In the onslaught, in that hailstorm of first-gen Camaros that I’m usually bound to dissect each month, there is sometimes a respite, beautiful, peaceful sojourn to the days of my youth, years before the Camaro was even a dream. Yes, there were downsized "economy" cars then (Falcon, Dart, Chevy II), but they were a half-decade or more before the intermediate "muscle car" appeared on the street scene and dominated it for many years to come.
The bubbletop architecture happened just once, in the ’62 model year and it was reserved for the midline Bel Air. Impala (and the miserly Biscayne) had a squared back light and a formal roofline reminiscent of the convertible form. The Bel Air bubbletop was sleek and sinewy in comparison, weighed less, showed a lot of glass, and was probably a bit more aerodynamic. With the right gears, one of them equipped with a stock 409/409 would nudge 150 mph.
I called Gordon McGilton in North Carolina. With his first words I knew he was born and raised north of the Mason-Dixon Line. In his early teens, he hung around hot rod garages and helped when they’d let him, and because he "loved the enjoyment of doing it around people who knew what they were doing." When he was 17, he left Detroit to become a marine.
He’d fooled with flatheads before his service days and had the bug in him screwed tight. He quipped: "When I came home from the service, I went to Royal Pontiac [Royal Oak, Michigan] and bought a ’63 Swiss cheese’ Catalina race caryeah, the one with the aluminum exhaust manifolds." Oh, our boy was smitten. He’d laid-over in California during his mustering out so he knew what was going on there, and he couldn’t peel himself away from the adventure. He drove, or attempted to drive, the big Cat to the coast. Somewhere along the way, the aluminum castings began to liquefy.
He stopped long enough to replace the sagging metal with good old cast iron and throttled happily on down the road. He spent years in SoCal. He went racing with Danny Ongais (Top Gas Dragster) before Ongais had cracked the big time, and they burned rubber all over the state and east into Arizona. So Gordon has this thing about driving...and about being able to source parts at a dealership when on the road rather than looking for stuff that was unobtanium.
"In my mind, I’m still about 18, chuckled the 67-year-old owner of Jet-Hot Coatings. I don’t feel any different about cars now than I did then." He was around when the first ’09s hit the streets in 1961. He drove them. He knew them. He got that vibe inside him, clinging like a remora on a sand shark. So it was just plain natural that he gravitated to that era, and the cars that ran it. I’m Gordon’s age. What he says is true for me, too.
He’s a pal of Paul Atkins (Hot Rods) in Hanceville, Alabama (about halfway between Huntsville and Birmingham). The Atkins confab usually invests time in superior interior fitments and is considered among the best in the hot rod universe, but Atkins’ staff is also well versed in the disciplines of fabrication, metalwork, and applying the paint that solidifies the whole. It wasn’t the first time that Gordon and Atkins had collaborated.
When he found the right car, he called Atkins to discuss the build and exactly how it should look. "The idea was a superslick black car with Z06 power, cutting-edge’ red interior, huge brakes, big wheels and tires, and just the right stance," Gordon says. The product came to fruition in July of 2010 just in time for the Goodguys’ Columbus gathering. "I was really impressed with the car because I hadn’t seen it until then and with the fact that it took the Trendsetter Builder’s Choice award [by Brizio] at the 13th Annual Goodguys that same month."
It’s safe to say that you haven’t seen or heard the last of Gordon.