Tom Schauppner’s ’56 Chevy Bel Air
By Nick Licata – Photography by Wes Allison
Tom Schauppner’s roots into hot rodding dig way back to the mid ’60s when he was a self-described 15-year-old hellraiser. “Starting out in Huntington Park, we eventually moved to Newport Beach, California, in 1961. Just about every teenager in my neighborhood had a hot rod of some sort. My buddy, Tom Hargraves, got me into cars. He had a ’57 Chevy and I’d help him wrench on it until I got a cool hot rod of my own—a ’55 Chevy I bought without telling my parents,” Tom reveals. “The deal was short-lived, though, as my parents weren’t big on me having a car like that at the time, so my dad made me sell it back the next day.”
Not one to give up easily, Tom bought a ’56 Chevy from a friend not too long after, only this time he rented a garage a few miles away in Costa Mesa to work on the car without his parents’ knowledge. Eventually, his dad found out about the car once it was revealed Tom was carrying a zero balance in his bank account. “My dad figured out where the money went, and surprising to me, told me to bring the car home and then helped me finish it,” Tom says. “I raced it on weekends and every chance I could, but that reckless behavior drove my mom crazy as she was totally against the whole thing.” Ironically, Tom’s car got a lot of attention around town and at dragstrips like Lions, Fontana, and others, which led to his car making the cover of the Apr. ’65 issue of Popular Hot Rodding magazine.
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Tom ended up selling the car prior to enlisting in the Navy, which was a relief to his parents (selling the car, not enlisting), but he had plans to jump back into the hot rod scene once he returned from serving his country. Tom’s dad had other ideas. Being a talented golfer, he suggested Tom pursue the sport by joining the golf team at Southern California’s Orange Coast College. “I was reluctant to join the team because back then the hot rod guys were cool—the golfers not so much. Looking back, I’m glad I did because I was heading down a road full of bad decisions and playing golf curbed those choices and saved my life,” Tom confesses. “I wasn’t a particularly good student, but thankfully I was a decent golfer, which eventually led to a job as a golf instructor at Santa Ana Country Club in Newport Beach followed up as head golf instructor at Friendly Hills Country Club in Whittier.”
Around 1988 Tom would drive by a mechanic’s lot in Whittier on his way to work every day and noticed a tarp covering a car with a familiar shape along with a partial taillight being visible—just enough so that Tom could tell it was a ’56 Chevy. Each day as he drove by for about a year, that dull taillight was more like a beacon of light, never failing to get his attention. Finally, Tom couldn’t take it any longer and stopped by the shop to inquire about the car. The owner told Tom he was just about to put it up for sale at the Pomona swap meet that next weekend. Not about to let it go, Tom offered him $800—tarp and all. Tom was back in the hot-rodding game!
The car had an engine, a beat-up interior, some of the original trim, and not much else, but it was enough. Tom sent the car to Alf Ebberoth in Sand City, California, for a full custom makeover. “Ebberoth and I came up with a plan that included building a car with a suspension system that would enable it to handle more like a late model and less like a classic.
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For approximately three years Ebberoth and Tom spoke weekly to collaborate on the build direction and to come up with ideas on all the custom nuances that would be incorporated into the Bel Air. In 1990, Tom saw the car in person for the first time and was blown away by the outcome. With the ’56 on the road it received numerous show awards, magazine features, and took First Place in Car Craft magazine’s Real Street Eliminator competition.
Back in 2007 the car went in for a little refresh where Chris Torrey set the gaps and smoothed the body to perfection prior to meticulously spraying on a radiant layer of PPG Fly Yellow, giving the car an everlasting impression that still holds up today. Torrey’s skills in combination with the stellar plating work by Sherm’s Custom Plating impressed the marketing team at BFGoodrich, so much so that the car appeared in their magazine advertising campaign. Yep, this is that car.
Power comes by way of a 460ci big-block built in 2011 by John Mooreland at C&J Engineering. The refreshed mill’s drivetrain consists of a Scat forged crank, H-beam rods, and CP custom forged 10.5:1 compression pistons. The Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum heads provide plenty of flow while a Comp Cams hydraulic roller cam conducts the process. A C&J-modified Holley 800-cfm carb sits atop an Edelbrock Air-Gap intake with waste exiting through custom headers and 2½ inch exhaust by Frank Shonig.
The engine is dressed in a plethora of Shonig one-off billet pieces, including the air cleaner, valve covers, breathers, and the master cylinder cover. “Shonig made these types of pieces before anyone else and way before the aftermarket companies began mass producing them,” Tom reveals. “These parts were showing up on early street rods, but this was among the first Tri-Five to have any billet aluminum accents.”
Ebberoth boxed the stock frame for a stiffer, performance-based ride, and built a custom crossmember to accommodate the Orange County Transmissions 700-R4 transmission. Out back is a Currie 9-inch rearend stuffed with an Eaton limited-slip posi unit and 3.50 gears. Shonig set focus on building the stainless four-link suspension system dampened by Ridetech shocks. Up front, Ebberoth worked in a set of NASCAR-style tubular control arms for additional strength and performance, also dampened with Ridetech coilover shocks.
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Corvette 12-inch disc brakes work with an ABS hydraulic master cylinder to pull the Bel Air down from speed and lurk behind a set of 15-inch Budnik Famosa custom knock-off wheels sheathed in, of course, BFGoodrich T/A Radials.
The interior is a museum piece consisting of more one-off billet aluminum art: Woody Gilmore is responsible for the custom aluminum gauge panel and Dave Marasco created the custom-built pedals, the Nardi steering wheel’s horn button, and a plethora of other custom pieces throughout. Vic Kitchen laid out the black German square-weave carpet and black leather interior for a refined performance driving compartment. Recaro bucket seats replaced the stock bench, giving way for the center console that houses the electric window controls, a Panasonic head unit, and Hurst shifter.
We love the story of a once-rebellious teen who lived life in the fast lane yet was able to compose himself long enough to pursue a successful career in a what society during the late ’60s considered a highly acceptable profession. Tom did just that, while at the same time never losing his edge as a lifelong hot rodder. Tom will tell you he may have slowed down a little with age, but he’s proof that you can put an 8-iron in the hands of a hot rodder, but he’ll never lose grip on the passion that comes with the sound and performance of a V-8–powered, bright yellow, ’56 Chevy Bel Air.
Owner: Tom Schauppner, Newport Beach, CA
Vehicle: ’56 Chevy Bel Air
Type: Chevrolet big-block
Displacement: 460 ci
Stroke: 4.0 inch
Compression Ratio: 10.5:1
Drivetrain: Scat 1053 Forged crank, Scat H-beam rods, CP custom forged pistons
Cylinder Heads: Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum
Camshaft: Comp Hydraulic roller (0.604/0.607 lift, 282/288 deg. duration at 0.050)
Induction: Edelbrock Air-Gap RPM, Holley 3310 820-cfm carburetor modified by C&J Engineering (Santa Fe Springs, CA)
Assembly: John Mooreland at C&J Engineering
Exhaust: Stainless custom headers and 2½ exhaust by Frank Shonig, MagnaFlow mufflers
Ancillaries: Jim Babb custom brass-tank radiator, custom aluminum valve covers, breathers, and air filter by Frank Shonig
Output: 560 hp
Transmission: 700-R4 by Orange County Transmissions (Costa Mesa, CA)
Torque Converter: 2,500 stall
Rear Axle: Currie 9-inch rearend, Truetrac limited-slip differential, 3.50 gears
Chassis: Stock, modified by Alf Ebberoth
Crossmember: Custom by Alf Ebberoth
Front Suspension: NASCAR-style tubular upper and lower control arms by Alf Ebberoth, Ridetech shocks, Eibach springs, CPP steering box
Rear Suspension: Stainless four-link suspension by Frank Shonig, Ridetech shocks, Eibach springs
Brakes: Corvette 12-inch rotors, four-piston calipers front and rear, ABS hydraulic master cylinder
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Budink Famosa custom knock-off (15×7 front, 15×8 rear)
Tires: BFGoodrich T/A; 225/60R15 front, 275/60R15 rear
Upholstery: Black German Weave carpet, custom black leather door panels, center console, seat covers
Installation: Vic Kitchen
Seats: Recaro bucket
Steering: Stock steering column, Nardi steering wheel, custom horn button by Dave Marasco
Dash: Custom-fabricated aluminum insert by Woody Gilmore
Pedals: Custom by Dave Marasco
HVAC: Vintage Air
Stereo System: Panasonic head unit, Panasonic 5-inch speakers in kick panels, 6×9-inch rear package tray
Installation: Advantage Stereo (Brea, CA)
Bodywork and Paint: Chris Torrey
Paint: PPG Fly Yellow
Front Bumper: One piece
Rear Bumper: One piece
Plating: Sherm’s Custom Plating (Sacramento, CA)