This ’56 Chevy Completes a Tri-Five Bel Air Convertible Collection
John Provenzano’s ’56 Chevy Bel Air
can be a winning hand for Poker players. For automotive enthusiasts, owning a ’55, ’56, and ’57 Chevy is one of the more popular classic car versions of that.
John Provenzano, of Wichita, Kansas, already owned his ’55 and ’57 Chevy Bel Air convertibles when he started looking for a ’56 to complete his Tri-Five hand.
Like a lot of gearheads, John was in his early teens when he first got involved with cars. His interest was encouraged by older brother Frank. “He was eight years older than me, and is the original owner of a ’69 Chevelle SS. He was the spark,” John told us.
The search for a Bel Air to round out his Tri-Five convertible collection began about seven or eight years ago. John’s friend, the late Bob Dietzler of Rochester Auto Sales in Minnesota, knew that John was looking for a
’56 and found this one in New Jersey. The car belonged to the family of the deceased original owner. It was in stock condition, having been treated to what John called a “lower-end restoration.” John’s vision for the ’56 was a bit different. “I wanted a one-of-a-kind car, built with many one-off machined parts and a unique interior, but maintaining the original design of the car. I also wanted to use the original frame and sheetmetal, along with the chrome and stainless.”
Bauer Auto Restoration in Wichita has been around for almost 50 years and has built extraordinary street rods. John talked to shop owner Mark Bauer, who caught on to John’s particular goals for the Bel Air. The rebuild began in the fall of 2011.
In accordance with John’s request, the stock frame was retained as the foundation for the chassis. However, the ’rails were beefed up with added plating and billet replacement body mounts. The rest of the chassis was upgraded with Heidts independent suspension parts. The rear features a Heidts-proved 9-inch differential with limited slip and 3.50:1 gears, flanked by the inboard disc brakes and 31-spline axles. Heidts coilovers and a custom antiroll bar improve the ride. The frontend is a Heidts tubular IFS setup with ’80-’87 GM spindles and Heidts coilovers. A Classic Performance Products 500 series power steering box keeps the Chevy moving in the right direction. Wilwood 12-inch disc brakes with a CPP master cylinder and booster bring the car to a quick stop.
The Chevy exterior is built in the style of a restoration, right down to every bit of hardware and trim. The front and rear bumpers are original Chevrolet pieces, which have been smoothed. The red dot headlights
were ordered from Danchuk Manufacturing. All of the brightwork had to look new. For the plating chores, Bauer Auto Restoration commissioned San Joaquin Chrome in California and Royal Plating in Arizona. Stainless pieces were restored by Finishing Touch in Chicago. Of course the sheetmetal had to be as flawless as everything else. Darren Green and Mark Bauer performed the bodywork and Bauer sprayed the two-tone red and black finish using Axalta (formerly DuPont) paint products. Mark Linamen created the convertible top for the Bel Air.
Bauer and his build team made a couple of departures from the exterior’s strictly restored appearance. One departure is the pair of dual exhaust ports cut into the rocker trim on both sides of the body. The other is John’s tire and wheel choice. Instead of sticking to nostalgic wide whitewalls on steel wheels with hubcaps, or ’60s-style big blackwalls on 15-inch five-spokes, John opted to pack the accommodating wheelwells with some up-to-date rolling stock. The 17x8 and 18x10 Revolver wheels from Budnik’s Surfaced Series are fitted with BFGoodrich g-Force Sport Comp-2 performance street tires, sized 235/45ZR17 and 275/40ZR18.
Under the hood, fabricated inner fenders and firewall cradle a ’12 Chevy LS3 crate engine. A pair of custom polished billet coil covers bearing the Bel Air lettering dress up the top of the engine. A custom induction system draws cool air to the customized K&N air cleaner on its way to the engine. On the exhaust side, customformed headers and Borla polished stainless exhaust pipes feed gases through Patriot VaraFlow electronically tunable mufflers. A Be Cool radiator and electric pull fan keep the engine temperatures where they belong. The Front Runner system from Vintage Air drives the accessories. A push button–shifted 4L65E moves torque from the LS3 to a Spicer driveshaft.
When John drives the convertible, he and a copilot can enjoy the trip in a pair of repurposed ’04 Chevy Tahoe seats, while the backseat passengers ride in custom buckets. Scott Downey at Downey’s Auto Upholstery in Wichita built the seats, door panels, and consoles, and upholstered them in red and black Italian leather. A ’65 Cadillac speaker grille between the rear seats now serves as an interior light. The panel at the front of the console houses controls for the power windows, air conditioning, and audio system, along with the Powertrain Control Solutions electronic push-button shifter and the Pioneer head unit/ navigation screen. The Vintage Air system blows through stock side vents and supplemental Vintage Air vents. The factory gauges have been replaced with a ’55-’56 Chevy car VHX instrument system from Dakota Digital. American Autowire provided the wiring kit to make it all work. The body-colored Billet Specialties Draft model steering wheel is mounted on an ididit tilt column. The trunk is as finely finished as the cabin and features a glass pane in a billet frame, installed to expose the rearend.
Bauer Auto Restoration finished work on the Chevy Bel Air in January 2015. Just a few weeks later, the car made its public debut at the 63rd Annual Detroit Autorama, where it won First Place in the Best Custom Rod category. Now, this one-of-a-kind Chevy Bel Air takes its place in the middle of John’s three-of-a-kind convertible collection.
For the digital experience: https://bit.ly/2JlywA6