Paul Ishman's 1955 Chevy Bel Air
(from Volume 18, Issue 200)

The 1955 Chevy Bel Air sat quietly in the back of the garage at Paul Ishman’s house for years. When he bought the car in 1965 it was your typical 10 year old used car. And while that’s not truly old by most used car standards this 1955 Bel Air had, well, some might say a hard life. It already had a big block in it at one time and was a race car even though it was delivered to the dealer with a six cylinder, “3 on the tree”. It certainly looked like it had been “driven”.

But Paul made his new ride a car for every day use. He drove it in college and he drove it while dating his wife Judy. He brought his son and his daughter home from the hospital after they were born in that beloved Bel Air. Constantly swapping parts out to upgrade his Bel Air, Paul recalls having over 3 or 4 parts cars at one time in his back yard. In those days he would find them often times simply abandoned on the side of the road. He would haul them home, strip them down of all usable parts, and then haul them away to the junk yard. This led to Paul eventually putting a small block V-8 in his ‘55 and a four speed on the floor complete with the Hurst shifter.

Through the years Paul admits to a couple of paint jobs and tells us that the seats have been reupholstered more than a few times. After the Bel Air had been “temporarily retired”, the day finally came when Paul decided it was time; Time to put the Bel Air back into tip top form. Paul was finally ready to build his Bel Air into the car it never was but always dreamed it would become. He began researching various shops, both in and out of the state. But when he visited Kidd Darrins Custom Cars and met Ken Caskey (AKA Cadillac Ken) he was ecstatic to find someone so capable so close to home. Paul decided to put the project into the talented hands of Kidd Darrins.

When the Bel Air arrived it was basically a shell. Paul had removed just about everything. And while the floors were excellent, the rest of the car had the typical rusted areas. Ken Caskey, owner of Kidd Darrins Custom Cars, remembers when the day the Bel Air arrived. “It was a really decent car but it did have a considerable amount of rust in the areas where there were no replacement pieces available in the aftermarket. We had to fabricate some intricate and heavily shaped repair pieces in lieu of any other options.”

The Bel Air underwent a complete makeover in the next 5 years. All the panels were blasted clean. The doors and trunk lid were so badly rusted that a decision was made to replace them with new aftermarket steel doors as well as a new steel trunk lid. All the panels were aligned and the gaps were made consistent by welding edges and closing objectionable gaps and variances. Paul decided to rid the hood of the huge chrome OEM “hood bird” and a new piece was fashioned to carry the center hood crease to the front of the hood. After everything was fitted and properly gapped, the arduous task of bodywork began. All panels were worked flat and Kidd Darrins incredible ability to work metal allowed for a minimum of filler.

Paul never entertained a “stock” vision for his Bel Air. So he decided to turn Kidd Darrins loose and have them create an updated yet period correct looking interior design. The door panels and rear trim panels are completely custom made. Only the OEM door handles and Power Window switches are from the original 1955 Chevy. In addition, a lower dash extension was added to facilitate the A/C vents. A complete redesign of the seats and matching basket weave stainless “vees” were fabricated and applied to the backrests. The door panels were made as to eliminate any use of the OEM wind lace and new aluminum moldings were fabricated at the leading edge of the rear ¼ interior trim panels to finish each panel. Kidd Darrins stitched up a matching headliner and matching sun visors. Even the rear parcel shelf sports custom made speaker grills.

All the chrome moldings in the interior were hand fashioned in brass then chrome plated. The basket weave insert material is stainless steel, and new pieces were cut to use in the upper dash to replace the OEM “bow tie” pattern aluminum inserts. The trunk was not ignored either. While Chevy never offered more than a rubber trunk mat (and no trunk panels) the guys at Kidd Darrins cut, sewed, and installed matching carpet while creating a really cool 3D design on the side and back trunk panels they custom made to fit perfectly.

Next up, it was time to decide on the paint. Paul wasn’t thrilled by any color combos that Chevy offered in 1955, so he decided to go with something unique. The blue-green is an older Porsche 911 color and the upper pearl body color is Ivory Parchment (tri coat). Both colors are factory mixed colors (just not 1955 factory mixed colors) that work together great for a classic look. Before the car was reassembled all the stainless trim had dings removed and then was mirror polished. All new glass, new bumpers, new stainless hardware, new updated wiring harness, and more were installed. Absolutely everything was replaced with “new”, and I can tell you that when you see this car it looks like a brand new car (only better!).

And to be sure Paul had a hand in things he himself made his steering wheel. Starting with an old Corvette wheel he stripped the old plastic rim off and hand cut and fitted the ash wood pieces. Kidd Darrins added the tint to the clear coat (with a really cool gold pearl that is vibrant in direct sunlight!).

Paul provided a crate motor in the form of a ZZ4 small block, coupled to the close ratio Muncie four speed he rebuilt. Together the combo give the car a real hot rod feel. Other upgrades include power rack and pinion steering, A/C and power windows (or course!), drop spindles, four wheel disc brakes, traction bars, Hedman headers, stainless steel exhaust, polished stainless mufflers, and much more.

With all this you would assume that Paul’s ole ’55 is now a trailer queen. But you would be wrong. While Paul admits it’s certainly no longer a daily driver, it WILL be DRIVEN to any show he goes to - no matter how far. Paul told us, “I’ve waited a long time for this; I’m going to enjoy it.” Good for you Paul. We believe you and look forward to seeing you at all those planned shows with your super cool, super beautiful, “super bad” 1955 Chevy Bel Air! CN