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First-Time Repeat: Dan Cervantes’ 1956 Chevy Bel Air

Rob Fortier Feb 26, 2018
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Despite being one of the most popular—and repurposed—movie poster taglines of all time, George Lucas' "Where were you in '62" has certainly struck a lot of reflective mental chords for folks over the years. Some of us were yet to be conceived, while others may have distinct views of a completely different America. For Dan Cervantes it was about that time that he became a licensed driver—his first set of wheels: a 1956 Chevy Bel Air post. (At the time, it was only a 6-year-old car, which in my generation's case would probably equate to a Chevy Citation!) Thirty-odd years later, Dan found himself staring down the hindquarters of yet another Bel Air hood bird, but this time it was attached to a hardtop in need of a full restoration.

That was back in 1998 when Dan acquired his second 1956 Chevy. The restoration, however, had to be put on hold for a couple years, because in order to perform everything that needed to be done with adequate space he had to build another two-car garage—himself. "I had limited experience constructing a big garage like that," Dan admits, "and even less experience restoring or rebuilding a car, so I had to build it big enough for all the tools and equipment I needed to do the job."


With the first rather large obstacle out of the way, anxious to see his visions of a mild custom hardtop, Dan jumped headfirst into the project—before he knew it he had the Bel Air torn down to a body-off starting point. While the sheetmetal was out for a chemical dip, the frame got smoothed out, painted, and with the help of his friend Steve Campbell, assembled back to a roller with its updated suspension (later on, a rear two-link with a full AccuAir ride control would get installed), CPP disc brakes, and crate 350/700R drivetrain from the local Chevy dealership. Steve stuck around long enough to lend a hand with the bodywork as well—but when it got to the point where it was ready for paint, that was when Dan felt it was probably a good time to bring it to someone a bit more experienced in that line of work.

Dan didn't have to travel far from his home in Lake Mathews, California, to find the right shop; Jimenez Bros. Customs (JBC) is just few miles east down the hill and around a few corners in Riverside. However, the close proximity convenience was soon overshadowed when he was told that in order for JBC to paint the 1956 they would have to redo all of Dan's bodywork—all of that hard work (and Bondo) that he and Steve labored over would be stripped down to the underlying surface they started from. (That isn't saying the owner's work was no good, rather, that's really the only way for a custom painter to stand behind his work, let alone know what he's working with. But nonetheless, Dan was not the least bit happy about it.) In the process of re-prepping the Bel Air, JBC ended up shaving the handles and fabricating an elaborate core support cover mimicking the front contour of the hood before applying the blue and white two-tone that Dan says he put a lot of thought into choosing.


Ultimately, JBC wound up completing the build for Dan, who by now realized that's what it would take in order to finish the Chevy at the level of quality it needed to be. This final phase also included a trip over to see Alan Hickman at the Audio Shoppe for the custom sound system install—with package tray speaker grilles fashioned after the Bel Air dash inserts and a fully detailed trunk enclosure containing the amps and subwoofers. Then it was sent down the street a few blocks to The Upholsterers' Henry Torres for its proper blue and white pearl Naugahyde tuck 'n' roll job.


The next stop after that: whatever direction Dan points the steering wheel and lights off those wide whites. Whether it's a local cruise night or big show out of town he keeps that odometer rolling. And since the car was completed, Dan has continued to add to his experience level by helping his son build a 1953 Chevy pickup as well as a friend's 1948 Chevy coupe—and by the time you read this, he and his sons should be well underway with their next project, a 1948 Chevy Stylemaster and those are the kind of experiences that really matter.


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