Nine Lives Custom: Beto’s 1951 Chevy Fleetline

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1951 Chevy Fleetline

Words: Tony T-Bone Colombini; Photos: Mike Basso; Model: Lovely Miss T

In this feature, we expose the secret that connects us with our classic vehicles. As I spoke with Robert “Beto” Rojas to find the story behind his fine sled, we ended up talking about the agony and the ecstasy of building it. We all know this feeling. No matter if you built your car, had it built, or even if you bought it like it is, you know that an old car is never done and always needs attention.
Beto bought this car as a half-completed project. It was on its way to being a custom with a slightly frenched headlights and other mild custom bits. Growing up in Southern California, Beto knew bombs and lowriders. He had a lifelong love for the Chevy Fleetlines and ‘60s era customs. Doing things a bit differently, Beto decided to continue on the half-spent project to make a period correct ‘60s custom.
While sitting in your car, you may have thought: “If these panels could talk — the stories they could tell.” Beto is no different, thinking about the decades of use from the post-war boom, driving a new family around the fast-growing metropolis of Southern California. Dad driving it to the rocket base working on missiles and satellites, then taking the family on Sunday drives. Then the next generation gets the car to go back and forth to school and hanging with friends. And, all of a sudden as if in a blink of an eye, someone decides to cut and modify the body, only to leave it sitting in a garage for several years. What was once the pride of the family has then become a derelict dying under dust, fortunate to be revived by its current owner, bringing the pride of the family back from the dead.
Beto admits on several occasions that he is not a professional builder and by no means built this car on his own. He had help from a handful of friends “trying to fit an oval part in a bowtie hole.” He called on his buddy Carlos Duerte to re-do all the custom touches that were on the car and then some – deeply frenching the headlights, adding the ‘39 Ford taillights, rolling the pan, etc. When asked what was the most memorable part of the build, he says it was the experience of building a car for the first time, lifelong memories of going through the process to stay true to design style cues, and working with his friends. Going to the swap meet and determining “what goes with what” in both style and function – that’s where his buddies helped. They’d see a cool part then figure out how to fit it in.
This is where the Nine Lives name comes in. Like that of Beto himself, this car has had many lives. It’s about all the opportunities we have in life, and how we take advantage of them.
On its maiden voyage, this cat nearly lost another life. As Beto and his buddy Omar pulled into their favorite bar with their wives in the back, they noticed a slight rubbery smell. Then the interior filled with smoke. They jumped out (leaving their wives stuck in the back) and opened the hood to find the wiring as a melted goo on the engine. They pulled the ladies out of the car and learned at that moment that it’s not good to cut corners. With a new wiring harness installed, Beto now cruises this car almost daily.

TECH SHEET
Owner: Robert Rojas
Location: Fontana, CA
Builder: Owner/prior owner
Vehicle: 1951 Chevy
Grille: 1952 Chevy
Paint Color: Fire Orange
Painter: Carlos Duerte
Pinstriping: Turk & David
Engine: Chevy 350
Transmission: Turbo 350
Intake & Carb: Edelbrock
Rear End: 1980 Chevy
Suspension: F- Mustang II; R- 3-link; Air ride by SIK Fabrications
Brakes: F- Disc; R- Drum
Wheels: 15×6 steel
Tires: 195/75-15 American Classic WWW
Seats: Buckets
Upholstery:
Upholsterer: Jesus “Elpisa” (San Bernardino, CA)
Dashboard: 1951
Steering Column: 1951
Steering Wheel: Butterfly
Windows: One-piece Oldsmobile
Taillights: 1939 Ford frenched

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