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1961 Chevy Bel Air - Off By A Year

Look Closely, This '61 is In Disguise

Tony Kelly Sep 1, 2001
Sucp_0109_07_z 1961_chevy_bel_air Front_view 2/6

Jim Johnston of Tulsa, Oklahoma, admits he has received more than a few comments and questions about putting a '62 frontend on his '61 Bel Air. All he says in response is "I wanted a mild custom, I liked the '62 frontend, and that's what I used." That's great with us, although we admit to being fooled at first glance. What first looked like a bubble top '62 turned out to be this remarkable '61 Bel Air.

It was almost four years ago that Jim first saw this car parked at the side of the road. It had a fair amount of rust and wasn't running, but Johnston and wife Shirley saw through all that to envision what the car has become. For the pricey sum of $800, the Johnstons dragged their project home. Their car was sold new to someone in Anca City, Oklahoma, and it was last registered to the original owner in 1976, so Jim and Shirley are actually the second registered owners!

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After three years of work, this unique '61 rolled out for the first time, and since then has taken many car-show awards and honors, not the least of which were two class trophies at the Memphis Super Chevy Show in April of this year. Not that it's a garage queen though. With it's ZZ/502 Chevy crate engine running a Comp Cams roller cam compatible with the Street and Performance Tuned-Port unit, and a Muncie four-speed transferring the power, this is a car that is a blast to drive. For comfort, the interior is done in ultra leather, which we can attest is as soft as a baby's skin. The 502 Rat takes up so much room in the engine compartment that a power brake booster wouldn't fit, so Jim went with a Master Power large piston master cylinder instead, which slows this big beauty down "right away."

This Bel Air gets better the longer you look at it. Jim says the only thing he would do different is to install a "409" motor. Well, Mr. Johnston, keep looking along the side of the road, there's probably another old Chevy for you to get started on.



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