Old Skool: Dan Butler's '61 Bel Air

June 13, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

Dan Butler didn't seek out this 1961 Chevy Bel Air. He didn't even really intend to own one. Dan was driving and wrenching on a 1950 Ford Tudor "shoebox" with an extreme chop and a serious attitude. But Adam Melton, known locally in the rustic car scene, had his eye on the Ford. He offered to trade Dan the '61 Bel Air for it. Adam had already put a lot of work into the once unassuming family sedan, and Dan bit. Of course, Dan has continued to work on the car, but it came to him with much of the customization ready to go.

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

Most obviously, the Bel Air is slammed to the ground over those 14" Astra Supreme wheels on a full air ride suspension. It's running Dominator bags, AVS Arc-7 switchbox, Accuair vu-4 manifold valve, a five-gallon air tank, and two Viair 444C compressors. The car rides low enough on the street that Dan is planning to add slam pans to both the oil plan and transmission pan. In my opinion, the wheels are the perfect choice for this car, striking that balance between obviously modified and period correct. The paint is original, as is almost all of the body work. Some remarkably intricate pinstriping was done by Jerry Chingas, who also provided the scallops on the hood and both sides.

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

The Bel Air started life with a fairly pedestrian straight 6 and 3-on-the-tree manual transmission. Adam swapped out the sixer for a Chevy 350  V8 and 700R4 automatic trans plundered from an '88 Suburban. Dan has since added a three-core Champion aluminum radiator, 600 Series Edelbrock carb with finned air cleaner, and aluminum valve covers. That big V8 has plenty of growl thanks 2" dual straight pipes dumping forward of the rear wheels. This car doesn't demand attention, it reaches out and takes it.

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

Inside, you'll find some fur and some Mexican blankets upholstering the seats. The shifter knob is obviously aftermarket and the design blends well with the overall build. Dan tells me that the shifter itself is original and still has the same shift pattern as the old three speed. In one concession to modernity, Dan did upgrade the stereo to a Pioneer unit with Bluetooth and some new speakers. What's a cruiser if you don't have your tunes?

I first laid eyes on this Bel Air at the Iron Gate Motor Condos car show last month. For those of you unfamiliar, Iron Gate is a high-end garage condo facility and their monthly car show is populated heavily by high-dollar exotics and immaculate muscle cars. At one unit, I saw a (real!) GNX parked next to an SRT 6.4L-powered Hemi 'Cuda. In another, a Ferrari F430 and Lamborghini Gallardo were snuggled up next to one of the only never-titled DeLoreans in existence. Among all that, the Bel Air caught my eye. The crazy low stance and scallops drew me in and I discovered Jerry Chingas' pinstripe work, all done by hand. This was a car that I needed to shoot.

1961 Chevy Bel Air on air suspension, with Astro Supreme wheels and Jerry Chingas pinstriping

I guess I'm just a sucker for uniqueness. I absolutely love tri-fives, Corvettes, and Mustangs. Supras and Lancer Evos, too. But there's something to be said for having something that no one else does. Dan's Bel Air is the embodiment of all the reasons we car guys give for modifying our rides. We want to go faster and look cooler, of course. But what we really want is to make it our own. With this lowrider, Dan has succeeded.


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