1953 chevy 53 chevy stardust custom
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In 1990, I was driving a '63 Imperial Crown Southampton hardtop sedan as my everyday car. It was striking Alpine White with a VERY '60s teal blue interior. It even had factory air and "Auto Pilot" cruise control. It was a very cool car, but it just wasn't old enough.

In April of that year my mother, father and I went to a yard sale in a little south Jersey development called "Bird Land." I'd have to say it's probably one of the best yard sales I've ever been to. The guy had old toy cars from the '30s and '40s CHEAP, and parked on the side of the house with a faded old For Sale sign in the window was this chocolate brown '53 Chevy Bel Air sedan. It was looking kind of sad.

The paint was strictly flat. Probably hadn't been polished in 20 years. The chrome grille and bumpers were painted silver (I knew the chrome was gone underneath). There was rot-out on the rear fender wells and door bottoms. Somebody tried to fix the rotted spare tire well with an old 70's jersey license plate. (That's still there!) The front seat was dry rotted and ripped up, and the door panels were sagging. But it was a Bel Air. And it ran.

The guy started her up for me, and I couldn't believe the old straight six could actually start sound that good. The pipes were gone, muffler rotted out ages ago, but she still sounded decent. I asked how much he want. Thousand bucks.

That was too rich for my blood, and too much for that car. I figured I'd have to put at least three bills into it just to get it on the road. So I bought some of the antique toy cars, and we went home.

A couple of weeks went by. I had a decent job by that time, and was able to save up $500. So one sunny afternoon in May 1990, I drove over to the guy's house and knocked on the door. The Chevy was still there, same place it had been for years. He answered and recognized me right away. Long story short, I offered him the five C-notes cash for the ride, and after about 10 minutes of hemmin' and hawwin' he finally said, "Well, I bought it for me and my son to work on together. Then he discovered girls and that was the end of that. So Ok, you can have it." I paid him the cash, started it up, and drove it (really slowly) home.

The first time around I put her together on a tight budget. Mechanically, I needed a battery, cables, tires, carb rebuild, points, and an exhaust system just to get it drivable. I did all that in the first few months, and drove it on short trips. I had to push start it a lot, as the newer 6 volt batteries just didn't have enough juice to keep it going. At first I put used tires on it, and made my own exhaust system out of pipes and a cherry bomb muffler. I took the old curved pipe (what was left of it) to Crown Auto on the Black Horse Pike in Cardiff, NJ and had the guys match one up as close as possible. I remember I paid $12 for it and thought it was a lot.

As I drove it, more problems popped up as is expected with a 40+ year old car that sat for 10 years. Fuel pump died, luckily in front of my house. So did the water pump. That was a pain to replace. The rebuilt carb was never right so I bought a pro-rebuilt, and that worked great. Had to rebuild all the wheel cylinders and replace the brake shoes (did that in an unheated garage in the middle of the winter!). Finally got a nice set of white walls at Pep Boys for $22 each (probably the last Cornell wide whites Pep Boys ever sold) around 1991, and that's what stayed on the car until I replaced them in 2005.

Finally got the bodywork done and got her painted in 1991, Seafoam Green and white. Put $10 cotton seat covers on the seats, redid the door panels with a $18 blanket from K-Mart (it looked great!) and I was on my way.

In the mid 90's some dumb kid went too fast through and intersection and hit me, squashing the two passenger doors (his van was toast). It was then I decided to do a custom job. I got replacement doors from a friend for 75 bucks, pulled out the post and put the new doors on. They were yellow, and stayed that way until I moved to Florida and got a house with a garage. Then the changes started happening...

chris pinto 58 caddy custom
chris pinto 58 caddy custom
chris pinto 58 caddy custom
chris pinto 58 caddy custom

In the mid 1980's I picked up a boxful of model cars and parts from the 50's at another yard sale. (I went to a lot or yard sales). One of the models was a '58 Caddy Eldorado Brougham, but it was missing pieces. So I pieced it together and decided to do a little custom work. I cut the top like a cabriolet, like in a photo I saw of a show car from the '50s done up that way. I always wanted to do it to a real car, and somewhere in the late '90s I decided the Chevy would be it. I also like the look of the '59 Caddy tail lights, and JC Whitney sold them cheap. So I planned on working those in too. I always like wire wheels, and decided to try to find some when the time was right. And a continental kit. Always loved those, and really wanted one.

Now that I had a garage, I started getting all the stuff together, and redid a lot of the bodywork during 2000-2002. Then one cool evening in 2001, I took a cutting wheel and chopped the roof out.

It was around 2001 that my father told me I should put fins on the Chevy. He passed away in 2002 without seeing the fins come to fruition, but that just made me want to put them on even more. It took a couple of years of drawing, planning, and working up the courage to start them. But in late 2004, I finally had the right tools, the right plan and the right frame of mind to start fabricating Batman fins onto my old '53 Chevy Bel Air.

53 chevy bel air frenched tail light

Frenching the tail lights, shaving the door handles.
This was the first time I ever did this. (Click images to enlarge )

Working in the Fins

Door Jamb Before

Door Jamb After

chris pinto 1990 1953 chevy 53 chevy hot rod stardust custom

When I first brought her home, May 1990

chris pinto 1990 1953 chevy 53 chevy hot rod stardust custom

Fall, 1990 doing bodywork. She was roadworthy by that point.

chris pinto 1990 1953 chevy 53 chevy hot rod stardust custom

Summer 1991, Fresh Paint. Driven almost daily.

chris pinto 1990 1953 chevy 53 chevy hot rod stardust custom

1993 Photo Shoot for my friend Tom's Rock 'n Roll band, 'Blackboard Jungle'

chris pinto 1990 1953 chevy 53 chevy hot rod stardust custom

The Chevy on the front lawn the day we moved to Fort Lauderdale.

The Cabriolet style roof, early 00's

Building the fins, stripping the paint, 2005