Frank Paonessa's 1959 Chevy El Camino
(from Volume 27, Issue 330)

story by Frank Paonessa, photos by Michael B. Kelly


My name is Frank Paonessa and I have always been a car enthusiast. The 1959 Chevy El Camino has always been my favorite, so when a friend told me about someone he knew that was selling one I was very interested. It didn’t take me long to go check it out and although it needed some work, I decided to buy it.

I began by removing the chrome as soon as I took her home and at that time my thought was to just do a fast paint job. As I got further along a friend of mine suggested we take it completely off the frame and do it like many of these projects tend to do, things evolved quite a bit from the initial intentions. As “snowbirds” we live in Florida all winter, so my next four summers back up in New York were spent in my friend’s garage completely rebuilding my ‘59 El Camino. Thank you Bernie! I have owned many cars throughout my lifetime, but this ‘59 El Camino was my first frame-off complete restoration.

It had a 348 cubic inch engine which I took to the machine shop only to find out that the block was cracked. The guy I bought the car from knew someone that had a 409 engine, so I bought it, took it to the machine shop and rebuilt it. Many people really appreciate it has a period correct engine in the car, and the iconic look of the 409 engine with the distinctively humped valve covers really draws attention....along with an occasional stanza or two of “She’s real fine, my 409!” thanks to the famous Beach Boys song. The engine compartment is also dressed up nicely thanks to finned aluminum valve covers with a matching air cleaner cover, billet serpentine belt system, headers, aluminum radiator, chrome power brake booster and reservoir, and various other items. The car also has a 700R4 transmission with overdrive for good highway manners, a 9-inch Ford rear end, and disc brakes up front with drum brakes in the rear.

The exterior is painted a vibrant red, and with all of the chrome trim it really makes it pop, along with a set of 18-inch chrome Ridler wheels and a nice real wood bed. Inside you’ll now find late model power bucket seats along with a custom console, which is home to the B&M ratchet shifter. The iconic dash cluster is accented by chroming each of the pods, which now are home to white faced Dolphin gauges. A chrome tilt steering column, billet steering wheel, and various stainless accents on the door panels and console add lots of visual appeal, as does the two-tone brown and light tan upholstery. Last, but certainly not least here in Florida, vents for the air conditioning system were added under the dash to keep the cabin cool while cruising in the Sunshine State.

Of all the cars that have come and gone over the years, my wife says this is her all-time favorite. I didn’t have to think too long to realize that I feel the same way. CN