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Forty-Niner

A lot of people talk about it. They’ll stumble around the campfire, swilling a nearly empty beer bottle and mumbling to mostly imagined adversaries, “I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna match an old car body with a modern drivetrain and chassis, and nobody’s gonna stop me.” But by morning, the drive has usually faded along with the alcohol buzz.

Knoxville native Jon Haas, on the other hand, approached his project with a level head and saw it through to completion in six weeks. Get this: He mounted a 1949 Chevy coupe body onto a 1994 Chevy Caprice police car chassis. Lurking beneath the patinaed hood is a fuel-injected, 5.7-liter LT1 V8 engine. And along with this anachronism’s bagged suspension, the relic shell can reach speeds it never dreamed of back in the ’40s. And the best part? He has less than $2000 in it.

Matching Donors

Jon had been toying with this kind of idea for a while, but he dove into the project with the help of a certain online auction site: eBay helped Jon piece together the mates for this unexpected pairing.

Upon seeing the Caprice for sale, he did a little research and determined that this model was the cheapest way to nab the desirable LT1 engine. And of course, the car came with all the extras that are made for high-speed police chases. To paraphrase Elwood Blues, “It’s got a cop motor...cop tires, cop suspension and cop shocks.” Jon scooped up the car for $956 and soon stumbled upon the soul mate for his new purchase—one whose width and wheelbase were amazingly similar to those of the Caprice.

For the grand sum of $300, Jon became the new owner of a well-aged 1949 Chevrolet coupe that featured a barely running inline-six. The only catch? Jon had to retrieve the car from its resting place, a nearly dry riverbed on a large farm somewhere in Podunk, USA.

Surgery

Owner Jon Haas used a bucket truck to remove the 1994 Chevy Caprice police car’s body from its chassis, making way for its old-school replacement. Note the celebratory beer on standby.

Once Jon had the two cars in his possession, he set about mating the old body to the newer chassis. It’s the basic retrorod formula, and the pros will usually start the process with hours of CAD/CAM work. Jon did it the down-and-dirty way.

He first cut the floorboards out of both cars. He then lifted the body off the Caprice chassis and threw it away. Next, he removed the ’49 body from its foundation and dropped it on the Caprice chassis. With the old Chevy’s rocker panels resting on the ground—airbags would raise the car when it was time to roll—Jon simply aligned the two halves and welded them to make a whole.

A bucket truck fitted with a strap served as the perfect crane. “I guess it helps to have the right tools,” Jon says. The whole swap took less than 10 hours.

Post-Op

The final creation features elements of both cars, but despite the decades between their dates of manufacturer, things lined up surprisingly well. For example, Jon was able to cram the cop car seats into the old Chevy body—including the vinyl rear seat, its upholstery broken in by the butts of suspects.

The Caprice fuel filler snakes out through the ’49 Chevy’s license plate mount, and even though Jon kept the stock ’49 dash, he also incorporated the Caprice’s gauges into its center.

The performance bits are largely stock, but don’t forget that much of the running gear comes from a Caprice 9C1 cop car: heavy-duty brakes, suspension, cooling, alternator, wheels and that infamous Corvette-based LT1 V8. Jon retained the entire factory driveline, including the fuel injection.

While the anachronisms on the ’49 Chevy are what draw major attention, it’s equally fascinating to learn what original components have stood the test of time. Delicate bits like the lighting and window glass are totally original. Likewise, the body’s finish is completely untouched. Time and weather have been allowed to run amuck, and to great results—its speckled rust is a welcome exception to the ultra-polished, light-reflecting paint jobs found at most contemporary concours offerings.

Jon is a fan of the finish, himself. When asked why he decided to leave it as-is, he responded while running his hand over the curved hood, “It speaks for itself. Look at it, that beautiful patina.”

Jon’s Chevy had its public unveiling at the Kumho Tires Grassroots Motorsports $2007 Challenge Presented by eBay Motors and CDOC. Concours judge Steven Cole Smith also fell in love the the perfectly imperfect finish. He says the car won him over with its rescued orphaned puppy backstory. He awarded it high points, and the car received an honorable mention in the Best Visual Package category while finishing 33rd overall out of 46 cars.

This car is more than looks alone. Along the way down from Tennessee for the big event, their creation got honks of approval from the truckers—along with 22 miles per gallon. As for Jon, you can check out his latest project—a Knoxville arcade bar—at fortsandersyachtclub.com.

budget sheet
1949 Chevrolet $300.00
1994 Caprice 9C1 $956.00
suspension airbags $119.00
air valves $72.00
air line kit $50.00
tires $120.00
anti-roll bar mount $9.00
nitrogen tank (full) $12.00
air tank $40.00
misc. steel $40.00
misc. electrical components $20.00
exhaust $12.00
budget total$1710.00
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Comments

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ansonivan
ansonivan Dork
4/10/09 12:26 p.m.

Seriously inspirational project.

alex
alex UberDork
8/20/09 11:54 a.m.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Because I want to do exactly this. And there's a '49 languishing in a parking lot up the street from me...

wakekitty
wakekitty None
6/5/11 9:11 a.m.

Very nice project not all of us have the chance to do it.

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