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Dick Bales 1962 Chevy Bel Air Hardtop - Inside His Bubble

A Look at Dick Bales' Beautiful "BalesAir" Bubbletop.

By Dale Amy, Photography by Dale Amy

If you love automotive craftsmanship and near-obsessive attention to the slightest detail, sit back, relax, and spend some quality time poring over our photos of Dick Bales' remarkable '62 Bel Air hardtop. The more you look, the more you'll see. And if you're anything like us, the more you see, the more you'll like.

Part of this bubbletop's genteel southern charm-Dick makes his home in South Carolina-stems from its disarming subtlety. This full-size masterpiece doesn't beat its own chest and shout at you with screaming red paint, flames, or prominent hood scoops. Quite the contrary; its introverted Sunlight Gold Opal finish just kind of lures you in for a closer look, probably after that muscular rolling stock has piqued your attention. Those jaw-dropping Schott Velocity Cover-Loc rims are 19x8.5 inches in front, 20x10 out back, and skinned in 225/45R19 and 275/45R20 Goodyears, respectively.

But as handsome as those wheels are, they're just one aspect of a world-class overall presentation. Check out the oh-so-discreet cowl induction system at the base of the windshield-just a small example of the masterful metal manipulation performed by Don Jacks of Sheetmetal Fabrications. Other made-to-order touches on the exterior include custom-made front and rear bumpers (with a filler panel between the trunk and rear bumper) and removal of the fuel door from the rear quarter panel (the filler is now accessed from inside the trunk). The acres of body panels have been painstakingly fitted for proper and consistent gap, all factory badges and lettering have been exorcised, and even the taillight lenses are custom, with LED illumination.

This mature and understated bodywork serves to accentuate the simple brilliance of Chevy's bubbletop design, something that first caught Dick's eye back in '63 when a buddy had one. When Dick finally found one of his own, he and some close friends spent two years perfecting a project that started out as "disassembled and in boxes."

The sleek body now rests on a platform that is much stiffer than Chevy's original X-frame design, thanks to its new perimeter-frame center section fabbed up from 2x4 tubing. Stock-style front and rear frame sections are grafted to this new centerpiece, wearing tubular A-arms and a NASCAR-style anti-roll bar up front. Out back, a Moser Engineering 12-bolt axle is located by a 1-inch triangular four-bar setup. Adjustable Bilstein/Eibach coilovers, front and rear, give that low, length-enhancing ride height, while 13-inch, 6-piston Wilwood discs at all four corners are worlds ahead of anything the factory could have even imagined back in 1962.

Now let's lift that two-tone hood using its trick aluminum Camaro hinges, and have us a peek underneath. We think you'll agree that hospital operating rooms have nothing on the surgical spotlessness of the engine bay, with its shockingly uncluttered firewall, inner fenders, and radiator sheetmetal making you wonder just how that shiny big-block can possibly run. But run it does, with 800 hp and 700 lb-ft on tap, thanks to its generous 598-inch displacement built around a cast-iron Dart block and Callies steel crank by Billy Moose (who used to build engines for Darrell Waltrip).

In between the CNC-ported Pro-Filer alloy heads sits a one-off single-plane intake that was custom manufactured by Kenny Thompson to be low enough to fit beneath the hood. And we love that handcrafted air breather that harkens back to vintage NASCAR setups, and draws cool air from the cowl. Kenny also built the custom long-tube headers (with their black ceramic finish from Foxfire Coatings), while Bales and Jacks tag-teamed on the rest of the 3-inch exhaust system. And yes, this brute has got A/C for those sultry South Carolina summers, specifically a Vintage Air Gen IV system, along with the company's Front Runner accessory drive setup. Downstream of the big-block sits a Tremec TR3550 5-speed spinning a Dynotech 3.5-inch aluminum shaft, and a 3.73 gearset with Eaton posi in the Moser 12-bolt axle.

Not to be outdone is the amazing custom interior, for which much of the credit goes to Paul Atkins Interiors in Hanceville, Alabama. Spend some time ogling our cabin photos, and mentally compare what you see there to what Chevy installed in any run-of-the-mill '62 Bel Air. Where to start? Have a look at the dashboard, which is actually a prototype of Atkins' new Dashworks line for '61 and '62 full-sizers. It is filled with a sextet of the new, vintage-style All American Nickel series of gauges from Classic Instruments, yet also features the thoroughly modern touch of an engine start button. The steering wheel, which has the same light and airy lines as the car's bubbletop roof, is from a '66 Corvair.

Oh, and check out the metal "BalesAir" script on the dash and rear seat divider, made by Dick's good friend Bobby Richardson, who also fabricated a number of other parts and, along with Steve Allen and Dude Moore, helped Dick assemble the whole project.

Matching the exterior paint in subtlety, the upscale upholstery is primarily skinned in pearl-colored leather with contrasting smoke inserts, while the door panels are a three-dimensional design, with door and window handles (along with the floor pedals) carved out by Clayton Machine Works. The console is also of Atkins design, featuring a leather-booted custom shifter and an interesting round Clarion stereo head unit. Even the trunk area is beautifully finished, yet it reflects Dick's "simple and functional" approach to this flawless build.

One of the questions our Super Chevy tech sheet asks owners is, "What would you do differently if you were to build this car over again?" Dick's answer? "Nothing." And we couldn't agree more with this affable southern gentleman on that one. There's little need for change if you've done things right the first time, and it's not hard to see that Dick's "BalesAir" bubbletop was supremely well thought out and impeccably executed, ending up as the perfect interpretation of a classic design.

By Dale Amy
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