Cars don’t get much cleaner than Tim Lee’s Ermine White ’62 Bel Air. As a blood-born gearhead who runs Don Lee Auto Service in Rancho Cucamonga, California, Tim is no stranger to cool, fast rides, and although his latest build is not fast, it certainly is cool.
Tim put this car together after being inspired to finally find a car worthy of his father’s 425hp 409 powerplant that had been sitting in the back of his Cucamonga shop for three decades. “When I decided to do something with it in 2005, I put it in a ’55 Chevy wagon and drove it for a couple years, but it was in rough shape and I didn’t think the wagon was worth the money it would take to restore,” Tim says. So he eventually found a black-on-black ’62 Bel Air roller and transformed it into the car you see in these pages by redoing the interior and paint, and adding a slightly updated 409 Chevy small-block and four-speed.
Its vibrant red interior, although updated with modern yet classy gauges from Stewart-Warner, is comfortable and looks period correct. A radio, heater, and cigarette deletes are all in place, and in front of the bench is the obligatory Hurst shifter. Because of giant, super-clear windows, the view when riding in an early ’60s Chevy feels almost panoramic, and we imagine that’s even more apparent in an early “bubbletop” model. Underhood sits the rebuilt 409 that Tim remembers being stored in his father’s shop before he could drive, but now instead of collecting dust, it’s doing work on a weekly basis—carting Tim and family to various cruise nights and to work every so often. The 409, although mostly stock, received a couple upgrades in the name of longevity. “The engine is mostly stock—stock heads, rods, pistons—but I tried to correct some of the typical problems with 409 engines,” Tim says. Aftermarket rocker arms, for example, help prevent pushrod wear, which can be a common problem with the 348/409 engines.
It’s not too often you’ll see a resto on the pages of Chevy High Performance, but since this is one of Chevy’s most legendary performance vehicles, it makes sense to showcase it in a performance magazine. The car actually used to have some alloy wheels on it, but after some friendly harassment from his peers, Tim bolted up classic dog dish steelies and Polyglas tires to complete the nostalgic look, and we’re glad he did. The paint is even somewhat nostalgic; instead of some modern-day three-stage paintjob, Tim opted for a classic single-stage blend of Chevrolet Ermine White shot by Paul Smot.
The build took about a year to complete with the help of his son, Kevin, and Don Lee Auto Service. Staring at this machine from across the parking lot, with its classic stance and dog dish wheels, gives you a good an idea of what people thought was cool in 1962, and, like a classic movie, it still holds up today.
The engine in the ’62 is an original 425hp 409 that Tim’s father, Don, had for over 30 years in his Southern California shop. In 2005, Tim decided to do something with it and began making plans for a 409-powered classic. Not wanting to go too crazy with the internals, Tim stuffed the stock cast-iron block (4.312-inch bore x 3.50-inch stroke) with stock pistons, rods, and crank. The factory head castings were simply rebuilt with a good valvejob, and an aluminum dual-quad intake tops the combo with a pair of Edelbrock carburetors. Doug Thorley full-length headers route the spent fumes through stock mufflers and full-length tailpipes. With compression close to 11.5:1 from the factory, Tim opted to update the camshaft with a more modern profile from COMP Cams and also upgraded the valvetrain with COMP roller rockers and valvesprings as well. Tim also installed a hidden MSD ignition setup under the factory 409 distributor cap. ARP bolts were installed in place of factory fasteners.
Behind the classic bullet is a Muncie four-speed that Tim rows on a weekly basis when cruising around the streets of Upland. A steel driveshaft connects a 12-bolt rearend that’s stuffed with 4.11 gears and a Posi unit; however, Tim regularly swaps in 3.36 gears for better driveability. The clutch is a stock replacement from Clutch Masters.
D&R Custom Upholstery out of Rancho Cucamonga handled the wicked red interior of Tim’s Bel Air. The interior was actually black when Tim bought it, but he opted to go with a cool crimson office instead. A Stewart-Warner tach attached to the red steering column is viewable without being an obstruction to the driver’s view, while the car accelerates with every shift from a Hurst shifter. We have to point out that there’s no stereo in this ride, no iPod hookup, no CD player, no cassette deck, and no eight-track; the rumbling V-8 is all the music you need.
A factory suspension gives this car that classic nose-high stance. Although we personally like when old cars are lowered, this ride looks correct with the tail sagging a bit. The paint—a single stage of Ermine White from Paul Smot—gives the car a period-correct shine that, although lacks the depth a multistage job would give, accents the bright red interior. Chrome bumpers and emblems adorn the outside, while a custom nostalgic plate that reads “TIMS409” hangs out back.
Steel wheels from Wheel Vintiques with Chevy dog dish hubcaps are bolted at each corner, while Polyglas tires allow the 3,400-pound Bel Air to roll like it did in the ’60s. The brakes are also stock, just simple manual drums and a single reservoir like it was from the factory.