Custom Rodder, October 2004.
By Rob Fortier, Photography by Chris Shelton.
Without physically raising your hands, how many of you have experienced "seller's remorse" or, better yet, "early sale withdrawal" in regards to a custom you had years back, or even just recently? I've had this occur on numerous occasions, but then I'm not known to hold on to any particular car or motorcycle for long periods of time. For many of you, there's "that car" you wished would've never left your possession, and save for a miracle, it's but a memory in you mind and pictures in your scrapbook. If the car is really that special to you, the next best thing is a re-creation, which is exactly what Gale Griffith had to do in order to bring the memories of his first car back to life.
Quite some time ago, Gale stumbled across a '51 Chevy hardtop for sale in a shopping mall parking lot in Cypress, California. Of course upon seeing it, he immediately reflected back on his first car he had right out of high school in 1956. As you can guess, the Chevy soon found a new home in his SoCal garage. Unfortunately, this is where is would set for another 15 years! Gale eventually retired and moved out to Temecula, but it would still be a while before he delved into the project wholeheartedly. And when he did find the time to get busy with it, he soon realized he wasn't getting what he wanted accomplished. That led him to Randy Clark at Hot Rods and Custom Stuff in nearby Escondido (particularly after he saw photos of the then fresh and soon to be Ridler-winning "M-80" '49 Chevy Randy's had built). Of course, Clark told Griffith what he wanted to hear, and the deal was made to finish the '51 just as Gale had envisioned it. And Randy was true to his work - in roughly a year's time, the high school sweetheart had been re-created.
Although the '51 looks for all intents and purposes to be a true '50's throwback, beneath that flawless Candy Apple Red coating is a completely modern foundation. For starters, HR&CS went through the chassis, updating the front suspension with a Total Cost Involved IFS and Firestone airbags from Mac's Spring Shop. The stock rear end was swapped out for a more freeway friendly 3.70-geared; Ford 9-inch, which just got lowered leafs instead of the bag treatment in order to retain that "California rake". Wheel Vintiques chrome smoothies 'n' baldies were used with Coker Classis 205 and 275 wide-white radials to add to the vintage-style look, while thermal-coated headers and glass packs give it that perfect "raap!" And speaking of old sounds, the traditional inline-six isn't responsible for the tones, rather a ZZ4, dressed appropriately (with Mooneyes goodies and so on), with a 700-R4 handling the gears.
Even with as much effort that went into the Chevy's foundation, it's the exterior that does the attention grabbing. And why wouldn't it--Candy Apple Red is probably one of the hardest colors to apply evenly and consistently. Actually, Joe at HR&CS used PPG's Strawberry Jewel candy paint, which may explain the paint's intensity, but regardless, it's one of the best candy jobs you'll find. Combined with the nosed hood and shaved deck, gard-less bumpers, '52 grill (with added teeth), and finely polished stainless trim, Gale's Chevy is mild, yes, but clean, smooth, and absolutely tasteful!
As the calendar neared the 12-month mark, Randy and his crew wrapped up their end of the deal (wiring, plumbing, etc.) before having Ruben at Audio Evolution install a Sony/Rockford/Infinity component sound system. Then the Bel Air was taken over to Frank Lopez (both near Gale in Temecula) for its white leather tuck 'n' roll interior. Even with the complementing red carpet, piping and panel accents, the mostly bright white upholstery definitely aids in allowing the exterior color to sparkle-especially in the fading afternoon sun when these images were taken!
While it may have taken Gale a couple of decades to recreate his sweetheart, it's probably a save bet he'll hold on to this one for the long run!! CR.