AIR OF SUPERIORITY
IF IT’S TRUE THAT GOOD THINGS TAKE TIME, THEN THIS BEL AIR IS 21 YEARS GOOD!
It may have taken 21 years, but Bill Sharkey’s blown ’55 Chev was well worth the wait
IT MAY have taken 21 years. And the final push to Summernats 30 may have been six weeks of 18- to 20-hour days. And it may not have been 100 per cent finished when it got there. But nothing could have wiped the smile off Bill and Penny Sharkey’s face when the covers came off their 1955 Chev Bel Air coupe during Friday night’s Great Meguiar’s Uncover. “I can’t believe how well it came up,” says Bill, who built most of this saucy shoebox himself. “I was so proud. To be at Summernats, get it unveiled, I got a bit of a tear in my eye. It certainly was a money-can’t-buy experience.”
Bill’s journey to Summernats with COUP55 began with a clapped-out shell. “I’d wanted a ’55 since I was a young fella,” he says, “but I couldn’t afford the car I wanted, so I went looking for something I could afford.”
His search led him to Joe’s Golden Gasoline Classics in South Australia, where he picked up the coupe as a bare roller that was only missing, well, everything! So he hit the Danchuk and Classic Industries parts catalogues and began making a list of everything that was needed. “I wanted as much new stuff as I could so it would look as fresh as possible,” he says.
Mind you, Bill’s wallet was anything but fat – this Bel Air was built on a budget. It meant doing virtually all the work himself, and buying bits and pieces whenever he had the money.
First task was the rust – and there was plenty of it. The doors, guards, inner and outer sills, boot and floor were all afflicted. In a stroke of luck, a mate of Bill’s had an Australian right-hand-drive dash, firewall and floor section in good nick. Grafting this into the Chev killed two birds with one stone – eliminating rust and converting it to RHD in one go.
The area that needed the most TLC was the roof – it’d been filled with bog and was cracking up. Fortunately it’s also the most accessible area, which allowed Bill to methodically tap it all up before file-finishing it. As a panel beater for over 30 years and now owner of High Gloss Spray Painting in Dubbo, this type of work comes naturally to Bill. The problem is, customers’ cars always come first – and Bill also built himself a few other cars along the way.
A downside to such a long build time is that styles inevitably change. Early purchases, including older-style Billet Specialties rocker covers, air cleaner, interior door handles and wheels, all got flogged off along the way, replaced with more up-to-date bits. This was also true with the bodywork.
“I’d spent ages fixing both rear quarters,” Bill says, “but in the end I cut them off and replaced them with brand new ones. Same with the door skins. The car got better as the build progressed; I just wanted it to be as perfect as I could make it.” Like the floor section, the chassis was another lucky score. “It was complete, with a Rod-tech front end, triangulated fourbar rear and the nine-inch housing,” Bill says. “Glenn Rulach from Air Ride had built it up for coil-overs but then decided to go airbags. I’ve known Owen Webb since the 70s, from when he used to come up to Dubbo repping. I got him to check it out for me – and he got it for a good price! It’s great, gives the old girl just the right stance!”
The colour combo had been in Bill’s head for over 20 years. “I’d seen it on a vintage Harley and thought it’d look good on the Chev,” he says.
He was right on the money, as the Vivid Yellow and cream really
GRAFTING AN AUSTRALIAN RIGHT-HAND-DRIVE DASH, FIREWALL AND FLOOR SECTION INTO THE CHEV KILLED TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE – ELIMINATING RUST AND CONVERTING IT TO RHD IN ONE GO
The clever COUP55 number plates spent six or seven years on Bill’s Navara before taking pride of place on his divine shoebox Chev