Lowrider 1961 Chev Bel Air

As if this bright orange '61 Chev Bel Air wasn't head-turning enough, it grabs even more attention by jumping up and down!

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

We’re no strangers to showcasing cars that lift the front wheels off the deck here at Street Machine. What’s different about Adrian Kiwikiwi’s ’61 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe is that it gets airborne thanks to a complex hydraulic system rather than sheer grunt off the line at the drags. Adrian’s Chev is all about style — cruising low and slow and looking damn fine doing it.

As published in the December 2010 issue of Street Machine

“The car came from Queensland. It was bagged with big wheels and no chrome moulds. I bought it ’cos I always liked ’61s and the Bel Air Coupes are rare,” he says.

Step one was to chase down the missing moulds in the States and replace the rims with something a little more traditional; a set of custom 13-inch wires from Los Angeles, the spiritual home of lowriding.

“I sourced the wheels through Paul at Paul K’s Automotive and he really got me into the lowrider scene,” Adrian says. Paul is the Australian distributor for Black Magic hydraulics, and under his influence the car went from a mild ride to catapulting its tyres well clear of Mother Earth at the flick of a switch.

The boot-mounted hydraulic system uses a single-piston Sidewinder pump to power the front cylinders, with a single check valve, super-duty Adel II dump valve and custom stainless hardline return. The twin rear pumps are chromed Street Blocks with half-inch check valves, Delta dumps, hex-style slowdowns and hardline returns. Confused? It just means that Adrian can change the Chev’s ride height in a real hurry.

“We used eight-inch cylinders up front and 10s in the rear. It’s a pretty basic system but it still easily bounces the front. We’ve bounced it to knee-height but it’d easily jump past your hips,” Paul says.

The rear cylinders mount to custom lowered trailing arms through the rear coil springs, similar to a coil-over shock design. The front cylinders mount between the chassis and the lower control arms.

Because Adrian’s Chev is a street car rather than a dedicated hopper and the system is just front to back rather than front-back-side-side, only limited chassis reinforcement was needed. That meant the lads were able to retain the car’s standard coil spring and shock absorber configuration alongside the hydraulics, meaning that it rides extremely smoothly for something that’s juiced [lowrider slang for a car fitted with hydraulics].

“It’s a good street set-up that’s still very fast,” Paul says. “We ran 3.5-tonne coils in the front, whereas people normally go really stiff for hopping, so it drives great. It’s still a nice hopper though — one hit of the switch and the front comes straight up.”

The car also runs a complete CPP braking system from the States, including master cylinder, booster and disc brakes front and rear. The purpose-built discs are compact in order to fit inside the 13in wire wheels.

While he liked the orange shade that was already on it, Adrian felt it needed a custom touch. Enter Mick at The Hot Rod Company.

“It’s what you call a fadeaway effect,” Mick says of the roof. “We used three different grades of metalflake, from 350 microns down to 150 microns, with candy apple over the top. We put down a coarse metalflake first, then masked up the scallops over the top.

The individual stripes are different grades of metalflake, and different amounts of candy apple then gave the effect of the paint being darker in the middle and lighter towards the outside. The more candy, the darker it gets.”

The rest of the car was later resprayed in the existing shade of orange by Paul to get the finish up to scratch.

Inside it’s largely standard-issue Chevy, albeit retrimmed in a tasty combination of orange and black vinyl to complement the retina-searing exterior. Dual bench seats mean the Chev comfortably transports six, which is important considering that lowriding is all about cruising with your mates.

A billet tiller, modest Alpine stereo system, Auto Meter instruments and the all-important skull shifter are the only real deviations from stock in what is undoubtedly a cabin built to cruise. Notably, it’s still left hook, which Adrian says is fine.

“A lot of people think there are hassles with registering a left-hand drive car in Australia and that you have to run stickers and stuff, but as long as it’s over 30 years old, you’re sweet.”

He’d just started hitting shows in the car when a chance encounter with a Street Machine photographer encouraged him to take things to the next level.
“The engine bay and boot were pretty much all black when I first built the car. When I met Chris at a rod show he said it’d probably get in the mag if the bay was done up. I’d been a Street Machine reader for years, and when I lived up in Darwin I was big into V8s and drag racing, so it became a goal to get it to a standard where it could go in the mag.”

In two weeks of around-the-clock work, the entire front end was stripped off and the chassis and engine bay were painted, while the engine was detailed to perfection. The same happened at the arse, with the entire hydraulic set-up stripped out so the boot could be painted before the whole show was reassembled and plumbed in a purpose-built rack. Hard slog but well worth the effort — and they had some fun. “We had a lot of late nights and drank way too much beer!”

He’s thrilled with how the car has come up and is quick to credit Paul for most of the work as well as the inspiration. Likewise, Paul is impressed with the result of the pair’s handiwork.

“Adrian’s car turned out great. It’s a really good driver that rides even smoother than it did with airbags. It’s just a really good combination; I’m very happy with it.”

But now the hunt is on for the next one.

“I’m on the lookout for a ’57 or a ’59 rag for my next project,” Adrian says. Sounds like another slammin’ lowrider is set to hit the mean streets of Melbourne.

Check out what’s in the boot:

  • Batteries – There are eight in total; count ’em if you’d like! More batteries mean more grunt to operate the pumps, which in turn means the hydraulics can operate faster
  • Rear pumps – Chromed Street Block pumps with half-inch check valves feed the left and right rear cylinders
  • Front pump – This chromed single Sidewinder pump has a stack of upgraded parts, including a larger check valve. Just past the check valve, the system splits at a chrome Y-piece and runs to the front two cylinders
  • Rack – All the hydraulic hardware is mounted to a rack, custom built by Paul K


Colour:Glasurit Orange, metalflake roof, white scallops
Brand:Chev crate 350ci
Induction:Polished Edelbrock manifold, chrome Edelbrock carb
Preferred fuel:Pump
Cooling:Three-row radiator, thermo fan
Exhaust:Block Hugger headers, twin system
Gearbox:Two-speed Powerglide
Diff:Stock Chevy 12-bolt, 3.36:1 LSD centre
Springs:Black Magic 3.5-tonne coils (f), Black Magic pre-cuts (r)
Shocks:Black Magic 8in chrome hydraulic cylinders (f&r)
Mods:Chromed custom rear lower arms
Brakes:CPP discs and master cylinder (f&r)
Seats:Retrimmed stock benches
Tiller:Billet Specialties
Trim:Orange & black vinyl
Instruments:Auto Meter Sport Comp gauges
Stereo:Alpine head unit, R-Type 6x9s (f&r)
Rims:Custom 13in wires (f&r)
Rubber:Cooper 155/80/13 (f&r)

Paul K at Paul K’s Automotive Repairs (0411 141 567)