The popularity of cars comes and goes. Sure, the Bow-Tie examples both dominate magazine pages and parking lot car show and it's among the Chevy set that you see waves. For the last few years, the first and second generation Camaros have gathered the attention. Though they never really left, the string of seriously modified 1955-'57 Chevys being turned out by both pro and hobbyist puts those Camaros to pastures. The Tri-5s got it goin' on these days.
Many PHR/Goodguys Street Machine of the Year finalists like Mike Black's flamed '55 and NFL star Trace Armstrong's fast '57 had individual styling cues that set them apart. Others like the Neil Lea '56 and the Bruce Ricks '55 had street rod build styles that most pre-'49 guys could only dream of achieving. Brent Du Pont's car, this '57 Bel Air named "Ricochet," stands out for putting all of that stuff together with a dose of g-Machine prowess that's a sure fire finalist at Columbus this summer.
DuPont, from Rocklin, California, had always been an enthusiast, but never a "builder." His '68 Camaro SS big-block ride was shaped up in his own garage, but wasn't the masterpiece you see here. Brent sucked up the guts to sell that Camaro, bought a rust-free Bel-Air that was blown apart in a well organized but failed restoration, and invested in a Millermatic 185 welder--this guy was going to just figure out how to build his dreams from mechanical inclination, less experience.
That was 1996. More than six years later the car is wearing out Nor Cal's pavement and impressing motorists with surprising dexterity. It actually took twice as long, figuring that three years was enough to achieve a great driver that was comfortable, stylish, and, most important, fun to drive.
DuPont prioritized only that it had to have a big-block, which eliminated his idea of buying a pre-built performance chassis based on Corvette parts (as we showed off last month in PHR), since there were no rat-motored examples at the time. Proper handling and geometry were must-have assets, so Brent contacted Oregon's Jim Meyer Racing Products, who hangs front suspension featuring great camber gains at a low ride height using GM B-body spindles and custom a-arms. In addition, a Meyer chassis features a cross member that's four inches higher than stock, insuring that a slammed stance won't generate sparks. Baer Brakes were DuPont's next investment (a typical 13- and 12-inch Track system).
Then the work began. "I knew I was going to have clearance problems, so I cut out the stock firewall and made my own out of 16-gauge steel," DuPont said, "and I recessed the firewall back four inches. Once the firewall was complete and the body on the new chassis, I liked the front stance but the back was higher than I wanted." A minitub project turned into a complete reconstruction of the floor, mostly so that Brent could build sheetmetal boxes to bury the four-link and get the correct rear stance. A big help there is running tall tires (approaching 29 inches tall), which fills the wheel wells, provides a supple ride without too much sidewall deflection under significant cornering load, and safely supports a heavy car. The soft lip wheels--17x7 x 18 x 10 Boyd Coddington LS Furys wrapped with 225/45-17 and 295/45-18 Goodyear GS D3 tires--help the illusion, too. Brent's thanks go out to Dennis Blakely, who helped him cut & we cut all the rear suspension out of the car and moved it up 3 inches. There's more work here than our space permits to describe!
The engine project was simple by comparison. DuPont's research landed him at Arizona Speed & Marine for its complete EFI system, which was bolted to a Schneider hydraulic roller-cammed 454. "I had problems with finding headers to fit due to the all of the chassis mods, so I located the master cylinder down below on the frame and modified a set of 'shorties' from Rodworks to ensure the exhaust wouldn't scrape."
This car has styling cues that most people ignore or accept. Brent despised the Tri-5's ultra-tall core support that typically hides a detailed engine. So, he took five inches out of it and rebuilt the main support with 3-inch oval tubing. It goes through the inner fenders, leading to K&N filters on each side that draw air through factory vents behind the headlight buckets. The center of the support was opens and comes together to funnel air into the throttle body. "I also sealed the cover to the core support and covered the factory wheels wells, extending the fenders down six inches into the engine compartment. Those custom inner fenders don't look like they're built by a first timer, so kudos for DuPont's rookie effort.
The idea with this body was to maintain the theme but eliminate the unnecessary. Some call louvers and bullets "styling cues," but Brent called them gone. He built his own grille from 16-gauge steel, designing perforated oval openings and power coating the creation in semi-gloss black. Trent Jones & Joe Stockdale at San Jose's Classic Concepts sprayed a PPG custom mix (sorry subscribers, you'll have to mix and match to get this paint code...). Custom bumpers, IPF projection headlights, and LED taillights in factory housings give it the modern touch.
A wrecked '96 Lincoln Mark VIII was inspiration of the interior theme and also the dashboard and seating source. Ward Auto Interiors (Orangevale, California).sculpted and designed everything else from scratch using Ultra leather and Italian wool in Light Cream and Palomino Palomino Italian wool. The audio system's capacity is beyond our possible descriptions, but 1,200 watts of Phoenix Gold power gives you the hint. Five cases of Cascade sound deadening material line this ride! "A lot of people thought I was crazy cutting out the factory dash, but now that it is done most have been very receptive to the change.
"I have learned a lot and met some great people along the way," DuPont said. "Now that it is finally done, it is time for dividends to pay off--it's time to hit the road and enjoy the hell out of it!"
Hopefully that road leads to Columbus, Ohio, so our judges can weigh his achievement against the year's best.