Originally, Dan Jones just wanted to three-wheel. Somehow. That plan evolved into crafting a masterpiece the likes of which New Zealand has never seen before

"I’d like to build another chassis for it,” says Daniel Jones of his ’63 Bel Air wagon. “It was one of the first parts of the car I built, and there’s some visible welds on it.” This comment may come as a surprise, considering you’re looking at one of the best-built cars in New Zealand, and certainly the best low-rider in the country. But it wasn’t always supposed to be. Like many of his generation, Dan started out as an import-mad kid, but that all changed when he was a young teen in Whangamata and he saw a real-life ’64 Impala wagon low-rider.
“I turned to my dad [Don Jones, Jonesy’s Garage] and told him I wanted one of those,” Dan remembers.

It wouldn’t be for many years, but Dan eventually found a genuine right-hand-drive New Zealand–new wagon — hence the Bel Air badges — mentioning, “When I started building it, I just wanted it finished so I could go and do three-wheels.” A closer look revealed the need for more work than expected, though, and, before Dan knew it, the car was in the Jonesy’s Garage workshop, stripped to bare steel, and with the body off the chassis, leaving few alternatives to doing a complete rebuild. Which explains the detailing to the most miniscule degree, extending to chromed front suspension wishbones; Hoppo’s two-pump hydraulic kit; and beautifully painted, chromed, or polished everything. 

Dan and his dad built the ’63 around the chassis, although the standard of build increased with each new area they tackled. The chassis sorted, Dan’s brother-in-law, master fabricator William Ardern, provided some much-needed assistance with rust repairs — replacing the roof frame rails, gutter lines, a rear quarter, the lower halves of each door, five floorpans, and various floor braces. Despite the huge step forward in the build, Dan’s motivation waned as he contemplated the scale of the work still to be done. With the body primed and sitting on the detailed chassis, it was rolled into the shed and forgotten about for the next few years. However, a 2011 trip to the US with some Carnales members gave Dan much-needed inspiration, and he returned to New Zealand with a strong vision of the desired result: a traditional ’70s-style build — which explains the excess of excess found within the car. 

The dashboard was replaced with that of a ’59 Chev and was joined by a pair of Monte Carlo swivel seats before Dan built a custom centre console and rear seat to his requirements. With this done, he foamed the entire interior in preparation for Donna ‘Little D’ Nicholls to demonstrate her talent. With more than 5km of thread, 70m of gold crushed velvet, and several months’ worth of labour expended on the plush upholstery, Dan’s wagon lacks nothing. 
The interior was the real catalyst for elevating the standard of build beyond what the younger Dan had ever dreamed of — and, with his new-found perspective, he just couldn’t complete the build to a lesser standard than what you see on these pages. Countless hours were spent refining a paint design before Dan decided on something he was happy with, only for innumerable more hours to be spent laying down the paintwork, intricate metal-flake lines, and detailed lace patterning. 

Believe it or not, that theme was thought up, designed, and applied by none other than Dan and Don — although it took more than its fair share of trial and error to get right. Dan recalls one of the first paint jobs they gave the car, inspired by one he’d seen, only for the end result to look somehow wrong. Although he couldn’t pinpoint exactly why, it just didn’t work, and that was reason enough to sand it all back for another try. You can’t deny that the final finish on the car is pure class, as understated as it might first appear to be. 

That class extends to the engine bay, with an infinitely detailed 250ci straight-six built by Don to replace the existing V8. Featuring a split exhaust manifold and twin Rochester carburettors, it goes better than stock, but performance was never on the agenda. Style takes priority here, and if it hasn’t been chromed or polished, it’s been painted in metal-flake gold to match the brake master cylinder, inner guards, and chassis. You may also notice smaller details, such as the custom-fabricated and chromed cover to hide the unsightly throttle mechanism from sight. And let’s not even start on the work involved in bending the polished stainless-steel hydraulic hard lines to a state of perfect symmetry.

With a perfect ’70s-style theme established, the Daytons that a younger Dan had sourced were onsold, replaced by a relatively uncommon set of reverse-offset 14x7-inch Keystone Klassics. It’s often said that wheels make or break a car, and nowhere is that more evident than here — a masterpiece of design and execution, topped off with the perfect set of wheels. However, as simple as this feature article may make the build sound, remain assured that it was about as far from simple as a build could ever hope to be. After the eight-year effort to get the Bel Air to a certain stage, Dan, Don, William, and a handful of good friends put in a mad effort to get it completed in time for Dan’s wedding to fiancée Cassie, but to no avail. Come the wedding, the Bel Air sat, painfully close to completion, inside the garage in which it had spent the previous eight years. 

However, with the car so close to being ‘finished’, the remainder of 2016 saw progress being made whenever Dan had a spare moment, and, against all odds, the rolling work of art known as the ‘Lost Inca’ finally saw the light of day at the V 4&Rotary NZ Lowrider Nationals, followed by the 2017 AutoFest and its first public display at Repco Beach Hop 17. 
Dan’s effort has paid off, and, despite experiencing more than his fair share of jaded ‘Why am I still messing around on this thing?’ moments, the exceptionally positive reaction that his creation received at Beach Hop has more than reassured him that he’s finally achieved what he never really intended to do. All that’s left for him to do is drive the Lost Inca and enjoy it — something he’s always intended to do!

Daniel Jones
Age: 31
Car club: Carnales
Occupation: Business owner
Previously owned cars: A few Escorts, KE20 Corolla, Mazda 323 wagon, ’64 Impala, ’37 Chev, ’65 Impala
Dream car: I have a few …
Why the Bel Air? I have always had a love for station wagons
Length of ownership: Eight years and still going
Build time: Eight years
Dan thanks: My family — with special thanks to my father, Don Jones; brother-in-law, William Ardern; wife, Cassie Jones — and the Carnales

1963 Chev Bel Air
Engine: 250ci Chev straight-six, Jonesy’s Garage–polished dual-carburettor intake, two Rochester carburettors, custom throttle-cable bracket, cast headers, stainless-steel twin-pipe exhaust, polished rocker cover, detailed distributor cap
Driveline: Powerglide two-stage auto, polished housing, narrowed factory diff
Suspension: Chromed front wishbones, custom polished stainless-steel hydraulic hard lines, Hoppo’s two-pump hydraulic system, four batteries
Brakes: Detailed factory master cylinder, factory drum brakes, custom hard lines
Wheels/Tyres: Reverse-offset 14x7-inch Keystone Klassic wheels, Premium Sportway 5.20-14 tyres
Exterior: Custom paintwork, DeBeer paint, imported metal flake
Chassis: Strengthened frame, detailed chassis
Interior: 1959 Chev gauge pods, Chev Monte Carlo swivel bucket seats, eight-inch donut steering wheel, custom rear seat, custom rear ‘love seat’ frame, custom upholstery, custom centre console, custom table, custom door cards, custom boot lining, custom headlining, custom floor lining, crystal chandelier, crystal window winders, crystal lock knobs, crystal shifter knob, crystal indicator knob, crystal decanter, crystal glasses, Carnales plaque, two Alpine 10-inch subwoofers, two Alpine six-inch door speakers, Alpine head unit
Performance: Not needed