Bespoke – Bela’s Truly Unique Interior
chevrolet, Performance, Chevy, 1956, Bel Air, bela, tri five, Custom Stitching Company, interior, Leather, 1956 Bel Air
Submitted by theBLOCK
Thu, 2015-12-03 06:00
Throughout the brainstorming period of Bela’s build process, we had a lot of options on the table. We decided early on that we wanted to keep the exterior patina and character, but the interior strategy wasn’t as obvious of an answer. We gutted her right away to address the floors, because regardless of which route we went, without a sturdy floor, it was pointless to put anything inside. Sure enough, the floors were rusted which was no surprise although we were crossing our fingers, hoping for the best. It ended up working out for us because we were able to build a relationship with the great people of Woody’s Hot Rodz and Goldenstar who guided us in the direction of a brand new floor, which Daniel Valjevac from Retro Designs Speed and Custom jumped in and performed the floor surgery on Bela. That provided us with a strong foundation for not only the interior, but the car as a whole.
With a new floor, it was time to get serious about the interior and start making decisions as to how we would like it to look. Many people go with the original interior theme, keeping almost everything exactly how it would have come from the assembly line. This route, we love, but it just didn’t feel right for our Bela. The exterior was so crazy and uncommon, we felt like the interior needed to match the same, outlandish theme. We started thinking about the ad campaign, “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet” which was penned by James Hartzell, an advertising copywriter, in 1974. You may remember us writing about the phrase in our introductory article to Bela’s build, and as it turned out, it became something that we pursued as a theme for the overall car.
Most of us know the feeling of a well-made, broken-in baseball glove; the smell of the leather alone is enough to captivate oneself. This sensation was one we wanted to capture with Bela. Driving Bela should be an experience, not just a task to get from point A to point B. Because of this, we reached out to Custom Stitching Company in Charlotte, North Carolina to carry out the vision. In our first interior article, we showed a lot of sketches and initial work from Steve Kurzman, owner of The Custom Stitching Company, and his team. They sat with our own Andy Williamson from The BLOCK to talk out inspirations and ideas that Andy had for this interior. Andy had some specific pieces that he wanted to see in the interior. Once The Custom Stitching Co. team heard those ideas, they were able to go back and not only execute them, but also elevate the interior to a whole new level. They drew a lot of inspiration from the ‘40s and ‘50s aviation community and combined that mid-century style with other Americana themes. The end result was a vision for an interior that was certain to match her wild, stand-out-from-the-crowd exterior.
We dove in deep while writing the first interior article, revealing a ton of details of the planning and initial execution. It’s safe to say that, at first, we were a little nervous. Such an elaborate interior seemed like such a daunting task to us, but Steve was hardly phased. Despite the radical timeline of a few weeks, Steve pushed through, pulling late nights and early mornings, stitching together the entire interior. He really had his work cut out for him, yet he pulled through with a finished interior that blew us all away. There are so many details in the interior, like how Steve took the time and incorporated the leather baseball glove stitching from the seats to the beautiful 16” Lokar Automatic Shifter with the satin mushroom knob. And the way he wrapped the shifter and incorporated that theme all the way through was very clever.
One of our most memorable moments of the interior build was during crunch time. The Retro Design Speed and Custom team was full steam ahead. They were rocking and rolling as we got within five days of this car needing to be at SEMA. When you get to that point, everyone is touchy and no one has any sleep. That meant that it was virtually impossible for Steve from the Custom Stitching Co. to have 3-4 days with the car to install the interior properly. Nope, he had a few hours to get over to the shop and work alongside all of the other madness going on in order to help us get the interior buttoned up. No easy task whatsoever, but something that many of you have felt when building a car of this magnitude that is going to a show like SEMA.
During all of that craziness, Steve somehow found his place of peace. Just as we had over ten people thrashing on the car, Steve moved about three feet away from the madness, found a little stool and picked up our brand new black Danchuk replacement steering wheel and he started to hand sew a brand new Relicate Leather steering wheel wrap for the wheel. We noticed him over there doing something, but didn’t realize that this madman was actually fabricating and sewing by hand as all of the rush was happening around him. The wheel was stitched perfectly and looks identical to the brand new Chevrolet wheels in how they are stitched like the new Corvette Stingray, etc. We had a chance to show the car to Chevrolet Chief Engineer, Al Oppenheiser, who loved the car big time, and showed him the wheel and he immediately noticed the detail on the steering wheel and how it was stitched. That made us very proud for sure.
To complement Bela’s high horsepower heart, we fitted the rich leather seats with seat belts that not only look bad to the bone, but will provide the safety that we need. We wanted to run only one brand of aftermarket seat belts due to the reputation they’ve gained over the years – Simpson Race Products. With a rich racing history, Simpson carries a variety of harness and seat belts, along with many other products, that are commonly found on the track and on the street. Quite simply, they’re known for products that keep drivers safe while looking good and feeling comfortable. While 5-point race harness are super cool, we wanted something that looked a little more casual and period-correct. This want landed us on their Latch & Link Seat Belt, which is a lap belt that suits Bela perfectly. It’ll keep all of Bela’s occupants nice and safe while providing the looks of the classic Simpson seat belt. Once we installed them, we knew they were a perfect fit. The belts proved to be a simple install and they look incredible. We want to say a huge thank you to Debbie Bishop for all the help during the decision process.
Chris Sondles from Woody’s Hot Rodz introduced us to Marty Waterstraut from ididit who helped us put together a brand new steering column. Marty helped us work with Borgeson Universal for the beautiful aluminum firewall mount to tie the new column in and make the installation look sleek and custom. We LOVE the functionality, look and feel of the ididit steering column. You have all of the functions of a modern car with the vintage look and feel of a classic car. Once those pieces were installed, we had a chance to see the new Danchuk steering wheel that Steve Kurzman wrapped with Relicate Leather installed and in place. It’s truly amazing to see the full interior that, when pulled all together, complement each other perfectly.
To keep things moving in the interior, Steve reached out to his friend Shane O’Quinn at American Rust to pull together the incredible brass hardware and handles that you see inside the car. Shane had to make ten total handles – vent window, window cranks and door handles up front, window cranks and door handles in the back. It’s amazing to see these pieces in person knowing they started off as just a block of brass that were then milled down to these stunning pieces.
When we nailed down the brass theme with the handles, we started to think about the A/C vents and how the A/C was going to look in the car. To be honest, we were dragging our feet on what we were going to do with the A/C inside Bela. We just didn’t want something that looked and felt out of place. Really there hasn’t been great options for A/C units inside vintage cars. There are companies out there that make nice kits, but they are pretty standard, which is fine, but Bela is anything but standard. One day we were surfing around Instagram and somehow came across this A/C company, Restomod Air After a few minutes looking at Restomod Air’s controllers, vents and components we knew they were the perfect fit for this project and had to work with them.
When we reached out to Restomod Air, we started to work with Gary Wayman. Gary rocks and is the man to go to when you want to get things done! He was able to help us work with the visionary of Restomod Air, Mike Rejkowski and the Restomod Air team as they worked to match our A/C vents as well as climate controller with Shane’s brass hardware. I mean c’mon, what other A/C company is going to go through all of that painstaking work to help a build like this. In our opinion, that’s what sets Restomod Air apart from the others. Restomod has been amazing to work with. Their whole team has a service first mentality, which made it painless to work with them. There is no doubt that this young team is on the cutting edge of A/C systems for vintage and classic cars. They are changing the game for sure. It will only be a matter of time for more people to learn more about them and what they are capable of, and it will be all over. These guys will be one of the biggest names in the A/C market hands down.
The brass is the perfect backdrop for all the Relicate leather. We worked with Josh Laird on the hides for Bela. Relicate is about as high-end as it gets when talking about custom automotive interiors. Josh looked over the vision of the car and loved where we were going. He also knew we needed something to make a big statement with when it came to the look and feel of the leather. Josh sent some samples to Steve at Custom Stitching Co. for us to look at. Within a few samples we knew the ones we had to go with. It was bold and strong, and we were a bit nervous. But in the end, it was the best choice we made. The leather is not only beautiful, but yes, it smells as good as it looks. We are talking about some of the nicest hides we have ever seen. We couldn’t be more happy with the quality of the Relicate Leather hides.
The interior was coming together really well. We had rich colors with the leather and we wanted complement those colors when it came to the carpet and floor mats. We contacted ACC carpets for a beautiful Emberglow warm tone loop style carpet to cover our Dynamat sound deadener. Since we had rich colors inside from the beautiful leather and Emberglow carpet, we wanted to make sure that the interior wasn’t too dark. Steve from Custom Stitching Co. suggested that we go with something classic in style and color like an ivory colored headliner and sun visors. Patrick Hill from CQ Marketing helped us work with Dale Deaton of Cars, Inc. Cars, Inc. produces beautiful replacement headliners and visors for classic cars. They were great to work with and helped us get the perfect headliner for our ‘56 Sport Sedan that hovers over the passengers with a comforting ivory material.
All of this beautiful material is hard to break up, but our Classic Instruments Bel Era II instrument cluster creates a great focal point behind our leather wrapped Danchuk steering wheel. Classic Instruments even allows their customers to customize several different items of their dashes/instrument clusters, so we emailed them a unique Bela “tattoo” we designed, reminiscent of a certain sailor’s tattoos, and it turned out perfectly. We worked with John McLeod and Ron Hanna from Classic Instruments, and we are glad we did. They produced some amazing pieces for Bela that really bring this car to life.
We loved how the Bela tattoo came out on the Classic Instruments gauge cluster so much that we worked with an amazing pinstripe artist, Allen Hightower from Concord, NC. Daniel Valjevac of Retro Designs highly recommended us to meet Allen and to work with him. Allen came by one night when we were working on the car at Retro Designs and we got to meet him. Allen is an amazing person. He is one of the most talented pinstripers we have ever worked with, and more than that, his attitude and personality are top notch. Allen took the theme we had for Bela and went right to work. Most of you will recognize his work right away from the awesome Bela tattoo and pinstriping outside on the fenders, but it doesn’t stop there. Allen went inside to the dash and went to work producing some beautiful ivory stripes on the top of the dash, as well as a neat banner that reads “Thankful” on the left side of the steering column.
That one word, “Thankful”, absolutely sums up how we feel about this car and the people we worked with on this project. When building a car of this magnitude, you have to have the right team of people. It really has started and ended with Daniel Valjevac and Retro Designs Speed and Custom. The work they did on this car is beyond first class. Working with Daniel and him guiding us to work with people like Allen Hightower (stay tuned to a full pinstriping story on Bela and Allen) as well as Steve Kurzman from Custom Stitching Co. is what truly makes this car special.
We think the upscale, fully custom interior offsets the patina’d exterior in a very perfect way. Let us know your thoughts on the final interior in the comments section below. If you’ve missed any part of this build, simply click here for a list of all the other articles chronicling her build and be sure to follow and use #BoostedBela socially. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we chronicle the build of Bela and show you behind the scenes on what it took to build this project. Although no project is ever really complete, right?