Larry and Judy Brewer are a retired couple living in Benton, Kentucky, and much earlier in Larry’s 75 years on earth he owned a four-door Chevy Fleetline. In fact, it was his first car and, even though he has been into customizing cars all his life, he has always wanted a custom 1950 Fleetline-this time a two-door.
He was able to locate a good, stock candidate at a local auction but, at the time being 70 years old, thought this project (which was going to be a handful due to Larry’s desire to chop the Chevy’s fastback roof) might best be tackled by someone a bit younger and with more experience customizing cars, and luckily he was able to find Brad Starks.
As it turns out, there are all types of “builders” out in the world who claim they can do this or that, but Starks is the real deal. If you spend 20 minutes rolling through his photo albums on Facebook, you can clearly see the guy not only understands hot rod history, but is equally adept at doing something contemporary as well. What’s more, Starks can seamlessly blend the two together, which is the hardest trick of them all.
Working out of his 4,500-square-foot Brad Starks Rod & Custom shop in Paducah, Kentucky, over the past seven years, Starks has created all sorts of hot rods and mild customs, often doing 98 percent of the metal fabrication and bodywork himself. One of the most acclaimed vehicles he built was the Goodguys’ Custom of the Year in 2009, a 1950 Chevy tin woodie with incredible wood graining down its side. But Starks not only likes chopping mid-’50s Chevys, but he’s built some mighty fine pickups, and laid down some striking paintjobs on a few Harleys.
Having a knowledgeable background in most every type of ’50s cars gives you a great base to work from when customizing a car. And even though you may not know exactly how something is going to fit once transplanted from one make or year to another, you do know it’s going to look awesome when it’s done!
Stark’s approach on Brewer’s Chevy was to combine a bit of new technology with some old-fashioned cutting and fabricating to create a one-off that Larry would be proud to drive his wife around in. The work began with obtaining an Art Morrison GT Sport 2×4 chassis, which Brad modified a little to accept the proposed inline six-cylinder (more on that motor idea later).
The chassis would be fitted with a Ford 9-inch Posi rear (3.70:1) and 31-spline Strange axles. The rest was fairly straightforward, with a triangulated four-link out back, an Art Morrison IFS up front, and antiroll bars front and rear. Coilover shocks are found on each corner, as are Wilwood disc brakes (12-inch fore, 11-inch aft). Steering components include a Flaming River box and a 1950 Pontiac column modified by Starks, and fuel capacity was increased with a high-capacity stainless tank from Chevs of the 40’s. To give the car a more contemporary look, Wheel Smith billet artillery wheels (17×7 and 17×8) are wrapped in Kumho 225/55ZR-17 and 245/50ZR-17 hides, and were topped with 1957 Chevy truck hubcaps to provide that “bullet” look found on many customs.
When it comes to an engine to power this custom, Brad and Larry could have gone with a new powerplant that offered the confidence that only computerized accuracy can deliver, or they could go crazy and build something wild like a blown inline-six. Luckily, they decided on the latter.
Because it was going to be so unique, Starks turned to a couple of specialists for this engine: Kelley’s Machine in Union City, Tennessee, and Lowell Grooms. Kelly’s did the machine work on the 1966 250-incher, adding 0.040-over hypereutectic pistons and a COMP Cams H268 camshaft, and the heads were milled 0.010 before stainless steel valves were installed. Topping the block is a custom valve cover from Starks that basically uses a stock 216 cover that sits over the 250 valve cover-making the engine look older (and therefore smaller) than it really is.
The blower and intake were in Grooms’ wheelhouse. He knew the system worked-he’d had a nearly identical setup in his 1932 roadster that he campaigned at Goodguys autocross events with great success. Lowell took an Eaton M90 blower off a ’90s-era 3.8L V-6, and built the aluminum intake for the Edelbrock 600 carb by hand (with the end product running on 8 pounds of boost) and the unique belt system as well.
Grooms also fab’d the header system, and Starks made the air cleaner and the rest of the exhaust system (utilizing Sonic Turbo mufflers in the process). Dual electric fans keep the aluminum radiator running cool, and the whole shebang mates to a Gearstar 200-4R automatic transmission and a Wiles Driveshaft.
While the chassis and drivetrain were going together, Starks was also busy with the car’s body. The most striking feature of the Chevy was also the hardest to achieve: the 3-inch chop. Bring the roofline down and making the rear section flow into the taillight area correctly is where the magic needed to take place. The original taillights were tiny and fit upright and flush against the area between the trunk and peak of the fender. But Starks’ idea was to use nearly horizontal 1959 Corvette taillights and, for added impact, made the driver side assembly hinge and pop up to reveal the location of the gas filler.
Add to that swapping in a set of 1955 Olds headlights, modifying the grille (removing the teeth) and its opening, using a curved one-piece windshield from a 1950 Oldsmobile instead of the original split Chevy unit, and re-arch the rear fenderwells. Door handles from a 1950 Olds were also installed, and the hood, which used to be two-piece, was welded together, reshaped, and peaked. The rear bumper came from a 1955 Chevy before being welded up and smoothed out, and the front is a 1950 Chevy bumper but Starks added the accessory ends and modified its shape to fit under the modified front fenders. The chrome on the car came from two shops: Perfection Plating in Nashville and Brown’s Plating Service in Paducah, Kentucky.
More metal fabrication is found inside the car, where a dash from a 1950 Pontiac Silver Streak hardtop was grafted into the Chevy’s confines. The Pontiac’s gauges were rebuilt at Auto Instruments in Martinsville, Virginia; though the original clock in the middle of the speaker grille still looks like a clock, it’s actually a tachometer. The stock speaker grille is now home to the Vintage Air A/C vents, and a Kenwood CD sound system (installed by Jeremy and the gang at J’s Rod & Custom Interiors in McKenzie, Tennessee) has been mounted in the trunk. Once the metalwork was finished, the car rolled into Stark’s paint booth where it received several coats of RM’s Tuscan Sun that is found on some 2012 Nissan Maximas.
J’s also handled the interior’s upholstery needs, using 1963 Impala seats and covering everything with a gray and white leather combo while opting for a cranberry suede headliner. Gray German square-weave carpet went in below, which contrasts the lighter gray color on the lower dash section.
Once completed, Larry was more than happy to drive it around to local shows, and he’s even picked up a few awards with it, including a Pro’s Pick and another at the Shades of the Past Hot Rod Roundup. And thanks to the crew at Brad Starks Rod & Custom, Larry has the custom he’s always wanted.