One of the best things about welcoming new young people to the rod and custom scene is the fresh perspective they bring with them. Untainted by decades of rituals, rodding rookies are much more willing to break many of the hobby's unwritten rules. Like the one that says you should avoid old Mopars-and four-door sedans. Texan Kent Ladner ignored both of these jewels of rodding wisdom when he applied a host of modern custom tricks to a '55 Plymouth Belvedere, creating the slinky sedan shown here.
"I've been around hot rods and Harleys all my life," Kent says, "but since the early Nineties I've been building mini-trucks with a custom car feel. I wanted to build something different and learn a different aspect of building a car-more of the welding and bodywork side of things. I ran across this Plymouth and thought I could make a good-looking car out of it."
The mini-truck influence is pretty obvious from the sedan's frame-scraping stance and 20-inch Bonspeed wheels. Kent used an air-bagged '98 S-10 Blazer front suspension and custom-built two-link 'bagged rear for the initial drop-but didn't feel it was low enough. "I had to have the rockers on the ground," he says, "so I cut the floor from the firewall to the end of the trunk-from rocker to rocker-and started rebuilding the entire inside. I bought a MIG welder, plasma cutter, and a roll brake and shear combo and went to work!" The mini-truck guys call this "body dropped." Traditional custom guys say it's "channeled." No matter how you phrase it, though, this Plymouth is LOW!
The Belvedere was already mildly customized and had a small-block Chevy and TH350 in place when Kent got it. An auto technician by trade, he rebuilt the mill using a Comp camshaft, Edelbrock intake, and Barry Grant carb and eventually swapped in a freshened 700-R4 transmission. After a year of driving to shake down the drivetrain and suspension, Kent got serious about finishing the rest.
"My friends and I sat out in the garage many nights tossing back cold ones just thinking of what to do to the body," Kent says. "I ripped the car apart and started re-shaving the handles and re-doing the previous rust repair. Somewhere during this time my wife and I went to the SEMA show, got married, and won some money playing blackjack. The next day I found a rotisserie, so I bought it knowing it would come in handy.
I got back from SEMA, pulled the body from the frame and started doing the finish work on the underside. Then I started working on the top-cutting the roof off and TIG-welding it back on to remove the driprails. I remade the windshield surround so the glass would glue in like a new vehicle. I hated the taillights so I got rid of the chrome trim, rounded the fins and made taillight lenses from red Lexan. I filled the gas door, relocated the filler to the trunk and removed the wing windows to have one-piece door glass."
Several friends helped Kent with the bodywork before Chris and Bruce Eshelman stepped in to perform final prep and squirt the '98 Audi Lazer Red finish. The underside of the car was sprayed with a color-matched truck bed-liner coating for extra protection and sound deadening. The rolling chassis was also thoroughly detailed with paint and powder-coat before the body returned to the frame.
Kent had even more ambitious plans as the Plymouth neared completion. He wanted the car to be completely switch free-no ignition switch, headlamp switch, window switches, air bag switches...nothing! With the help of a Fusion Brain controller, Kent wired up an in-vehicle computer system that allows him to direct most functions through a dash-mounted monitor-just point and click! Kent's mom Vickie made her contribution to the project by stitching covers for the quartet of bucket seats and sewing the edging on the custom carpet.