Jerry Smith's 1961 Chevy Bel Air (from Volume 12, Issue 137)

Putting a modern twist on a popular classic car can be a tricky task, to say the least. For one, it is too easy to fall into the mentality that “everything has already been done”. Obviously this wasn’t the case for Jerry Smith, as he incorporated many changes into his 1961 Chevy Bel Air.

The car was pulled out of a junk yard in Peidmont, South Carolina. It started out life as a 6-cylinder car with a 3-speed transmission, but was soon slated for radical changes. Getting the ball rolling was a 2x3 inch square tube frame built by Ray Miller in New Port Richey, then Jerry Smith got to work on his creation. The front end is a Mustang II unit with custom upper and lower A arms, and Shockwave air bags from Air Ride Technologies. Out back a pair of coil over shocks suspend a Chevy 12-bolt rear end. Budnik rims reside all around, with 14x7 inch hoops up front, and 15x15 inches out back wrapped in 29x18.5x15 Mickey Thompsons.

The body mods are what draws the attention of most people. The body was channeled 3-inches, the front fenders were extended 8-inches behind the wheelwells, and a pair of Olds Aurora headlights certainly lend a modern twist. The grilles are made from a Dodge Neon, the one piece front rolled pan is a handmade unit, as is the rear rolled pan. Obviously with the drastic changes to the front end and extending the fenders a custom made hood was required, and Jerry did a great job, with the hood opening piano style off to one side. Out back the taillights are frenched in the center, and a small home made spoiler is color matched to the car. The front bumper was made by incorporating a ‘69 Mustang unit in the center with the outer ends coming from a ‘72 Corvette, and the rear bumper was narrowed, shortened and made one piece (instead of the stock ‘61 Chevy unit, which consists of three pieces). With such bold changes already made to the exterior it needed a bold color as well, and Tangelo Pearl from House Of Colors fit the bill.

The three pieces of original side glass were replaced by a two-piece window unit consisting of arched tempered glass for a very unique and flowing look. In order to do this the front inner windshield post had to be split and widened 1-inch without changing the original windshield opening. The result is a very modern look, which combined with the other exterior changes has a very cool effect.

Under the hood you’ll find a 355 Chevy topped with a Weiand “177” supercharger and a tasteful amount of plated and polished pieces. The clean and simple route was taken with the rest of the engine compartment, which is painted cream and peach for a nice contrast.

Inside the clean and simple, yet modern look was continued in the custom accommodations. The dash was made from a ‘98 Dodge Ram Pickup hood, turned around backwards. The rear view mirror is frenched into the center of the dash, and below the “duck bill” resides a row of digital gauges. Jerry hand made the door panels from steel, along with all of the interior panels. The center console is a removable piece, and is “floating” across the transmission tunnel. Ididit supplied the steering column, which was lengthened 12-inches and polished. The Terry Brothers in Atlantic Beach put in all the French Vanilla colored leather upholstery, which incorporates a nod to tradition via rolled and pleated style inserts, with the trunk done up to match.

Jerry built pretty much everything himself over about 4 years, and estimates there are about 80,000 hours worth of work. He calls the car the Fresh Bel Air, and it is indeed a fresh take on a great classic body style. Based on the crowds gathered around it at the Turkey Run inside the Daytona International Speedway over Thanksgiving weekend it was obvious that we weren’t the only ones to take an interest, and want a closer look at all the changes Jerry incorporated into his latest stunning show car. In the past we’ve seen his sweet looking purple ‘37 Ford (with a unique helicopter shaped trailer), and Jerry told us he is currently building himself a custom Taurus wagon with a 502 Chevy engine. Based on his past work, I’m sure it will be unlike anything you’ve seen before....and will be yet another crowd pleaser. CN