pearl PPG paint, similar to how it was done back in the day. BOS sent all the trim out for fresh chrome, but a few pieces were left off and, in a way, replaced by airbrushed reproductions. From a few feet away it’s hard to tell, but the side spears and emblems are all expertly applied paint by artist John Peters. If you look close you’ll also spot a third brake light cleverly hidden in the rear center emblem. The rest of the exterior is just as GM designed it over 60 years ago.
The interior kept the bench seat, and materials were chosen that would keep the classic feel yet still be updated. The seats were done in 1959-style fabric by North County Upholstery in Escondido, California, and the radio was upgraded to a classic looking Autosound unit while modern gauges from Classic Instrument fills the dash. Again, updated classic was the build plan and we feel they pulled it off perfectly.
Ken now lives in North Carolina and the weather keeps the Biscayne off the road more than he would like, but he does get the Chevy out for cruises and car shows whenever possible. Not long ago he was able to hit the Super Chevy show in Rockingham where his orange ’59 took home Editor’s Choice Top-Ten as well as Outstanding In Class awards. Considering Ken’s past with the Super Chevy shows he feels this brought him full circle.