Just for Fun

July 1, 2012
Steve Welsh fixed up a 1952 Chevrolet Bel Air for the love of it. The car was built the year he was born, and restored more than 50 years later.

Steve Welsh always had an interest in classic cars. But the 1952 Chevrolet Bel Air had special meaning for him—it was the year he was born.

Welsh launched his shop, Artistic Collision Center, in 1980. It started as a one-man restoration shop specializing in 1955–1957 Chevrolets. Now he does 95 percent collision work out of his 15,000-square-foot building in Rancho Cordova, Calif.

He frequently went to swap meets for car parts. In 2005 he went to a swap meet in Sacramento, where he found his ’52 Bel Air.

It was in rough shape. It had an old interior and had been repainted three times—and poorly. But he had always had his eyes set on 1949–1952 Chevrolets.

“I’ve always liked them,” Welsh says.

He bought it, but then the car sat for about a year before he decided to start restoring it. The work began with a complete disassembly.

He Frenched the headlights, removing the headlight rings and welding them in. He removed the hood ornaments; the car had a piece of trim at the top of the hood, which he welded and molded. He also smoothed the deck lid.

Welsh retained the grill, but added five more teeth so it filled up the area in front of the radiator. He reworked the chrome and left the guards off the bumpers, filling the holes so it’s smooth. He also gave the car an Oldsmobile windshield.

From there, he straightened and re-polished the stainless steel on the sides of the car, which is original.

He retained its honeydew color. The vehicle has black leather interior and a black Mercedes cloth top that converts down.

The engine—a 235-cubic-inch engine that makes 175 horsepower—was rebuilt. He upgraded to a Turbo-Hydramatic 350 transmission.

He also added dual exhaust. The wiring, which had been made with cloth, was replaced with modern plastic-wrapped wiring.

He did the bodywork and painting himself, and then subbed out the transmission and engine efforts. Upholstery was done locally.

Welsh says he doesn’t restore cars for the glory or attention. He simply loves the feeling of achievement, and to drive it out occasionally to dinner.

“I could care less about the awards,” he says. “Those are fine, but I just do it for the fun, enjoyment and accomplishments.”