All Shook Up: Jeremy’s 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air Custom
You can build a 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air Custom in a variety of styles. We’re partial to Jeremy Tolbert’s. It’s a So-Cal custom steeped in traditional style and an outgrowth of So-Cal’s thriving traditional rod & custom scene.
Many people know So-Cal’s Coachella Valley region for its massive music festivals, but locals like Jeremy embrace it for its sun drenched days and active car culture. Most of the time, you can find him cruising the Palm Springs strip in his 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air Custom, attracting an abundance of attention from passersby.
As romantic as it sounds to be a writer who lives in the desert with his classic car, it’s Jeremy’s reality. A writer and poet by trade, he has spent his career writing and is now working on his fifth book of poetry. While he is obviously very productive in the written word, there was no shortage of work to do in building this Chevy.
Having split up his youth in Alaska, Minnesota, and Seattle, Jeremy has been exposed to car culture all across random points of the US. He has a whole mental log book of memories of his father, who was deeply involved with classic American cars.
“I always fell in love when my father spoke about his ’47 and ’51 Chevy’s, his ’56 Volkswagen, ’56 Ford, and his favorite, his ’54 Mercury Monterey hardtop,” Jeremy recalled. From such a young age, the adoration of cool cars was instilled in his heart as much as his brain, and he practices that love by living a life full of cars and the people who surround them.
The ’54 Chevy came into Jeremy’s life back in 2011, when he was tipped off to a chopped example that was being offered on the H.A.M.B. (Hokey Ass Message Board) in Texas. He knew he wanted something custom to start with, and it was between a ’54 Chevy or a ’49 – ’50 Mercury. Although he had an idea of what he was looking for, the search was tenuous and long, and by the time he found the listing for his car, he was more than ready.
“I reached out to the seller and told him that I promised to continue his vision and take care of her,” he explained. “At the time I received it, I wasn’t sure exactly what the end result would be.”
The curvaceous Chevy drips with a deep Black Cherry paint job, and is accented by round, exaggerated shapes of the custom front grill and ’55 Pontiac bumpers. The top line slopes dramatically and elegantly from the chopped roof, exaggerating the profile. This is a car that simply oozes Americana. (That said, we felt that the setting of Elvis’ honeymoon home would be an appropriate complement.)
The bulk of the car is a creative mashup of parts taken from all over the domestic spectrum, from ’53 Buick headlights to a rear window out of a ’50 Mercury. Underneath the exterior, Jeremy has outfitted upgrades including a Mustang II front clip with power rack, front disc brakes, a Tri-Five Chevy rear end, Caddy hubcaps, whitewall tires and more. The engine bay offers plenty of space surrounding the turbo small block 350, which produces just enough of a symphony to catch your ear.
Regardless of custom fitted glass, unique interior trimming, and a stunning presence, the car’s most outstanding quality in Jeremy’s opinion is the history that it carries in both style and experiences in driving it. “I definitely have a love-hate relationship with her,” he joked, “but that is the true essence of why we are part of this culture. We drive, break down, fix it, and get back on the road.”
Between his time spent writing and driving, Jeremy can also be found participating in local events like the Paradise Road Bike and Car Show, La Quinta Hot Rod and Custom Car Show, and a variety of other events as far as Los Angeles, Pomona, and Temecula.
He enjoys his time sharing his 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air Custom with fellow enthusiasts, and is also a member of the Rumblers Car Club. The club has been growing since its establishment in 1996, and now has chapters all over North America and Europe, even as far as Japan. With a focus on hot rods and customs from pre ’63, the club is far reaching and even has a Nomad Chapter for those who live in more isolated areas.
Jeremy is part of that Nomad chapter out in Palm Desert, but it doesn’t stop him from enjoying the brotherhood and family mentality of the club. As Jeremy put it, “Family is what the car culture is to me. I don’t believe I would be here talking with you if it were not for my club brothers and being a part of this culture.”
At the end of the day, one of the biggest trending similarities among car enthusiasts does seem to be the sense of family and companionship that comes with cars. To be able to gather around this one thing that you love so much and enjoy it with other likeminded people—regardless of race, religion, politics, or class—is a very beautiful thing. We have to say that we love Jeremy’s outlook on the automotive community, and we wouldn’t mind seeing more people like him.
Jeremy would like to extend a special thank you to his Rumbler Car Club family, his father, mother, and sister, Omar Ortiz, and Chuck, Brian, and Kris from KAN Customs. It is with the support and love from all of these individuals that Jeremy has found his sense of community and a place he can call home.