Many of us dream of taking a once-in-a-lifetime journey across the country in a cool hot rod or custom. Bob and Maggie Klessig are living that dream—mile after mile after scenic, winding, and expansive mile.
For the past eight years, Bob and Maggie have been seeing the United States from behind the chopped windshield of their custom convertible Chevrolet. That’s not a cliché we use lightly. With more than 118,000 miles (and counting) since first hitting the road in 2004, this dark green drop-top has traversed roads in every state in the contiguous United States except Washington, Montana, and Idaho. It has endured snow in Bob’s native Wisconsin, survived searing heat on the salt at Bonneville, and cruised the boulevards of burgs and cities from coast to coast. Chances are pretty good you’ve seen it at a show somewhere—or just as likely out on the highway.
For Bob, hitting an open ribbon of blacktop is simply the best way he can imagine enjoying a custom car. He’s been embarking on long, frequent road trips since the custom van days of the ’70s. Between 1975 and 1982, Bob and his family put 197,000 miles on his modified ’75 Dodge van traveling throughout the United States and Canada. After building a ’47 Chevy street rod, Bob took it on the road for more than 110,000 miles between 1989 and 2004. “We like to travel,” Bob says, chuckling at his gross understatement.
It’s no surprise, then, that this clean green ’52 Chevy was built with epic expeditions in mind. Bob is quick to give credit to his longtime friend, Steve Marx, for the myriad of modernized mechanicals that make the Chevy a worthy long hauler. “Without the help of Steve, this car would not be on the road,” Bob says. “If you look at the spec list, you can see it’s built for cruising.”
The Mustang II front suspension provides comfortable road manners, with 11-inch disc brakes for secure stopping. And the combination of a 200-4R overdrive transmission with a 3.50:1 gear in the 8-inch rearend makes Interstate travel easy for the inline-six.
That’s right, there’s a six-bore Chevy mill underhood—an ’82 vintage 292ci truck engine, to be specific. It’s hopped-up with a Clifford cam and intake, Edelbrock 500-cfm carb and Langdon headers. Why a six? “Because I could,” Bob says. “Everybody’s got a 350.” Fond memories of the six-powered ’49 Chevy he had in high school—and the glorious tone of its cackling dual pipes—also influenced the decision. “The only sound that’s better in a hot rod is a Mopar flathead-six,” Bob says.
The six-banger has more than proven its reliability, even if it isn’t particularly fast. (During the quarter-mile competition at the 2004 Rod & Custom Ego-Rama, Bob asked the testing staff to turn off their computer-aided timing equipment, handing them a calendar instead!) More importantly, the engine has provided the means for making cherished memories on the road.
Bob lists a 2008 voyage to the West Coast Kustoms show in Santa Maria, California, as one of the couple’s more memorable journeys—despite (or perhaps because of) spending a couple of extra days in the seaside town of Cambria waiting for replacement wheel bearings. Then there was the 2009 outing to the HAMB Drags, with its subsequent six-week trek through the South and up the East Coast, hitting the Ty-Rods Old Timers Reunion and Lead East along the way.
The Chevy has been driven to Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats seven times, the Lonestar Round Up seven times, the KKOA Leadsled Spectacular four times, and the Jalopy Showdown three times. At one trip to the latter show, Bob even wheeled his clean custom around the muddy dirt track for a few hot laps, caking it in muck. “And I left it that way all the way home from Pennsylvania,” Bob says. “It took me seven-and-a-half hours with a pressure washer under the car to get it clean.”