Most kids get their first car once they get their driver’s license, some when they have a learner’s permit, and a lucky few even before then. David Gayanich was just 3 years old when his father came home with a 1955 Chevy Bel Air and gave it to him. How’s that for getting your first car at a young age?
The year was 1970 and David’s father, David R. Gayanich, was on his way home from work one day when he passed by a ’55 Chevy sitting in someone’s front yard. As it happened, the owner was putting a “For Sale” sign on the windshield. David’s father turned around immediately to go see what the guy was asking for it. And before you know it, “My dad purchased the ’55 for $400 and drove it home and gave it to me,” says David. The only condition his father gave him was that he was not allowed to sell it. The only way David could get rid of the car was by giving it back to his dad or giving it to one of his kids someday. So, it looked like 3-year-old David was stuck with a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. We’d say there are definitely worse problems to have.
Obviously, David was a tad too young to do anything with the car for a while so it sat out back of his parents’ home in Oklahoma. Over the years, people would come over and try to buy the Chevy from him, but David stood firm on his promise not to sell it.
Once he was old enough though, life got busy as high school came and went. It was the same story with college, and before long he got married and had a couple of kids. “I didn’t know where to start,” David recalls. But, finally someone came into his life to get the ball rolling on the ’55 project. A new neighbor from across the street noticed the car sitting behind David’s house, so he came over to check it out one day. He introduced himself as Frog Lemke and ended up helping David disassemble and rebuild the Bel Air’s 350.
But David and Frog didn’t get too far into the project before David realized the age-old problem of having money but no time or time but no money. And so the car sat mostly untouched for 15 more years until 2008 when he noticed a new hot rod shop in town: Heartland Customs in Purcell, Oklahoma. David stopped by the shop and met with Dr. Ron Page and his son Jeff, who helped turn his vision for the car into reality. David sat down with Jeff and discussed all the details then brought the car in for work to begin. When he dropped it off at Heartland in June 2008 it was his first time in 38 years without the Chevy.
The guys at Heartland had more than enough work to do in getting the Bel Air whipped into shape because David brought the car just as it was: a thousand pieces piled in boxes and a rough body coated in primer. Heartland started by disassembling what was left and taking the whole shell down to bare metal to check for integrity. They ended up replacing the floorpans, rocker panels, passenger-side quarter-panel, and few other things here and there.
When it was time for paint, PPG supplied Boyd Coddington Red and GM White for David’s desired two-tone paintjob and Heartland handled the work in the paint booth. To complete the exterior and get the classic look David was going for, Jeff ordered a set of five-spoke wheels from Hot Rods by Boyd Coddington: 17x8 in the front and 18x10 in the rear. Nitto NT555 tires, 245/40R17 and 285/35R18, help the Bel Air grip the road.
After giving the Chevy some color and picking out the wheels, they moved on to the underpinnings of the hot rod. To give the ’55 a more modern ride, they went with a brand-new chassis from Art Morrison fitted with Wilwood four-piston calipers that clamp down on 13-inch rotors at all four corners.
To power this show-stopping Bel Air, David wanted to keep it old-school so Heartland freshened up the 350ci engine David had picked up awhile back. They did a 0.060-inch overbore that brought the displacement up to 383 ci and threw on a set of stock heads with slightly larger 1.94-inch intake valves. To complete the engine and head upgrade they installed a mild cam and roller rockers. Sitting in the vee and taking care of the air and fuel is an Edelbrock 750-cfm carb atop a Weiand high-rise intake while an MSD electronic ignition distributor gives the engine spark. After the air, fuel, and spark run their course, a 2 1/2-inch exhaust with Borla mufflers evacuate the gasses out behind the car. The engine, while not too wild, provides David with substantial power: 375 horsepower to be exact.
A couple more engine add-ons were included to go along with that traditional hot rod vibe: body-matching paint, Billet Specialties air cleaner and valve covers, and a serpentine kit from March. Bolted to the small-block 350 is a slightly beefed-up 700-R4 with a shift kit by King’s Transmissions in Wayne, Oklahoma.
Inside, the cabin of the ’55 follows suit with a clean and classic look. The stock seats and door panels are covered in red and white Ultraleather with matching red carpet supplied by Daytona. Heartland put together the dash using a gauge cluster from Classic Instruments.
One year after he dropped the car off at Heartland Customs, David finally saw the completed Bel Air in all its glory. Jeff entered the ’55 in a local car show on June 25, 2009, for its big reveal but let David come to the shop earlier that day to see it for the first time. “Jeff told me to get there at 11 a.m., and not before,” David remembers. “Of course I got there at 9.” Luckily, they already had the car under a cover and made sure he didn’t get anywhere near it.
They made him wait all the way until 11 o’clock and when they finally pulled the cover back and David saw the car, it took his breath away. “I went to my knees and cried like a baby,” says David. And to put the icing on the cake, the ’55 Chevy took Best of Show later that day. To this day, one of his best memories with the car was when he took his father for a ride in the new-and-improved Bel Air his father had given him 39 years ago.
That was then and this is now. David still loves the car just as much as he did that first day. In fact, his wife started calling the car “The Other Woman” because he says hello to it every time he gets home and tells it goodnight when he goes to bed at night.