Nostalgia has a funny way of skewing history. Though many of us like to remember the '50s as an era jam-packed with chopped and sectioned leadsleds, the fact is that most street customs-those driven daily by high school students and working Joes-were decidedly more mild. Radical cars made the magazines, but high school parking lots were filled with lowered, stock-bodied rides that maybe got a nose-and-deck job after one paycheck, then frenched lights and a custom grille after the next. They'd follow up with some cool paint and be good to go.
In the late '50s and early '60s, Max and Belia Baker cruised the streets of Oklahoma City in one such mild custom-a red '55 Chevy hardtop with shaved emblems, lakes pipes, wide whites, Lancer caps, and a Corvette grille. A cool ride to be sure but Max eventually had to sell it in the name of family bliss and practicality. Memories of the double-nickel Chevy never left Max's mind, however, so in the mid-'90s he tracked down an eligible project car, dug up a few faded snapshots of his old cruiser, and delivered everything to Steve Cook Creations in Oklahoma City.
The intent was not to re-create the old car in a strict sense but to build a modern interpretation-the type of ride Max might've assembled in 1960 if today's aftermarket parts had been available. To that end, the partially smoothed frame is set up with Heidt's dropped spindles and Air Ride Technologies Shockwaves up front and relocated Posies' leaf springs augmented with more Air Ride Technologies goodies in the rear. Big, bad Baer brakes can be seen through the 18- and 20-inch, Nitto-wrapped Billet Specialties wheels, while power comes from a ZZ3 crate engine-another modern iteration of a classic '55 Chevy offering.
The Bel Air is a lot more faithful to its predecessor on the outside, where you'll find a Corvette grille, reworked side trim, and shaved handles and emblems. Other subtle tricks include a frenched antenna, Nomad rear bumper center section, and an extended peak on the shaved hood. Custom-mixed red PPG paint covers the body, contrasting nicely with the tan leather upholstery (stitched in '50s-style tuck 'n' roll) on the Glide bench seat inside.
Sometimes, just a hint of nostalgia is all you need. For Max Baker, a few mild body mods and some tan tuck 'n' roll are the subtle touches necessary to set his contemporary Bel Air apart from scores of resto rod Tri-Five Chevys. It's a comfortable mix of yesterday and today, one that allows Max to visit the past without having to live there.