BODACIOUS BEL AIR
Git-r-done on an over-the-top bubbletop
While the Beach Boys crooned about a “really fine ... 409,” how about a totally refined 409? That’s the lyric of this Bel Air bubbletop owned by James and Sandy Eudy. Its fuel-injected mill is thoroughly modernized, boasting 484 cubes and 557 ferocious horses. Not only that, it has an array of other superb upgrades.
Before covering the remarkable craftsmanship that went into the car, here’s some background. In
1961, the Turbo-Fire 409 bubbletop (so named for its abundance of window glass) launched the era of muscle cars. Before there was ever a Chevelle, Mustang, or Charger, before the 454 LS6, 427 FE, or 426 Hemi ever thundered down the streets of America, at the front lines was a new 409 big-block V-8. This engine would instigate a horsepower war among the Big Three auto manufacturers lasting well into the 1970s.
Initially putting out only 360 horses (and fittingly, 409 lb-ft of torque), the 409 offered 19 more cubes than Ford’s then-new 390ci engine. This bigger displacement inspired the Beach Boys tune noted above, but the siren song of horsepower would soon get a whole lot louder.
Originally, the 409 was supposed to be simply a stroked and punched-out 348 Type W truck engine but ended up having a number of differences. The 409’s crank required heavier counterweights, and its shorter connecting rods had more angularity and thus extra side-thrust on the pistons. Due in part to this additional stress loading, the 409 had forged aluminum slugs, allowing it to rev big time, topping out at 6,200 rpm. The higher spin rate required beefier valvesprings for better seating, and the cam was hotter as well.
As for carbs, in 1961, the 409 had a thirsty four-barrel Carter, but in the following year had dual fourbarrel Carters. It also received some significant upgrades in the form of a recast block and improved heads with larger valves, plus a better intake and higher compression ratio. The 409 soon blasted out 409 horses, and in 1963 would hit a peak of 425 horsepower.
Which leads us to the Eudy’s bubbletop, built by Neil Lea of
Rods and Restos (Centre, Alabama), from a concept drawing penned by Eric Brockmeyer. As noted at the outset, this restomod’s engine offers a quantum leap in both displacement and output, courtesy of Lamar Walden Automotive (LWA).
Fitted to the engine’s custom intake is a batch-fire EFI system from FAST with a 90mm throttle body. Neil likens the system to the Corvette LT1’s. While not as sophisticated as a sequential setup, it gets the job done.
Fittingly, Neil has a “git-r-done” approach to building rods and
customs (his Alabama twang sounds remarkably close to Larry the Cable Guy’s). When the engine arrived at his shop he replaced the water neck by fabbing up an aluminum-plate water box at the front, studded with aircraft-style rivets, and he mounted the thermostat to the side. He also installed reservoirs for the water and power steering with “floating” (blind) fasteners.
“It’s amazing what you can figure out when you have to,” he notes.
When Neil came across the car initially, it was partially restored but still in a million pieces, with the doors off and no drivetrain. He disposed of the spindly factory frame, a simple X-member with the doorsills serving as braces. “It’s terrible,” he points out, referring to the chassis flex. While watching another 409 bubbletop twist on the dragstrip, he was surprised that the windows didn’t pop out.
For improved rigidity, he replaced the bendy X-frame with an Art Morrison chassis, lengthened two inches. “Like a Funny Car,” he notes, as he’s always admired that style and used it on a number of project cars.
The suspension pieces are tubular Mustang-style at the front, and a Ford 9-inch in the rear. Baer six-piston disc brakes provide modern stopping power. Another Funny
Car inspiration is seen in the 2-inch mini-tubs that allow for deep-dish Forgeline wheels, measuring 20x10 with 4-inch backspacing.
After using fitment rims on hand to determine the look and stance of the car, he then channeled the body, creating a 6-inch lip for the wheelwells. He cut and lightened up the rockers, using new floorpans to hold the body together. He also eliminated the pinch welds. “I hate them,” he gripes. “So I smoothed them out.”
How much did he lower the ride?
“As much as it needs,” he quips, based on his years of experience. “The stance is the most important thing,” he adds. “If it doesn’t catch your eye from across the fairgrounds, you won’t go to it,” he wisely points out.
The engine sits higher as well, in order to “get the bay to look full.”
The custom hood hinges were made by Ringbrothers.
At the front bumper are wire-mesh “speed grilles” that serve as air inlets, along with a spoiler. The grilles in the rear bumper look like pressure-relief ducts but are really just for looks. The bumper also flows underneath into the custom gas tank.
Inside, the dash was reconfigured by hand with narrower pods, but not so much that it “blasphemed” the GM design. The front seats are from a Lexus, upholstered with distressed orange leather and matched in the rear by Paul Atkins.
Stepping back from the overall project, “I tell you right there that the ’62 bubbletop is a handful,” Neil admits. “It’s such a big car.” Even so, it wasn’t all that bad, since he still was able to git-r-done! CHP
Bodacious Bel Air