It’s hard to deny the alluring beauty of a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. The iconic fins, excess of chrome, and unmistakable front end are the envy of most and an object of obsession for some. There are few, if any, cars with such a following as final year of Chevrolet’s Tri-Five series of cars.
Dennis Gaya of Sebastopol, California, is the owner of this restomod beauty, and he’s had the Bel Air for just shy of ten years. “I purchased the car from a friend that inherited it from his grandfather who was the original owner,” Dennis said. “It sat in his back yard for 10 years before I could talk him into selling it to me. The car was full of rust and you could see the ground through the floor.” While Dennis knew it was going to be a big project, that did not deter him.
He brought the Bel Air home and assessed what needed done. “I decided to remove the body and perform a total frame-off restoration,” Dennis said. He found that the frame had been bent in an accident years ago in addition to the rust and usual disrepair of a car that has been sitting for a decade.
The next step in the process is what most car guys dream of. “In 2011, I went to the SEMA show in Las Vegas with a wallet full of credit cards,” Dennis explained. “I shopped for two days, buying all of the major components.” He went through the show and picked out all the parts he wanted to include in his hot rod build.
He started with a complete, Art Morrison chassis, Wilwood disc brakes, a Rick’s Tanks 20-gallon fuel tank, and Budnik wheels. Dennis also selected an impressive drivetrain, opting to use a Mast Motorsports LS3 engine, TCI six-speed automatic transmission, and a Strange 9-inch rearend.
Dennis finished things off with a Budnik steering wheel, Vintage Air A/C, Classic Instruments gauges, and an Infinity Box electrical management system. Once he finished shopping at SEMA, it was time to get home and start building his car.
“Pieces starts showing up awhile the body was on a rotisserie getting cleaned,” Dennis said. It was getting new floor pans, mini tubs in the rear, and all of the other rust repair that it needed. After the body work was done, it was coated in epoxy primer, and the body was taken off the rotisserie to be test fit on the new frame. Satisfied with the merger, he took the body back off, and the frame and suspension went for powdercoating.
After several months of bodywork, the Bel Air went to one of Dennis’ friend’s house for final sanding and painting. While the paintwork was in progress, the frame was being fit with all of the running gear. “Once the painting was finished, the body was bolted to the frame for the fifth and final time,” Dennis said.
Assembly took another two years, and the car went off to the upholstery shop for finishing touches. “The interior was custom fabricated using Cadillac seats, custom made rear seats, door panels, console, and headliner,” Dennis said.
The Bel Air’s interior also features a smooth dash with custom gauges, cruise control, paddle shifters, electric windows and door locks, a security system, and a nine-speaker sound system. All of the electronics are controlled by a mini iPad in the console. The car may have the look and style of a 60-year-old car, but it has every convenience of a modern luxury vehicle.
Since completion, the Bel Air has been driven 5,000 miles and attended many shows over the last two years. “She is a real joy to drive and handles like a modern high-performance vehicle,” Dennis said. “The car started out to be a restoration, but turned into a custom build. There is just too much hot-rodding in my blood.”
It took a total of 8-years to build the car, but it was worth it. “Thank god I have a forgiving wife,” Dennis said. “Now that I’m approaching 70 years old, this is the last car I will build. Now it’s time to see the USA in my Chevrolet.