This article on Morgan's '51 Chev was originally published in issue no.14 of Street Machine's Hot Rod magazine, 2014
WITH the youth of today seemingly obsessed with their FaceSpace and their MyTubes, it’s refreshing to meet a young bloke who likes the simple pleasures of cruising, lead-loading and solid 1950s steel.
For Morgan Sgro, from Bright in north-eastern Victoria, a fixation with fabrication began at the tender age of 16, when he built a Rodeo space-cab mini-truck, having a heap of fun and learning a tonne about ’bags and chassis fabrication in the process.
“Some of the old-school boys get stroppy when I bring up mini-trucks, but the skills are 100 per cent transferable,” Morgan asserts.
Morgan imported a pair of 1951 coupe doors to fill the holes created by his coupe conversion. Unfortunately, the new doors turned out to be glorified landfill. Not to be deterred, he ordered up another pair of doors; this time two-door sedan items, then merged all four together to create something useable
Although it cost him a packet, he ended up flogging the Rodeo cheap and picking up this 1951 Chev for near-enough the same dough, gaining a big step up in style by doing so. But with the old man a panel beater and a bunch of mates building cars, Morgan’s Chev was never going to stay stock for long.
The front pillars looked raked, but they actually retain the stock angle and have had 3.5 inches taken from the top, while the whole roof has been moved forward to greet them. Up the back, Morgan binned a full eight inches of steel
The first mod was to join the two-piece bonnet; Morgan leaded the bejesus out of it to get it nice and smooth. At the same time, he ditched the bonnet badges and frenched the headlights.
The tail-lights are ’55 Chev bezels, laid back and flipped, while the lenses are repro ’56 Buick items from Mooneyes
Underneath, he fed the big Chev a fair serving of McSlammification, and got busy cruising the Victorian High Country, driving the old girl daily – Blue Flame six and three-speed column-shift intact!
A year later, Morgan felt it was time to step it up, and although he’s a traditionalist at heart, he’s also a realist; 1950s technology was never going to mix well with long distances and treacherous mountain roads.
Performance and driveability were improved by a healthy 350 Chev mated to a Muncie four-speed and backed by a nine-inch. A shortened VB Commodore rack sorted the steering, while the brakes were upgraded with a set of HQ discs. A narrowed HT Holden front end mated to a pair of Castlemaine Rod Shop drop spindles vastly improved handing, and a set of Slam Specialties airbags, fuelled by twin boot-mounted Viair compressors and a five-gallon tank, perfected the car’s coolness and stance.
But despite all these awesome upgrades, the biggest change to Morgan’s Chev wasn’t under the skin – it was the skin itself. Putting his budding coachbuilding and fabrication skills to work, Morgan shifted the B-pillars back and created some doors to suit. The rear quarters were also revised to cater for the custom tail-lights. Sourced by Morgan himself at a swap meet in the USA, the bezels are 1955 Chev items turned upside down and laid flat, then filled with a pair of repro ’56 Buick bubble lenses from Mooneyes.
The level of slammage achieved with the ’bags put the stock fuel tank perilously close to the ground; the 1966 Mustang tank is a fairly common swap for customisers and allowed the fuel filler to be smoothed off the side of the Chev
Planning to take the Chev to Chopped 2013, Morgan finished the work with two weeks to spare, but no good build story is ever wrapped up that easily. Two days out from Chopped, the 350 sheared a few lobes off the cam, turning the old girl into a two-tonne paperweight unless drastic measures were taken. With a never-say-die attitude, Morgan borrowed a 283 from a ’64 Belair and installed the motor overnight before leaving for Chopped the next morning. Needless to say, the frantic engine swap was worth it and he had a blast in Newstead.
Still, more work was on the cards. Morgan got bored one quiet November morning, and the next minute he and old mate Ahron Jeffree were getting busy with the angle grinder. With the help of Rob, Morgan’s old man, the boys took many, many inches out of the front, middle and rear pillars, massaging and moving things around until the right look was achieved, honing their lead-loading skills as they did so. “I wanted to make something that the original designers would have come up with if they weren’t restricted by bullshit like headroom,” Morgan explains.
The front bench, restored by the previous owner, retains its standard height despite the healthy roof chop
On canting the B-pillars forward, he says: “One of the things I learned early on is that it doesn’t matter how many times you measure something, if it doesn’t look right to your eye, then it’s not right.”
Perhaps inspired by his close call in getting to Chopped, or maybe simply because he has masochistic tendencies, Morgan gave himself a two-month deadline to complete the roof chop, in order to get the car to Kustom Nats at Phillip Island in January this year. He made it.
And just as well he did; when Morgan was informed he’d won Australia’s Most Beautiful Kustom, he assumed they were taking the piss, but they were deadly serious. “We’d just finished working on it the night before,” he reveals. “The body was still in primer and there were marks all over it, but it was validation from the older guys in the scene that they appreciated my work and my direction. It was very humbling.”
The Chevrolet sedan had been fully restored by a local lady in Bright, but she didn’t go troppo when she heard what was happening to her beloved ride; she just wanted to make sure Morgan finished what he started. She still bails him up in the street to check how her baby is going
With validation like that, it’s clear that Morgan and his Chev have a lot more to offer; future plans include some door trims and a pair of windows, as well as some tri-power induction for the no-longer-borrowed 283 Chev V8. And how about a heater?
“Nah, mate,” Morgan says, “the exhaust sits close enough to the floor and the windows are small enough she doesn’t need one! Even in Bright!”
1951 CHEVROLET SEDAN
Colour: Minty green primer
Engine: Stock 283 Chev
Transmission: Muncie four-speed
Diff: Ford 9in
Brakes: HQ Holden (f), Ford LTD (r)
Steering: Shortened VB Commodore rack-and-pinion
Suspension: Narrowed HT Holden front end; Slam Specialties airbags – RE6 (f) and RE7 (r) – with five-gallon tank, AccuAir VU4 valve block and twin Viair compressors
Rims: 14in Chrome Smoothies with 1951 Pontiac hubcaps (f & r)
Rubber: Coker G78 R15 (f & r)