When Zip Simons of Street Metal Concepts (SMC) teamed up with Will Piacenti to find a car to build, they didn’t just want any old beat-up classic. They wanted something in great condition that could be turned into an absolute wild-child — something over-the-top while staying true to its classy roots. Up for the challenge, they looked high-and-low in the sweltering Florida heat.
Eventually, Zip stumbled across a beautiful 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air sitting neglected in a small car dealership in the tiny town of Lake City, Florida. The Bel Air was dated but surprisingly show-ready. It just lacked a bit of style. It did, however, possess a bunch of trophies, more than proving its show-car worthiness. The duo had their project start.
It turned out the vehicle had already gone through an extensive rebuild less than five years earlier, and the previous owner covered the sheetmetal in the original colors of Regal Turquoise and India Ivory to create an authentic look.
Additional previously completed modifications to the Bel Air included new chrome trim, glass, and electrical components. However, the Bel Air’s floors were no good. Zip replaced those, as well as the functional — yet boring — interior. The rest of the vehicle was ripe for extensive modifications.
When it came time for the duo to update the chassis, they added some aftermarket Classic Performance Products (CPP) Hydroboost disc brakes to replace the car’s old stock drums and included all-new stainless-steel pre-formed brake lines in the upgrade. Next, Zip’s crew further strengthened the chassis with additional frame cross-bracing and added tubular A-arms. A pair of Heidts drop spindles lower the vehicle a couple of inches for a more aggressive look.
The stock steering was replaced with a rack-and-pinion unit, and a tilt column from Flaming River was added. The rear suspension was replaced with a Helix triangulated four-link while both the front and rear suspension has QA1 adjustable coilovers installed. The rearend was further modified with an Eaton posi differential and 3.73 gears. Moser axles round out the tire-rotating assembly.
When it came time to choose the wheels, the team went with Hot Rods by Boyd HRX-4 custom-machined rollers. The wheels are a massive 20×10 on the rear and 19x.8.5 on the front. They are partnered with a set of Nitto NT555 G2 tires to give it some fierce grip.
Zip felt the tweed interior was a little dated, so he and the crew flipped the Bel Air’s raggedy interior into something truly first-class. To accomplish this, they teamed up with Bitchin’ Stichin’ in Deltona, Florida, to create the beauty within.
With vinyl seat skins and other materials from Ciadella Interiors, door armrests from Juliano’s and a 14-inch retro-style Bel Air steering wheel, the interior was transformed into a luxurious palace. The Chevrolet’s seats feature a Saddle color, while the vintage Mercedes-weave-loop carpet (also from Ciadella) is called Cognac.
Zip’s team modified the dashboard using a Classic Instruments gauge cluster. Custom stainless and billet interior trim items were also applied. As for cooling off in the steamy Florida heat, SMC installed a brand-new Vintage Air air-conditioning system. You’ll also find a new sound system provided by Retro Sound rounding out the interior.
Among the reported changes made to the car’s interior, SMC included some very nice custom touches, showing just how much love and attention went into the crafting of this vehicle. Dynamat sound-deadening material was applied to make the interior experience seem a little more pleasant. Also, a custom-finished under-dash panel features prominently, along with a saddle-hued perforated headliner and matching visors.
A Solid Performer
Under the hood is a 4.8-liter LS engine that underwent extensive modifications and machining for it to tolerate the additional boost from the turbos. The block was outfitted with new GM parts, including pistons developing a 9.5:1 compression ratio, COMP Cams pushrods, and GM heads. ACL bearings and ARP studs were added as well, along with a Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) Stage I camshaft.
A Chevrolet Performance LS7 lifter set was also added. Further modifications include a JP Performance rollerized timing kit, a Holley low-profile oil pan, BTR LS9 multilayer head gaskets, and ICT Billet LSX mount plates. Zip has no doubts when asked about his favorite part of this gorgeous machine.
“Definitely the engine bay. Obviously, the twin-turbo LS is a cool feature,” he affirms. “We utilized Fuel Injection Technology’s [FiTech] injection system. We have done a ton of stuff with FiTech, and this was the first time we’ve used this particular system. I am really impressed with it.
“The car’s owner brought us a vehicle that was already nice. It was just dated. He let us breathe hard on it. We didn’t want to get into such extreme fabrication that it created a necessity to repaint the outside, so, we made the entire engine-bay surround from custom-fab sheetmetal that bolts-in. We did our best to make it look like it belonged that way.”
Zip and the SMC crew decided to create something exceptional under the hood of the Bel Air. To give the LS some much-needed oomph — around 650 horsepower — they added a pair of CXRacing 63mm ceramic ball-bearing turbos. These are accompanied by 44mm wastegates, a 50mm blow-off valve, and fabricated stainless-steel tubing. Placing the plumbing for the turbos was a bit of a challenge, as getting them to fit with all the other components of the engine was a tight squeeze.
Zip commented on the engine bay, saying, “essentially, we’ve got a tight engine bay, there’s plenty of height, but you don’t want to have lines and stuff hanging on top of your engine. So, packaging it up to look cool was a difficult task to make everything fit in there and work correctly. But, that’s fine, you know, we like to be challenged.”
Other special features include an EFI baffled fuel tank and a FiTech Hyperflow in-tank fuel pump for maximum efficiency. Finally, the crew installed PTFE-lined braided fuel lines. In the early days of his business, Zip says he sometimes had trouble with tuning. He came up with a way to solve it by adding a ground wire to the throttle body intake, a little trick he now uses regularly.
Zip and his team gave the Chevrolet’s exhaust proper attention since the car was designed to be all about going over the top. To carry out that premise, SMC installed a Flowtech-based exhaust setup that features Flowtech headers with 1 3/4-inch tubes and 3-inch collectors. The headers are partnered with 3-inch pipes made of 304-stainless that exit under each front fender. The car roars to life with a deep and dirty growl.
To mate with the engine’s increased power, the team decided to hit up Don Marcone of Fourth Gear Inc. in Deland, Florida. He built a Stage III 700R4 overdrive transmission with billet internals. Inside the bellhousing is an FTI 2,200-stall torque converter. Finally, SMC added a shiny Lokar shifter, which is paired with a Dakota Digital gear-selector boot ring, completing the look of the Chevrolet’s interior.
The finished product is a glorious machine. While Zip’s shop makes it look easy, it wasn’t all roses and butterflies. The Bel Air was a unique challenge to work on, thanks in large part to already being rebuilt. This meant getting in and around all the parts of the car they wanted to work on while being extra cautious not to damage the paint. That was no small feat, considering the entire drivetrain assembly, suspension, and interior were totally dismantled.
We’re certain many people might not want to spend a small fortune on restoring a classic, and Zip wants to remind them there are a lot of opportunities to own and modify a very special ride of your own. Even a vintage Chevrolet like this one.
“I guess the meaning behind this is you can find a really nice car that might be dated or have a plain-Jane powerplant, boring suspension, or wheels,” he states. “This car was a beautiful, frame-off-rebuilt classic. Everything was done on it. But it was dated. It had a green tweed interior, a crate 350ci engine, and 15-inch Cragars. It was just boring, you know? But, starting with a car like this is the way you can achieve a very badass high-end car for a fraction of the cost.”
“There are a lot of nice cars out there in the $30,000 range. If it’s already a great running car, you can throw a fuel injection on it, do some suspension work, add new wheels, even update the interior. You can really make the car your own without having to go with the full-Monte build that takes two years and costs more than any house I could ever afford. I think that’s a theme we’d really like to be known for tackling for our customers.”