SALINA — Bob Swisher has built a lot of cool cars in his day. In fact, when he breaks out the scrapbook he keeps in his shop, the variety and the quality of the cars captured in the photos almost boggle the mind.
There are Tri-Five Chevies, classic Camaros, a pristine ’56 T-Bird, a humpback ’47 Chevy, a 1969 Jeepster, a 1924 Model T Tudor and even a 1963 Valiant equipped with a small block Chevy V-8.
Of the handful that now remain in his collection, a beautiful silver 1956 Chevy 210 2-door sedan seems to have secured the spot as his all-time favorite.
"I found it out in Ashland five or six years ago," remembers Swisher, who traveled the United States and Canada as an executive with the Schwan Food Company. It gave him the opportunity to explore the backroads and hidden places where old cars had gone to rust away.
"It was all gutted … no engine or transmission in it," Swisher said, showing a 4x6-inch color print of the car as it arrived at his shop.
He had already built a similar ’56 Chevy, a Bel Air sedan powered by a Buick "nailhead" V-8 and equipped with a set of hard-to-find Halibrand slotted aluminum wheels. But it just didn’t feel the way he expected it to feel on the road, so he sold it.
Instead of replacing the entire front suspension of this car with a modern clip as he had done on so many other projects, he decided to keep the original A-arm setup in place, adding only an aftermarket Mustang II-style rack and pinion steering unit. The rear suspension is the stock arrangement, with a 3.43-geared Positraction rear end in place.
The engine bay is where the big upgrade took place, as Swisher installed a 1996 LT1 Corvette engine and automatic overdrive, complete with the computer box, to make the little Chevy go. There were challenges getting an aftermarket wiring harness to function properly, but Mike Gordine, who handles the more involved mechanical and electrical issues on Swisher’s cars, was able to track the problem down and solve it.
For creature comfort, he selected a set of seats, front and rear, out of a 1990 Pontiac Bonneville. He was pleasantly surprised to find the Pontiac rear seat a near-perfect fit for the closer confines of the ’56 Chevy 2-door.
Swisher built his own custom center console, which houses not only a B&M shifter, but the middle outlets for a Vintage Air air conditioning system, along with a couple of cupholders. The tilt steering column is a Pontiac unit, with the late-model Pontiac wheel slated to be replaced by something custom in the near future.
The dashboard was cleaned up and the wedge-shaped instrument bezel filled with Dakota Digital gauges that glow a soft emerald green when the Corvette motor is thumping.
The factory Corvette exhaust manifolds were used to direct exhaust back to a pair of Smithy mufflers. "I just couldn’t handle that much noise," said Swisher, who had a pair of 16-inch resonators plumbed into each exhaust pipe, which now produces a milder, but still impressive, rumble.
The Martinez Brothers in Salina finished out the body work on the Chevy and shot it in the understated Corvette silver color that Swisher specified.
New front and rear bumpers were bolted in place, along with reproduction tail lights and mirrors. Most of the side trim was cleaned up for re-use, but new end spears had to be bought to finish out the flanks of the car.
Something seemed to be lacking, though, at least to Swisher’s discerning eye. The answer involved something he had seen at a nearby car show and filed away for future reference.
"I saw a ’56 Chevy sitting there and the sun was shining straight down on the chrome strip, casting a shadow underneath it," Swisher said. "I thought, `Man, I like that. A guy ought to do that.’ So I experimented with painting the shadow under the chrome … but there was still something missing."
A pin-striper at one of the recent Lead Sled Spectacular car shows in Salina provided the final touch — a thin line of vivid teal green paint below the "shadow" that finishes off the optical effect perfectly.
Completing the look of Swisher’s silver Chevy is another set of those Halibrand slotted aluminum wheels, 14-inch versions in front and 15’s aft. BF Goodrich tires, 205/ 70R/ 14s and 235/ 70R15s, coupled with the slightly lowered front end, give the car its no-nonsense street stance.
And Swisher says he and his wife, Fran, can comfortably cruise all day long in this one. With the car all sorted out, Swisher is satisfied he now has his perfect ’56 Chevy in hand and there are no plans to turn loose of this one, now or ever.