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.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Terry And Joyce James
Mira Loma, Ca
1949 Chevrolet Fleetline
Terry retained the original frame, boxed it, and modified the X-member so it could be removable if the trans ever needed to be serviced. A Fatman Fabrications Ultra Low IFS with a power rack and 2-inch dropped spindles with 11-inch discs was installed along with KYB shocks. In back, Terry installed a '78 Ford 8-inch using the original leaf springs (rebuilt and powdercoated) with 2-inch blocks and KYB shocks. A Walton Fabrications pedal assembly works the CPP booster and master cylinder. A Rock Valley 16-gallon stainless tank replaced the stock tank in the stock location.
It didn't take Terry long to realize the straight-six wasn't going to satisfy his inner hot rodder, so he found a '66 Buick 425ci Nailhead and Turbo 400 combo. Once the engine was machined and balanced, Terry reassembled it with the stock bottom end but added 10.25:1compression TA Performance pistons and a Schneider cam. The short-block was then topped with a Buick dual-quad intake and a pair of Edelbrock 500-cfm carbs with Moon air cleaners. Stock aluminum Buick valve covers and modified brackets were installed along with an Offenhauser valley cover. A U.S. Radiator four-core brass radiator keeps it running as cool as it looks.
Wheelsmith solids (15x7s and 15x8s) with '53 Olds flipper 'caps and BFG radial wide whites (195/75s and 235/75s) provide the perfect look.
Paint & Body
The Fleetline body didn't need much more than a simple nose and deck job, headlight frenching, and a handle shave to look good. A flush-mounted power antenna and Gene Winfield custom taillight lenses (Terry added LED lights) were added bonuses. Once Terry had the body in shape, he sent it over to Choice Auto Body in Corona for a few coats of Sherwin-Williams '76 BMW Orange, and then had Dave Wittel at California Designs in Norco lay down some lines.
The stock '49 Chevy dash was cleaned up and complemented with a Haneline insert with a five-in-one gauge set as well as a custom radio and Vintage Air vent panel by Whitey. A '59 Impala wheel keeps the custom theme going atop the '78 Chevy van tilt column. The stock seats and custom door panels were tucked and rolled in Tangelo and French Vanilla vinyl by Mark and Henry Torres at the Upholsterers' Shop in Riverside.