Some­thing Orig­i­nal

This ’56 Chevy Com­pletes a Tri-Five Bel Air Con­vert­ible Col­lec­tion

Street Rodder - - Contents - BY TIM BERN­SAU ¥ PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY GRANT COX

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:

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