When we first approached Dave Spear about featuring his car in Rod & Custom, his first question was, "What attracted you guys to my car?" Fortunately we didn't have to fumble for an answer as we had a statement ready for him. We told Dave, "We were drawn to your car because it so closely follows a theme." And what exactly is that theme, you ask? That theme is the exact appearance of a 1959-60-era custom with any and all mechanical upgrades kept well hidden underneath the car.
On this type of car it's easy to let the radials, Mustang II front suspension, and modern overdrive automatic transmission all slide because they do not take away from the illusion of a "period correct" custom. Elements that make Dave's car so dead-on are the artistic blending of factory body and trim pieces from a variety of mid-'50s production vehicles all wrapped up in a perfect hue, in this case being a mid-'50s Packard turquoise and white combination.
Additionally, it's also what elements the car stays clear of that would detract from the desired illusion. These facts are made all the more remarkable when you are made aware that Dave built the Chevy to do battle in the indoor show car circuit where all the latest gizmos, widgets, and custom finishes are almost mandatory.
It was in fact the progression of the single-purpose indoor show car that once made the early custom cars almost extinct when they kept getting wilder and, in some cases, uglier to compete. Nonetheless, Dave's Fleetline takes it all back to the era before points were awarded for each and every body mod, to a time when customs were still crafted as an improvement of the OEM style and these creations actually led the factories in sweeping lines and graceful shapes.Dave's relationship with his Chevy began 25 years ago when he found the '52 in a wrecking yard, rust-free and nearly complete--just a little neglected. On the first go-round the car was restored back to totally stock condition, and, as time progressed, a mild custom flair began to evolve. First it was a few extra teeth in the grille and shaved door handles, and then the original driveline was replaced with a built 235, four-speed trans, and a '55 Chevy rearend. The custom bug bit a little harder in 1988 when the quarter-panels were reworked to accept '56 Chevy taillights with one-piece custom lenses, and the headlights were frenched into the front fenders. This lasted until 1994 when the car was completely torn down for the ground-up rebuild it shows off today.
Working with available time and money, the Spear family reworked the chassis while Jim Stutz worked on the body. The lower half of the body--with the Oldsmobile grille, frenched '52 Ford headlights, and '54 Packard taillights--was completed in 2000 when Jim unexpectedly passed away. The car was put on hold until Rich Wilson was located to take over the difficult chop and hardtop conversion, which uses pieces from a '54 Chevy hardtop to pull it off. Rich also narrowed and fitted the '59 Impala dash before Mike Burkhardt was tapped to handle the paint.
Many different pieces of stainless trim from various makes and models were used, and Chris Border was the man who meticulously welded them together to make them look as though they all came stock from the factory. Chris also handled the reworking of the narrowed '53 Chevy front bumper and the '50 Pontiac unit on the rear that were both flipped upside down from their original mounting positions.
The chassis underneath is a total custom, too, with the filled and smoothed '52 'rails mated to a Heidt's IFS and a '57 Olds rearend mounted with '50 Olds trailing arms. Once the modifications were complete, the frame was given a slick coat of silver paint and Dave's son Chris at his shop, Kustom Rides, put everything together with chrome fasteners. Sticking with a period engine for his period custom, Dave stayed with the six-cylinder, this time using a built 261ci version, again assembled by Kustom Rides.
The finishing touch that ties the whole car together and transports you back in time is the interior. It's straight out of the classic custom era with white pearl vinyl covering the original seats and door panels. The previously mentioned narrowed '59 Impala dash is complemented with a '60 Oldsmobile steering wheel and column hung underneath.
So far Dave has fought the brave fight on the indoor show car circuit doing very well against some of the "three-ring circus" vehicles with over-the-top displays and rotating turntables, and he plans to do one more season before putting the '52 back on the road where it belongs. Long live, the classic custom.
Dave and Sandy Spear
Beaver Creek, Oregon
1952 Chevy Fleetline
It's funny how the engine that makes the most sense is the last one you'd expect to find under the hood of Dave's Chevy. The '52 has run an inline six since day one, and today a warmed-over 261ci version assembled by Kustom Rides (Gresham, OR) makes its home between the framerails. A dual water-cooled Edmunds intake and an Isky "3/4-race" cam breathe into a 0.030-over bored block that's also been dressed up with a finned aluminum valve cover and a ceramic-coated Fenton cast iron header. The remainder of the driveline consists of a Chevy 700-R4 transmission from Bowtie Overdrives and a '57 Olds rear filled with new axles from Strange.
Even though the exterior is pure early custom, the chassis is up to date with a Heidt's Mustang II IFS, rack-and-pinion steering, and Wilwood disc brakes. The stance is adjustable both front and rear at the push of a button with a full air bag system from Air Ride Technologies. The rearend is held securely in place by a pair of '50 Olds trailing arms.
Wheels & Tires
No fancy "bling" in this department because nothing other than wide whites surrounding a tasteful hubcap would fit the bill. In this case Dave used a set of 15x7 steel wheels mounted with a set of 205/75R15 Coker Classic white walls. Four bullet accessorized '56 Pontiac hubcaps finish the package.
Body & Paint
Obviously the biggest amount of work went into blending the many different pieces together in one perfect custom, and Dave tracked down some very talented craftsmen to make it happen. The first to work his magic was Jim Stutz, who handled all the custom bodywork below the beltline. This included frenching the '52 Ford headlight rings, installing the '50 Olds grille with a '53 Studebaker floating grille bar, '54 Packard taillights, sectioning the quarter-panels 3 inches and adding '50 Pontiac and '57 Desoto side stainless. Above the beltline Rich Wilson handled chopping the top 2 inches before adding pieces from a '54 Chevy for the conversion to a pillarless hardtop. The '56 Packard turquoise and white paint was applied by Mike Burkhardt (Gresham, OR) and after final assembly and detailing by Chris Spear, the '52 was ready for its big debut.
Sliding behind the steering wheel is one of the closest experiences you will get to a time machine any time soon. You instantly feel time roll back and can almost see a packed drive-in with car hops hanging orders for burgers and cherry Cokes on the window sills of adjacent cars because that's just how period correct the interior of Dave's Chevy looks and feels. In front of you is a narrowed '59 Impala dash, and in your hands is a '60 Oldsmobile steering wheel. Underneath and all around you is white pearl vinyl on the stock seats and under your feet is turquoise carpeting. Not quite the elusive Fountain of Youth, but certainly the closest thing on four wheels.