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1962 Chevy Bel Airs - Old School-New School

Runnin' Rusty Symmes And His Historic Bel Airs

Doug Marion Aug 17, 2007
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Indiana's Rusty Symmes personal checklist is very long and impressive-he's been a Chevy performance addict for 45 years. So what was his very first car? Try a 1962 409. Some 15 years later, he was one of the very first to restore a 1962 Z-11-equipped Bel Air "bubbletop." This was back in the late '70s. We met him at the Late Great Chevrolet Club's annual convention a few ticks later, where his white-over-red 1962 Bel Air was the absolute buzz of the event.

Since then, Symmes has also claimed ownership of a pair of 1963 Z-11 427 lightweight Impalas, a 1969 L72 427 iron motor Camaro, a 1969 ZL1 aluminum motor Camaro, a few more 1962 Bel Airs and a 1962 Chevy II station wagon. This story focuses on his "new school" Roman Red 1962 Bel Air drag car and his "old school" Nassau Blue Z-11-equipped 1962 Bel Air show car.

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The red car is powered by an 880 hp, 485 cubic-inch Chevro-let W-engine built by the car's driver, Verlin Hale. This torrid Bel Air was built to run in the NSCA's Pro Nostalgia class. To date, it has run 9.04 at 148mph. This makes it the quickest and fastest "all motor" 1962 Chevrolet in the USA. It weighs 3,250 pounds with the driver thanks to a carbon fiber front end and doors from VFN Company in Addison, Illinois. Jerry Bickel Race Cars built the chassis, four-link setup and wheelie bars. Hale did the exquisite body work and paint.

Lexan windows and one-off aluminum inner fenders helps the hefty Bel Air have a lower weight. The interior has a Jerry Bickel roll cage, RCI racing seats with RJS safety belts and window net, a Grant steering wheel and Auto Meter tachometer and gauges. A big Stroud parachute helps the four-wheel disc brakes stop the car.

Shifts are made via a G-Force four-speed manual transmission. A Ford 9-inch rear end carries a 5.57:1 gear ratio, spool, and huge 40-spline axles from Mark Williams. American Racing wheels rotate Goodyear front tires and Mickey Thompson slicks aft.

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Rusty Symmes' Nassau blue Bel Air was a standard 409/409 sport coupe when new. He then spent six years buying N.O.S parts and pieces to make the car a "brand new" Z-11 with special heads, two-piece induction, and an aluminum front end and components. He enters it in various car shows for all to enjoy.

Symmes' 430-hp, Z-11-equipped 409 Bel Air sport coupe show car is one-of-a-kind. The car was sold new to a gentleman from Fort Smith, Arkansas, at McDonald Chevrolet in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. It was raced locally for a while and years later it was sold to Symmes. With his interest in 1962 Chevrolets, Symmes set out to equip this Bel Air with as many new-old-stock parts and pieces as possible. Some of the N.O.S. items include the entire exhaust system with ultra rare resonators, four-speed T-10 shifter assembly, radiator core support, all driveline running gear including 15-inch wheels, dash trim, engine pulleys-everything he could find in a six year period during the late '80s and early '90s. Symmes reports that the Z-11 heads and induction are mint, as is the open element breather assembly. His Bel Air scored 996 points out of 1,000 possible at a Late Great Chevrolet club convention.

Taking it a step further, Symmes also collected car shipping slips, tags, a reproduction window sticker and dealer extras add-on sticker. He even found N.O.S. clear plastic to cover the front bench seat to replicate what the factory did when cars were new. Hale assisted Symmes and Scott Beaman did the Nassau Blue Bel Air's primo body and paintwork.

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Two things: Because there are many red 1962 Bel Air drag cars, Symmes painted his black, though we'd rather see him add stripes or a white roof. Secondly, as a member of the high school class of 1962, Symmes remembers drag racing season when the factory actually offered a "kit" to install a fuel-injected 327 Corvette engine and heavy duty driveline into 1962 Chevy II coupes for A/FX competition and station wagons for B/FX. Both Dyno Don Nicholson and Bill Thomas built coupes to some notoriety. We have not seen these cars since they were new, so Symmes plans to build a B/FX station wagon reproduction. That ought to be pretty neat. Stay tuned.



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