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Wayne Grima's 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air - flashback

By Glenn Torrens | Photos: Peter Bateman, 16 May 2020 Features

Chev Bel Air

Wayne Grima built this Summernats Top 20 custom Bel Air before his 20th birthday

YOUNG blokes and cars usually end up making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, which makes it all the more refreshing to meet Wayne Grima. Not only is he the Snap-on/Street Machine Apprentice Of The Year but he’s also screwed together a stunning streeter good enough for a Summernats Top 20 spot. Not bad for a lad whose age still starts with a ‘1’.

This article was first published in the June 2011 issue of Street Machine

The project began in 2005. Encouraged by his parents, Sydney-based Wayne bought the 1956 Chev Bel Air from a Queensland importer. That’s a big commitment for a kid who’s just 15. But he had big ideas — and better still, those ideas were quickly turned into solid plans.

Chev Bel Air

“Dad had a whole lot of spare parts,” he explains, “so the idea was to build it and sell it. It was to be a car to make a bit of money on and then step up into something else.”

So what happened?

Wayne cracks into a grin and his eyebrows shoot skywards as his proud dad, Laurie, takes over the story.

“I went out to the garage one day and he was deburring the block,” Laurie says. “It was then that I realised that it was going to be too good to just sell. He’s a perfectionist.”

“Nah, it was all Dad’s fault,” Wayne retorts, “because he let me tub it!”

Read more : The Grima Family's life with cars

Chev Bel Air side

The car needed two floorpans but otherwise wasn’t in bad shape for a machine with half a century under its tyres.

“We were going to block back the original paint and use that as a base for the new paint,” Wayne says, “but then we thought I may as well do it properly. Every day the quality of the build got better and better. One thing flowed into the next and before I knew it, the whole car became better that I expected.”

In short, it became a full body-off project. All the factory sound-deadening was removed, revealing mostly healthy metal underneath. The body mods were minimal, with Wayne’s attention directed at dazzling details rather than radical changes.

Early on, the car was converted to right-hand drive using one of Dad’s spare right-hook steering boxes. “I used a Torana column at first but it just didn’t look tidy so I replaced it with a Flaming River tilt column.” That was after a full week of persistence with the Torrie piece, and it’s just one example of the work he applied to his car.

Read next: 502-cube big-block Chev Bel Air

Chev Bel Air wheel

Another is the hand-built instrument cluster.

Oh, and the backside of that panel — often a minefield of bodyfiller, pop rivets and taped-up wiring — is as smooth and tidy as the front.

The trim is the work of Gary’s Motor Trimming and includes suede hoodlining, leather seats and wool carpets. To get such a fine result as this requires as much co-operation as expertise.

“There’s a lot of hidden detail that possibly no-one will ever see,” Wayne says, “but I know it’s there. For example, I stripped and blasted the seat springs then had them powder-coated, and I rounded off the ends of the leaf springs.”

Read next: Custom 1957 Chev Bel Air

Chev Bel Air boot

Inner wheelhouses stretched 100mm inboard. The boot hinges were relocated and the holes filled. There's carpet but as with the front floor, paint over beautifully prepared metal keeps everything looking good

The details that are on show include wiring and heater hoses neatly treated with old-school cotton wrap rather than plastic, the floorpan above the top edges of the front carpet painted in a satin mocha, and even flat black paint inside the doors and quarters so there’s no nastiness to spy when the windows are down. “I didn’t want to hide anything — I wanted everything neat and tidy. It’s all there and it’s all real.”

The Chev was tubbed by relocating the inner arches 100mm further inboard on each side, with the chassis rails left untouched. However, the rear springs were swapped from left to right and installed inboard of the rails to help squeeze 20x10 rollers under the rear. The fuel tank is original spec but it’s been centred in the boot floor — the spare tyre dimple was removed to provide the require real estate — and its original strap retainers were binned in favour of a neat frame that supports the tank via its external seam.

Laurie’s no stranger to Chev V8s so he helped Wayne button together a stout yet simple 350; neatened standard heads, a Wade cam and 600 Holley carb are the major deviations from stock.

chev bel air engine

Wayne wasn't influenced by 80s and 90s trends because he wasn't there! Instead he applied the KISS theory when setting up and detailing his father-and-son project small-block Chev and the engine bay it resides in

The exhaust starts with block hugger headers and funnels down to twin 2½in Edelbrock mufflers. Wayne crafted his own alternator brackets and fitted a neat mesh screen to the original-sized radiator. Providing a nice blend of squirt and cruise is a Dominator 3500rpm torque converter driving a GM/Chev TH350 three-speed auto and a spooled nine-inch rear axle.

The suspension and brakes feature plenty of catalogue parts, with Heidts fabricated stainless front control arms, adjustable Be Cool dampers, King Springs coils and Nolathane bushes. The brake system was assembled using an XB Ford master cylinder and booster, F100 rear drums and Holden VT/VZ front calipers — they’re the good ones, with twin pistons and big pads.

The same person who was responsible for Laurie’s orange Chev — twice — did the paint on Wayne’s ride. It’s a sensational job by Paul Abela, using De Beer product. What’s the colour?

“Mixed-Up Green,” Wayne says. “It’s just something we mixed up. I suppose you could call it teal.” It’s contrasted with solid black.

Chev Bel Air interior front

The steering column doesn’t have the usual U-clamp holding it to the dash; Wayne welded a block to the column’s top side after drilling and tapping it to accept retaining bolts. He tidied the metal that shows above the edge of the carpet by painting it

Wayne also points out the less obvious but extensive detail work that went into components such as the bumpers and grille. “The major work such as gapping was done at home, while the more specialist stuff and the dusty stuff was handled at Paul’s shop in Penrith.”

Astonishingly, much of this happened in the final weeks of 2010.

“The body shell wasn’t gapped or anything. The chassis was done but the body wasn’t.”

In time-honoured tradition, that meant a last-minute rush to get the car to Summernats.

“We were supposed to be there by 6pm on Thursday but we were still at home fitting bumper bars and stuff,” Wayne says. “I missed my Apprentice Of The Year presentation. We arrived at about 10pm and had to set the car up in the Meguiar’s Hall. They kicked us out at 1am and we were back there at six in the morning.”

Chev Bel Air interior rear

Timber boards under the carpet keep everything flat without absorbing too much space. The expansive bench seats were subjected to bare-bones rebuilds and Wayne even powder-coated the frames and springs

The Bel Air isn’t engineered or registered yet but he says that’s just a formality.

“I’ll probably do that after MotorEx,” Wayne says. “There’s no rush. I want to buff it again; when we first did it, the paint was still fresh.”

IN THE BLOOD

WITH the surname Grima, Wayne was always destined to build cars. His dad, Laurie, owns and built the multiple award-winning 1955 Chev PRO NEAT (SM, July ’03) before it was jettisoned from its trailer in Nov ’03. The car was rebuilt to become PRO NEAT II (SM, Sept ’05) and Wayne was heavily involved in that build.

“He’d always planned to build a show car,” Laurie says, “and that was always destined to be a Chev. There was little chance of him coming home from school saying he wanted a Ford!”

As for Wayne, he says: “I’d always planned on doing something like this. But not yet.”

WAYNE GRIMA
1956 CHEVROLET BEL AIR

Colour: De Beer Mixed-Up Green/Solid Black

ENGINE
Type: Chev 350ci small-block
Pistons: TRW
Cam: Wade
Oil pump: JP
Intake: Edelbrock Performer
Carby: Holley 600
Ignition: MSD HEI
Exhaust: Block-hugger headers, twin 2½in Edelbrock mufflers

TRANS
’Box: GM/Chev TH350 with manual valvebody

Convertor: Dominator 3500rpm
Tailshaft: 3½in thick wall
Rear end: Nine-inch with 3.99 gears & mini-spool

UNDER
Front: Heidts stainless control arms, King springs, adjustable Be Cool dampers, Nolathane bushes, VX Commodore twin-piston calipers/discs
Rear: Relocated leaf springs, Be Cool dampers, Ford F150 drums

ROLLING
Rims: Budnik, 18x7 (f), 20x10 (r)
Rubber: 215/40-18 (f), 315/35-20 (r)

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