John Hall Jr’s 1954 Chevy Mild Custom
By Chuck Vranas – Photography By the Author
There’s nothing more stunning than a custom car crafted with baselines from Chevrolet, Ford, or Mercury. Massaging and finessing panels while also reimagining the use of various body parts fused with stance and style are some of the most critical elements that bring a custom to life. It takes a special group of talents to make it all come together, as seen here with the seductively mild 1954 Chevy Bel Air laid out across our pages, owned by John Hall Jr. of Chesapeake, Virginia. The build embodies everything cool, bringing it to iconic status, regardless of whether it’s on the show field or racking up miles cruising down the highway.
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Thanks to a lifelong fascination with chopped tops, leadsleds, and hard-core hot rods, it was easy to see that a path had been laid out for eventually stepping into the custom world with his very first purchase. Having studied the various body styles, including ’50s-era Mercurys and Shoebox Fords, there was something special that lured John to the classic lines of the first-generation Chevy Bel Airs that stood out from the rest, especially when treated to just the right modifications. Having made the decision to begin his search for a suitable base to start with, he eventually located a 1954 Chevy Bel Air online and sealed the deal, swapping cash for keys. Once received, it was obvious the bone-stock original had lived a tough life, making it a perfect car to start working on with his dad.
Having always had a keen eye for spotting well-crafted customs at either local or regional car shows, it was fate that brought him face-to-face with the flawless 1951 Chevy Fleetline custom, built by Kent Writtenberry of Kentz Kustomz Cycles of Gasburg, Virginia. The car embodied everything he could imagine in a mild custom, which led to the pair starting a conversation about what it would take to bring his new acquisition to the next level while paying homage to the greats, including Winfield and Barris. Before long, the car was delivered to the team at Kentz Kustomz Cycles to get started on its evolution. With a plan in mind, it was torn down to first address the chassis. Seeing that the spine was still in solid shape, the team blasted it clean and followed it by boxing it for extra strength.
If you want the best slammed stance in town, call Alex Gambino of Gambino Kustoms in Manteca, California, for one of his Extreme Suspension Ultimate Air Ride Kits packed with all the right components to nail your ride to the pavement. Out back, the frame was treated to Gambino’s Tail Dragger Kit, incorporating their exclusive Chevy notch as well as their over-axle ’bag mounts and custom-fabricated brackets. From there a refreshed GM 12-bolt rear end spins 3.50:1 gears, suspended in place by a combination of a Gambino’s triangulated four-link matched to Slam Specialties SS-6 air bags, Razor-sharp handling starts with an ultra-low front crossmember deftly matched to a Fatman Fabrications Mustang II Independent Front Suspension (sourced through Gambino) featuring tubular upper and lower control arms matched to stock spindles and Slam Specialties SS-6 air bags along with rack-and-pinion steering.
With all fabrication complete, the frame then was ground smooth, molded, and treated to a coating of PPG Sundown Gray. When it’s time to drop speed, a Southern Rods dual power master moves fluid through stainless lines to Speedway Motors 11-inch discs with two-piston calipers up front and stock drums out back. Linking it all to the street with style are classic 15×6 Supreme wheels by U.S. Wheel capped by a set of custom-ordered gold ’n’ white wall tires from Diamondback sized P215/75R15 at each corner.
To add the right amount of performance to the mix John opted to jettison the original straight-six in favor of a hopped-up Chevy V8 engine. Starting with an early 1960s 327ci mill, the block was massaged to perfection and filled with a forged steel crank and rods matched to forged aluminum pistons getting bumped by a Crane cam. Up top, a set of warmed-over iron heads generate smooth power, especially when paired with a Performer Edelbrock intake manifold breathing deep through a 650-cfm Holley carburetor topped by a reproduction 1955 Cadillac air cleaner from Speedway Motors. It all sparks to life through an MSD ignition system with exhaust roaring through a set of Hedman headers to a custom 2-½-inch, fully polished, stainless exhaust paired with Super 44 Series Flowmaster mufflers, all by Auto Muffler King of Newport News, Virginia. Other cool bits include a Vintage Air accessory drive, Billet Specialties valve covers, and an Optima battery. To move the goods, a fresh TH350 transmission packing a B&M shift kit links to a custom driveshaft by Kentz Kustomz Cycles.
It takes a keen eye to add the perfect amount of allure in creating a mild custom and this is where years of experience come into play. Getting started, Kent laid down the top with a well-balanced 3-½-inch front-to-rear chop. From there he added additional teeth to the grille while also reshaping its opening, Frenching the headlights with 1953 Oldsmobile headlight rings, adding a fadeaway peak to the hood and reworking the front wheel openings. He continued smoothing the firewall, shaving door handles, while also nosing and decking to complete the look. From there the team set the gaps and blocked the entire body to prepare it for paint. To bring just the right look to the Bel Air, Kent laid down a decadent coating of custom-blended House of Kolor Solar Gold Candy complete with a bottom fade to the body, adding a white pearl to the roof while always remembering what good friend Gene Winfield told him: “Spray it till you’re happy.” To add a classic signature to the roof, Kent contacted Kevin Petitt of Petittbilt Customs to design a masterpiece that would stand the test of time. The collaboration between the pair, with assistance from Kent’s son, AJ, took days, with the final design being a true work of art. Finally, custom glass from Glass Guy Chicago completed the look.
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Inside, the factory dash was treated to matching custom paint while VHX Series dials from Dakota Digital monitor the vitals accented by fresh chrome by East Tennessee Chrome Plating. A custom-painted factory steering wheel mounts to a tilt ididit steering column to carve a course while shifts move through a Lokar stick; cool breezes are compliments of Vintage Air and custom wiring by Kentz Kustomz Cycles ties it all together. For a perfect complement to the exterior, Kent contacted Rick’s Upholstery of Littleton, North Carolina, to stitch up a tasty combination of white leather tuck ’n’ roll with matching side panels and headliner accented by a splash of leopard print and plush gray carpet. The completed car has been a hit on the scene wherever it’s been shown, easily living up to its Bel Air name with John and his lovely wife, Amanda, laying down the miles, and to us that’s as good as it gets. MR