We came across Gary’s 1960 Chevy Bel Air ‘Bubble Top’ at Repco Beach Hop 15. In a festival the size of Beach Hop, with such a vast number of cars, how does a ‘plain’ old Bel Air manage to stand out? By possessing something that not all cars possess — presence. 

With all the customized cars around it, the Bel Air should have had the odds against it, with its black paint, stock ride height, and lack of big rims. Instead, its subtle menace grabbed all of our attention, akin to someone like Mike Tyson clad in a fine Italian suit.

So, what’s so special about this car? The ‘Bubble Top’ Bel Air Sports Coupe benefitted from a more aerodynamic design when compared to the equivalent Bel Airs of the era, leaving no doubt as to their performance prowess.

It comes with all the good stuff, too — high-horsepower 409ci W-block, Muncie M22 ‘rock crusher’ four-speed manual gearbox, and 4.11:1 Positraction diff. 

This one probably goes a bit better than it did from the factory, which is saying something, as they were damn fast cars. It’s been rebuilt by Curt Harvey, aka Mr. 409, in the USA. That included an Isky cam, Ross pistons, I-beam rods, and with twin four-barrel carbs up top. How does 11.0:1 compression and 409hp sound? Running the car down Whangamata’s main drag with the headers uncapped revealed a furious exhaust note that a car this subtle just should not be capable of producing. 

As you’d expect, nothing is power assisted — not the windows, nor the steering — because this car was built to be driven. The interior is pure American 1960s elegance, with just a pinch of tough — check out the factory half-sweep tacho, and obligatory floor-shifter. 

It rolls on original 15x7-inch and 15x8-inch steel wheels synonymous with the toughest of American muscle during that era, and the ‘dog dish’ hubcaps lend a touch of class to the street-fighter aesthetics. 

Badge-wise, it is also pretty subtle. A ‘409’ fender badge reveals what lies within arms reach, and that’s really all. The ‘Murdock-Salyer’ badge on the boot is that of the Murdock-Salyer Chevrolet dealer in Norman, Oklahoma, where this car was sold in 1962. 

When we came across this car, Gary told us that he’d driven it to Whangamata from Palmerston North. It’s great to see that, even with a car as cool, rare, and pristine as this one, he’s not afraid to drive it — that’s exactly what the car was built for.