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This past spring, the 2022 Piston Powered Autorama came back to Cleveland after a short hiatus due to Covid. The show, which features all things piston powered, is a great opportunity for us engine guys to get a glimpse at some cool stuff. One of those things this year was a truly special hot rod – the 2022 Don Ridler award-winning 1931 Chevy nicknamed Sho Bird. The car is custom built from bumper to bumper for customer Rick Bird, and features a Shafiroff Racing Engines’-built 509 cid W series big block Chevy engine.
We got a chance to speak with Bruce Harvey of Pro Comp Custom. He’s the man who helped build this crazy cool custom car. The project, as expected, had no budget, which always makes things interesting, and it took more than two years to complete at Bruce’s Glenshaw, PA-based custom shop – just outside Pittsburgh.
Car owner Rick Bird originally bought the ’31 Chevy more than 30 years ago and had it sitting in a barn. Bruce and Rick had teamed up on other projects prior to conversations beginning about what this Chevy coupe could be. Bruce began telling us about the Chevy by giving us details of the engine first. It’s a 509 cubic inch W series big block Chevy engine that’s based off a nostalgic 409. The engine is all aluminum and polished, and features a twin-turbo set up, which is creatively encased in the bottom of the front bumper.
“That was an adventure because we had to put the turbos really low,” Harvey says. “When you do that, you have some issues, but we got through it and now it really performs well. The turbos are from Nelson Racing Engines and they are 72mm. It’s got about 850 horsepower and you can drive it anywhere. It has an automatic six speed behind it. It’s capable of 1,300-1,400 horsepower, but we have it tuned down because the customer is going to drive it.”
The 509 W engine was built by Shafiroff Racing Engines in Bohemia, NY. The engine shop utilized custom components and the long block was sent to Bruce at Pro Comp Custom. From there, Bruce put a Hogan intake on it and then added the turbos and the headers. We TIG welded everything and built everything and encased it.”
Another unique thing about the car is it features hydro shocks, which are hydraulic with coilovers to provide an awesomely smooth ride. You can also raise the car up and down.
“It’s set up on a cantilever setup, which is really cool because we were able to mount the shocks forward,” Harvey says. “It’s kind of a unique design.”
Bruce went on to tell us that the ’31 Chevy got chopped, sectioned and every panel has been changed to some degree in order to ensure the hot rod flowed properly from front to back.
“Everything matches,” Harvey says. “There’s a lot of designs in the car that carry through the whole car. I even have a design in the rear fender with the cutouts and that matches the body right below the rear side window. The body lines in that area match. It does the same thing on the floor and on the underside. We tried to make it complete from front to back.”
Looking at the car, whether from up close or a distance, you can tell no detail has been left untouched.
“They base the Detroit Autorama off of three different things – creativity, engineering and level of difficulty,” he says. “We took those three things and tried to do one-off stuff that’s never been done before. Even when it comes to the paint. I don’t think there’s ever been a Ridler car with candy paint because the level of difficult is probably 10x. You can see that the paint flip flops like four different colors and we’ve got bowties flowing through and it fades off. We based the build off of those three things and it took 20,000 hours.”
Two and a half years might sound like a long time, but for Pro Comp Custom to get these kinds of details showcased in that amount of time is actually quite impressive.
“It was fun since day one,” he says. “We had the perfect client. He kind of let us run with the car and do what we wanted. We discussed things, but he loved our ideas and it made it a lot of fun and there was no budget. We had until the deadline to go as far as we could. It was seven days a week until it was done.”
For as good as this car looks, we imagine it’s even more fun to drive. Once the indoor show season wraps up, owner Rick Bird plans to get the ’31 Chevy out on the road. If you get a chance to see it in person, you won’t soon forget it.
Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade Motor Oil, Elring – Das Original and Engine & Performance Warehouse Inc./NPW Companies. If you have an engine you’d like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder Editor Greg Jones at [email protected]