Willie Olea is one of our culture’s finest painters, so it’s no surprise that he brings us this clean ’56 that looks like it rolled straight out of the factory. His paint resume reveals a list of Lowrider heavy hitters, including John Kennedy’s “Southside Player, and also his ’62 “El Gringo,” as well as other greats like “Rolling Four,” “Orange Nightmare,” and Anthony Fuentes’ “Seducer” in 1990. It’s no wonder Willie was the subject of one of our Painter’s Profiles back in June of 2003. Willie honed his skills at the legendary Orlie’s Hydraulics in Long Beach CA., a place he heard about at a very young age when his uncle had a ’62 painted and lifted there. It’s safe to say that Willie has been on the scene for some time now; in fact, he’s been around auto painting for over 20 years. “I first got into painting Lowriders in ’87,” he states. ‘My dad had a Gold ‘65 Chevy on Cragars, my grandfather had a ‘54 Chevy, and my uncles were rolling in ‘62’s and ‘58’s,” he says proudly. “I remember way back, cruising down the street with my uncle and hitting switches in his Pearl White ’62, on the way to the Show Boat to play video games, which is now Speedzone off the 60 freeway.” Willie began learning at Orlie’s shortly thereafter and those early days prepped him to become the painter he is today.
As for the ’56, this car has been a long time coming, but not a long time in the making. After several previous builds that were left unfinished due to Willie’s full schedule of working on others’ cars, he knew he had to follow through on this one. The most recent journey was a ’62 which Willie decided to sell in order to put some work in on his family home, a place he shares with his wife, Veronica and his two children Willie, and Hailey. A few years later, he decided to purchase another project car after going to a Costa Mesa Car Show. Willie and Veronica compared a ’62 and ’56 Chevy, deciding to go with a ’56 to replace the previous project car.
Finding the right ’56 wasn’t so easy. After being close in negotiations with a ’56 owner in Kentucky, Willie was suddenly turned down; for some funny reason, the car was no longer for sale before a deal was complete. “I don’t know what happened. Did the man with the hard accent not like my last name? Or did he not want his prized possession to come to California?” Willie was perplexed. “Months later, I saw the same car for sale. I decided to call friend John Kennedy to see if he could make the purchase, but they turned him down too, as soon as they realized he was calling from California. Glad to say it wasn’t because of my last name,” Willie says.
The frustrating experience proved to be for the best, as Willie located a better car in nearby Fullerton, CA. The car was cruise ready and seemed to have been garaged its whole life. While the car was turning heads in the shape it was in, Willie had to make it his own. It is then that Willie stripped down all the stainless metal, as well as the bumpers and glass. His place of work at the time, Norwalk Collision Center was the hub as Willie and Javier Escareno started those countless hours of blocking and prepping to get that straight solid look that he knew he had to have. One month later it was then ready for paint.
“The vin tag called for yellow and green, so I thought it would be only right to keep it in those colors, but also add my own twist to the shades,” Willie says. “In my 20 years in this business, I had never seen a green and yellow ‘56 around here. After this one, I think there’s a good chance of seeing more green and yellow combinations to come!”
After the paint job was completed, Willie and his friends agreed that it would be a shame to only paint the undercarriage. “I knew this car had to be a full frame off restoration and I knew the right person for the job. So it was off to the New Years Day Cruise at Hollywood Park to find the right man for the job, Mike Lopez,” Willie recalls. After sharing his plans and a few beers with Mike, Willie got the green light. “I called him the very next morning and off it went to New Life Restoration in Fullerton, CA., where Mike and Indio had the frame off and the chassis completely disassembled and ready to be sent out for powder coating in just two hours time.” After Mike received all the powder-coated materials, chrome, and polished stainless, New Life Restoration got busy and reassembled the whole car perfectly in about three months. The car was then taken to Bow Tie Connection for a new interior wrap, and they chose the original colors, Yellow and Black. Last but not least, the car had to go visit a long time high school friend of Willie’s, Ray Gonzalez of Laid Out Customs in Santa Fe Springs CA., who added the air ride suspension and threw on the O.G. Tru Spokes to give it that old school twist that Willie was looking for.
The entire build took right around four months, and the car lives up to Willie’s expectations after so many years of incomplete cars. “I knew my reputation as a painter was on the line since people had high expectations of me,” he says. Willie wishes to thank Mike Lopez for treating his car as it was his own, Javier Escareno for putting in long hours on the block work, and Ray Gonzalez for the air-ride suspension. He also sends his gratitude to Lee Mulholland, who fired up the crate 350, Jerry’s Transmission in Norwalk, as the 700 R shifts like a dream, Mark Luna for handling the glass work, and John Kennedy from Bowtie, who wrapped a beautiful interior. Last but not least, he credits his wife, Veronica, for picking the ‘56 and he sends his love to his two children, Willie and Hailey Olea. We’ll be looking for that ’62 next, Willie!
Year/Model: 1956 Chevy Bel Air
City/State: Norwalk, CA
Engine: Crate 350 Engine
Paint: Willie Olea laid a Nexa PPG Auto Color, high clarity clear coat over a Green and Yellow combination at Hi Tech Collision in Norwalk, CA.
Interior: John Kennedy of Bowtie Connection expertly wrapped the interior in a luxurious O.G. Yellow and Black.
Suspension/Setup: Mike Lopez gave the car a suspension suitable for Ray Gonzalez of Laid Out Customs in Santa Fe Springs, CA., to install an air-ride system.
Tire/Wheel: OG Tru Spokes, 5.20’s.