Stardust…The Famous Finned ’53 Chevy Belair!

YES, it is true. The proof is in the photos! There is only ONE 1953 Chevrolet Bel Air in the WORLD with my custom-made shark fins, and she’s all mine. My name is Christopher Pinto. Her name is STARDUST.

Welcome to my site dedicated to this fantabulous 1953 Chevrolet Belair custom hot rod. Think of this site as a free book…a novel, a story of my 30+ year journey from buying her at a yard sale in South Jersey in 1990 to driving her around South Florida today. There are tons of photos and cool stories from over the years. Enjoy the ride!

Note: All photos and stories ©2020 Christopher Pinto. All rights reserved. Any duplication of any part of this site, text, or images for commercial use and/or without permission the owner is a violation of copyright laws. Please only share photos for non-commercial use (no selling). Please feel free to "Pin" photos or share on social media (non-commercial use only). 
1953 Chevy Belair custom hot rod

What is she? A custom? A kustom? East Coast Custom, West Coast Custom, Superfly, Wild Custom, Lead Sled, Rat Rod, Hot Rod? Well, it’s impossible to fit my ’53 Chevy into any “one” style, because she’s 100% a style of her own. I call her a Wild Custom. Plus, she’s got a hot rod engine…souped up the way they would have in the 1950s. She’s not a true “kustom” as defined today, which is a late ’40s to late ’50s style that incorporates artistic body mods with a low stance, usually with a chopped top and/or other specific styling cues…but she does share some of those styles, like the shaved door handles, custom body work and wide white wall tires. She’s not a true “Superfly”, a term generally used to describe the pimpmobile Cadillacs originally created by Dunham Coach in New Jersey, cars with added chrome, big grills, etc., but she does have chrome naked lady side trim, headlight covers, and a ’41 Caddy hood ornament. Some have tried to label her an “East Coast Custom” because of the spotlights, added chrome trim and continental kit. And then, of course, there are the Frenched ’59 Caddy tail lights and the FINS! But what do you get when you combine elements of multiple design theories together? You get a true, 100% original Wild Custom 1953 Chevy Belair Hot Rod, that’s what.

This is the long story of my 1953 Chevrolet Belair. I bought her at a yard sale in April of 1990, and she’s been a huge part of my life ever since. This wasn’t my first vintage car, and she won’t be my last, but I expect I’ll have her as long as I have breath in my lungs.

Me with Stardust not long after I brought her home in 1990. She was a chocolate brown with vanilla top, but her paint was shot after at least 10 years of neglect.

I’ll take you through my 30+ year journey, giving you the when, where, why and how I transformed a poor, neglected sedan into a beautifully restored driver (a backyard restoration but a good one nonetheless), to a 20-year project to turn her into a true one-of-a-kind custom cruizer.

As I said, several people have tried to put Stardust in a category…Thing is, in the beginning it was just “custom cars”, and it didn’t matter if you built your car with the accepted chop & channel styling of Los Angeles, or the add-on-custom parts of the east coast. A custom car was a custom car, built for the driver and no one else.

That’s what Stardust is…she’s a wild custom hot rod, the kind of thing a kid in the 50s might put together himself to stand out from the crowd, something built on a shoestring budget and built all by him (my) self. That’s right…I did it all, from fabricating the fins and other body mods to doing all the bodywork and prep, to painting her myself in a homemade paint booth. I designed her, sketched her out, and put those designs into action. I did the interior myself, did all the mechanical restoration (with help from my dad in 1990, then myself in the last 20 years). I converted her to 12 volts and changed her from a 3 on the tree to a floor shifter. But I think the most fun was shooting the pearl and metalflake, finally, after driving her around in primer for 15+ years.

On a photoshoot for the band “Blackboard” in 1992. I’m in the background. The girl modeling the T-shirt was my prom date. Stardust had just been finished in a seafoam green with white top. The chrome was shot so I painted it all a combo of gold and brown metallic. Believe it or not, she looked great that way. Notice the minor custom touches like the headlight visors and fog lights.

Stardust has been on photo shoots, and she was the official car of my Stardust Productions Mystery Theater in NJ for 10 years. The show “Futurama” obviously used her design in the episode “Law and Oracle”. She was great on dates, looked fantabulous parked in front of many 50s style diners, and got to feel her rubber on the roads of historic NJ towns like Smithville and Cape May, along with Wildwood, Ocean City, and Atlantic City. Then we brought her down to Fort Lauderdale with us, and that’s when I decided to do the custom job. Honestly, I thought she would have been done in a year. That was in June of 2000.

At the time of this writing, it’s September of 2020, and although she’s finally painted, shiny, and running great, she’s still not done…