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54 Chevy Bel Air hartop

Trying to restore a 54 Chevy bel air sedan.
Anyone have some knowledge you may drop on the subject? Stock specs or any mod suggestions?
Still has the stock inline 6 with a 32/36 bolted on , any suggestions for better carbueration?

This is my friends project and we are both new to restoration but looking for any knowledge that one may be able to drop on us. We don't mind the challenge/task n headaches cause we're here to learn, we believe you gotta start some where so any help will be appreciated, thanks for your time peace, justin


  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,421
    I think I'd approach the car in this order:

    1. What do I want to end up with? A stock /54 restored like Chevy made it? OR an "improved" /54 Chevy that looks real stock but has better motor, brakes, exhaust and is more fun to drive? OR a real "rod" with big motor, radical paintwork, big wheels, unusual interior with digital gauges, super-sound, etc? OR do you just want to tinker with it WHILE you're driving it, like a p/t hobby car that you can use?

    2. Once you know your goal, then you work up a budget. How much money do you want to have in this car as a grand total? Have you added up all that you want to do? Are you numbers realistic?

    3. How much of the work can you do yourself and how much will you farm out? Where will you do this work? Do you care how long it takes?

    So once you have a plan, a place, and a budget, you can start on it.


  • burdawgburdawg Posts: 1,521
    A guy I worked with (he's now retired) has a nice 54 Bel Air. 350/350 GM drivetrain, body bone stock, lifted slightly in the rear with classic American Racing alloys. Upgraded interior. It's a classic ride.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,421
    That's really a good way to go. Sensible guy. I'd add power steering and front disk brakes and one of those add-on vintage AC kits. Then it's just about the perfect ride (for me). Those old barges were really hard to steer and you got lots of engine and trans heat through the bare firewall and floors.

    Oh yeah, I'd put Dyna-mat down on the floors and inner firewall, too, to keep heat out.


  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,610
    Well, our much respected host and I disagree on this subject.

    The bottom line, do you want a cool 1954 Chevy to drive around in or do you want "something else"?

    Do you want it stock as it was designed or do you want it "Mickey Moused?" I can give you a strong argument either way. Just remember, they are only stock once.

    I had a 54 Chevy Bel Air and it was one sweet ride in it's stock condition. It steered well, stopped well and cruised the freeways of So. Calif at 70 MPH with no problems.

    I never felt any excess heat through the firewall although this can be a problem with some old cars.

    It did have a split manifold for that wonderful sound only a Chevy six can produce. The 235 engine is a strong workhorse, and if it has a Powerglide, it will hold up well.

    Usually, these arent daily drivers. They don't have to handle or stop like a BMW.

    Is it a hardtop or a sedan? You weren't clear. If it's a 2 door hardtop, then it would really be a shame ( I know, my jaded opinion) to make it something it never was intended to be.

    Sorry, Joe, I respect and even agree somewhat with you on this but to me, it's a shame to mes with an old Chevy!

    Now...if it were a Ford we were talking about....
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,852
    to add the stuff like power front disc brakes without actually butchering the car up? For instance, if all the old hardware was held onto and put into storage, would it be possible to just bolt it back on, if some future owner wanted to put the car back to original condition?

    Or would doing those mods require a bunch of cutting, welding, etc, to the point that the old stuff would never go back on?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,421
    The poster did say "sedan" so I was working on that premise, that this is a 4-door car. Isell and I aren't so much in disagreement about not chopping up a 2-door hardtop, but a '54 Chevy sedan is the type of car you want to consider very very carefully before investing a lot of money. Not only is it modest in looks and performance, but very few people are going to stop and appreciate it.

    However, if you give it some juice with nicer wheels and a good V8 rumble, well then the picture changes. Then you have a mild street rod. You have more fun. The spectator has more fun.

    Yes! You can modify to power steering and disk brakes without cutting or changing anything permanently. It's not that easy but you can return the car to originality--although again, with a sedan, I don't know why you would.

    Just look at the value of a Ford or Chevy sedan from 1927. In 80 years, they are still worth less than a used Hyundai---so with an early 50s sedan, you aren't sittin' on a gold mine here.


  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,610
    In the heading of his post it said hardtop and later, he said it was a sedan so I don't know.

    to answer Andre, yes, they can be converted to disk brakes without butchering the car but, WHY?

    It's almost like some people think the old drum brakes were dangerous or inferior. If they are adjusted properly and working well, they will quickly skid the car to a stop if necessary. Yes, disks won't heat up or fade as much, but, again, people shouldn't drive a 54 Chevy as they would a modern car and any sensible person wouldn't.

    Last night, at the local car show, thre was a 1953 Chevy convertable. At least it had been at one time. Undr the hood sat a small black Chevy engine of some kind. The Powerglide had been replaced with a floor mounted who knows what. The stock guages had been replaced with modern digital ones etc. It was a nice car to be sure but it sure wasn't a sweet, stock 53 Bel Air convertable.

    To each his own...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,421
    The disk brakes are only necessary if you swap out the anemic 6 for a big V8. If you keep the stock 235, then drum brakes are fine. But with triple the horsepower, you'd better have disk brakes on there. This is exactly what the Big Three did anyway, as their HP increased in the 1960s.


  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,610
    If you're going to drop a V-8 in there the car is pretty much doomed as an original so what the heck.

    I don't think once a V-8 has been installed that it would be possible to return the car to stock. Too many things have to be cut.

    One time I decided to see what the top speed of my 54 Bel Air was. I got to 92 MPH and it wouldn't go any faster.

    It wasn't TOO anemic for what it was.

    Another time I blasted through a tunnel at about 80MPH with my dual pipes blasting like mad only to discover a motorcycle cop hiding outside the tunnel.

    He was NOT amused nor was he a big fan of split manifolds and 18" glasspacks!
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,852
    The disk brakes are only necessary if you swap out the anemic 6 for a big V8. If you keep the stock 235, then drum brakes are fine. But with triple the horsepower, you'd better have disk brakes on there. This is exactly what the Big Three did anyway, as their HP increased in the 1960s.

    How about this for a compromise? Instead of going with disc brakes, what if you just went with a more substantial drum brake setup from a later model car? Disc brakes are going to make a power assist mandatory, whereas simply putting bigger drums on the car, you could get away without the power assist. So there'd be less to change, less complexity, etc.

    I had a '67 Chrysler Newport hardtop with a 383-2bbl, and it just had drum brakes. I'd imagine they were 11" drums all around. It also had no power assist, so you'd think it would take plenty of leg muscle to stop a heavy, torquey behemoth like that. But I had no trouble at all. Even more telling, before I owned it, it belonged to a little old lady who'd owned it since around 1971. That's gotta be proof positive that, as long as your drums are big enough, you really don't need a power assist.

    Of course, a good disk setup with power assist will still be better, but that Newport was perfectly adequate in normal day-to-day driving. Of course, if you want to slam on the brakes multiple times in succession, hauling it down from highway speeds to a dead stop, you're going to fade them pretty quickly, but I can't imagine too many situations where you have a bunch of panic stops in a row like that.

    My '67 Catalina convertible has drums all around, with power assist. I dunno how much hp the thing has. Originally it had 290 gross with the 2-bbl, but it has a 4-bbl on it now, so I'd guess around 325? Other than being a bit grabby at first, I've never had any complaints about them. I'd imagine they're 11"?

    As for the domestics switching to disc brakes, I don't think it was high-hp engines that caused them to do that, but probably increased pressure from the public, foreign competition, or somebody else. Heck, in 1973, GM was still putting 9.5" drums (same size as a Corvair, I think) as standard equipment in 4000 lb musclecars with 454/455 big-blocks! Fortunately, a disc setup that also upgraded you to 11" drums in back was optional, and I think most of them were equipped this way. But they were still making you pay extra for the privelege, in a time when the power was coming down.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,610
    Andre, in the case of that '54 Chevy you simply don't need bigger drums. They stop just fine with the stock set up.

    Now, if someone has turned the drums beyond minimum specs it could be a different story.

    Mine stopped just fine!
  • Thank you all for the opinions and suggestions...I appreciate all of your insights on the subject. I don't know why the top of the page says " What is this discussion about? Chevrolet, Classic Car, Coupe" <---I don't know why it says coupe there...I clearly put sedan. Knowing its a four door..Where this project goes will be entirely to my friend, being that the Bel Air is his car. Since my buddy and I are only 20 and 22 we have never seen the Bel Air in its original state during its "out the factory" time period , So I would scratch the stock classic thought and fabricate a more rod/moded car thats would reflect our time era and passions. but that's just my thought. I'm just here for the ride..Gaining knowledge is all I can ask for..Thank you all ...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,421
    I fixed the sedan "thingie" for you.


  • Thanks for the switch Mr shift.

    "In the heading of his post it said hardtop and later, he said it was a sedan so I don't know. " - There such thing as a four door hardtop right? I haven't seen the car in a couple of months so the picture of the car is kinda blurry in my head..Could I be wrong? :confuse:
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 44,421
    Not in a '54 Chevy 4-door hardtop.


  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,610
    And I should know the answer but does anyone know if Chevy built any 1955 4 door hardtops? I am thinking they didn't start these until 1956 but now I'm questioning myself.

    At a car show, I recently saw a REAL oddball 1956 Chevy. It was a 4 door hardtop 210 series! Now, those were extremely rare! It was nice to see despite the fact it had the worst color combo they offered that year. Remember the two tone yellow and greens that were actually pretty popular that year.

    To make it even worse, they just HAD to add fender skirts and a hokey continental kit. Those are two options I just despise on ANY old car yet people seem to think they are nifty additions.

    To make ths Chevy even more unusual, it was a six cylinder with a three speed. Actually a VERY nice and very unusual old Chevy!
  • fintailfintail Posts: 33,515
    I don't think there was a 55 4 door HT, no...unless it was a prototype or something.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,852
    Chevy didn't have a 4-door hardtop until 1956, although as Fintail suggests, there may have been a prototype.

    Oldsmobile and Buick fielded the first 4-door hardtops in mid-1955, on the B-body, which would be the Olds 88/98 and Buick Special/Century. The Buick Super/Roadmaster, being on the larger C-body shared with Cadillac, wouldn't get that style until 1956.

    I've actually seen illustrations of a 1952 DeSoto 4-door hardtop, but it was never offered for sale to the public. I dunno if any prototypes were built, or if it was just an illustration. IIRC, it just looked like a 2-door hardtop with 4 doors, so it didn't have a special roof or anything.

    I think most people nowadays don't really know what a "hardtop" is. They just think hard top versus convertible. I remember years ago, right after I totaled my '69 Dart GT, I found a '76 Delta 88 4-door in the classifieds. This was back before the internet, so there were no pictures. I called about it and asked the lady if it was a hardtop (they offered both a pillared sedan and a hardtop with that generation). The lady just replied "No, it has a vinyl roof". At that point, I didn't even bother to try explaining the difference to her. Also never saw the car, because I had my eye on this local '68 Dart that I saw for sale, the day after I totaled my '69. And ultimately, that was what I ended up with.

    Oh, and I absolutely HATE those add-on continental tire kits and skirts! I know that color combo too, the yellow/green. So was it green with a yellow contrast, or vice versa? Neither one is particularly taseful in my book, but I'd prefer the green body.

    Somehow though, I could actually picture that combo working on a '54 Chevy. Probably because it would just have a contrasting roof, and at most, just a tiny sliver on the rear quarter, versus the more radical two-toning they did in later years.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,610
    You know, the reason I asked is because I can almost swear, I saw a '55 Bel Air 4 door HT at a car show.

    I could be dreaming or it could have been something someone very creative put together?

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who despises Continental Kits and skirts. As far as I'm concern, these just hokey up the looks of a car. I guess in some parts of the country, these wer popular? Certainly NOT in So. California!
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,852
    I'm glad I'm not the only one who despises Continental Kits and skirts. As far as I'm concern, these just hokey up the looks of a car. I guess in some parts of the country, these wer popular? Certainly NOT in So. California!

    I've always wondered where that continental kit trend started, anyway? Those cars certainly didn't leave the factory that way! Same with fender skirts.

    I dunno how popular this trend was, but there used to be a kit you could get for a 1957 Chevy or Ford to convert it to a quad headlight setup. I saw it in an old 1958 Popular Mechanics that my granddad had. The ad said "Make your car look identical to the new 1958 models!" Umm, not hardly! The end result looked sort of like those 1958 Packards and Studebakers that had the hastily contrived quad headlight setups. I'm hoping that quad headlight conversion fad died pretty quickly.
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