There are two schools of thought to building mild customs. One is to add so-called "custom" ingredients-spotlights, '59 Cadillac taillights, cruiser skirts, and crazy paint. The other is a subtle, subtractive approach in which the car's lines are simplified by removing or restyling elements that distract from the overall design.
The former method may win the "wow factor" contest, but the latter generally results in a cleaner, more cohesive cruiser that'll look good for the long term. It's an especially smart approach when you've got a ride like Brandon Pillard's '58 Chevy, a car some folks regard as factory custom.
Brandon bought his low-mileage Chevy in 1996, a few years before he got his driver's license. Even in stock form it was a distinctive cruiser at his Kansas high school, but Brandon knew it had more potential. Maybe it was his art background that helped him see something deeper in the Chevy's design. Maybe it was his reverence for customizers like Barris, Watson, and Hines. Regardless, Brandon knew the car could benefit from some subtle restyling. Executing that vision was another matter.
"Finding a body shop to do the kind of work I wanted turned out to be a difficult task," Brandon says. "Local shops were reluctant to take on such a project-they could make more money on deer accidents. Through word of mouth we found Gary Gerberding at The Body Shop in Grand Island, Nebraska. He had the knowledge, experience, and tools to do the car the right way. Gary had many great suggestions on things we could do to customize the car and be a little different than everyone else."
The first steps were simple enough-shaving the hood, deck, door handles, and emblems. The Body Shop crew also removed the front fender "louvers," punched real louvers in the hood, relocated the fuel filler, filled the body seams, smoothed the firewall, and frenched two antennas in the rear quarter. Knowing what to add to the simplified design was more of a challenge. Brandon and Gary eventually decided to french '59 Pontiac taillights in back and replace the stock stainless grille with a heavier, die-cast '60 Olds version.
The end result is a "smoother, sleeker car," Brandon says, an understated custom that gets cooler the more you study it. Even the PPG Vanilla Shake color whispers at you instead of screaming. Pop open the doors, however, and your eyes may need time to adjust to Phil Hartzell's gorgeous red-and-white upholstery-a bright contrast to the subtle exterior.
Despite outside appearances, the Chevy isn't completely stuck in the past. " I knew the '58 had to have some comforts," Brandon says. "I wanted to add things like air conditioning, power steering, and disc brakes. And I knew it had to be low." To that end, it's fitted with four-wheel air springs from Air Ride Technologies, Master Power disc brakes, factory-style power steering, a reliable 350/700-R4 drivetrain, Vintage Air climate controls, an ididit column, and a Custom Autosound stereo.
At last summer's Mid-Americruise, people kept referring to Brandon's Chevy as "that cool Impala." Only it's not an Impala; it's a Biscayne, one of Chevy's cheaper models for the year, and a sedan at that. In our view, getting mistaken for a more expensive car is not only a sign of quality craftsmanship, it's also a testament to a successful custom design strategy.