Mastering the Trade: Scott Benson's 1953 Chevy 2-door and Don Benson's 1963 Ford Fairlane

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When most kids were playing in sandboxes, Scott Benson was playing in an old truck cab that his dad, Don, brought home and put in the backyard for him.

When most kids were trading sandwiches and toys, Scott was trading and selling real vehicles and various parts. One of those trades involved that truck cab that Scott spent so many hours playing in. “Dad told me to put that money aside, it’s my hot rod money,” Scott says. “He’d always tell me to save some hot rod money.”

And, when most kids were playing with die-casts and toy trucks, Scott was in the garage with Don and his buddies, watching, helping, and learning.

Talk to Don Benson and it’s easy to see that the apple didn’t fall far from the staging tree. In the '60s and '70s, Don was a fixture of the local car scene. When he wasn’t piloting his friends’ racecars at Ohio’s Drag City, Norwalk, Thompson Raceway, and other tracks across Ohio, he was in his own—a '67 Plymouth GTX named Mister Twister that dished out 10.90s on the quarter-mile. 

“That car would twist so hard when I launched,” Don said about Twister’s name. “It was a lot of fun.” In fact, that car was so much fun, Don once “blew his own doors off” during a run at Norwalk Raceway…but that’s a story for another time.

And, just as he taught Scott, when Don wasn’t behind the wheel, he was selling, trading, and stashing away “hot rod money.” The colorful hotrodder has had more cars than he can remember off the top of his head. So many, that on a few occasions he actually acquired a couple of his old vehicles without realizing it until he dug into them.

The 1963 Fairlane found its way to Don through a trade that started with a Greyhound bus for a '49 Olds. Don traded that Olds for the Fairlane, which was in rough shape. “It was an old racecar and needed a lot of work,” Don says. “But I knew we could do it.”

Don and his friends did what they do best—they pooled their talent, made some trades, and turned the rolling chassis into The Fugitive—a straight-axle tribute to the AFX/Gasser era and legend in local racing, Otie’s Automotive of Akron, Ohio.

From the stacks sitting atop six Holley 2-barrel carbs to the custom headers sticking out behind the one-piece tilt front end, this Fairlane is big on attitude. “I wanted it to look like it would have back in the day,” Don says. “I’m really lucky to have so many talented friends. I couldn’t have done it without them. Scott built that engine, and Dave Farwell, the son of one of my hotrodding buddies, fabbed those headers up from scratch. Those boys are so talented. It’s neat to see how they’ve grown up and what they can do. Now they’re teaching us some new tricks.”

The Fugitive, with its single-stage 1963 Factory Ford White Maaco paint job and lettering by “J-Bird” Jeremy Lockard, was inspired by a couple of straight-axles owned by friends John Dennison (R.I.P.) and Jack Jenkins. “One day Jack took Scott for a ride in his ’64 Nova and Scott was hooked,” Don says. “He started to build his own when he was in high school. When he got it on the road, I decided I needed one, too.” 

Scott was still driving his first hotrod, a 1948 Pontiac with a 454 that he traded some hot rod money for back in junior high, when he found the perfect car to turn into a Gasser.

“A friend’s cousin had this 1953 Chevy and he wanted to make a trade with Dad. It was about three doors down from where Dad bought his GTX years ago, which was pretty cool,” Scott says. Don passed on the trade, so Scott dipped into the hot rod money again and brought the car home.

Without an engine, transmission, glass, or interior, the '53 was a blank canvas, literally. It was also the perfect project for Scott, who was ready to take on the entire project from the ground up. He made a front axle, built a Muncie 4-speed transmission, and dropped a 350 into the car (until it blew and he built a 283 to replace it). With some help from friend Dave Farwell, Scott rolled and radiused the wheelwells and the car was shot in gray primer. 

“I drove it around in primer for a while,” Scott says. “Then one night at a party, ’J-Bird’ Jeremy Lockard was lettering cars. He asked if I wanted something, so I told him to make it Mister Twister, as a tribute to Dad and his old GTX.”

“When he came home with that car lettered…that was something else,” says Don. “It was amazing to see him build this car, he has so much talent. He inspired me to get going on my Fairlane so we could go cruising together.”

Shortly after the '53 became Mister Twister, Scott took it up a notch with a new front end, a 4" drop tube axle with parallel leaf springs, and a cross steering upgrade. He also worked out a trade with Don—the 283 went into The Fugitive and Scott scored the parts he needed to rebuild the 454 that had been in his '48 Pontiac. With that freshly built 454, Twister was back on the road and badder than ever, gray primer and all.   

That primer lasted until a small quarter-panel crunching accident left Twister in need of some bodywork, and Scott turned to friend and fellow car guy Jason Bonecutter. “Jason offered his talents to do the car right and teach me along the way,” Scott says. “I was going to leave it in primer when we were done, but Jay said he wasn’t going to make it look that nice just to leave it in primer. He insisted that we paint it.” Jason topped Twister with House of Kolor Kosmos Red and re-lettered the car with a bolder design in gold metallic.

“John and Jack were kind of the pioneers of our group with their straight-axles,” Scott says. “They had those cars since the '60s and I learned so much from them and Dad and all of his friends that I was able to build the Chevy into what it is today. It’s pretty cool to get out there and cruise around with them now. We have a lot of fun.”  

Since the completion of The Fugitive and Mister Twister, Don and Scott have logged many miles, cruising the area and hitting as many shows as possible each summer—and when they arrive, you know it. You can hear ’em coming a mile away. When you stop to see what’s causing the commotion, you’re not disappointed as Mister Twister, The Fugitive, Bonecrusher, Lil’ Pepe, and a handful of other Gassers show up to get the party started.

What happened to the original Mister Twister, you ask? “I sold it to a guy who has it in Arizona right now,” Don says. “I know where it is, and I could probably buy it back.” Will Don trade the Fairlane for it? “No,” Don’s quick to say. “I’m having a lot of fun in this car with Scott and the rest of the group, it’s my favorite.”

Photography By: Todd Biss
Art Direction By: Aaron Gray
Story By: Jen Hanna
Location: The former Ohio's Drag City (aka Meander)

FAST SPECS: Mister Twister, 1953 Chevy 2-Door
Owner: Scott Benson, Mogadore, Ohio

Chassis
Rear End: Strange 9" nodular iron case, 4.11:1 Richmond Gear ring and pinion, limited-slip differential, Moser alloy axles
Suspension and Steering: Front 4" drop tube axle with parallel leaf springs, rear leaf springs with Competition Engineering ladder bars and floaters, 1965 Nova steering box with custom dropped drag link
Brakes: 11" discs in front; rear drum brakes
Wheels and Tires: 15" American Racing Torq-Thrust Ds wrapped in M&H Racemaster Musclecar D.O.T.s in the rear and Coker Pro-Tracs in the front
Frame Modifications by: Scott Benson

Engine and Transmission
Engine Type: 454 cubic inch GM, bored .030" over 
Reciprocating Assembly: Ohio Crankshaft nodular 4" stroke crank, Eagle Specialty Products forged connecting rods, TRW dome 10.5:1 pistons
Valvetrain: Crower solid roller cam, Crower lifters, Crower 1.7:1 aluminum roller rocker arms, Trick Flow pushrods, TRW stainless valves, TRW valve springs and retainers
Cylinder Heads: GM 781 oval port cast iron 118cc heads with a three-angle valve grind
Ignition: Reworked GM HEI ignition, Taylor wires, GM 1-wire alternator, Summit high-torque starter, Summit wiring harness
Exhaust: Hooker Super Competition headers (modified) coated by Advance Paint Technology, 2 1/8" exhaust, Flowmaster Super 44 mufflers
Transmission: Muncie M21 close ratio 4-speed transmission, Centerforce clutch and pressure plate, Lakewood bellhousing
Induction: Edelbrock Performer RPM Air-Gap intake manifold, Holley 800 cfm 4150 Double Pumper carburetor
Other: Vintage M/T finned aluminum 427 valve covers, vintage Offenhauser breathers, Summit air cleaner, Weiand aluminum water pump, red powdercoated RCI 10 gallon fuel cell
Block and Heads Machined by: R&R Machine
Header Fabrication by: Dave Farwell of Vintage Metalworks
Transmission built by: Scott Benson

Body
Modifications: Rolled and radiussed rear wheelwells, trimmed and bobbed front fenders
Paint Color: House of Kolor Kosmos Red
Graphics: Gold Metallic
Bodywork by: Jason Bonecutter and Scott Benson
Paint, Airbrushing, and Graphics by: Jason Bonecutter

Interior
Upholstery: Stock seats with '55 Chevy Delray-inspired black and white vinyl upholstery
Upholstery by: Sullivan Upholstery
Other: Stock dash with original gauges, vintage Sun Super Tach, and Auto Gage three-gauge pod; radio delete; Hurst Competition Plus shifter

Special Thanks
To everyone who has ever helped. It’s nice to have great friends in the hotrod community that are always willing to lend a hand: Dad, Mom, Jason Bonecutter, Tim Farwell, Dave Farwell, Jack Jenkins, Joe Balint, Ryan Whinery, Steve Mccune, Grandpa (Earl Bormuth), Paul Kinzel of KZ Automotive, the late Tom Tennant and John Dennison for their advice and inspiration, and to my high school shop teacher and fellow drag racer, Terry Colescott, who inspired and taught me many things.

FAST SPECS: The Fugitive, 1963 Ford Fairlane Sport Coupe
Owners: Don and Cheryl Benson, Mogadore, Ohio

Chassis
Rear End: Dana 60, 4.10:1 ring and pinion, limited-slip differential 
Suspension and Steering: Box tube front suspension with parallel leaf springs, rear parallel leaf springs with Lakewood traction and pinion snubber, GM steering box
Wheels and Tires: 15" Summit Pulsar (Series 541) wheels wrapped in Coker Tire BFGoodrich Silvertown bias-ply tires in the rear and Coker Pro-Tracs in the front

Engine and Transmission
Engine Type: 283 cubic inch Chevy
Reciprocating Assembly: Steel crank, stock connecting rods, TRW dome 11.5:1 pistons
Valvetrain: Lunati Bracket Master II flat tappet cam and lifters, Trick Flow pushrods, Lunati valve springs and retainers
Cylinder Heads: Chevy double hump heads with a three-angle comp grind
Ignition: Procomp electronic distributor, Taylor wires, GM starter, GM 1-wire alternator, GM high-volume water pump, EZ Wiring harness
Exhaust: Custom headers coated by Advance Paint Technology, Summit mandrel bent exhaust tubing, Summit turbo mufflers
Transmission: Muncie 4-speed transmission, Hayes clutch and pressure plate, aluminum bellhousing, Hurst linkage
Induction: Edelbrock X1 Ram Log 6x2 intake manifold, six Holley 94 2-barrel carburetors
Other: Corvette valve covers, velocity stacks, RCI 8 gallon fuel cell, Holley fuel pump
Engine by: Scott Benson
Block and Heads Machined by: R&R Machine
Header Fabrication by: Dave Farwell of Vintage Metalworks

Body and Interior
Modifications: One-piece tilt front end, lengthened rear wheelwells
Paint Color: 63 Ford White
Paint by: Maaco
Graphics by: “J-Bird” Jeremy Lockard
Window Tint by: Magic City Customs
Interior: 6-point roll bar, Sun gauges, aluminum door panels, Hurst shifter, custom hat shifter boot

Special Thanks
To my wife, Cheryl; John Dennison (R.I.P.) and Jack Jenkins for their inspiration; Dave and Tim Farwell for their help in getting this car on the road; “J-bird” Jeremy Lockard for the lettering; Scott Benson for the engine assembly; Jim Howe for having me shoe his pro-gas altered race car “Deacon Blues,” and Ross Hass for having me shoe his “American Express” Camaro that won Racers Day at Quaker City; and gone but not forgotten, Top-End Tommy Tennant, a racing friend of many years.

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