Cul­tural Bal­ance

The Sapien Fam­ily’s ’50 Chevy Fleet­line

Street Rodder - - Contents - By ROB FORTIER ❘ Pho­tog­ra­phy by ERIC GEIS­ERT

Un­de­ni­ably

one of Chevro­let’s great­est de­sign achieve­ments of the mid-20th cen­tury, the Fleet­line may have had a rather short life­span, but its over­whelm­ing suc­cess pro­pelled Chevy to num­ber one in sales each and ev­ery year from its four-door Sports­mas­ter de­but in 1941 ’til the fol­low­ing decade when the DeLuxe two-door made its last ap­pear­ance on the new-model ros­ter. Ob­vi­ously, there was a lit­tle four-year gap in sales dur­ing the sec­ond World War, but even though the ’46 Aerosedan was noth­ing more than a dolled-up car­ry­over from 1942, its stream­lined styling was no match for the com­pe­ti­tion. And even Amer­ica’s next sit­u­a­tion abroad, the Korean con­flict, had lit­tle ef­fect on pro­duc­tion

(other than learn­ing what the ab­sence of nickel has on chrome plat­ing) or ini­tial sales. But come 1952 Chevy had scaled down the once multi-model of­fer­ing to just the one two-door fast­back, which in most re­gions was not avail­able with white­wall tires, a very im­por­tant op­tion for buy­ers lead­ing back to 1948 when the stylish rub­ber had come back into vogue. It would be an­other decade be­fore the com­pany man­u­fac­tured an­other fast­back— but de­spite hav­ing an even shorter life, that par­tic­u­lar fiber­glass model would wind up be­com­ing more iconic than any Fleet­line.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, when it comes to their full-fend­ered rides (“bombs”), lowrid­ers have al­ways grav­i­tated to­ward ’30s-’40s Chevys. While the ’39 Mas­ter DeLuxe may be the ’32 Ford of lowrid­ing in terms of de­sir­abil­ity and clout, the Fleet­line has and will al­ways be a cul­tural icon. And the var­i­ous model con­fig­u­ra­tions are def­i­nitely no strangers to hot rod­ding and cus­tom makeovers, ei­ther—usu­ally, the visual in­tent is clearly ob­vi­ous. But then there are mix­tures of all three that defy spe­cific cat­e­go­riz­ing. Is it a lowrider, mild cus­tom, or ...? Andy Sapien’s fam­ily ’50 DeLuxe two-door sedan is a per­fect ex­am­ple of cul­tures com­bined—and it an­swers that ques­tion sim­ply by be­ing “just right.”

While lowrid­ers are nor­mally very for­mu­laic in spe­cific com­po­nent na­ture, the Sapi­ens’ Fleet­line fol­lowed just one guide­line dur­ing its two-year con­struc­tion phase: It was to be a fam­ily af­fair. As far as the un­der­ly­ing com­po­nents, theirs is one Fleet­line with­out the fa­mil­iar rap of an in­line-six, as it’s been up­dated with a V-8 and over­drive trans; while a com­plete Jaguar IFS out­fit­ted with air springs was sub­sti­tuted for the stock front sus­pen­sion that is so of­ten hy­drauli­cally ar­tic­u­lated.

The in­te­rior is a far cry from its orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance as well—where once mo­hair and broad­cloth were wrapped and tacked over puffy bench seats now re­sides T-bird buck­ets and a hand­built flat-bot­tom boat–in­spired rear with a cus­tom cen­ter con­sole all wrapped in white vinyl with pleated green in­serts by Lowrider In­dus­try Hall of Famer Bob Mer­cado (Mr. Bob & Sons). A dished ’60 Olds steer­ing wheel on a mod­i­fied ’72 Chevy van col­umn was sub­sti­tuted for the old three-on-the-tree, while a Ken­wood/Pi­o­neer sound sys­tem (by Rick Vazquez) re­places the an­ti­quated tube ra­dio.

It’s the pre­sen­ta­tion of the ex­te­rior that re­ally sets the tone for the Sapi­ens’ sedan. Han­dles and its DeLuxe trim are still present, but gone are the head­light bezels (lights frenched), hood and trunk em­blems (nosed and decked), and the tail­lights al­to­gether (frenched Cadil­lacs in­stead), while bumpers are now void of pro­trud­ing hard­ware. Af­ter Andy’s fam­ily had com­pleted the var­i­ous body mods, Daniel Vasquez fin­ished the Fleet­line’s body­work in prepa­ra­tion for the House of Kolor candy green he ap­plied (a bit of tra­di­tional pin­strip­ing on the front and rear end was added as well). With Shan­non cones on chrome re­verse wheels, skinny white­walls, and that nose-down stance, there’s no mis­tak­ing this is no tra­di­tional lowrider Chevy … it’s sim­ply the Sapi­ens’ Fleet­line, just as Andy and his fam­ily in­tended it to be.

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