Pro Cruiser: 1955 Chev Bel Air Sports coupe

This classic-looking ’55 Chevy Bel Air hides a wealth of modern touches under its two-tone paint

Photographers: Jordan Leist

As I write this, Stewart Parris and one of his best mates, Ben Forster, are making their way from Perth across the country to Melbourne for Meguiar’s MotorEx. Behind them, tucked safely in the trailer, is one of the nicest ’55 Chevs you’ll ever see; so nice that it picked up an invite to Meguiar’s Superstars – along with a bunch of other awards – at the 2022 WA Hot Rod & Street Machine Spectacular.

First published in the June 2023 issue of Street Machine

With its stunning paint, which spreads to the undercarriage, you might think this ’55 was built as a show car, but it’s very much a driver – as witnessed by the LS1, manual transmission, big brakes and coil-over suspension. It’s just that Stew’s idea of ‘driver quality’ might be a bit higher-end than most.

Originally hailing from New Zealand, Stew was always headed for a life with cars. His dad raced speedway, and Stew would tag along from a very young age. “I used to spend a lot of time hanging around the garage while he fixed cars,” he recalls. “He always had old cars and we were always working on them and doing them up. I reckon I was fixing cars from the age of six or seven.”

When he was finally old enough to leave school and get a job, Stew went straight into a spray painting apprenticeship – and not just removing and replacing panels for insurance companies, but actual custom work on cool cars.

In 2001, Stew decided it was time to head west to the sunny shores of Perth, WA. His brother had already moved across, and after Stew heard his stories of streets paved with gold, endless sunshine and beautiful women, NZ didn’t stand a chance.

Well, that and the fact Stew could earn a shitload more money over here. With his well-honed skills, he found a job straight away, and a few years later, he saw that TAFE was looking for teachers, which is what he’s been doing for a crust ever since.

Stew’s had several cars since, and painted quite a few cars and motorbikes for friends, but the amazing Chev on these pages was purchased around 13 years ago off another ex-Kiwi hot rodder, Les Moran. The car had previously had a big-block Chev fitted to it – rather poorly, Stew says: “They had attacked the firewall with what looks to have been an axe and hacked the tunnel out as well.

“The rust work had already been started by John at Fantasy,” Stew continues. “He replaced the inner and outer sills as well as the bottom of the right-hand door.” That was a great head-start, but it wasn’t the end of the rust issues; Stew had to replace the bottoms of both A-pillars, the rear beaver panel and parts of the floorpan.

With the car back in one piece, Stew could start on the modifications. I can already hear you saying: “What modifications?” That’s the coolest thing about this car; there are a heap of mods that you’d never pick, and that’s how Stew wanted it.

One major mod was the rear wheelarches. Even after widening the tubs 75mm and pumping the quarter panels out 25mm, it was still a struggle to fit the 18×12 wheels with 345 rubber to the car, so the arches were raised 50mm and extended 30mm while keeping all of the original bodylines and, more importantly, the proportions intact.

While the rear quarters were pumped out, the other panels along the car’s length were shrunk to remove the ‘pillowing’ that factory pressings have. It’s the only way to get that perfect reflection along the bodyline without any dips at the panel gaps.

There’s been plenty of work carried out underneath and in the engine bay as well, with Stew looking everything over with a critical eye and improving what the factory did while maintaining as much of the original look as possible.

That’s why, when you look underneath, you’ll see all the swage lines and angular shapes that the factory used. “Right from the start, all the modifications to the underside of the car had to look like they were meant to be there and get people guessing where the factory stuff finished and the fabrication started,” says Stew.

The interior also copped a bunch of custom work, starting off with a conversion to right-hand drive. There’s a custom-made pedal box for three pedals, which themselves are custom made. The front seats are out of a Saab convertible, while the rear seat has been modified to suit the larger tubs.

There’s a custom-made centre console featuring a hand-shaped aluminium top, and the speaker trims and Chevy ‘V’ emblems in the seats were also hand-shaped. The whole lot was trimmed in custom Butter leather by Rob Sellen. “I wanted the interior to look classic and stylish with a modern twist to match the rest of the car,” Stewart says.

The final touch on this masterpiece is the paint, and it’s tough to go past the classic two-tone that these Chevys wore from the factory. The combo on Stew’s car most definitely wasn’t a factory option, but it certainly doesn’t look out of place. It took months of mixing tinters and metalflakes and doing spray-outs to get just the right shade of blue.

“I’ve put a green, a red and a blue flake in it,” Stewart says. “It’s a dry flake that I’ve mixed in with the colour because I didn’t want it to be too overpowering, and I didn’t want it to look like a disco ball. I reckon I did 20 to 30 spray-outs before I was happy with the colour.”

The top half of the car is finished in white, but of course, it’s not just a plain old white, it’s actually a three-layer Snow White Pearl that looks super clean. The colours are so clean and sharp and really suit the lines of the classic Chevy.

Stew has already racked up quite a few miles in the car, and also entered Motorvation earlier in the year, driving the Chev to the show, displaying it, and competing in the Grand Champ driving events. And when the show was over, he drove it home.

That was always the plan for this ’55: build it nice enough to win a few trophies while making it a reliable and enjoyable car to drive. Seems like the plan is working!

Beaut Ute

When Stew’s dad brought home a written-off four-door Torana, Stew knew exactly what to do with it. “He picked it up for a couple of hundred bucks, and straight away I thought, let’s turn it into a ute,” Stew says.

“We left the six-cylinder in it to start with, but the old man decided to stop racing speedway, so he sold the race car without the motor and ’box. After about three years, I said to the old man, ‘How about we put that motor and ’box out of the race car into the Torana and go drag racing?’”

Stew and his dad made a half-chassis for it so they could set it up with a four-bar and coil-overs, and with the 383 and ’Glide out of the race car, they were running 12.0s – which might not sound quick these days, but this was in the early 90s.

Stew stepped up his drag racing to an altered, still running the same combo but going much quicker, and ended up winning three NZ titles with the car.

Stewart’s Chev in detail:

  • Rear quarter panels split and widened 25mm
  • Modified Saab convertible seats with built-in seatbelts
  • Pillowing removed from doors and guards
  • Front bumper fitted closer to body
  • Art Morrison GT Sport chassis
  • Side trims flipped upside down
  • Wheelarch raised 50mm and widened 30mm
  • Rear bumper fitted closer to body
  • Fuel filler relocated to tail-light
  • Fuel door filled on LHS quarter panel


Paint:PPG Vibrance custom blue pearl/metalflake and three-layer pearl Snow White
Inlet:Inglese eight-stack
Injection:Eight individual throttlebodies
Radiator:Aussie Desert Cooler
Exhaust:Extractors, twin exhaust
’Box:Tremec T56 Magnum
Diff:Strange Engineering 9in, 31-spline, 3.55:1 LSD
Front:Tubular A-arm with sway-bar, Strange Engineering adjustable coil-overs
Rear:Triangulated four-bar with sway-bar, Strange Engineering adjustable coil-overs
Steering:Rack-and-pinion power steering
Brakes:Wilwood drilled and slotted ventilated discs with four-piston calipers (f & r)
Rims:Foose Monterey Forged; 18×8 (f), 18×12 (r)
Rubber:Mickey Thompson; 245/30R18 (f), 345/35/R18 (r)

Racheal Makene; Ben Forster; Peter Forster; Fiona Dowsett; Tony Mobilia; Suzanne Blake; Rob Sellen Motor Trimming; Kevin Orr at KLO Auto Electrics; Ren Vitulano at Guru Polishing; H&L Glass