Fabrizio Haas' 1951 Bel Air
Customer: Fabrizio Haas in Brazil
Vehicle:1951 Bel Air
How long have you owned this vehicle?
I bought this vehicle about 10 years ago from it's first owner's family.
Where did you get this vehicle?
The vehicle was purchased in Cachoeira do Sul - RS, in the south of Brazil, a small town where my father was born and were we have cattle farms. The car was also restored there, in our own garage in one of the farms.
This car belonged to a gentleman who has bought it new in Rio de Janeiro, I believe, and drove it back to the south in 1951, a 1,300 mile trip. The car spent most of its life in Cachoeira do Sul, driving around in the city and to the country side, where the owner had a rural property. This car's life was very demanding, it being driven in stone streets and unpaved back roads. When this gentleman passed away, his grandson inherited the car and tried to restore it, but not knowing how to do it nor whom to hire to do it for him, he got ripped off and ended up losing some parts and most of the beautiful leather interior. After some time he figured out he would not be able to get the job done, and in need of some money, decided to sell grandpa's car.
The car was regularly driven up until the 90's, until it was parked away for it's "restoration" attempt. I believe it sat untouched for some 15 years, partially disassembled.
What condition was the vehicle in when you got it?
When I first saw the car it was parked in a town's house small garage, with most chrome parts and details laying inside it. There were lot's and lot's of small boxes and jars with screws, fasteners and miscellaneous parts, but it seemed to me that most of the stuff was there. I had to negotiate hard to get the car, as the owner thought the car was partially restored, so I had to explain him that the work done so far would have to be completely redone in order to achieve a quality restoration. In the same day we shook hands on the deal and I towed the car to our warehouse in the farm, where it sat for another 5 years until I finished other projects and collected parts and details for it.
The vehicle was in rough shape, with most of the nasty stuff uncovered when we striped the paint, but I could see the beautiful gem behind all those layers of paint and bondo. Keep in mind that, although this vehicle would probably be a parts car in the US, here in Brazil it is a rare model, the Bel Air was a "rich man's car", most Chevrolets down here at that time were the cheap 4 door commonly used as taxis and for labor.
There was no interior in the car, someone just figured out that redoing the upholstery would make sense, but never thought about saving the old one as a pattern. The seats were only frame and springs, there were no door panels nor headliner, but there were some leftover bits that allowed us to figure out that the car had the red leather interior.
Although there were no signs of major accidents, the car had a few fender benders in its former life, but most of all, rust. The car was never abandoned in the open, but all those years driving in the muddy back roads took their toll.
The engine was a royal mess, while attempting to restore the car, the former owner had the engine overhauled at a unskilled shop, where they left metal shavings inside the oil galleries, so with very few miles the rebuilt engine is seized completely.
What work have you done on this vehicle?
We did everything top to bottom. The car was completely disassembled, the chassis was sandblasted, the body was partially rotten in several sections and a lot of metal had to be hand shaped. The interior was gone, so everything was made new, plus all the mechanical work.
Here in Brazil it is impossible to find parts for most antique cars, and when you do find them they are used, in bad shape and still cost a lot! I wanted this car to look spectacular, so I started looking for the parts in the US, and that's when I found Filling Station, the most important parts supplier for this restoration. Also, some NOS and used parts were found on Ebay, but everything had to be imported from the US at 2-3X the cost of the part in the US, due to customs taxes and freight. I was also able to bring a lot of smalls in my suit cases every time I would go to the US. I kept buying parts for the car all through the 5 years it took us to restore it.
The body work was really challenging since we did not use new replacement parts, the import taxes plus shipping costs for big metal pieces would have been outrageous, so my mechanic and metal worker reproduced everything, from the floor pans and trunk to the side corners and door bottoms, all using new blank sheet metal formed by hand, only utilizing artisanal tools. I think that the final work done is beautiful, the car has absolutely no bondo filler covering imperfections, just the base coating for the paint. This was the most time consuming part of the restoration, it took us 2 years to get all the panels to line up, using the gravel shields to shape the rear fenders for example, which used to be a bondo sculpture over rust!
The interior was also extremely hard to find, even in the US I could not find reproductions for it, but I managed get all the leather parts from Hampton Coach in MA, they provided me with all seat covers, cushions, door panels and headliner, which would be impossible to reproduce in Brazil. The interior was fitted by a local artisan in a small shop in the city, and it took him almost a month of complete dedication.
As per the engine, we had it completely rebuilt once again, changing all the moving parts, including the crank shaft, so it now runs smooth and quietly, as it should. The car still has it's original engine block.
The wiring is also brand new, thanks to Filling Station, but we are running on 12v now, since it is very difficult to get good quality 6V batteries here in Brazil. Most chrome parts were restored and re-chromed, after that every single part that did not meet my standards was discarded and bough new.
Is there any other work that you would like to do?
Well, the car now is pretty much done, but I am always improving a little thing here and there. Just now I got new door strikers and bolts from Filling Station as I thought the original ones were a little beat up. I would also like to install an external sun visor as an accessory.
What were the hardest parts to find?
The rear fender gravel guards were really difficult to find, the original ones were scuffed and dinged beyond repair and I could not find NOS parts nor reproductions. I had to buy 3 used pairs on Ebay to be able select a usable one, which I personally worked with the hammer to make it perfect straight. Then I had them polished up and now they look like out-of-the-factory new.
What other vehicles do you own?
I am a car guy, have always been a fanatic, but I started restoring cars about 12 years ago. My father and I have just about 70 or 80 cars, most utility vehicles from WWII, pick-ups, Jeeps, Land Rovers and Unimogs, but we also have cars such as Mustangs, Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes and VW Beetles, Buses and Karmann-Ghia... Too many to list!
The Chevrolets are a big part of the collection with 2 WWII GMC trucks, 1931 4 door Phaeton Convertible, 1958 Impala, 1956 Chevy truck, 1962 and 1963 Alvorada Dual Cab pick-ups (Brazilian made), among others. A lot of the parts for the Chevy's came from Filling Station.
What is your next project?
We should start now a 1956 Ford truck and a 1956 Chevy truck at the same time, so the team can keep working even if some part is missing for a period of time.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about doing a restoration project?
A full restoration is never easy, but for me the most important thing is to get a complete car, even if the overall condition is bad. We did restore some proper junk yard cars before, it's way too hard and you lose too much time and money finding out what to do, how the parts were and what you need to buy to complete the project, whereas a complete car provide you with a full picture. You can photograph the disassembling process which makes the assembling process very easy, and also you can start filling out a wish list as you see each part, determining if it can be restored or will need a replacement
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