This 1958 Biscayne wows ’em downunder. My interest in American cars goes way back to my childhood days. Back then, my mother would buy me Matchbox and Dinky toy cars when I harped at her while we were out shopping. We would buy a mix of English and American cars, but it was the American cars I was drawn to because they were longer and lower and usually featured two-tone paintwork.
In the ’50s, my father owned Holdens; FX, FJ, EK, HD and so on. Around 1963, my mother got her license for the first time and Dad bought her a used, but very nice, EK wagon. Dark grey with a white roof and whitewall flappers (inserts). That was a cool car to me.
Fast forward to 1967 when I got my license. I wanted an FB Holden because of the body shape and fins being similar to the mid-’50s Chevys. I bought a reasonable FB, Morning Grey and Grecian White from a used car lot in Fairfield, NSW. This would be my only car for the next 19 years (except for a company car) with a repaint, rebuilt engine, chrome wheels, etc. I later sold it to a Chevy club member in 1986.
Along the way I met my wife, built a house and started a family. About that time, I began craving a 1955 Chevy. I found a ’55 Two-Ten sedan in 1976 and began a slow restoration. I started by taking the body off the chassis, having all the rust cut out by a friend, and restoring and repainting the chassis. By this time it was the early ’80s and one day, while I was at the Parramatta Speedway, a blue and white ’58 Biscayne rolls in to the car park. I hadn’t taken much notice of ’58s before, but this car was sitting really low and it caught my eye – plus I really liked the twin headlights. So that was it, the hunt was on for a ’58 Chev and the ’55 sat unfinished until it was sold (less motor and gearbox) in 1987.
I found my Adobe Beige/Seminole Brown ’58 Biscayne in 1984 when I was driving through Neath (near Cessnock) and spotted the roof over a side fence. I am an automotive sales rep and drive all over the state. I drove past the Chev for several more months and it just sat there, so eventually I knocked on the door and asked if it was for sale. “No mate, gonna do it up one day,” the fellow says. Twelve months later I hear through the grapevine that the Chev is for sale, so around I go and knock on the door again. The guy shows me the Chev but he has removed the engine, which is in the boot in many pieces. He had tired of the project, so I purchased it for a very good price and trailered it home.
I started on the restoration straight away. Very well worn and dusty, but complete, the ’58 had a Nasco Venetian Blind (rear window), Diamond Dot valve radio and a two-speed heater. In 1985, I pulled the Chevy apart and every nut, bolt and part was labeled or stored in boxes. While the engine was being reconditioned at the local shop, I pulled out all the glass and interior – all except the headlining, which was in perfect condition. So I just unclipped the sides of it, rolled it in and masked the rest of it off. Then I repainted the inside GMH Cordoba Metallic Brown with an Adobe Beige insert. My friend Jeff Sayers removed the rust from the headlight area, sills, lower guards, and that was it. A few small dents were heat shrunk out with only a skim of filler needed. We didn’t take the body off the chassis (we didn’t have a rotisserie) and this was to be a much quicker job than the ’55. We lifted the body and cleaned and replaced all the bushings.
In late 1985, my brother Noel started shooting the body with two-pack Standox yellow primer. He continued with Hi-Fill and more primer and wet sanding until we had a shine on the primer and the body looked super straight. Finally, in January 1986, Noel sprayed the original GMH Adobe Beige and Ford Chalet Blue – a lot more “50s” than the drab brown! While the paint was curing, I sorted all the body nuts and bolts and sent them off to be cad plated. The bumpers were sent to Forster and Parkinson Chrome Platers in Guildford (long gone) and they did a fantastic job. They still look as good today as when we had them done.
All the stainless was polished by myself, where I spent many hours on each piece using a three-phase polishing machine. Meanwhile, my Dad assembled the Blue Flame six-cylinder motor and I painted every part the correct blue, then added new decals from Eckler’s. We installed the engine in the chassis then bolted on the front sheet metal. By now it was 1987. We colour sanded the paint, cut it with compound, then eight bottles of Brasso, two bottles of liquid ebony swirl remover on foam pads, and then a few handfuls of corn flour. Did I mention my brother is not a professional painter? He just picked up a gun and had a go!
I added painted reversed 6” wide rims with trim rings, original hubcaps and spinners. As this was all done on a small budget. My wife Judy did the trimming (except the seats), including the velour door trims. She also cut and shaped the floor carpet and finished it with bias binding, as no moulded option was available at the time. Judy did the parcel tray, kick panels and inside boot as well, and the trim still looks good today.
Finally, in late 1987, the Chev was finished! In early 1988, we entered the Classic Chevy Nats in Canberra for its first show, where I unfortunately entered it in the modified class. Rod Hadfield was one of the judges and he said to me later, “Why did you put it in modified? If you had put it in authentic you would have won your class!” Lesson learned. It has won over 75 trophies in authentic class over the years.
Late in 2002 we were coming home from a big show in Newcastle. On the freeway the timing gear turned on its keyway and threw the timing out. We made it home OK, running on just three cylinders. This was the second time this had happened, so I just parked it for a few years. I finally got around to building a vintage 1963 283 that I had originally bought for the old ’55. In 2007, I started gathering the missing bits for the engine.
Unfortunately, my wife Judy was diagnosed with breast cancer 2008. Needless to say, the engine swap was shelved for a while. Complications set in and sadly I lost my dear wife in early 2009.
Later that same year I started on the 283 again with club mate Greg Woolam. Greg rebuilt the engine for me back to basically stock, but bored it .40 over and balanced it. I painted the engine in two-pack Tiger Mica, adding old school dress up gear for looks. The two-speed auto was rebuilt by the ‘Powerglide King’, Ross Burgess. Next, it was all handed over to John Fenato, who fitted the 283 and the ’glide, HQ disc brakes on front, dropped 2” Castlemaine Rod Shop spindles, new King springs and a ’59 Bel Air auto column. I had Speedy chrome California wheels fitted, as the old fronts would not fit over the discs.
It was completed and ready in 2010 and has been going well ever since. I enjoy driving it more with the V8 and auto. I really love the ’50s hot rod and custom scene and like to go to the various shows and nostalgia events in my area, as well as Chev Club of NSW runs.
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