The Chevy Bel Air, a luxury car back in the day, turned heads no matter what street it cruised down in the ’50s and ’60s—and it continues to do so today.
The third-generation owner of a 1960 New Zealand model Bel Air decided about six years ago to undertake a ground-up restoration and modernization of his tired-out (but still running) classic vehicle so that it could be enjoyed by future generations. By the time it made it to Napier Auto Upholstery’s shop, the owner had already restored the original jet-black paint color.
“Our client’s grandfather painted it white, as there was another [muscle car, a] Ford in the town and he wanted his to be different,” Malcolm Wilkie notes in Napier’s 2022 International Achievement Awards (IAA) upholstery award entry.
For the interior pleated seats, the client took inspiration from a two-door 1960 Impala that features a houndstooth pattern. Besides seats, Napier Auto Upholstery installed carpets, door panels, a shifter cover, the rear window deck, front and rear seat belts (which were not mandatory at the time the car was built), the trunk lining, the interior roof lining, sun visors, and soundproofing. In addition, Napier fitted new windows supplied by the client, window channels and speakers.
“One feature in particular that was included in the American model but not the New Zealand model was the speaker grill in the back seat,” Wilkie says. “This was an added decorative feature that our team had to source and fit.”
The complexity of the project “was putting an inspired two-door American model into the reality of a four-door New Zealand model,” he says. “In particular, getting the lines accurate throughout the whole vehicle was difficult, as houndstooth increases gamma oscillations in the brain, which are associated with headaches, ultimately meaning our team would have sore eyes and begin to second-guess measurements if they looked at the material for longer periods of time [such as when] cutting and sewing. Hence why this had to be sewn in bite-size pieces to ensure accuracy. Although this may have been a complex material to work with, we successfully succeeded with an astonishing end result.”
Indeed. The project won the Outdoor Fabric Product Association of New Zealand (OFPANZ) award in the upholstery category in 2022. Photos: Napier Auto Upholstery
1960 Bel Air
Napier Auto Upholstery, Napier, New Zealand
Ascot Wool Cut Pile Carpet, supplied by Reid & Twiname
Bedford Houndstooth, supplied by Le Mans
Jaguar Black Vinyl, supplied by Le Mans