1964 Chevrolet Bel Air: Reader Resto
Grus Farley's tipped everything he has into his Aussie-delivered Chev. Keeping it factory-spec was never going to be easy...
1964 Chevrolet Bel Air
I’ve had my 1964 Australian delivered Chevrolet Bel Air for 10 years. I purchased her in 2005, and bought her from a private seller up here in Queensland. I’ve done some digging and found she started life in Victoria, but I don’t really have much more info in that direction.
Over the past decade we’ve cruised many miles and had some great times. But there have been some bubbles under the paint that always troubled me. I was a little naive when buying her, and when I asked about the bubbles under the paint on the door, I was told they were ‘paint blemishes’ and nothing to worry about. Should’ve taken a magnet.
The longer I owned the Chev the more obvious the rust under the paint became. But I kept telling myself it was a small job that I’d get done one day. After discharging from the army I found myself here on the Sunshine Coast and decided it was time to sort out the rust. I asked around for anyone up here that did work on classics. I kept getting recommended Classic Ridz of Caloundra. They were the real deal. In the middle of 2013 I dropped her off and the work began.
After removing a portion of the amazing looking paint work it turned out that the small rust bubbles were the tip of the iceberg and it was decided that a full restoration needed to take place. I kept looking and it turns out bubbles were everywhere – in the wheel arches, door corners, the roof turret, the boot – although I was pleasantly surprised there wasn’t any under the windscreen. There was rust where the paint seemed fine and there were some very shoddy repairs and buckets of bog thrown at it.
The guys at Classic Ridz were absolutely brilliant with the Chev, they spent days, and weeks just sanding back the body. There’s a lot of it so I had to be patient. They’re meticulous and made sure to photograph as they went and with every decision they made. In 2014 the business changed hands and my good friend Brad Maddern took over the body refit. He’s done an amazing job, taking a lot of his own time to help me – it was a real team effort. The paint colour is Portsea Blue metallic which is the same as an EH Premier and is a factory single colour car, not two-tone like most others.
A major issue with this restoration was the lack of resources. There isn’t a single piece of paper that says what you need, where to get it and how much it costs. Being right-hand drive, I couldn’t just snap up something on eBay, it’s a blend of Chev, Holden and Pontiac bits, and this was a consistent problem throughout the project. I could’ve just gone the easy route by throwing a 350 Chev engine in there and saved myself that hassle. But I knew that wouldn’t be right. Things like brake lines, the exhaust, and even finding elbow room to do up certain bolts became problematic. Then there was the issue of working out what went where – sometimes parts I’d gotten from the States didn’t end up fitting and I’d be back to square one.
I also wasted a great deal of time reading through forums online and trying to get credible information. There are so many turkeys out there writing misleading garbage it makes the whole experience harder. Finding out about decals from Yank cars compared with Aussie cars was chaotic enough. You can get some great advice, don’t get me wrong, but you have to carefully filter out the misinformation. Those stickers on the air cleaner got reproduced up here on the Sunshine Coast, so I eventually won that battle.
One of my saving graces was Arnold Milane at Automotive Technologies in Ballarat, Victoria. We’ve never met, but he was a guru for this stuff. Fortunately the interior had already been restored in the States, but that wasn’t the end of it. Classic Ridz also found a bloke with the original bitumen board for the door kick panels, and Charles at Nostalgic Wireless in Eaglemont, Victoria was fantastic at gently pulling apart and fixing the Air Chief Deluxe AM radio – it took him eight weeks, but that’s because he’s so highly regarded. I thought it was appropriate having to send it to Victoria considering it still has the original Victorian channel facia on the front to select stations.
When it came to tackling the exhaust, and I’m still in the process now actually, the main issue was clearing everything underneath. It’s a twin system but I’m planning to change back to a single for the sake of authenticity. That said, there’ll be no dump pipes either, just a straight pipe.
For the suspension, I took the Chev to Pedders in 2004-2005 when I first got it, and knew that with all the natural body roll, they’d be able to get the best handling balance. Fortunately all the bushes had been done before my time and in my ten years it’s not even done ten thousand kilometres – they’ll degrade from age before they do from wear.
The two-speed Powerglide transmission has had a service and runs really nicely and, as for the engine, I’ve done plenty. I took the heads off and found grooves in the bores and some of that delicious rust I mentioned earlier. So I pulled the engine right down, put in new rings and pistons because sand had cut the grooves in the bores and allowed moisture in. I did the diff seals and oil, ran the brake lines, gave the four drum brakes a refresher, and put a lip on the pushrod in the booster. I’ve also re-built the power steering system – it’s nice having the car stay on the correct side of the road now! Its days of wandering are over.
I also had to get a new radiator in from the US with help from Classic Industries, which is an OEM reproduction item because they’re so hard to find original now. It seems they all rusted out. It’s funny how shipping works when you do a resto – it took less than a week to get it, yet some parts from Australia take two!
It’s been an interesting (and my last) restoration experience with laughter, tears and joy along the way – the smile you get when your car you’ve sweated over finally comes home is something very special. I often refer to the Chev as "her" or "she" because I love it so much. It weighs nearly two tonnes but I’d push her in the rain if I had to.
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