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There are a number of things that an individual taking on the task of restoring a classic 1955-57 Chevy Bel Air must consider. You must first take into account the current age of these cars, a 55 Chevy is now 54 years old, so other than finding a stock one in an old barn, you’ll have some decisions to make.
In most cases, you will find one that is completely in pieces, one that has been restored to someone else’s specifications or one that needs a lot of work to make it road worthy.
In this Restoration Guide, I’ll be providing an overview for all of the important aspects that your restoration process will involve.
There are two important things to consider when restoring a classic car:
- Your planned budget
- Your mechanical skill level
If you do the work yourself you can save a lot of money, but if not, labor cost must be added to the overall project. Secondly, you need a place to do your restoration and keep the old Chevy out of the elements.
Another thing to consider is your timetable to completion, as far as degree of restoration, once again that is up to you, keeping within your resources you must decide at the beginning whether you want a show stopper or a safe, efficient running Chevy (like I own).
When looking for a project car the most important item is the body, and as a given, the front fenders, quarter panels, window glass and trunk frame and floor will need work or replacement. The under body frame work usually holds up well, but expect to repair or replace the outer floor supports. I would shy-away from vehicles with rotted under carriage frames and floor boards, you are starting at a disadvantage in effort and costs.The two-door models are the most popular and in the end will provide the most “bang” for your efforts and investment.
Other areas and items to inspect include:
- The wheel wells
- Engine compartment
- Splash panels
- Window felt trim (likely replacement items),
- Roof head liner (if not replaced you will what to) and
- Body molding if it is present its made of stainless steel, which would put it low on your priority list to replace.
I recommend you study different picture angles of 1955 Chevys to become familiar with their body contours, a lot can happen in 54 years. Remember, as I will mention throughout this article keeping the Chevy as stock as possible is the best decision, also remember getting after market “stock” parts is no problem, so work with what you have right down to getting seat covers.
In the area of mechanical items, I advise having your favorite mechanic accompany you when determining the state of the car, a second opinion is always best when making a decision like this one. If you find an old Chevy with its original drive train (engine, transmission and rear-end) you have hit a bonanza, but in most cases you will not, or the price range will be, or should be high.
Basically, you are looking for something with all the pieces, even if the car does not run; remember replacement parts and components are easily assessable for these cars. These cars consist of a couple thousand pieces and in a restoration effort you will get familiar with most of them, even after 30 years I am still getting acquainted with new ones.
The drive train of the car is its life blood, so choose wisely in the early stages of your restoration (Use my small block engine rebuild article as a guide). If the car runs, road test it and listen to and observe the dive train components. If they work satisfactorily that’s another bonus, if not, resources are available, but always remember cost and labor. I would prefer a standard shift; 3 or 4 speed transmission, but there are reasonable options in the automatic transmission selections as well.
The next area of concern is the front end steering and suspension. I would be prepared to get under the car and arrange to have the wheels pulled off of the car. An easy steering quality check is steering wheel play, excessive play corresponds to worn steering linkage (inner and outer tie rod ends, idler arm bushings) or a worn or out of adjustment steering box. Once again, replacement parts are easily available.
The upper and lower control arm bushings are also a critical inspection item, its best to plan on replacing them if not recently replaced, the newer market replacements made of propylene materials out perform the standard rubber replacements. If the upper and lower ball joints are riveted in place they are original, replacements will be bolted to the control arms. If the owner can not provide information on the replacement or condition of the steering and suspension parts, be aware, the parts are available and not real expensive, but cost and labor can take a toll through the restoration.
The braking system is another important inspection item; we will keep with the stock system in terms of this article. Inspect the brake drums, they need to have a clean smooth braking surface on the interior; brake shoes should be worn evenly and check for any fluid seepage around the brake cylinder boots and master cylinder mounting area on the firewall. In case, you will want to roughly go over the braking system especially if you plan to keep the stock single stage master cylinder in service.
The fuel system is a potential problem area and needs checked out. Examine the exterior and interior of the gas tank, the tanks have a tendency to rust from the interior out, a good investment is a new tank fuel suction/gauge level and screen unit. Clean and inspect the tank as required and use an oil type additive (Lucus Gas Treatment) to prevent rust build up in the fuel tank.
Gas Tank Inspection
The 55 Chevy and other the other classics have different gas tank configurations, prepare to spend some money on a new after market replacement. The condition of the gas tank will have a direct impact on the performance of the fuel pump and carburetor; place a fuel filter down-stream of the fuel pump until you feel the fuel system is clean.
The wiring harnesses will need to be inspected the harnesses will either be replaced, patched-up or original and quick glance under the hood and under the dashboard will give you a good idea on condition. After market harnesses are available but have a professional auto electrician install the replacement harnesses as required. Getting all of the exterior lights to work on your Chevy is an art in its self, so hopefully the owner has gone through this exercise.
The remainder of your restoration purchase exercise involves the superficial parts of the Chevy; window glass, bumpers, body trim and moldings you will have to be satisfied with what you have until these items time come for attention as with the interior.
The key of purchasing a project restoration car is having all the pieces old or new to start with and putting you efforts towards safety and performance in that order as you progress through “your” restoration program.
There is a big difference in purchasing an old Chevy that has been restored and one that needs restored in terms of cost and labor. A completely restored Chevys can go as high as $25,000, but by being patient and keeping within your budget and personal capabilities you can put one together for less than $5,000. Another key factor in your quest of finding an old Chevy to restore is being able to maintain it once you get it completed to your specifications.
- 1955 Chevy body parts
- 283 V8 Chevy Engines & Parts
- 1955 Chevy Steering Parts
- Suspension Kits
- 1955 Chevy Bel Air Brake Parts
- Wiring harnesses
- 55 Chevy Gas Tanks
- Fuel System Accessories
- Chrome Accessories
- Chevy Bel Air Bumpers
- 55 Chevy Felt Kits
- Window Glass
Note: EBay is a great place to find parts for classic cars online. They offer an extensive catalog of accessories that will help get your Chevy Bel Air up and running. If you are not a member of EBay yet, you can sign for free here.
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