Rod & Custom Feature Car
Cecil De Aro
1954 Chevrolet Bel Air
Beneath Cecil's dropped-top Bel Air lies a modified-stock, fully adjustable chassis, courtesy of JBC (Riverside, CA). Features include a Fatman Fabrications IFS with stainless control arms top and bottom and a custom-made, triangulated four-link. All four corners have been fitted with Firestone airbags from RideTech, which are now operated with a one-off control system. Using a CPP frame mount brake pedal kit (dual-chamber master with 8-inch booster) helped eliminate the stock pedal-cylinder setup and facilitate 11-inch disc brakes up front (drums in the rear). While the stock steering box was replaced in favor of a power rack-and-pinion, the stock column was retained (shifter mechanism and all) with the aid of Flaming River stainless U-joints and an ididit cable shifter linkage kit.
Forgoing the unmistakable rap only a straight-six-uncorked, of course-could make, knowing his '54 would serve as his daily driver, Cecil opted against traditional inline power. Instead, his Bel Air is now equipped with a V-8 of the small-block Chevy variety. Machined and assembled by Nick Martinez at Magnolia Center Machine (Riverside, CA), the 350 features center-bolt iron heads, Edelbrock Performer induction (in EnduraShine finish), HEI ignition, Mooneyes finned center-bolt valve covers and cast air cleaner, and a polished Billet Specialties TruTrac serpentine system. Completing the drivetrain are a TH400 automatic rebuilt by Louis Aguilar at Budget Transmission (also in Riverside) and a 10-bolt GM rearend.
Wheels & Tires
For everyday driving, which Cecil claims he'll be doing with the '54, a set of BFGoodrich Silvertown radial whitewalls will be the rolling stock of choice. For the photo shoot, however, the radials were swapped out for 6.70-15 Firestone bias-plies (both from Coker Tire). While the latter definitely fit the bill looks-wise, there does come a time when appearance is sacrificed for performance-at least on the roads of Southern California, that is. In either case, the '57 Cadillac hubcaps atop stock 15-inch steel wheels remain a constant.
Body & Paint
Although the top chop is without a doubt the center of attention, JBC saw to quite a number of modifications below the belt line on the Chevy: nosed and peaked hood, shaved handles, frenched head/taillights, decked trunk, etc. While the front bumper is stock (albeit with filled holes), the rear is a combination of stock and '56 Chevy, which necessitated making a custom splash pan as well as integrating a Riviera license guard to surround the relocated plate. Of the side trim that was retained, the rear quarter spears now feature a Mother of Pearl veneer. Literally coated in candy-House of Kolor Candy Apple Red, not basecoat candy-the Bel Air features a level of paintwork few customs could ever dream of.
To avoid undermining the candy exterior, JBC farmed the Pearl White interior out to Henry at The Upholsterers in nearby Riverside. Chrome accents, such as the garnish moldings combined with red carpet and piping, avoid any overstatements, yet the interior still affords driver luxuries like air conditioning (Vintage Air Compac II), power windows and seats (late-model buckets sandwiching a '60s Ford center console), and a decent sound system as well, thanks to Dallas at Al & Ed's. With the exception of the speedometer, stock instrumentation has all been converted to electronic. Glass work was done by John Ray at Glass & Related Trim (Riverside, CA).