Early on in the build process of our beloved ‘56 Bel Air, Bela, we brainstormed different ways we could embrace the abnormal aspects of car culture. It’s no secret that Bela was built to stand out from the rest of her Tri-Five relatives, and stand out she does. There are trends that we’ve seen over and over in certain circles of the car culture communities and we wanted to bring some of that flare to old school hot rodding.
Camouflage has been used as a color scheme before, in fact, it was all the rage several years ago. But, the cool factor of applying such a unique style to one’s car never died out. In fact, we thought it was time to embrace it once more, except this time it would be our own take on it, implementing the youthful trend to Bela’s old school style.
Everything about the camo idea felt right, especially considering the rest of Bela’s one-of-a-kind look. We pocketed the thought and proceeded with the build with our friends at Retro Designs Speed and Custom. Our camo conversations occurred well before we put in new floors from Woody’s Hot Rodz and Golden Star, and way before the immaculate interior from Custom Stitching Co. As the build progressed, we became more and more inspired to create a truly unique hot rod. As all of the pieces started falling together and the Chevrolet Performance LS3 Connect & Cruise from Ed Rinke Performance was installed by Daniel and his team from Retro Designs Speed and Custom, camouflage-inspired conversations continued.
We couldn’t get past the idea of putting camo onto something, we just had to nail down how we wanted to do it. It would be very easy to go overboard and hurt the overall look if we weren’t careful how we utilized the style. So we proceeded with caution and had a serious discussion regarding which piece of Bela would be camo’d. Eventually, we landed on applying camouflage to the valve covers of our LS3. With a black Vortech Supercharger, black COPO intake manifold powdercoated by Matt Joyal at Advanced Metal Sales & Fabrication and black Holley EFI Fuel Rails, there were a lot of dark colors in our engine bay. Adding a splash of color to the bay would, without question, spice up Bela’s style. It’s impossible to see the engine bay without noticing the full blown hot rod styling cues that are scattered throughout the bay.
Retro Designs Speed and Custom did an amazing job on the engine bay. Past stories show how they cut out the fire wall and started to develop new inner fenders and covers for the Muscle Rods Radiator and Vortech Superchargers Intercooler. When it came to the engine bay we wanted that to be a focal point of this build and without question it is. With the Chevrolet Performance LS3 Connect and Cruise Engine paired with the neat engine components that we added, we had the best engine setup that we could imagine. We knew in order for it to really pop, we wanted to do something unexpected, which was paint the engine bay with a color that would draw people in. We worked with NAPA Paint and Supply / Martin-Senour Paints. Once we had the color and flow of the engine bay, we came back to the idea of what can we do to add a pop of color and style inside the bay.
The time came to execute the idea, which embraced the youth culture that we craved for Bela. As unique as the camo pattern we wanted for the valve covers, is the method in which the camo would be applied. We wanted to do something different and innovative. We knew we had options with powder coating as well as paint, but we really wanted to explore some other finish options.
After doing some searching on the internet, we reached out to Grimm’s HydroGraphics in Charlotte, North Carolina to chat about their capabilities and the trustworthiness of hydro dipping. We’ve known about hydro dipping for some time now, we’ve just never had a project that seemed right for the method until Bela came along. Having little knowledge of the method, we spoke with Will Perry, owner of Grimm’s HydroGraphics, to learn more about hydro dipping and find out if it would indeed work for applying camouflage to our valve covers.
Our first concern was the heat - we were worried it might melt or burn off. Perry soon put our minds to rest, re-assuring us that the process is as durable as painting. In fact, as we found out, the process is identical to the painting process with a few extra steps tacked on at the end. The same prep work, primer and clear steps that painters are ever so familiar with must be completed with precision. Then, and only then, can the hydro dip process begin.
Once we were put at ease and comfortable with hydro dipping the valve covers, we confided in Will to help us find a camo pattern that would suite Bela. He invited us out to see some samples of our many options to help us settle on a final solution. Laid out on a table for our review were dozens of hydro dipped pieces displaying the various films that Grimm’s had available. He was amazing to work with and is a true artist and craftsman in what he does. When we were trying to figure out what to do, or if it would work, he was right there with us coaching and teaching the whole way. This is exactly what is needed from a company when you are about to do something new and unique like this. There’s no wonder that Grimm’s HydroGraphics is one of the leading hydro dip companies on the east coast.
When he was bringing out different patterns for us to look at, we fell in love immediately with a camouflage piece and knew it was the right pattern we were looking for. It had unique browns and black camo colors in the film that we knew would tie in not only the black powder coated colors from the engine bay, but also the rich browns from the Relicate Leather interior that Bela has become so well known for. The contrast would be killer once it was paired with the gold undercoat.
We wasted no time letting Will know that it would be the perfect fit for Bela and that we were ready to get started. But, before we left, he offered to take us on a brief tour of his facility to walk us through what it takes to hydro dip. As we walked through the doors of the shop, we were greeted by a full-size paint booth we’re accustomed to seeing at specialty paint and body shops. Inside were dozens of pieces he was working on for other clients. He then showed us, step-by-step, what it takes to hydro dip once the first painting portion is through.
Starting with a piece of plastic, he prepped and painted it white, which was the desired color for the background for this particular piece. For Bela’s valve covers, the painted coat would be the same gold paint from NAPA Paint and Supply / Martin-Senour Paints used in our engine bay and Coker wheels. Will then laid down a film in his water tank that would soon be applied to the sample piece of plastic. Making sure the water is perfectly still and the film is wrinkle free, he sprayed an activator onto the film to ensure that it adhered properly to the plastic. It was then time for him to slowly dip the plastic piece into the water with the technique of a seasoned vet. It’s important to be extremely careful during this process in order to prevent the film from wrinkling or stretching, causing a distorted piece. With the subtle roll of the wrists, he dipped the plastic piece in and then pulled it out with the film flawlessly applied to the plastic piece.
After the film was applied to the piece, he just rinsed it off and allowed it to dry. Once dry, the hydro dipping process is complete. We were very grateful that Will gave us a quick tour and demonstration of the process and we left that day excited to see the outcome of our valve covers. After seeing the experience and skill in Will’s technique, we knew the valve covers would come out great and match the premium quality of the rest of the vehicle.
Sure enough, not long after he showed us around his shop, we received the covers and unboxed them, delighted to see that they not only met our expectations, but exceeded them. The finish was perfect and the colors complimented the rest of Bela so well. The camo finish was the perfect touch to the engine bay, adding a very unique and youthful flavor to the ol’ hot rod. We knew that we not only chose the right valve cover finish, but chose the perfect company to do the job. Grimm’s HydroGraphics finished the job quickly and executed it flawlessly, completing our ‘56 Bel Air just in time to get on the trailer for SEMA.
Once we were at the show, the camo valve covers were one of the most common talking points and we’re thrilled that they received the response they did. Our goal was to do something truly unique to embrace Bela’s character and we’re proud to say that we did just that. We couldn’t have accomplished such a crazy project if it weren’t for Grimm’s HydroGraphics and all of our other friends that helped us bring Bela to life. She’s become the apple of our eyes and helped us build many friendships within the automotive community.
Stay tuned to The BLOCK for there are more stories to come on Bela which showcase other companies who have also helped us turn Bela into a show-stopper with unique touches of their own. We would like to issue the most sincere thank you to all those that helped make all of this possible and for sharing their love of Bela socially, Chevrolet Performance, Ed Rinke Performance, Woody’s Hot Rodz, Coker Tire, Vortech Superchargers, Borla Exhaust, Ride Tech Suspension, Dynamat, American Autowire, The Custom Stitching Co, Relicate Custom Leather, Muscle Rods LS Kits, Spraker Racing, Wilwood Brakes, Mobil 1, Danchuk, Holley, Golden Star, Retro Designs, Classic Instruments, Totally Stainless, HP Tuners, LSX Performance & PCM Tuning, Restomod Air, O’Brien Truckers, MTX Audio, ididit, Lokar, ACDelco, CARS Inc, Auto City Classic, Steele Rubber, Rimz One, CutWorm Specialties, Fatman Fabrication, NAPA Paint and Supply, Martin Senour, U-POL, Vibrant Performance, Grimm’s HydroGraphics and more.