If you scour the interwebs like most of us do, you’ll often find stories or social media postings of cars sitting and rotting away. There are specialized groups on social media dedicated to these lost – and often times forgotten – slices of Americana. And almost always, the response from the vehicle owner is the same: he or she is not selling the car, because some day it’s going to get restored and it’s not for sale. “Some day” doesn’t ever seem to come for most of those rusted relics.
Someday did actually show up for one resting beauty, thankfully. Jimmie Fraley found it back in 1984, when he saw this once long-forgotten gem sitting behind a shop. But it wasn’t his to save until he talked the owner into releasing it so Jimmie could do the restoration. The project began with just a body and a frame, and a few fond memories from when Jimmie first started driving as a teenager.
Those memories were all it took to see a vision and transform the classic car that was rotting away. It seems this story is a winner all around; Jimmie fell in love with the ’56 Bel Air when he was a teenager, he found a ’56 Bel Air when he was driving by a body shop, and now he gets to show off his very own Bel Air at car shows and cruise nights. But, like any relationship that is fueled on passion, this one took some time and effort before it could blossom.
Love At First Sight – Fulfilling A Dream
Jimmie first saw the car more than 34 years ago. It was sitting neglected and seeking a new home. After a year of hard work and late nights, that labor of love netted the car’s first restoration, most of which was done with Jimmie’s own two hands. And if that wasn’t enough, the car received its second rebuild quite a few years later. The second time around, the project was completed in a matter of three months as he brought it back to the specimen you see here today.
Those efforts to rebuild the parked Bel Air meant that a few panels needed to have the rust removed, and in some instances, complete panels were replaced. In actuality, Jimmie replaced the rocker panels, the floor pans, and the back part of the trunk section, as well as the trunk skin itself. For most of us, seeing the road beneath your wheels through the interior is enough reason to pass on a project, but he tackled it head on, and the car is an absolute stunner.
Up front, he added a fiberglass hood from Pete’s Fabrication, and when all the sheetmetal repair work was completed, it was time to lay down some color. If this blue grabbed your attention, then it did just what the PPG color intended, as it’s finished in PPG Grabber Blue. If you look a little closer at some of the photos, you’ll find flames ghosted in on the hood, fenders, and doors. But, you’re not going to see them unless you channel your inner Bow Tie, because when he says they’re ghosted, he really means it.
Of course, the love affair didn’t end with what’s on the surface, it went much deeper. Inside the Bel Air, you’ll find more flames tickling the seats and door-trim panels. The pleather interior is done in black and gray, which is the color theme carried throughout.
Beneath the black padded dash, you’ll find a Dakota Digital VHX Tri-Five cluster finished off and matching the rest of the interior. The dash itself has a lot of polished trim and billet pieces. For cruising in comfort and style, the air conditioning will keep Jimmie cool while the Rockford Fosgate sound system keeps his ears properly massaged.
Then there’s the heart of the matter, what lies beneath that cowl-induction hood. While the outside of the car is clean and pristine, the heartbeat that is hidden beneath is no slouch, either. Starting with a Chevrolet Performance crate engine of 383 cubes with a 4.005-inch bore and a 3.800-inch stroke, the small-block is a bit of a torque monster – rated at 435 horsepower and 445 lb-ft of torque.
Topping off the mill is a Demon 650 double-pumper sitting on a GM air-gap-style intake manifold between Fast Burn aluminum GM heads. An MSD billet distributor and 6AL ignition keep the fires lit, while a set of Hedman Hedders pull the spent gases out and send that sweet sound through a 2.5-inch dual exhaust tuned up with a pair of Flowmaster mufflers. Helping the crate engine keep its cool is a polished aluminum Griffin radiator mounted in a custom core support.
Shifting gears inside is a Hurst stick connected to a Tremec manual transmission. The ponies are sent down the driveshaft to a 12-bolt that was salvaged from a 1966 Chevelle. Stuffed in the pumpkin is a Yukon Gear ring-and-pinion running 3.73 gears wrapped around a set of Strange axles.
When it comes to shoes, this Bel Air wears a set of 17-inch Boyd’s wheels shod with BFG tires. Taking the go to whoa is a front disc conversion and 1966 Chevelle drums on the rear. That helps the Bel Air stop when it needs to, yet it still maintains the old school look by not going too big with wheels, tires, and brakes.
GM SP383 Crate Engine Tech Specs – PN 19355672
- Engine Type: Chevy small-block V8
- Displacement (cu. in.): 383
- Bore x Stroke (in.): 4.000 x 3.800
- Block (P/N 88962513): Cast-iron with four-bolt main caps
- Crankshaft (P/N 12489436): Forged steel
- Connecting Rods (P/N 12497624): Heavy-duty forged steel
- Pistons (P/N 12499103): Hypereutectic aluminum
- Camshaft Type (P/N 19210723): Hydraulic roller
- Valve Lift (in.): .509 intake / .528 exhaust
- Camshaft Duration (@.050 in.): 222° intake / 230° exhaust
- Cylinder Heads (P/N 19300955): Fast Burn aluminum; 62-cc chambers
- Valve Size (in.): 2.000 intake / 1.550 exhaust
- Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
- Rocker Arms (P/N 19210724): Aluminum roller style
- Rocker Arm Ratio: 1.5:1
- Recommended Fuel: Premium pump
- Ignition Timing: 36° total at 4000 rpm
- Maximum Recommended rpm: 6000
- Balanced: External
“Pop Pop’s Wagon” – Accessories For The Road
You might have noticed that the Bel Air is sporting something that makes this cruiser a little more of a unique ride. Inside the trunk where you’ll find the Rockford sound system in its own custom housing, you’ll also find a full-size spare, the Optima battery, and a Genuine Chevrolet cooler.
What’s beyond the trunk, however, is one of the coolest things we like about this Tri-Five Bow Tie. A class IV receiver hitch is mounted to the frame so Jimmie can pull his custom trailer with him on trips, or when heading out to local car shows to carry chairs, food, and maybe a trophy or two?
Jimmie tells us, “The car has been driven just over 50,000 miles since 2009.” What that means to Jimmie is that he not only has a cool cruiser, but a reliable one at that. What that means to us, is that Jimmie drives his Bel Air quite a bit, and takes it out on the road where it’s meant to be.