Mike Davison has been playing with ’54 Chevs for over 30 years, so when this hard-to-find Sport Coupe popped up in 2006, he made a move on it, despite not really being in the market for a new project at the time. The rust was certainly fixable, and Mike had spares for anything that needed replacing.
First published in Street Machine’s Yearbook 2023
After enjoying the low-and-slow life for a couple of years, he took it off the road for a freshen-up and some sill and floor repairs. “A ‘mate’ agreed to take it on, as he needed the work, and I thought I was doing the right thing by me and him,” Mike says. “Wrong! After two years of tipping in cash and the ‘mate’ totally stuffing up the rust repairs and totally dismantling the car, I now had a non-driver and a big hole in my bank account.”
This is where Pat O’Shea of Pat’s Pro Restos comes into the picture. Mike hadn’t met Pat at the time, but he knew his cousin, Troy Hillier, and between Troy’s fastidiousness and the many testomonials for the work of Pat and his team, Mike was convinced. The Chev was duly tilt-trayed to PPR in early 2016. Mike’s wallet was feeling pretty hammered by this point, so he initially briefed Pat on a restoration with fresh paint and the correct (read: stupidly low) stance.
“Then in November 2017, on my usual trip to SEMA for work, I was checking out some of Dave Kindig’s latest builds, and a bomb went off in my head,” Mike says. “I thought, ‘Firstly, I’ve never built or owned a restored car – all of my cars and boats are modified. Secondly, everything I own has a supercharger! What am I doing building a stock-driveline resto?’”
Mike had rebuilt the chassis, brakes, suspension and steering by that point, while Pat was humming along with the bodywork. “First call the next morning from Vegas was to Pat, who was part-way through Street Machine Drag Challenge, to let him know of the change of plans,” Mike says. “Second call was to Darren Morgan, who’s a Top Fuel pilot and a mate.”
Darren got started on a Dart Little M Chev combo wearing a 6/71 blower and quad sidedraught 40mm Webers, inspired by a 186 Mike ran in an HT in the 90s. “I can imagine both blokes just shaking their heads in disbelief, probably thinking I had too many Fireballs the night before,” he laughs.
Punching 406ci and tuned by Russel Lamprecht, the mill is good for 735hp on pump 98 and runs through a Bob Grant-prepared TH400 and nine-inch diff. “I had a really good chassis in storage in one of my sheds; it already had an HT front end with a cut-down Commodore rack grafted in by Terry’s Diffs & Chassis back in the early 90s,” Mike explains. “I’d already done the nine-inch diff conversion, smoothed all of the welds and set it up for an SBC and Turbo 400, so I had a good start.”
Meanwhile, Mike’s long-time mates Peter Fitzpatrick and Rob and Justin Gardner were in his ear. “The more we spoke about the Chev when we caught up at Summernats and MotorEx, the more it got my show car juices flowing,” he says. Pat was happy to oblige, having turned out several Top 10 and Super Six rides over the past decade or so.
Body mods include ’53 Caddy headlights, a welded and smoothed 11-tooth grille replacing the original five-tooth piece, custom one-piece bubble tail-light lenses and shaved one-piece bumpers on both ends. Under the peaked and smoothed bonnet, the inner front guards and vent tubes were smoothed, as was the firewall, before the bay got a lick of satin ‘Blue Moon’ paint from resident Pat’s Pro Restos painter Kane Schulz. He also laid down the gorgeous matching Glasurit candy and pearl white exterior.
Trim was handled in-house, as ex-Summernats and MotorEx trim judge Tony Cairns had just set up shop with a brand-spanking overlocker. “Apart from being a top bloke, Tony’s a master trimmer and totally understood my ‘fat tuck-and-roll’ vision,” Mike says. “And the diminishing timeline!” The original seats feature rebuilt frames and use laser-cut, D-shape foam for a super-plush effect throughout the interior and boot.
Summernats judges Owen Webb and Rachael Durbidge checked in with Mike a year out from ’Nats 35, and it was decided the Chev was a perfect unveil hero. “I’d known Chic Henry for 25-odd years and we spoke often on the phone and at events, and I’d been sending him pictures of the build for years,” Mike says. “He knew the plan was to unveil it at Summernats 35, and I was planning to ask him to unveil it like he used to in the old days. Then we lost him. As many people were, I was devastated; he’d been a mate and mentor.”
Mike’s the general manager of Lovells and a qualified mechanical engineer, so he sorted out the final engineering and rego process while the PPR lads started a huge night-and-day push to get everything finished and detailed to the nth degree.
“I knew the car was nice, but the other cars in the Top 60 hall at Summernats were the best I’d ever seen in the hall, and I’ve been doing the ’Nats since 1988,” Mike says. “I honestly didn’t think we had a chance to make the Top 20, and I was cool with that. Fitzy and Rob Gardner bet me a couple of bottles of Limoncello that I’d make the Top 20; I took the bet, as I thought I would be a sure thing to win the booze.” Mike lost the Limoncello but won a Top 10 spot, plus third in Top Special Effects Paint and a MotorEx Superstars invitation.
SHIFTER: The Hurst Lightning Rods came from Greg Carlson’s iconic Silver Bullet VK. Mike’s late mate Jimmy Demirov bought and raced the car with a more conventional shifter, so Mike promised Jimmy’s daughter Shelly they’d be used in the Chev. “As they’d hardly ever been used in anger, the linkages were almost brand new and just needed a good going-over and tidy-up,” he says
The Chev’s earned a few more accolades since then, including Top 10 Elite, Top Custom/Modified and Runner-Up Top Paint Elite at MotorEx, not to mention a bushel of awards at the Adelaide Auto Expo, Mackay Motor Show and Killer Rides Live.
“My long-suffering and understanding wife Abbie accepts my car, boat and bike excesses,” Mike says. “Important things like bathroom renovations have gone by the wayside so I could build new engines, take on new projects or jump on a deal that I had to have. I drag her to shows all around the country, and she never complains and is there helping me set up the display and making things happen, no matter how early or late things are.” Abbie’s even green-lit a fancy Kugel Komponents IRS to further drop the rear end, which will be in the car by the time we go to print, alongside bigger rear brakes and more.
Mike will have to find the time between slotting a blown, injected, zoomie-headered Dart SBC into his flat-bottomed Everingham ski boat, which he plans to circuit race. “Then maybe the bathroom renovation,” he laughs.
1954 CHEVROLET BEL AIR
|Glasurit custom ‘Blue Moon’
|406ci Dart Little M small-block Chev Carbs: Weber 40mm
|Aeroflow in-tank pump
|Custom PWR, Spal thermo fan
|Extreme Custom Engineering 17/8in headers, 4in exhaust
|Bob Grant TH400
|Altra 9 9in, 3.7:1 gears
|SUSPENSION & BRAKES
|HT Holden McDonald Bros arms, Lovells coils and 26-way shocks, Stubtech drop spindles
|Lovells leaf springs and 26-way shocks, CalTracs
|HQ discs (f), Wilwood discs (r)
|WHEELS & TYRES
|Mike Curtis custom billet smoothie; 18×6 (f), 20×9 (r)
|Maxxis; 225/40R18 (f), 275/30R20 (r)
My wife Abbie; my entire family for their love and support; Pat and Kasia O’Shea, the crew at PPR; Harvey Atkins; Darren and Will Morgan; Craig Walpole at Extreme Custom Engineering; Kane’o Shulz; Peter Fitzpatrick; Rob Gardner; Lovells Automotive Systems; Artcraft Signs; PWR.