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Gary Bryan and his 1951 Chevrolet Deluxe convertible
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Deluxe model
By Kathleen Ostrander

Gary Bryan has an appreciation for older automobiles, but he also likes sleek, modern lines. His customized 1951 Chevrolet Deluxe Convertible feeds his fix for vintage with a contemporary twist.

His sleek ride is painted Polo Metallic Green, a 1995 Corvette color. It's a lead sled, but not in the vintage sense - lead sled originally meant it had been extensively repaired with lead fill. Lead sled now means lights, emblems, door handles - sometimes even the gas cap cover and antennae hole - are recessed or removed to give the car a clean, mean look.

Bryan designed the changes and Kim Shirley of Kim's Auto Body in Springfield did the customizing and painting.

"I bought it at an auction in Dallas in 1987, and in 1994 I decided what I wanted changed. I had this idea in my head about how I wanted it to look and changes I needed, and we worked it out," Bryan said. Judging by the number of trophies the car has accumulated, car show judges like the changes, too.

The Chevy is either entered in the customized or lead sled classes at shows. Bryan is pretty proud of two of the many trophies. One was given to him by Boyd Coddington of California. Coddington, now deceased, owned Boyd Coddington Hot Rod Shop in California and was the star of "American Hot Rod" on TLC.

Coddington and George Barris, the man who gave Bryan's car another trophy, were pioneers in the area of unique, expensive and highly sought-after hot rod customization. Barris, known as the "King of Kustomizers," customized the Batmobile. He owns Barris Kustom Industries in North Hollywood, Calif.

"Boyd said he liked it because it was customized, but you could still tell it was a Chevy. Some of them have so much stuff done to them they don't even look like the original model," Bryan said.

The headlights are frenched and tunneled - or sunk deeply into the fender -  to give it a smooth look. It also makes the chrome grille look even more imposing and powerful.

The taillights and the third brake light are from a Cadillac and fit well in the customized car. The side chrome and emblems have been removed.

It has a 350 Chevy engine in it - not the original engine.

"I wanted to be able to drive long distances with it and be able to get it fixed wherever I was," Bryan said.

Bryan may want some things to have a vintage feel, but he's also all about comfort when he's got a lot of driving to do with the car. It has power brakes, power steering, air conditioning and a tilt steering wheel. The interior is Italian leather, and the boot has been carefully redone so it sits taut and smooth on the back of the car.

The gas tank was replaced and moved. The original model had a split trunk as well as a split windshield. The windshield was replaced with a one-piece windshield, and the trunk split was filled and smoothed, as were the bumper bolts.

Because lead sleds are designed for style and not speed, the suspension is lowered. The front seems larger then the back because the sides are smoothed.

The body of the car sits low to the ground, and a set of chrome side pipes - capped off so they don't mar the finish of the car with exhaust-  run along the side. The white-walled tires have distinctive sombrero hubcaps from a 1952 Cadillac.


Story published Friday, September 3, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 5 )

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