One of the main goals for early customizers was to make their used or inexpensive Fords and Chevys look like newer, more upscale makes and models. The best customs succeeded, and a few went even further, taking on the air of exclusive coachbuilt creations.
Rob Gerring had similar aspirations when he started his '50 Chevy coupe project. "The whole idea in the design was, 'what if Cadillac produced a compact coupe in the '50s?'" Rob says. Visions of GM dream cars and early Barris brothers customs also danced in his head when he bought the then-mild custom in 1997.
It would have been easier just to leave things alone. The Chevy already had a Nova subframe, small-block power, and shaved trim and handles when Rob got it. He cruised it in that mild-custom form for a while, but soon began collecting pieces-namely, a '50 Cadillac parts car-for the dream car makeover he'd envisioned.
Cadillac fins, a Dagmar-style front bumper, and chopped hardtop roofline were all part of the original blueprint. Rob soon learned, however, that some modifications are certain to snowball into more. "After the fins were on, the decklid was out of proportion, so it was reskinned with the Caddy decklid to smooth out the lines," Rob says. The nose posed similar challenges. "Sectioning the hood was in the plans from day one; it's too tall in front," Rob continues. "After the hood was done the headlights were too high on the fenders, so they were lowered one inch and extended two to flow with the '56 Cadillac front bumper."
The DD-sized bumper frames a handmade grille opening filled with steel mesh and grille bars pirated from a '57 Pontiac decklid. Seemingly countless other body mods include rounded hood corners, molded lakes pipes, '55 Pontiac trim, flush-fit fender skirts, and a frenched '55 Pontiac rear bumper. And let's not forget the chopped, pillarless top, which incorporates a '50 Olds windshield, one-piece door and quarter windows, and '41 Mercury rear glass.
A former body shop owner, Rob did some of the sheetmetal work himself, but quickly credits Tom Brown and John Uselton for design and fabrication help. "Gary Brown did a fabulous job straightening the body and getting the door gaps in line," Rob adds, not to mention a first-rate effort in spraying the House of Kolor Cinnamon Pearl and Snow White Pearl colors.
Unlike many customs, this one got equal attention inside. "Dave Martinez's interior is better than anything I would have come up with," Rob says. It begins with a custom dash dominated by Morgan Barclay's handcrafted grille and a '50 Nash instrument cluster. Then there's '64 T-Bird seating covered in off-white and textured copper vinyl, bisected by a custom console complete with rotary telephone. Trim from various cars accents the side panels and console, while a color-matched double-neck guitar provides show-prop flash in the back seat.
Like GM's '50s dream cars, Rob's Chevy has garnered much recognition since its completion late last year, earning honors like the Alexander Brothers Award at the Detroit AutoRama, first place in the ISCA's Postwar Radical Hardtop class, and a Custom Rodder Top 10 at Goodguys Columbus. Spectators love the Chevy, too-they gather wherever it appears. Many even mistake it for a Cadillac, a sure sign that Rob's "baby Cad" experiment is a success
Rob GerringElkhart, Indiana'50 Chevy coupe
Chassis: The Chevy chassis utilizes a Nova subframe, Air Ride Technologies air springs, and Fatman Fabrications control arms up front, with a 10-bolt rearend supported by a triangulated four-link and air springs. A Corvette master cylinder controls the disc/drum brakes.
Wheels & Tires: Stock 15x7-inch steel wheels are topped with '50 Cadillac hubcaps and wrapped in 185/70R15 BFGoodrich Silvertown radial whitewalls.
Drivetrain: The '72 350 small block was in the car when Rob got it. It's detailed with body-color paint and has an Offy intake, Edelbrock carb, HEI ignition, chrome Corvette valve covers, and a '53 Cadillac air cleaner. A 700-R4 overdrive does the automatic shifting duties
Body & Paint: Let's start at the top, which is chopped 4-inches with custom side glass (pillars and vent windows removed), a one-piece Olds windshield, and '41 Merc rear window. Up front, a modified '56 Cadillac bumper is teamed with a custom grille opening and '57 Pontiac trunk lid trim bars. The hood is pie-cut (2 1/4-inches in front) and has rounded corners, and the frenched headlights are dropped (1 inch) and extended (2 inches). The original trim and beltline moldings are gone; '55 Pontiac stainless now dresses up the flanks. Molded lakes pipes and custom fender skirts lead you back to the '50 Cadillac fins and taillights. There's a custom scoop in the '50 Cad trunk skin, and the '55 Pontiac rear bumper is "frenched" into the body. Rob got help from Tom Brown and John Uselton on initial bodywork before Gary Brown (Brown's Metal Mods, Indianapolis) straightened things out and sprayed the House of Kolor Cinnamon Pearl and Snow White Pearl hues.
Interior: Dave Martinez of Martinez Custom Upholstery in Indianapolis stitched the off-white and textured copper vinyl over '64 T-Bird buckets and custom rear bench. A custom console rests between the seats and has a faux aluminum insert and rotary telephone for a period show car touch. The dash centerpiece is a '50 Nash instrument cluster and pod; it's surrounded by a chrome-plated custom grille made from copper by Morgan Barclay. A Chevy van tilt column supports a LeCarra wheel with a recessed clock in the modified horn ring. Extras include Southern Air A/C, stealth Custom Autosound tunes, So-Cal knobs, and a color-matched double-neck guitar in the back seat.