Cracking this man is a job for a CIA interrogator, because anything short of waterboarding or tooth extraction is unlikely to get Jeff Cameron to talk. It’s not that he’s involved in some sort of despicable espionage or covert acts of treason. To the contrary, he’s just a humble man who doesn’t like tooting his own horn. That explains the shocking disconnect between the caliber of muscle cars and street rods his shop has rolled out over the last 50 years, and the peculiar lack of national spotlight that’s been directed its way. The stunning craftsmanship and creativity infused into each of Jeff’s projects can go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Ringbrothers and Roadster Shops of the world. Backing up that bold claim is Jeff’s personal ride, a ’61 bubbletop Bel Air packing a stroked W-series big-block, an overdrive trans, giant brakes, and a RideTech air suspension. To put it simply, Dooley and Sons Rods and Customs (www.dooleyandsons.com) is the most badass hot rod shop you’ve never heard of. Despite Jeff’s aversion to attention, that’s all about to change, because a shop this good is simply impossible to ignore.
The nondescript berg of Magnolia, Texas, is an unlikely setting for a hot rod shop. Many of the town’s 1,100 residents have probably driven by Dooley’s everyday and never noticed that it’s even there. Tucked behind the cover of towering pine trees and vicious airborne insects is a gleaming 20,000-square-foot facility that boasts a chassis, body, and upholstery shop all under one big roof. The showroom is packed with an eclectic mix of street rods and muscle machines, ranging from Pro Touring Corvettes and Tri-Five Chevys to Hemi-powered Willys and vintage gassers. “My dad Dooley started a custom upholstery business right out of high school in 1961. He was the typical ’60s hot rodder who had to learn how to do everything himself,” Jeff says. “He passed on his knowledge and work ethic to me and my brother, Tom, and while I learned how to do upholstery work, my true passion was paint and bodywork. We expanded into building hot rods and doing collision repair work in 1985, and by 2001, we got rid of the collision shop to focus on hot rods full time. We do everything in-house—including paint and body, custom interiors, chassis fabrication, and electrical work—which allows us to maintain an extremely high level of quality control. As we started doing more Pro Touring builds, we felt the need to invest more R&D into chassis development. Now we make complete replacement frames and state-of-the-art suspension components for Chevelles, Tri-Fives, and first-gen Camaros.”
Compared to the wild creations Dooley and Sons typically builds, Jeff took a much more modest approach when building his bubbletop. While he sought to upgrade the suspension and brakes for enhanced driveability, he still wanted to keep the car somewhat original. While most hot rodders come up with cockamamy excuses as to why they have to build a certain car, Jeff’s inspiration was genuinely profound. His grandfather purchased a 348-powered ’61 Bel Air brand new in 1961, which was the same year Jeff’s dad started the family business. Jeff grew up with fond memories of that car, but that’s just part of the story. “My daughter, Meg, was born four months premature in 2005, and her twin brother, Jake, died 16 days after birth. Things like that can either make you or break you, but fortunately for us, it’s made us stronger,” Jeff says. “I wanted to build a car that was for Meg, that was also built in Jake’s memory. The number of surgeries and challenges Meg has had to go through is too much for one person, yet she comes through every time and is still so happy. It kills me every day that her twin brother isn’t here with us today, but with everything we’ve been through, I wanted to build a car that was all about her. The ’61 Bel Air has plenty of room in the back for Meg’s wheelchair, and it’s something cool and different that you don’t see every day.”
With a mix of sharp creases, round edges, and a big bubbletop, the lines of the ’61 Bel Ai
While his grandpa’s Bel Air was long gone, Jeff found a perfect restoration candidate sitting in a West Texas field. “The owner bought the car in the early ’90s, but never got around to restoring it. He included a 409 big-block out of a ’62 Impala that was sitting in a dirt floor barn that was about to fall over,” he says. Once back at the shop, Jeff’s brother, Tom, replaced the car’s quarter-panels, trunk lid, and rockers, which wrapped up the bulk of the sheetmetal work. Jeff then rolled it into the paint booth and sprayed it in PPG Jet Black.
A drag racer at heart, Jeff regularly runs his 8-second Ford Anglia Super Gasser down track. Although he briefly considered ditching the 409 for something more modern, he decided to keep it for nostalgia’s sake. “The more I thought about building a W-series motor, the more I liked it. I was a big-time drag racing fan growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, and I vividly remembered Lamar Walden racing with 409s in Super Stock.” Fortunately, the recent development of aftermarket parts for the W-series big-block Chevy means that it needn’t sacrifice tons of power to its Mark IV successor anymore. To put the old-school lump together, Jeff enlisted the services of the man himself, Lamar Walden. Taking advantage of the similarities in architecture between the first- and second-generation of Chevy big-blocks, Walden turned the main journals of a stock 454 crank down from 2.750 to 2.500 inches and installed it in the 409 block. This effectively increased the stroke from 3.500 to 4.000 inches. Matched with stock 454 rods and an enlarged 4.375-inch bore, the cubic inch total jumped to 482. To feed all the hungry cubes, the 482 was topped with aluminum heads and a dual-quad intake manifold, both from Edelbrock. With a COMP 254/254-at-.050 hydraulic roller actuating the valves, the combo kicks out an impressive 552 hp.
Dooley and Sons takes great pride in its custom interiors, but Jeff wanted to keep things
With the power now cranked way up, Jeff turned his attention to the chassis. To ensure that the Bel Air would be able to turn and stop as well as it could lay patch, Jeff ordered up boxes of goodies from RideTech and Classic Performance Parts. Rounding out the underpinnings are RideTech control arms, sway bars, air springs, and shocks in the front and rear. CPP disc brakes at each corner provide the whoa, while Intro wheels wrapped in Nitto tires stick it all to the pavement. With the airbags deflated and the wheels tucked tightly into the fenders and quarters, the look is downright sinister. If there’s only one good reason to expand your horizons beyond the ’64-72 norm, this is it.
When it comes down to it, cars are merely machines, and rarely does one car represent so much, but that’s precisely what we have with Jeff Cameron’s Bel Air. It’s a tribute to Dooley and Sons’ 50th anniversary and grandpa Cameron’s original Bel Air—but most importantly—it symbolizes how the Cameron family has managed to transcend every obstacle thrown in their path to peace and happiness. The fact that their story unfolded the way it did is just a reflection of their humble and laid-back approach to life and to building cars. “There are people who do lots of talking without the results to show for it. My grandpa always said what you can do with your hands speaks louder than words,” Jeff says. “That’s the way the Cameron family has always been. We can hold our own with most of the big-name shops out there. We’re just not going to brag about it.” That’s OK, because once the word gets out about Dooley and Sons Rods and Customs, everyone else is going to do the talking for them.
Fitting the enormous 295/25ZR22 rear Nittos required narrowing the stock 10-bolt rearend b
By The Numbers
1961 Chevy Bel Air
Jeff Cameron • Magnolia, TX
Type: Chevy 482ci W-series big-block
Block: factory iron, bored to 4.375 inches
Oiling: Melling pump, stock pan
Rotating assembly: factory Mark IV 4.000-inch steel crankshaft and rods; custom LWA 11.0:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: Edelbrock 215cc aluminum castings with 2.250/1.720-inch valves
Induction: Edelbrock dual-quad RPM intake manifold and dual Thunder Series 500-cfm carbs
Camshaft: COMP Cams 254/254-at-.050 hydraulic roller with .598/.598-inch lift; 109-degree lobe-separation angle
Valvetrain: COMP Cams lifters and valvesprings; LWA titanium retainers and roller rockers
Ignition: MSD billet distributor, coil, and plug wires
Fuel system: Holley pump and regulator
Exhaust: Edelbrock 1.75-inch headers, dual 3-inch Rod Shop stainless steel mufflers
Cooling: AutoRad radiator, shroud, and electric fan; Edelbrock water pump
Transmission: Phoenix Automotive 700-R4 and 3,000-stall converter
Rear axle: HP Racing 10-bolt rearend, 3.73:1 gears, Auburn limited-slip differential
Front suspension: RideTech control arms, sway bar, air springs, and shocks; Classic Performance Products spindles
Rear suspension: RideTech control arms, sway bar, air springs, and shocks
Brakes: CPP 13-inch rotors with two-piston calipers, front; CPP 11-inch rotors and two-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Intro Vista 20x8 (5-inch backspacing), front; 22x10 (5-inch backspacing),rear
Tires: Nitto 245/30ZR20, front; 295/25ZR22, rear
“Other than chrome plating and powdercoating, we do every aspect of a build in-house.” —Jeff Cameron