They say there's more than one way to skin a cat, and the '49-54 Chevy is automotive proof of that fact, as it is suited to a number of build styles. Whether your taste runs to traditional kustoms, a more contemporary treatment, or even a high-ridin' gasser (real or pseudo), this body style can pull any of 'em off with ease.
It's also still within the realm of the relatively affordable, despite the newest being more than 50 years old, and is pretty simple to work on and modify. Wanna change the frontend? It unbolts. Swapping leaf spring mounts? They're riveted in place. Want updated wheels? The bolt pattern is the same as a modern Chevy.
Then there's the aftermarket serving these cars. They're pretty well catered for, with engine and trans mounts for all manner of motor transplants readily available from companies like Speedway Motors, Walton Fabrication, and Chassis Engineering, complete IFS units, from bolt-in (Chassis Engineering) to weld-in (Fatman Fabrications, Heidt's, Total Cost Involved), and rear suspensions or leaf springs (Walton Fabrication, POSIES, and Street Rod Headquarters). Body and floorpan repair panels are available from EMS, while pretty much all of the above and way more can be sourced through Street Rod Headquarters/Chevs of the 40's. And this is just scratching the surface. These cars are extremely well catered for in the aftermarket. So much so that we asked Jimmy Smith to lay down a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
While he was doing that, we decided to build each of these cars (on paper at least, though one of them will form the basis of R&C's new project car, but more about that in a moment) to show just how easy they are to achieve using aftermarket components.
The Purple Pig
We mentioned at the beginning that one of these cars will become an R&C project, and this is the one we'll be building. Actually it's already halfway there, as I've owned this car for a few years, I've already chopped it and done much of the bodywork, and it was my daily driver-complete with upgraded 235 six, dropped spindles of unknown origin, 6-inch lowering blocks, and notched rear framerails-until I parked it after returning from Paso in 2006. Reason? I wussed out with its lack of A/C, but mainly I got fed up holding the shifter in gear to stop it from jumping out. I'd already changed the trans once because of this, and figured it was time to throw in a V-8 and auto 'box. I just didn't figure on it taking nearly two years to get around to! But there's a reason for everything, and now you can share in the build as the car comes together over the coming months.
Going after a very traditional early '50s look, but with modern underpinnings, this version uses a bolt-in Chassis Engineering IFS (to improve the bone-jarring, half-century-old ride quality), power disc brakes courtesy of Walton Fabrication's firewall-mounted power booster kit, and a modern rearend (how about a Moser 10-bolt to make a change from the oft-used 8- or 9-inch Ford item?) mounted on CPP's tubular C10 trailing arms rather than leaf springs or a four-bar. I like the smooth ride offered by these long arms. Air Ride Technologies' Level Pro system ensures the ride height is retained whether the driver is solo or a bunch of buddies are on board, eliminating the gas tank dragging that occurs when fully laden. With a straight tuck 'n' roll interior in cream to offset the dark organic paint, and a Vintage Air A/C system to maintain cool at all times, this kustom is cruising in style.
Of course, if we're updating the suspension and rearend, the old torque tube, three-speed, and six-banger should also be updated. An overdrive trans would make highway miles a pleasure rather than a chore, but choosing one without all the electronic hassles makes sense for a traditional car with minimal wiring. A TH200-4R from Gearstar seems the perfect solution. But what to bolt in front of it? Maybe a modern six-cylinder from a newish Chevy? Hard to beat the sound of a V-8, though, and dropping a crate small-block under the hood has never been easier with engine and trans mount kits available from Walton Fabrication. With such a low ride height, a trick oval tube exhaust system from Dr. Gas will increase ground clearance by that all-important inch or so!
Attitude. That's what a gasser exudes, and the two things that say it most are the stance and a huge motor. The first is taken care of by ditching the old factory IFS and installing either a drilled early Ford axle on hairpins and a transverse leaf, as Jimmy has shown, or a straight front axle on leaf springs, direct from the Speedway Motors catalog. You could even utilize the stock front drum brakes, as Speedway makes these axles to fit Ford or Chevy spindles, but the second part of that attitude equation might persuade you to purchase new spindles at the same time and go with a disc brake conversion.
Nothing attracts attention or intimidates the opposition more than a polished 8-71 blower and twin Holley double pumpers, which is what you can have if you opt for Smeding Performance's 540ci Blown Chevy crate engine. Producing 800 streetable horsepower, we'd love to see this poking through the Chevy's hood, though likewise you could go with an injected early Olds motor or even a Hemi, just to shake up the Chevy-in-a-Chevy formula. In my mind, eight injector stacks are the only visual comparison for a blower, and Hilborn can now supply electronic fuel-injection systems that look just like the mechanical systems of old.
Of course, a stout rearend would be needed, and these days that usually means a 9-inch Ford item. John's Industries' 9-inch Factory can provide one ready-narrowed for you. For true gasser style, the axle should be located on long ladder bars, though leaf springs would work, too. Race seats, again from Speedy Bill, as well as a rollbar and dash-mounted tach, are de rigueur for this style of car; and for rolling stock, what better than 12-spoke Radirs from Newstalgia for you brakeless heroes, or small window kidney-bean Dragmaster mags from Real Rodders Wheels to recreate a brief period in history? Add a pair of solid Racemasters on the rear, candy Burple with a silver 'flake roof, black diamond tuck 'n' roll, a purple 'flake steering wheel, white fenderwell headers, and-of course-orange Plexiglas windows and headlight covers, and your time machine's complete.
We'd like to see this custom rod sitting on an Art Morrison chassis, but the company doesn't make an off-the-shelf one for '49-54 Chevys-yet. However, with your specs on stance, wheels, tires, and driveline, they can build a made-to-order frame. Alternatively, this one sits low over Total Cost Involved front suspension and POSIES 2 1/2-inch dropped rear leaves. A little extra drop in the rear comes courtesy of lowering blocks. If you want to stretch the budget a little you could call Street Rod Headquarters and slide a billet IRS under the back for a super-smooth ride, too!
A call to Hagan Street Rod Necessities nets frenched headlights, bear-claw latches for the doors, and flush-mount taillights, though, if you're comfortable with tackling the extensive bodywork required to pull off this rendering, you could do as Jimmy has drawn and add shoebox Ford rear lights and surrounding sheetmetal. And what about that bodywork? Take a '49-52 hardtop or sedan, and cut off the roof at the windshield header back to the tulip panel. If starting with the hardtop, you're part way there, as the door tops are set to go as is. If, however, you use a lowly sedan or two-door coupe, you'll need to do some sheetmetal manipulation to roll the door tops. Add some stainless trim to keep the factory-esque look. The decklid needs to be sliced along its vertical section and additional steel added to extend upward to a rather large Carson-style top. The top is made in the typical way, starting with light-weight conduit to shape out the top's basic form, followed up with a trip to the trim shop for upholstery. Straight-spoke 17x8 and 17x10-inch Foose Classic Nitrous II wheels from Newstalgia provide some bling to complement the smooth bodywork, and provide a sort of updated early deep reversed Astros lowrider look.
Running gear? Custom rods are about blending the new with the old, so how about updating this 'un with an LS7 motor? Pull one from an '06 Z06 Vette and you'll get a whopping 505 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque from the largest (427 ci), most powerful small-block to come off a GM production line. Heck, Turnkey Engine Supply can even supply retrofit motors with the required electronic hookups.