Panel & Lace – Rick and Alta Steele’s 1952 Chevy Custom
If you ever needed proof of how influential a shop can be to a build, look no further than Rick and Alta Steele’s striking 1952 Chevy Bel Air. The custom touches and ’60s-style paint are hallmarks of the shop where it was built, River City Speed & Kustom. And choosing that shop was a very personal decision for Rick.
“Claude Freund, my best friend since the seventh grade, had a Model T when we were 12,” Rick says. “That’s what started my love for cars; we built several over the years. His son, Russ Freund, and business partner Darrel Peterson, were the primary forces behind building this car.”
Russ and Darrel helped steer the Chevy’s early-’60s design theme, while also incorporating some more modern elements under the skin, like a ’70 Nova subframe providing an updated IFS and disc brakes, and a ’56 Chevy axle out back. Painted steel wheels wrapped in 7.75 Firestone whitewalls and topped with spider caps and small center trim rings helped set the stage for the nostalgic look.
The small-block Chevy engine was treated to old-school goodies like finned aluminum valve covers and triple carbs on a polished Edelbrock intake, along with polished TruRam exhaust manifolds leading to the dual exhaust pipes. A TH350 transmission kept shifting simple and easy.
Of course, the cool factor with a custom like this is in the body and paint work. The River City team made plenty of subtle mods, including frenching the headlights, shaving and louvering the hood, shaving the emblems and handles, and eliminating the taillights in favor of custom hidden lights in the bumper guard. They pulled out all the stops on the paint, though, laying down a pearl white base and topping it with brilliant blue panels that incorporate stripes, endless lines, and lace patterns. “It was interesting to see the looks two dudes got while shopping for lace at JoAnn Fabrics,” Rick says with a laugh.
The stock dash got similar paint treatment, along with Classic Instruments gauges and a downsized ’58 Chevy wheel. Rick and Alta’s son, Rich Steele, handled the upholstery at his shop, Richcraft, stitching the seats in traditional-style white vinyl with patterned fabric inserts and blue carpet. Vintage Air helps keep everything cool.
Completed in 2019, the custom 1952 Chevy has made the Northwest rounds – and even made an appearance on the Goodguys Gazette cover two years ago. It’s a rolling testament to the power of friendship and the vision of a tradition-minded hot rod shop.
Photos by Steven Bunker