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Devil With A Double Huffer

This Killer '56 Bel Air Has It All!

By Grant Peterson

Darwin Groesbeck played his cards right when he was putting together his wife's '56 Chevy convertible. He bought four other '56s to use for parts during the ragtop's build, and then sold what he didn't need along the way. Selling things off, like the stock running gear, allowed him to break even on all the car parts, and he still had enough left over to put together another Tri-Five. That "leftover" car just happened to be a '56 Bel Air with a decent body. It was basically free at this point, so really, it would have been rude not to build it.

Darwin decided to have Jim Meyer Racing in Lincoln City, Oregon, build him a chassis for the '56. The crew put together a bulletproof setup that starts with a heavy-duty independent frontend with tubular A-arms, rack-and-pinion steering, and 11-inch disc brakes. Follow the "Silver Sparkle" metallic powdercoated frame toward the rear, and you'll find the Meyer-designed four-link, along with a 9-inch Ford rearend that carries a 3.70 Posi third member, and 31-spline Dutchman axles. On each end of the housing there are Explorer disc brakes and coilover shocks.

With a name like Darwin and a car like this, it's hard not to talk about evolution. Setting ethics and religion aside, this '56 has evolved considerably from what it once was, due partly to one of the most unique features--its powerplant. The stock 265-inch small-block was easily replaced with a 502/502-crate motor, almost twice the cubes and at least four times the power. As if the 502 wasn't enough by itself, Darwin wanted to set it apart by mating not one, but two Paxton superchargers to it. All of this was done using a modified Paxton airbox and a Holley 850-cfm carb. Oh yeah, there is also a nitrous system for when he needs even more. The power from the Rat runs through a 4L80E gearbox with a shift improvement kit.

You would think that the engine bay would be crowded at this point, but there was still enough room for the A/C, power steering, and Doug's Headers, which drop down into appropriate Flowmaster mufflers.

Phil and Ivan Leatherman of Extreme Automotive in Corona, California, were responsible for the ingenious and superb fabrication that went into the '56. There are so many little touches and tweaks throughout this car. Starting with the underbelly, they made all new floor pans out of heavier gauge steel with some different contours in it that flows up into a smoothed firewall and engine compartment. The stock three-piece front bumper was shortened, turned upside down, welded together, and had its edges reshaped, which all together made it look lower to the ground, as well as fit the car more precisely. Pair that with the '56 Nomad bumper out back, and you'll find people scratchin' their heads if they can figure it out that far. The grille is an old customizer's favorite out of a '54 Chevy; funny how it looks at home in the Bel Air. The car was nosed and decked with the exception of the Vs that serve as the perfect garnish for and aft. Now, focus your attention to the smoothed driprails that were contoured to match the chrome "flippers" that seal off the top of the door glass on each side. Notice just above the back glass there is a very tasteful use of a '58 Impala roof vent, which has been made into a functioning third brake light with LEDs. Inside the body, the Leatherman team made a full-length center console to house the air ducts and wiring. To cover the 18x11 Boyd Coddington Smoothies and Nitto rubber out back the rear wheelwells were tubbed. After all the fab work was done to everyone's satisfaction, Phil and Ivan finished the meticulous body and paintwork that is to die for!

To add another notch on his belt, Ron "The Stitcher" Mangus covered the interior, including his custom-designed seats, in black and grey leather, as well as the dash, which is filled with VDOs Millennium gauges. The center console now holds the controls for the power seats, power windows, sound system, and the shifter.

Right at the end of the 2 1/2-year build, Darwin and his wife Janice took the Bel Air to the '05 Grand National Roadster Show in Pomona, and took home runner-up trophies in the Pro-Street Class, as well as Best Undercarriage, which is no walk in the park at that show. In fact, Blackie Gejeian was so impressed that he picked the '56 to be in his Fresno Autorama the following March, and if you know who Blackie is, that comes as a big compliment. Hopefully, you can catch the Groesbecks sitting still long enough to check out the "Double Huffer." If not, you'll be hard-pressed to catch up with this double-blown wonder machine.

By Grant Peterson
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