"Every time someone asks why I built a ’56, I always have a memorable moment,” said soft-spoken Frank Devlin, squinting like he was in some kind of ethereal light. “I tell them that my oldest brother Jim taught me how to drive in his ’56, and in honor of him, I built this car. Then my eyes immediately start watering … because I know he is looking down and enjoying the ride! And it went beyond my brother’s 210. Growing up, I had an older friend who had a ’56 with a Corvette engine.”
Consider that Frank’s had a lot of experience with this old stuff, too. “Since I was 15, I’ve bought, sold, and owned over 60 cars, or maybe I just stopped counting.” Arlington, Texas, isn’t a holler from Wichita. Although I-35 is handy, there are at least 300 country miles between the two burgs, so he knew the drill. You stay as close to your project as possible, over the phone, on the airways, over the transom, or maybe a piece of string and a couple of Dixie cups. Frank Devlin’s Wichita connection is Devlin Rod and Customs and principal—and nephew—Tim Devlin in particular.
So a friend of Tim’s had a line on a car for him; there was a 210 hardtop somewhere in the environs of Mulvane, Kansas. Tim found the pile, struck a deal, as it were, and the car was handled gingerly as it was dragged onto a trailer as if the thing might just disintegrate before their eyes. Yeah, it had more rust than the Titanic, but hey, there was an upside: the quarters were jammed with license plates and chicken wire. As for the most challenging part of the build, Tim just shuddered and croaked “the RUST.”
Frank Devlin wanted a completely refurbished automobile. He didn’t want a slayer. He wanted a cruiser. He wanted all the systems to shine with modernity and beauty, so the cheesy 60-year-old 2x4s underneath the 210 would have to go away. As a modern rendition, the car needed modern ’rails. Art Morrison’s GT Sport chassis promised integrity, responsiveness and the solidity required for crisp handling and smooth passage out in the hinterlands. It offers Mustang II type mechanicals in front and accommodates either a solid axle or a variation of independent rear suspension. Old-school Frank put a straight-axle version under the ’56.
The lads at Devlin—Ryan James and Kevin Carr—did most of the sheetmetal finishing, smoothed the body, cleaned the stainless trim, and devoted an inordinate amount of time making sure all the gaps between the sections were die-straight. They sent the other stuff, including the custom one-piece bumpers to be chromed to Sherm’s Custom Plating in Sacramento, California. Ryan James took residence in the paint booth and applied the BASF R-M Diamont Lexus Red Mica and corresponding clearcoats.
In fact, the appearance of the 210 was the primary goal. As you see, the cherry pops like a weasel, clean, flowing lines as enabled by astute vision and a clear head. A good example of this is the bumpers that have been turned from the bumperettes and three original sections into a single piece. Note that the side trim was shortened to fit the tucked rear bumpers. Rather than use big billet wheels, Frank remained somewhat faithful to the period with 17-/18-inch American Torq-Thrusts. Another silent trick is the tinted glass, which subdues the bulk of the greenhouse and merges it with the body.
But Frank doesn’t live in the engine compartment or back by the gas filler cap hidden beneath the left-hand taillight (a cool custom touch in its own right). When he’s high-ballin’ the interstate he wants comfort and convenience in a hushed, relaxed setting. He wants the same cues he saw when he was a teenager learning to drive. He nulled the “idiot light” syndrome with instruments that fit within the original theme, not a strip of them hanging off the dash. He wanted a little sumptuousness to go with his nostalgia.
Scott Downey provided that, upholstering the original seats in leather. Frank wanted a Hurst shifter by his side and a Billet Specialties steering wheel in his hands. Scott put up two-tone leather door panels and side panels, and to bring the tableau together, he laid down gray cut-pile carpeting.
Unless you’re strictly hard core, you probably want to hear more than the tedium of the engine and the bark of the mufflers, so Frank stocked the pit with a Pioneer outfit complete, from head unit to rear speakers, and spiked the system with a 200-watt Infinity subwoofer. The Hot Rod Air HVAC keeps the atmosphere temperate because everyone knows that a cool, relaxed driver tends to be sharper than one distracted by debilitating blather he often cannot control.
Frank’s 210 went beyond expectation. It took about two years to complete and the first time out, in 2011, he won a Goodguys award. A year later, his cherry wound up on the cover of the Goodguys fan guide. Brother Jim would be proud.
|Owner||Frank Devlin, Arlington, Texas|
|Vehicle||1956 210 Hardtop|
|Cylinder Heads||OE cathedral port, 2.00/1.55 valves|
|Rotating Assembly||OE nodular iron crank, powdered metal connecting rods, hypereutectic pistons|
|Valvetrain||OE roller rocker arms, 1.7:1 ratio|
|Camshaft||OE hydraulic roller (0.500/0.500-inch lift; 200/203-deg. duration)|
|Induction||OE composite intake manifold, Rock Valley 18-gallon stainless tank, internal fuel pump|
|Exhaust||Art Morrison (AME) stainless steel equal-length long-tube headers, 1 3/4-inch primaries, 2 1/2-inch system, MagnaFlow mufflers|
|Ancillaries||Street & Performance (Mena, AK) accessory drive, Performance Rod & Custom aluminum radiator core/module with dual fans, Affordable Street Rods wiring harness|
|Output (est)||400 hp|
|Machine Work/Assembly||Street & Performance|
|Tuner||Street & Performance|
|Transmission||T-56 six-speed assembled by Street & Performance, GM flywheel and hydraulic clutch assembly, Hurst Competition Plus shifter|
|Rear Axle||Strange Engineering 9-inch, 4.10:1 gears, limited-slip differential, 31-spline axles, Keisler Engineering driveshaft|
|Front Suspension||AME GT Sport chassis, spindles, and 1-inch antisway bar; Mustang II-type suspension; Strange Engineering coilover shocks|
|Rear Suspension||AME four-link, Strange Engineering coilover shocks, antisway bar|
|Brakes||Wilwood 12.19-inch rotors with four-piston calipers (front and rear), Wilwood master cylinder and booster|
|Wheels & Tires|
|Wheels||American Racing Torq-Thrust II 17x8 front, 18x10 rear|
|Tires||BFG g-Force KD 245/45 front, 275/40 rear|
|Upholstery||Scott Downey, Downey’s Auto Upholstery (Wichita, KS)|
|Seats||OE, SSnake-Oyl seat belts|
|Steering||AGR box, ididit tilt column, Billet Specialties 14-inch Chicayne wheel|
|Shifter||Hurst Competition Plus|
|Audio||Pioneer DEHP400VB head unit, Pioneer 600-watt four-channel amp, 4x6 coax speakers (front), Pioneer three-way 6x9 speakers (rear), Infinity Bass Line 200-watt 10-inch subwoofer, installed by Devlin Rod and Customs (Wichita, KS)|
|HVAC||Hot Rod Air|
|Bodywork||Ryan James and Kevin Carr at Devlin Rod and Customs|
|Paint By||Ryan James|
|Paint||R-M Diamont Lexus Red Mica|
|Bumpers||Custom 1-piece by Devlin Rod and Customs|
Photos: Grant Cox