Ted Meyle loves his wife. So much that a few years ago, he and his significant other, Ellen, both decided it was time for her to get a car she could take to the dragstrip after he rebuilt it. Back in 1998, the Meyle's were browsing around at the Maple Grove Super Chevy show swap meet and they stumbled upon the perfect specimen. The victim was a 1959 Bel Air, which they found sitting on a trailer, sans engine and transmission, with an interior that looked like something from a B-rated horror movie. However, after giving the car a good look, Ted (who owns a `60 Packwood wagon he restored and races-notice a pattern here?) realized the '59 had virtually no major body damage or signs of weathering (a rare case this far north). This single factor convinced Meyle that the car was worth refurbishing. The Bel Air also contained a slew of new parts in the trunk, parts that would later be used in the build-up. Cash changed hands, and the Meyle's had their bracket racer/show car project.
For the Bel Air, Ted decided on an alternative power source, something with a little more power than the stock motor. "Four-oh-nine cars always fascinated me," Meyle says, "but I'd never built one. I decided on a dual-quad 409 bracket racecar." Meyle went with a '65 model 409, a later example of the sometimes famous/sometimes notorious motor.
Ted did the engine assembly himself, with carburetion via a factory dual four-barrel intake setup (With Carter WCFB's, each with a 650 cfm rating), Ross 11:1 compression pistons, and an Isky cam and lifters. The motor was bored .030-over to bring displacement up to 413. According to Meyle, the Bel Air makes somewhere between 409-425hp, and recently ran a best time of 12.07 at 111 mph, "on a nice day," Ted explains.
The transmission is a '70 GM 3-speed Turbo 350, attached to a custom one-piece driveshaft Ted created himself. The original driveshaft on the '59 Bel Air was a two-piece unit, a component that Ted felt needed an upgrade. Meyle decided to switch to a one-piece driveshaft that included the elimination of the original support and some steel near the center of the frame. Meyle then re-supported the frame with two similar driveshaft loops.
The interior received a major treatment from Jim Hartman Upholstery in Telford, Pennsylvania, with fresh seats, panels, and carpets that retain the original turquoise hue. Everything else on the inside is factory, save the dash-mounted tachometer that helps Ellen shift at the appropriate rpm and an oil/amp/water combo below the appearance-only radio.
The body was repainted the original color combo and the body, with its distinctive styling, is unaltered.
"I originally had doubts about the car being consistent," Meyle says, "but it's still running great." His dream of building a predictable, old-technology, bracket racer appears to have come to fruition. Ted recalls the 2004 Maple Grove Super Chevy show as one of his favorite memories in the still-fresh restoration. He ran five rounds in Super Pro (electronics) and sent three dragsters home, and then ran seven rounds in Heavy Eliminator (no electronics) and six in the D.O.T. class.
We're sure Ellen has some fun in the Bel Air as well; her name is stenciled on the driver's-side window. Watch out Maple Grove locals, you could be the lovely Bel Air's next victim. "It is what it is," Ted says. "I wanted to build something unique, and I'm proud of what I've done."