A love affair with hot rods and customs generally starts at an early age. For someone growing up in the '50s and '60s, these first loves were easy to come by. Terry James is still just as passionate about this love as he ever was. When he retired and needed something to keep his idle time occupied, the search for a new project quickly started.
His first thoughts turned toward a buildup of a '49 Chevy Fleetline with the old-school look. It wasn't long before he found one in Idaho and brought it home to Southern California. It had some major rearend damage, but nothing out of the realm of Terry's talents. After having the car media-blasted, and cleaning and painting the frame, a friend came over to his shop and wanted to buy and restore it. Terry sold it to him and started the search again.
A short time later, during a weekly garage gabfest, another friend, Darwin "Whitey" White, told Terry he wanted to sell the '49 Chevy Fleetline he had purchased a few months prior from a guy who drove it out from Oklahoma to Riverside, California. The car was an all-original driver in very good shape with a running bone-stock 216 motor and three-on-the-tree.
Terry didn't drag his feet on the purchase or starting the rebuild. The fastback was quickly stripped down to the bare shell. Terry found the body to be in overall good shape. The left rocker panel had already been replaced, and a new passenger-side rocker was in the trunk so he went ahead and replaced that along with the rear passenger wheelwell area. All of the floors were in excellent condition, so Terry started repairing the necessary body parts and welding some of the trim holes where he decided to remove the stainless trim. The headlights and taillights were frenched by Whitey before Terry finished preparing the body for paint.
Attention was then turned toward the frame. Terry stripped it, installed the Mustang II frontend with dropped spindles, cut out and reinforced the X-member area (for easy removal of the transmission if needed in the future), boxed various areas, then cleaned and painted it.
Terry has always liked the looks of a Buick Nailhead under the hood, so he decided to replace the running 216 engine with a '66 425 Buick Nailhead. It wasn't long after rebuilding the Buick that Terry found out the idea was going to turn out to be quite a project, as the Nailhead was a lot larger than the previous motor and was going to require modification to the engine compartment. Some bracing was cut out, the firewall area was reskinned, and the motor mounts and radiator core support were modified.
After the Chevy was painted, upholstered, and mechanically finished, Terry took it on a few testdrives around the neighborhood. The Chevy performed flawlessly and was ready for its first car show. Much to his surprise (but not ours), it won an award and numerous compliments. Since that maiden voyage, the Fleetline has been driven regularly to various car shows and pleasure trips. It has also received several awards and numerous compliments from the general public and other car builders, which has made all the hours and hard work worthwhile. Although it was a lot of work and very time consuming (which all of these projects are), the Fleetline met all of his expectations and more. It's no wonder these love affairs continue.