Popular Hot Rodding, September, 2001 - Rookie of the Year.
By Scott Parkhurst
The saga of the slick '49 Chevy you see on these pages is understandably long, as it usually is for any car built at this level. Once you've decided to custom-fabricate a tube chassis for a street-bound ride, everything changes. This is not a place for beginners, so it makes little sense for this to be someone's first car project.
Don't get us wrong; pilot Chris Williams knows better than to jump in over his head. He wanted something interesting, different, and based on the '49 Chevy of his dreams. Add to his fantasy a crew of talented fabricators and creative artisans, light the fuse with a blank check, and stand back for the explosion. Welcome to the M-80.
When Chris was a young boy, his grandfather tooled around in a '49 Chevy, and the positive memories associated with both the fond relationship and the old car were very strong. When Chris got older and decided to build a custom car, the remembrance of the '49 motivated the project. The clean, simple lines would look great with a low stance and some modern upgrades, so Chris went to Randy Clark's Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido, California, and got the ball rolling towards his dream.
Chris' mild ideas quickly went out the window once he spoke with Randy. After hearing how he could have futuristic looks, modern performance, and classic style all rolled into one car, he was hooked. A rendering was created to give both men an idea of where they were both heading, and both liked what they saw.
We shouldn't have to tell you readers how the proportions of the artists renderings are often more extreme than the actual vehicles they serve to duplicate. The drawings often show the cars longer, lower, and more radical than they could ever really be "in person," right? Not so with the M-80. The radical proportions on the rendering could only be achieved in a functional manner through the creation of a custom tube chassis, and Randy's shop was more than capable of making this happen. Chris decided to dive in, and the car's body was removed from the original chassis.
The body mods began with a 5-inch top chop, and the rest of the body proportions immediately looked too tall. Sketching ideas on the floor, Randy decided to alter the factory bodylines by sectioning the body using labor-intensive pie-cuts. This allowed him to alter the door shape too, resulting in a longer, lower door that had been stretched down to cover the rocker panels. The posts were angled to give the impression of motion, and the body would be channeled a total of 8 inches over the new chassis for a ground-hugging appearance. The car is now a two-seater.
Both the hood and decklid were pancaked to lower their bulging appearances, and the vast array of reshaping mods didn't stop there. You'll find Mercedes headlights and custom-made taillight housings, among other things. Every angle and curve on the car was altered to encourage the overall effect of aerodynamic motion, and the resulting smoothness is stunning.
The tube chassis incorporates fully-polished Kugel independent front and rear suspension systems, normally found under street rods. These top-notch components were teamed with a Street & Performance polished LS1 V-8, backed by a six-speed trans. Remember, Chris wanted a fully-functional car he could truly enjoy, and these parts are all roadworthy. With the custom chassis complete and the wild body mods done, the two could finally be joined.
Naturally, custom floor pans, exhaust, steering, and brakes would have to be fabricated. All of the electrical wiring (from the wire-happy LS1 computer to the Painless Wiring body harness) would have to routed and tested. A fully-louvered belly pan was formed. Finally, the chassis and body were painted (separately, of course) with gallons of Viper Red.
To finish the exterior appearance, polished Halibrand wheels (17x8 up front, 18x10 out back) were loaded with BFG Comp T/A's. The entire interior was then custom-crafted from Butterscotch Leather by Custom Auto Interiors of Bloomington, California. Vintage Air was also plumbed in. The list of modifications just doesn't seem to stop.
When the car made its debut at the Detroit AutoRama, it blew everyone away with its impressive mix of technology and talent. Before leaving, the California crew had swept the Ridler Award, the Sam Radof Sculptural Excellence Award, Best Custom, and Outstanding Display. It was taken to the Goodguys show in Del Mar, California, where it won both Best in Class and a Boyds Pro's Pick. So, what's next?
According to Chris, "I just can't wait to drive it more. I had it for about six weeks bewteen shows, and I put 300 miles under it. It's a blast to drive, and I've GOT to get more time behind the wheel."
After all of the effort that went in, on, and under this car, we can't blame him. PHR