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Tom Izzo Couldn’t Find a 1962 Bel Air Bubbletop So He Fabricated One

When your dream car isn’t out there, build it

Evan Perkins Nov 24, 2017
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Tom Izzo is the owner of Speed Inc., a Chicago area shop that wrenches on late-model cars all day long. They install heads, cams, and blowers on customer cars and tune them on the chassis dyno. But when it came to his personal project, he craved something decidedly more classic: a bubbletop 1962 Bel Air. “I always loved the lines of bubbletop cars,” says Izzo.

Arguably one of Chevrolet’s most beautiful and unique body styles, bubbletop cars remain highly desirable, with even the most rust-clad examples fetching premium rates. Rather than pay the popularity or metal-repair tax for an original, Izzo took another path. “I met a guy who had done some roof conversions at his shop,” said Izzo. The idea of body morphing a non-bubbletop car seemed feasible so he pulled the trigger, asking West Coast shop Molina Customs (California) to source a donor car. They came through with a rust-free 1962 two-door post car found in Fresno, California.

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There, Ryan Gomez worked the hammer, dolly, and welder to graft a bubbletop roof, donated from a rusty ’61 sports coupe, seamlessly onto the ’62’s upper half. When the sparks cooled, the car had the factory-perfect bubbletop styling Izzo was gunning for.

The project, off to a great start, returned east to have the exterior finished. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse when the car arrived at the body shop, which Izzo chose not to name. “[The car] sat there for months and months before I got it back,” he said. But when it was finally painted and returned home, Izzo was met with more bad news. “As I was installing the trim, the 3M Strip-Calk was pulling the paint right off the car,” said Izzo. Thinking it was an isolated incident, he tried applying trim in a few other spots and was met with the same stomach-churning outcome.

It was a gut punch that put the project-car timeline 180 degrees off pace, but Izzo was determined and found a helping hand willing to make things right.

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“I took it to a friend’s shop, Countryside Customs, and they had to take the car back to bare metal,” said Izzo. That took time, but the second body shop followed through and delivered the car in a perfect, period-correct coat of Nassau Blue. Twenty months after dropping it off at the first body shop Izzo was finally able to button up the engine, suspension, and other mechanical components to put the car on the road for the first time.

Under the hood, he went with a Texas Speed 409ci LS long-block—but this isn’t a typical LS swap. “It’s so easy to put an LS in any GM car,” said Izzo. “We make what we do stand out.” And stand out it does. The engine plays the period part perfectly, wearing a factory 409ci, dual-quad air cleaner up top and Hooker cast-iron exhaust manifolds on the bottom to deliver the appropriate aesthetic. The factory air cleaner feeds into dual ACCEL throttle bodies and an engine that displaces an exact 409 cubic inches—just like the original would have. Custom Wiseco pistons, measuring 4.035 inch, combine with a 4.000-inch-stroke K1 crankshaft to deliver the magic number.

Under the floorboards, subtle upgrades such as Viking coilovers, Wilwood brakes, UMI rear control arms, and a Borgeson power steering box conversion help the car perform better on the road without adding unneeded performance. “I wouldn’t call it a Pro Touring car because it’s not,” said Izzo. “It’s a driver. It starts up every time, doesn’t leak, and has the best body lines.” The rear axle is a Moser housing with a Strange centersection, 3.70 gears, and an Eaton posi unit to help the car deliver its ample power to the pavement. The parts list is a booster shot that helps the already-potent Bel Air remain a performer in an automotive environment its 1960’s designers could have never imagined.

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The interior features more blue and more factory-style appointments. Izzo did the brunt of the work but had the seats and headliner redone by Mapes Upholstery. The shifter is from the original Bel Air four-speed, modified for the six-speed transmission. The bench seat and column-mounted tach are nods to the performance-first factory options so often prioritized on these cars. An ididit column supports a refurbished factory steering wheel, and Billet Specialties pedals provide a functional splash of design.

One of the most unique and commendable aspects of the build is what Izzo didn’t do. He didn’t tub the inner fenders, chop the frame, or flare the wheelwells. In fact, the list of things he didn’t do is pretty long. “Trends come and go,” said Izzo. “You can change the color, the wheels, and the engine, but I always wanted to be able to go back.”

It’s that love and admiration for the original car that led Izzo to preserve as much of its identity as possible. Respect for the canvas. That’s pretty cool. CHP

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Tech Check
Owner: Tom Izzo, St. Charles, Illinois
Vehicle: 1962 Bel Air

Engine
Type: LS small-block
Displacement: 409 ci
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Bore: 4.035 inches (to achieve “409” displacement)
Stroke: 4.000 inches
Cylinder Heads: PRC 247cc
Rotating Assembly: Texas Speed (K1 crank and rods, Wiseco custom pistons)
Camshaft: Speed Inc. (specs proprietary)
Induction: Holley EFI dual-quad manifold, ACCEL throttle bodies
Ignition: Stock coil packs, MSD plug wires
Engine Management: GM computer, custom tune
Exhaust: Hooker exhaust manifolds, custom stainless tubing, Flowmaster mufflers
Built By: Texas Speed
Tuned By: Speed Inc.
Output (at the wheels): 472 hp at 6,200 rpm; 433 lb-ft at 4,900

Drivetrain
Transmission: TREMEC Magnum six-speed, LS7 clutch, modified factory four-speed shifter
Rear Axle: Moser 9-inch, Strange centersection, 3.70 gears, Eaton posi

Chassis
Steering: Borgeson 600 power box conversion
Front Suspension: Viking coilovers, Hotchkis antiroll bar
Rear Suspension: UMI Performance control arms, Viking coilovers
Brakes: Wilwood disc brakes front and rear, stock master cylinder and pedal assembly, Billet Specialties pedals

Wheels & Tires
Wheels: 1970’s GM 15x7 front, 15x8 rear
Tires: BFG 215/70 front, 255/60 rear

Interior
Seats: Original, restored
Upholstery: Mapes Auto Upholstery
Instrumentation: Stock
Steering: ididit column, restored original wheel
Carpet: OE-type, blue
Shifter: Modified factory Bel Air shifter

Exterior
Paint: Original GM Nassau Blue
Paint By: Countryside Customs
Hood: Stock
Grille: Stock

Photos by Dominick Damato

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