While younger, tuner-crazed auto enthusiasts often can't wait to get their hands on the latest computer-crammed imports, Scott O'Malley bypassed those buzzing lightweights and found a ride with nostalgic character -- and something possessing twice the number of cylinders underhood.
It didn't take long for O'Malley, having a father who instilled in him a love for reviving vintage automobiles, to determine his passion was for those classic lines of early Detroit craftsmanship.
"When Dad was younger, he built up old cars in the garage and passed that ability on to me. Over the years we worked together on a variety of projects starting when I was in the eighth grade," the 22-year-old Kendall County man said. "We restored a '51 Ford fire truck, completing all the mechanical work ourselves and even fabricating a new bed for it in dad's steel shop."
This hands-on experience cemented in O'Malley's mind what type of vintage vehicles he appreciated most. Not wanting to be a mere bystander, but an active participant, the Bristol resident went on the search for a clean iron slate on which to put his hard-earned skills to work, narrowing his field to early 1950s Chevrolets.
"During those years the rear fenders kicked out, forming 'hips' and making it a more appealing car than the flat-sided Fords or Mercurys," he said.
An intense, online, six-month search ended in March 2009 when he zeroed in on an Ohio-based '51 coupe. "After hooking up the trailer to dad's pickup and with cash in hand, I drove eight straight hours on a chance, hoping the car was what I was expecting. When I laid eyes on it, it was even better!"
After the trek home and a minor tuneup to the 350 cubic-inch engine (the original underwhelming inline 6 was long gone), O'Malley cruised through the rest of spring in the primered coupe before making his first modification, choosing to cover up that muted yellow hue in mesmerizing Magix Blue Pearl paint.
An air-ride suspension was the next big addition, allowing for a vertigo-inducing five inches of clearance in the front and six in the rear. "I wanted the ability to drive at a comfortable height and clear railroad tracks but drop it as low as possible when parked."
Other changes include steel wheels with chromed center caps, power brakes and shaved door handles. Local pinstriper Mike 'Mongoose' Johnstone hand painted the pinstripe accents, highlighting the curvaceous sheet metal.
"It started as a way to decorate that massive trunk area, which needed something to make it 'pop' and stand out. From there we carried the theme throughout the whole body, being sure to limit it to just enough to be tasteful but not gaudy."
While O'Malley enjoys having his car stationary for these details to be appreciated at events like cruise nights in Morris, he much prefers to keep the coupe in motion with that sweet small-block melody rumbling out of the side lake pipes.
"It's so easy to drive and smoother than I would have ever expected. The air ride does such a great job of absorbing all the road bumps and shocks," he said.
While a late-model SUV is his other set of wheels, this young customizer prefers to grab the keys to this custom cruiser, using it daily from March to late October to take him to his job at Old Coach Works Restoration in Yorkville. There he learns the finer points of shaping and repairing the timeless metal that rolls through the shop doors.
Although it's been decades since his '51 could be found on showroom floors, O'Malley still finds it more appealing than the plethora of modern machines readily found idling at any stoplight around town.
"The newer cars guys my age are driving will certainly outperform mine any day of the week, but I guarantee my Chevy will turn more heads. The cars from the '50s simply have a style to them that is everlasting. They will always be cool."