M-80, Detroit AutoRama's 2001 Ridler Award Winner

No doubt about it-this is the neatest, trickest and wildest 1949 Chevrolet Business Coupe ever built. How'd it come about? Simple. Retired a few years ago, Chris and Barbara Williams moved to Chris' birthplace, San Diego, to enjoy warmer climes. For most of his adult life, Chris tinkered with and flew old airplanes as a hobby, but then one day he was offered the chance to trade his old plane for a 1955 Chevy convertible. Boy, howdy! It needed a little sprucing up, so scanning the phone book, he uncovered a company called Hot Rods & Custom Stuff less than an hour northeast in Escondido, California. The '55 turned out to be pretty nifty-so much in fact that Chris and Barbara couldn't drive it on any given day without someone waving cash their way.

49 Chevy strikes an Ominous pose.

With this in the back of his mind, Chris daydreamed of decades past during his youth when he accompanied his grandfather all over the San Diego area on business in his 1949 Chevy Business Coupe. While the 1955 convertible 'was a sensational car, Chris decided that he would like to have a '49 like his Grandfather's. He also wanted to build it into a custom street machine knowing that his Grandfather would enthusiastically approve. Soon, such a car surfaced and it was back to Hot Rods & Custom Stuff to formulate a gameplan. Owner and proprietor Randy Clark listened to Chris intently as he requested the drivetrain be fast but reliable and the sheetmetal be "slightly" custom. He also requested that it fire up without keys-like his airplanes of old.

Polished and plated LS1 Corvette crate engine.

Being a pretty smart guy, Randy suggested that his friend, Rohan Day create some sketches of a customized '54. Chris heartily agreed. Did Rohan live nearby? No, Australia! Thanks to e-mail, Rohan's sketches arrived in record time. A plan of attack was soon created but as the minor mods began, the car began to take on a whole new life of its own. It was begging for more refinements and upgrades so with Chris' grandfather in mind, that's exactly what the car got. Tubular frame, modem suspension and rolling stock, full-on office, the works. What did Barbara think of it?

"Hot Rods & Custom Stuff took this concept from a nostalgic piece of junk to the sweetest little Chevy you ever saw. It is the ultimate cover girl in a bright red dress", she stated.

Halibrand Vintage Machined Wheels.

Randy defined the entire creation by saying that the key to all of the radical changes was the top chop. Once it was done, the rest of the car was redefined to flow with it. The fenders were sliced and diced to match the new beltline, the wheel wells were opened up, the doors vertically lengthened, the chassis lowered and the front height narrowed. The door jambs and sills were completely re£abricated as well. Credit metalman specialists, Jordan Quintal and David Wright.

Kugel IFS

Virtually every inch of the interior is custom as well. The bucket seat height and width were custom-designed to "fit" the Williams'. The cockpit floor is inside the framerails in order to retain the "how low can you go" theme. Even the driver's pedals were custom fabricated and hung per Williams' desires. When it was all said and done, the bucket seats, door panels, head-liner, steering wheel and trunk were custom-stitched in butterscotch leather by Ron Mangus at Custom Auto Interiors.

Kugel IRS rearend.

When the interior was finished and all of the custom gauges and electricals were in place, wireman Mike Saffiote brought it all to life beginning with a Painless Wiring fuse box assembly making sure all of the custom wire looms and end-clips were hidden from view. And we do mean "hidden". Did he do it one wire at a time? No, he input everything on his computer then created a well laid-out schematic complete with a color-coded printout. Liking airplane toggle switches and knobs, most of the car's electrical controls can be found under a hinged door atop the center console. The steering column assembly features an ididit aluminum tilt assembly with a Billet Specialties 14-inch diameter Classic steering wheel.

Hand-fabricated exhaust.

The frame was built to spec from steel tubing. The front suspension features Kugel Komponents tubular A-arms with coilover shock absorbers and Wilwood disc brakes. Steering is Dodge Omni power rack and pinion. A 3.50:1. geared Jaguar independent rear suspension with Kugel Komponents and quad coilover shock absorbers highlight the rear. Wheels are Halibrands with 17x7 fronts and 18x8 rears. Tires are 40-series low profile.

ididit column and Billet Specialties steering wheel.

The late-model, 1998 LS-1 Corvette powerplant with custom-coated exhaust and Borla mufflers send the power to a six-speed gearbox. Both are polished to the max and highlighted in the body hue - Viper Red thanks to Mesa Body Shop Supplies. Credit HR & CS's Rick Macintosh with a perfect paint job "all over". Atop the fuel-injected mill is a one-off breather assembly that is slotted so the "M-80" valve cover art work can be seen.

Fully finished trunk.

When the '49 was nearing completion, it was decided to enter it in the Dettoit AutoRama. For this event, the Chevy would be trailered. Every year, the Ridler Award is given to the best vehicle in the show. It is a very prestigious award that many customizers nationwide vie for. The rules are pretty simple: The vehicle can have no previous exposure, nationally or locally. Not a photo or a mention. Every square inch of every vehicle entered in the Ridler Award competition was judged. When the smoke cleared, the '54 Business Coupe from a little known shop near San Diego got the trophy. Granddad would certainly be proud. CR

Ron Mangus interior.

Click here to see more about the M-80


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Hot Rods & Custom Stuff, 2324 Auto Park Way, Escondido, CA., 1-800-HOT-ROD-5.

Hot Rods & Custom Stuff - builds, restores, paints, services and sells parts for classic autos, cars, trucks and street rods.