Lately it seems that all street rods are powered by Chevy engines within Ford bodies. Die-hard Chevy enthusiasts don't seem to think that's the way it should be. In the last few years there has been a strong trend towards turning '50s and '60s musclecars into street rod style machines. It's a refreshing trend that has seen many people pushing the envelope.
One such muscle-rod builder is Jim Ward, of Seaside, California. Jim was already a little against the grain when he built his '34 five-window Chevy street rod (many of his buddies were cruising '32 deuce coupes and other early Blue Oval rods). When Jim showed up with his awesome '62 Bel Air, people didn't know how to class it. It wasn't a restoration (though it still had the classic styling). It wasn't a brute musclecar (but it has plenty of power). And it doesn't fall into the street rod category, as that designation has been reserved for pre-'49 vehicles.
When Jim set out to find a classic Chevy project car he talked to a local farmer who was selling a '61 Impala. While they were looking over the car, the man mentioned that he also had a '62 Bel Air for sale. Jim bought both and carted them home. The '62 was a numbers matching 327, four-speed car. Jim came to like the idea of building the '62 better than the '61. After a week of driving the '62 the decision was made; Jim sold off the Impala and went to work on the Bel Air.
From the get-go Jim envisioned a rod-style cruiser with modern power and all the luxuries his '62 lacked when it came with from the factory. Work was begun on a frame-off project. While the body was worked smooth, the frame was modified to accept a stock LS1 engine and 4L60E transmission from a '98 Camaro (which was wrecked with only 2,800 miles on it). The engine and transmission were installed and removed seven times before Jim was happy with the mounts.
Working with the General's design, Greg and Robert of G&R Auto Body smoothed out the effects of nearly 40 years of use. Time had been remarkably kind to the body of the Bel Air, making the work much easier. When there was no block-sanding left to do, the shell was sprayed in PPG Calypso Red, a color borrowed from the BMW line.
On the inside, nearly four boxes of sound deadening material were used to help keep noise to a minimum. The interior was installed by Santana Interior of Diamond Springs, California, and is a beautiful mix of modern thinking and classic design. Believe it or not the front bench is actually the factory frame with custom padding and covered in German vinyl.
After a year of shows Jim decided to upgrade the wheels to 17-inch '95 Grand Sport 'Vette style rollers, wrapped in Bridgestone rubber. The proper altitude was achieved using a full air suspension system from Air Ride Technologies.
The Air Ride system isn't the only trick item found on Jim's '62. In addition to an array of dress up items (including those carbon-fiber coil covers from Performance Automotive and the custom billet grill) there are a few unique, purposeful components found on the Bel Air. Probably the most interesting is the Hydroboost power brake system (borrowed from a '98 Pontiac), which alleviates some of the space concerns associated with installing a conventional power booster on these early '60s big-bodied cars.
Building this stellar '62 has inspired Jim. His current project is a '61 wagon that, he says, will replace his pickup as his daily driver when finished. With an unmodified modern powerplant and the timeless lines of the '62 Bel Air, we'd say his classic rod is already a great car for daily driving.