You probably don't know Paul Savelesky's name. He wasn't a big-time custom car builder like Barris or Roth or Starbird. He was just an ambitious young enthusiast from Davenport, Washington, on a common quest to craft the coolest car he could. His custom '55 Chevy was sharp enough to earn scores of car show awards and nearly a dozen magazine appearances between 1960 and 1965. It's about to chalk up one more.
Paul was just out of high school when he bought his Bel Air hardtop in 1956. It was his everyday driver, so at first he kept the modifications simple: shaved handles, hood, and trunk. Paul's expertise in electronics influenced the Chevy's gradual custom evolution as he added high-tech features like a remote-control starting system, dashboard-mounted television, safety locks that engaged at 20 mph, and electric door switches activated by shining polarized light into a dash-mounted receiver.
By the late-'50s, the Chevy's ongoing makeover included vertically mounted '59 Chevy headlights, a chrome mesh grille, '58 Ford side trim, '59 Chrysler taillights, '55 Pontiac front bumpers mounted in back, and Arctic White paint. Paul also treated the cabin to custom upholstery and dropped a '57 'Vette mill between the fenders. It was enough to earn the Bel Air a feature in the May 1960 issue of Rod & Custom, where we called it "one of the nicest Chevys to ever grace these pages."
Paul didn't stop there. He conceived more modifications to ready the Chevy for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. With help from friends, Paul repositioned the quad headlights at canted angles, installed a widened Corvette grille in a custom opening, frenched in aircraft wingtip lights for turn signals, and added another pair of Pontiac bumpers to match the rears. A trio of antennas was frenched into a heart-shaped opening and the rear license set into a scoop on the trunk lid before the car was sprayed with a beautiful candy blue finish.
Inside, the Chevy was updated with handmade bucket seats that swiveled electronically when the doors opened. Under the hood-which opened with an electric screw motor-Paul installed a tri-power '59 Buick Nailhead to help earn those coveted engine swap show points. His efforts paid off, as the Chevy, now dubbed Miss Elegance, won top honors in the Semi-Custom Hardtop class and a Best Engineering trophy at the World's Fair show. It went on to appear in the May 1963 issue of Hot Rod as the Automated Custom, and was featured in the July 1963 issue of Car Craft as the Hi-Volt Stovebolt.
Paul's custom fever cooled in the mid-'60s and he eventually sold the award-winning Chevy. The car disappeared to Canada where, unbeknownst to Paul, a new owner repainted it candy tangerine, added mag wheels, and showed it off and on for another decade. Then it went into hibernation for the better part of 25 years.
In 1998, Paul got a phone call from someone in Canada who described his old custom in detail. The guy said he was researching the car so he could sell it. Paul could hardly believe his ears. He had often wondered about the Chevy's fate and, like many of us, had wished he could buy back his old car. Now, nearly 35 years later, he had the opportunity. It didn't take long to seize it.
Though the Chevy was remarkably well preserved, Paul initiated a thorough restoration. This eventually included repainting the car in its original blue color. Amazingly, he was able to leave the original early-'60s upholstery untouched. Even more impressive was the fact that virtually all of the electronic features Paul had designed and installed in the '60s were intact and functional.
When Paul passed away a couple years ago, his widow Anna began searching for a caretaker for his custom Chevy. She found the perfect candidate in Mark Moriarity. A custom car fan to the core, Mark has owned and restored many historic customs, including Ed Roth's Rotar and Road Agent. His current stable includes a clone of Roth's Outlaw, an original Roth-esque bubbletop show rod called the Futurian, and a mild custom '61 Chevy and '70 Impala. Mark is also currently restoring the Bill Cushenbery-built Car Craft Dream Rod.
"Part of the decision process for buying the '55 is how it fits in my collection," Mark says. "The car was shown at the same time as the Car Craft Dream Rod and the Trendero. It was a natural fit because it is an old show car, but even better because it can be driven on the street. Also, there is an image of that car in a show in the early '60s forever burned into my brain, I saw that photo in a magazine as a teenager and thought it was the perfect custom '55. I can't believe how lucky I am to get to own it. I just know that Paul is ridin' shotgun."
Not only is Paul's custom creation enjoying time on the street again, it's also restoring its winning reputation. It took home top honors-the 777 Custom Crown Award-on its first major outing to the 2008 KKOA Leadsled Spectacular in Salina, Kansas. It's reassuring to know that, 50 years later, the legacy and craftsmanship of an ambitious enthusiast named Paul Savelesky endures.