You might call them one-hit-wonders or unicorns. Guys like Dennis Spencer call them their favorite vehicles to collect.
“He has a serious thing for single-year cars,” says Libby Spencer, Dennis’s wife and navigator. “The more obscure, the better.”
“I just like bringing something different to the show,” Dennis said. “I’ve owned my share of Camaros and Novas and El Caminos, but my favorites have always been the cars like the 1955 Nomad wagon, the 1932 Ford, or the 1958 Delray.”
That was the one and only year that Chevy made the Delray a series of its own, instead of just a trim package for another car. This particular Delray was even more special, as it had been bought in 1959 specifically for racing.
“It had super-low mileage, since they were only going a couple quarter-miles at a time!” Dennis said. “Plus, they dropped a brand-new 409 crate engine into it in 1963.”
With plenty of experience from a lifetime of project cars, Dennis enthusiastically bought the car in 1974. He drove it around for a bit, but found himself unhappy with the rough-shod interior and the radical four-inch chop to the roof. Dennis had vague plans about restoring the car, and even bought new stock-size windows for the car. But then…
“Life happens,” Libby said. “He just couldn’t find the time to work on it. He sold it to a friend a few years later. I think, as long as he knew where it was, he was okay with it.”
Dennis’s friend had some fairly radical ideas for the Delray, including a crushed velvet interior, and he threw away the new windows. He never got around to really finishing the car, so Dennis just watched and waited.
Once Dennis’s calendar cleared up a little, he started working the new owner over. He suggested that the car wasn’t the right fit for him, and that he’d do him a solid by buying the car back. Eighteen years after he sold it, he won the Delray back for a few hundred dollars less than he had sold it for.
“I had a better idea of what I wanted to do with the car at that point, too,” Dennis said. “I wanted a beautiful and distinctive car that would be nice to drive. The trick was to undo everything that all the previous owners had done. Well, except the engine—that was still great.”
Dennis spent the next 13 years performing a sort-of restoration: bringing the Delray’s appearance back to its original silhouette, while retaining its racing prowess, modernizing the electronics, and making the interior comfortable enough for cruising. He needed all of his bodywork expertise to unchop the roof and restore the stainless steel trim. Even that decades-old 409 crate looks better than new!
The awards and attention the Delray has received have delighted Dennis and Libby. But most fascinating of all are the fans who recognize the car, but not from the magazine and show circuit.
“Folks still remember racing against it back when it was a dedicated drag car,” Dennis said. “That’s quite an impression almost 50 years later! Even though the outside has gone through a lot of changes in the meantime, it’s still one of the only Delrays on the scene.”
Frame:Stock, smoothed and painted (Chevy Graystone Metallic)
Suspension: RideTech air springs, boxed trailing arms, custom panhard bar
Rear Axle: Stock axles, stock rear end, 3.50 ring and pinion
Brakes: Classic Performance 11” slotted discs, 2” drop spindles
Wheels and Tires: American Racing Torq-Thrust II polished 17” wheels with spinners, Nitto NT 555 tires (235/45-2R17 front, 255/50-2R17 rear)
Engine and Transmission
Engine:Chevy V8 crate engine, 409 cubic inches, 400 hp
Cylinder Heads: Stock, with original MOON valve covers
Machining by: CD’s Engine Service
Valvetrain: COMP Cams® custom flat tappet camshaft, plus lifters, pushrods, valve springs, and retainers; stock valves, connecting rods, and rocker arms
Induction: Rochester Tri-Power carburetors with chrome linkage and polished fuel lines, stock cast iron intake manifold, finned air cleaners with K&N filters
Carburetor Set-Up by: Larry Fulton at Hot Rod Carbs
Reciprocating Assembly: Stock pistons, connecting rods, and crankshaft, Federal Mogul engine bearings
Ignition and Electrical: Mallory Unilite distributor and coil, Taylor spark plug wires, Powermaster alternator
Cooling: Polished aluminum radiator
Exhaust: Sanderson headers, stainless steel tubing and muffler
Other Items: Summit fuel pump, fuel lines, and filter
Transmission: Borg-Warner T-10 4-speed transmission, Centerforce clutch and pressure plate
Shifter: Hurst shifter and linkage
Body: 1958 Chevy Delray
Modifications: Roof restored to stock height, new glass, stainless trim polished and restored, fuel filler door moved to trunk, smoothed firewall and underbody, LED taillights
Paint: BASF Diamont basecoat/clearcoat system, custom mix red
Body Work and Paint By: Dennis Spencer
Upholstery: Medium gray leather
Upholstery By: LA Trim, Lowell, MI
Dashboard: Stock, with filled speaker hole and custom shelf under dash
Gauges: Dakota Digital gauge system
Other: Lokar handles and window cranks, Vintage Air heat and defrost system
My wife Libby and our family, plus Gale Klein, Paul Borgman, Len Brown, Paul Spencer, Floyd Cheyne, Larry Knapp, and everyone at Spencer Auto Body.
Check out these behind-the-scenes pictures from the photo shoot: