‘Old School Guy’s’ old school custom Chevy

Traditionally customized cars are hardly seen anymore. Oh, sure, people personalize vehicles with nice rims or perhaps dress up a nice paint job with graphics or flames. Some put airbags on their cars or trucks so they can be lowered to sit on the ground, or “lay frame” as it’s called. But I’m talking about the traditional style of customizing where you take grilles, taillights or chrome trim from one make of car and put them on another. Even more rare are “radical customs,” where the top is chopped, the body sectioned, or the body is channeled—that is, dropped to sit lower over the frame.

Although he’s rather young to be into “old school customs,” ‘Ele‘ele’s Guy Montemayor got the bug when he was studying automotive and diesel technology at Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., in the late 1990s. He became so engrossed that he spent several vacations in California learning the craft of old-school car customizing. In doing so, he has met many legendary figures in the custom car scene, including Bo Huff, Gene Winfield, Brad Masterson and others.

Montemayor first saw the 1951 Chevy in Ol’ Skool Rodz magazine several years ago, not realizing it would some day be his own. That happened when his Seattle friends, Chip and Heather Stark, gave him the car as a wedding present. Nice present, I’d say. In addition to the ‘51 Chevy, Montemayor has a ‘54 Chevy that is being customized on the mainland.

In its 61 years, Montemayor’s Chevy has been around California, Las Vegas, Washington and who knows where else. The cruiser fills a void on Kaua‘i, where traditional customs are rare. Montemayor, an ASE-certified mechanic at Kuhio Motors, is fortunate that the work already done on the Chevy was to his liking.

At first glance, one is struck by the medium purple metallic paint with eye-popping green flames. Pinstriping highlights the body panels and serves to brighten up the engine compartment, as well. The body modifications are at once subtle, tasteful, and dramatic.

An experienced eye would notice that the grille is from a ‘52 Chevy, but only an expert would be able to tell you that a few extra teeth were added. The neatly tunneled headlight rings are from a ‘76 Chrysler Cordoba — a very tasteful addition.

The skirted right rear fender features dual tunneled antennas. On the trailing end, the Chevy has been fitted with taillights from a 1960 Oldsmobile. Those taillights, horizontal on the Olds, are mounted vertically on the Chevy, and they blend in extremely well, with a nice little peak at the tip of the fender.

If one didn’t know better, one would say it looks like the car came from the factory with those tail lights.

The car’s engine is visible through a clear Plexiglas panel on the top of the hood. The running gear has been updated, but only slightly. Rather than put in a 350 Chevy engine like many old car guys would do, the builder chose a 235 cubic inch six-cylinder engine from a ‘54 Chevrolet Bel Aire. That’s because 1954 is the year Chevrolet improved the 235’s lubrication system for increased longevity. The engine is fitted with a dual-carburetor Offenhauser intake manifold. The most modern feature on the Chevy is the easily adapted five-speed T-10 transmission from a late model S-10 pickup. For a touch of class, a glass crystal doorknob tops the long, tall shifter.

The mellow tones of the exhaust are compliments of a split manifold which routes the exhaust through dual fluted exhaust tips that hang below the rear bumper.

The full-length lakes pipes are strictly for show, and serve to make the already low car look even lower.

Montemayor’s slick Chevy gets high marks for staying with the “old school” theme. The car runs bias-ply wide-white wall tires, with bling provided by three-bar spinners from a ‘53 Oldsmobile. Guy drives his Chevy — he’s not afraid of raindrops on the hood, a little mud on the fenders, or scrapes on the exhaust tips from going over speed bumps.

These cars were driven and enjoyed back in the day, and this one is driven and enjoyed right now.

That’s the way he likes it.

Next month, Montemayor’s customized 1954 Chevy arrives on Kaua‘i, so we’ll have at least two old-school customs on the island.

If you have another one, I’d love to hear about it, and so would our readers.

• Wheels in Motion is a weekly feature showcasing interesting island vehicles and the people who own them. Email wheels@thegardenisland.com to suggest a vehicle that should be featured.

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