Each and every project has its beginning. Bob Nelson's started back in 1960 ... well, the initial phase did. As with many a custom, there's a first version, usually built or driven during one's formative adolescence, and then there's the second rendition, which on rare occasion is the same car restored. That, unfortunately, would not be how the tale of Bob's Chevy hardtop played out. But nonetheless, the story does ultimately have a good ending. Read on.
"It all started in Burbank, California, where I was originally from," Bob recollects. "My first custom was purchased in 1960 when I was 17 years old ... it was a '51 Chevy hardtop that I chopped, tunneled, and C-notched along with a dropped spindle kit. I accumulated about 17 tickets in five years for being too low in that car! In 1972, I ended up selling it for $600."
For some, that's where the story would end-for Bob, it's merely a detour point ... a 28-year diversion at that. "I started to look for another hardtop in 2000 and finally found a 1950 Chevy hardtop in San Luis Obispo [California] four years later. It needed some help, so I took it to my son Darin's shop." Both Nelsons now reside and work north of Burbank up the 101 freeway in Ventura. While Bob's an engineer, his son builds custom cars, and, according to his father, he can do it all. Well, six years ago, Darin may not have totally agreed with that.
"When I told Darin that I wanted him to chop it just like my old '51, he looked at me and said, 'You got to be kidding?!'" Bob wasn't kidding, and in fact had some other ideas in mind for his Chevy than just a chop 'n' drop. So while Darin deftly tackled the lowering of the lid-no easy feat with a hardtop, as we all know-he also incorporated a mobility aspect to the project: "My son noticed I was having problems getting in and out of the car after it was chopped." This is where the suicide doors were added to the to-do list. "The easy part was ordering the hinge kit from Carolina Custom," Bob says, "but the hard part was watching Darin install it and modifying the doors to have enough room for the windows to go up and down."
After the younger Nelson had completed all the major custom and fab work (including a '49 grille retrofit and installation of '56 Buick trim), Bob had his good friend Tommy Brizula perform the finish bodywork and paint. Bob recalls, "When Tommy was almost done with the bodywork, I called him and said, 'I gotta have those Watson-style taillights ['54 Merc upside-down] on my car.' So I took all the books and mags I had with old pictures of Larry Watson's 'Grapevine' over to Tommy's shop. I also called Randy Rhodes, who did the clone of the car [second panel-painted version]. He was nice enough to send me pictures and details of how he installed the taillights."
Well, apparently Darin Nelson is the jack of all trades his father makes him out to be. Once Brizula had sprayed the indigo blue and white and all the brightwork (by Paul's Plating in Evans City, Pennsylvania) had been put in place, Darin did the upholstery-yeah, the period-correct tuck 'n' roll job you see here before your eyes. Now that's some talent, wouldn't you say?!
There is one last detail that Bob emulated from his former ride-the low ride. This time around, however, he gave himself a little elbow room to avoid that one negative aspect he repeatedly dealt with on the streets of Burbank back in the day. With RideTech-assisted adjustable suspension, Bob can hopefully avoid the slew of fix-it tickets that plagued him in the past. Along with the airspring setup, notched rear frame, and a Mustang II frontend, the car's underpinnings are equipped with a back-dated Chevy 250 inline-six (made to look like a 235 with various modified parts), complete with an Offy 3x2 setup running a trio of Rochester B-series carbs flipped 45 degrees to eliminate the bell crank/transverse linkage. Backing the six is a Borg-Warner T5 manual trans and a Ford 9-inch rearend.
The highlight of the build? "Probably when I drove out to Larry Watson's place in Victorville to show him the car," Bob says. Bob may not have realized it at the time, but looking back at it now, that indeed has to be one of the greatest highlights.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1950 Chevy Hardtop