This is a story of coincidences, really. But it's also an interesting comparison of a trio of '50s rodded Chevys that are quite similar--yet different. The fact that they are owned by three cousins, and that they happen to be '52, '53, and '54 Chevy two-door post models, is coincidental.
The story goes back to what we might call the third coming of this magazine, when it reappeared after a long hiatus in December 1988. I was the new editor, and our direct competition was Street Rodder, which at the time had a cutoff year of 1948 for subject matter. So, given the more inclusive title of R&C, my intention was not only to feature '50s cars of the custom persuasion, but also to strongly push the building of '50s cars as rods, because they were extremely plentiful, affordable, easy to work on, and exactly what a lot of us drove to high school.
But at that time--it's kind of scary to think it was more than 20 years ago--there was very little available in the aftermarket for these cars, especially in the way of suspension, brakes, steering, engine/trans mounts, cooling systems, and so on. So R&C did three things. First we ran several articles like "Best Buys in '50s Cars," "How To Buy a '50s Car," and so on, showing prime examples. We also had artists sketch cool ways to rod (or customize) them, and I vouched that I would promote and publicize any kits or components the aftermarket would develop for these cars. To do this, I figured what we needed was a '50s project car to illustrate all of the above.
Unfortunately, I still had my grandfather's fat '48 Chevy four-door (among other things) in my garage and didn't need another project of my own. But it turned out my cousin David Ganahl had his grandparents' car sitting in his mom's garage. It was a clean, one-owner, '53 Chevy two-door that my friends and I wished we could have got when we were in high school. David inherited it, drove it for a while, and then let it sit. He was very amenable to having the magazine (i.e., me) "fix it up."
So Project Shoebox Chevy debuted in the August '89 issue, and it became the guinea pig for a whole gamut of how-to stories ranging from the now-ubiquitous Mustang II suspension and 350/350 combo to everything from media blasting, metalworking, custom paint/rubout to electric wipers and hidden trunk latches. This car's construction was fully covered in 20 articles, finally ending with a color feature in the November '93 issue. David and his wife Amy have been driving it ever since.
A further coincidence is that all three of these Chevys were "born" right here in R&C. After finishing Dave's '53 and having given my daily-driver '60 VW to my son, Bill, who had just turned 16, I realized that I needed a new project and that I should follow my own advice. So we ran an article in the May '94 issue titled "The Big Deal," in which I went shopping and found 30 '50s cars within a $3,500 price range, and bought a one-owner, no-rust, perfectly straight '52 Chevy, with original pink slip, plates, and owner's manual, for $1,500. In that article I also showed a couple photos of a very clean and complete '54 Chevy, noting that my "cousin-in-law Bob bought it for $1,700." Bob Walker is married to my first cousin, Vicky. I passed on the '54 because it had little dents all over it and the asking price was originally higher. But it turned out (coincidence) that Bob knew the owner and snatched it at a better price. He had a 305 TBI driveline out of a Trans Am to install and gave me the 235, three-speed, and necessary extras like the clutch and shift linkage to install in my Powerglide-equipped '52.
One of the reasons I got the Chevy in the first place was because I had plenty of Chevy six goodies, and my intention was to build an economical daily-driver with a mildly hopped-up six and the original driveline, much like I would have built in high school. With the 3.54:1 '52 rear, the rebuilt '54 engine (with two carbs, headers, and Isky cam), and trans and the stock front suspension lowered with Fat Man dropped spindles, I did just that for several years. Some Posies springs lowered the back; I put the American five-spokes on it that I couldn't afford as a kid, made my own set of scavenger pipes (we used to call them "cheaters"), and had Dave Gade upholster the inside with lots of white tuck-and-roll with green piping--something else I'd always wanted. I had already chosen a new Lincoln dark metallic/pearl green color for it, but somehow the paintjob kept getting put off. Surprisingly, the dingy original green lacquer buffed up nicely, and I had Stan Betz color-match it to spot in where I molded off some chrome. If you're a longtime R&C reader, you might remember articles in the July '94 and February and November '95 issues showing these modifications as I turned the car into my daily-driver. It ran great, was quite comfortable, got well over 25 mpg, and also got plenty of thumbs-up on the freeway for about 10,000 miles.