Inside the Lines

 

In terms of a classic with just the right amount of modification, we reckon this ’55 is close to spot-on.

 

Words: Dave Smith, photography: Darren Woolway

 

Most cars will stand a little modifying. A trim here, a snip there, the odd bolt-on to bring the styling up to date. Some cars, that merry band of very few, needed nothing. They got it right first time. And most of the time, modifications will actually detract from it. The ’55 Chevy was one such car. It’s a lily that doesn’t need gilding, and if you bring the underpinnings a little closer to the 21st century, the bodywork can stay just as it is, thank you very much, and look all the better for it. The end result is a ‘resto-mod’, and this ’55 could be the perfect example.

Few cars can have stood the test of time as well as the 1955 Chevrolet. A million-seller when new, it still commands a huge army of fans and is still top of most American car enthusiasts’ bucket list of must-owns. In a scene where the mantra is ‘dare to be different’, this is the car everyone wants. And of all the variants available, I reckon most would plump for the two-door hardtop, the ‘sports coupe’.

So here we have the pinnacle of the ’55 line. This Bel Air sport coupe belongs to Colin Cross, from Higham, Kent, and ticks pretty much every box there is. “A couple of years ago, I’d just finished my ’53 pick-up ad was on the lookout for a new project,” says Colin. “I quite fancied a MkI Zodiac to put a small-block in, but then I remembered the ’55 I had in my late Twenties, so started looking for a ’55. I found this one on eBay in Santa Rosa, California, so I waited until the end of the auction and put a bid in, and bought it blind. That was in May, 2014.

“Schumacher Cargo brought it to the UK for me, but some problem at the docks at this end saw it sitting in storage for a month, so I finally got to pick it up from Felixstowe in the July. That’s when I got to see it for the first time. I checked it out and it looked good, then I opened it up and the interior was all in tired beige velour! It had a water leak because the thermostat housing had corroded through, and the starter motor was dead so I had to bring it home on a low-loader.

“It was a really solid car; the paint was a little orange-peeled in places, but there was no rot. The paint job was supposedly 10 years old, and I spent many hours with the G3, flatting and polishing to bring it all back up nice. One wing had some stone chips and needed touching in, but it blended in beautifully. The Gypsy Red and Shoreline Beige paint is the car’s original colour scheme.

“I replaced the starter and thermostat housing to get it running, and she ran beautifully. It has a very lumpy cam, though, and the carburettor was a massive double-pumper which was over-fuelling so I replaced it with an Edelbrock Thunder 650. I stripped all the ancillaries off the engine and replaced them with chrome and billet, and painted the inner wings black. It also came with an ugly radiator from an Eighties Camaro, which I replaced with an aluminium Griffin radiator that’s supposedly good for cooling 1,000bhp. The exhaust is a dual three-inch stainless system built by Pipecraft in Essex.

“Then I ripped the whole interior out and took it to Keith at Burnham Autos. I took him the door cards and seats, and he stripped them back to the frames and recovered everything in matching red and white tuck’n’roll vinyl. The headliner is the one it came with, though, because that was still in good order. The steering wheel is a reproduction of the original but three inches smaller in diameter, and the column is an ididit tilt column sprayed body colour. The radio looks like the original, but it’s a modern unit you can plug your iPod into. The car came with the air conditioning already installed, with the control panel shaped to fit the dash around where the ignition switch would have been originally.

“It’s on two-inch dropped spindles at the front and two-inch lowering blocks at the rear, with tubular A-arms, anti-roll bars front and rear and poly bushes all round. The rear is stock drums but the front end’s been upgraded to discs with matching dual circuit master cylinder and servo. Over winter, I went all through the suspension and replaced every single ball joint and bush. My mate was helping me and he asked why I was replacing them when they were all good; I replied ‘So I know it’s been done.’

“The car came on 15” American Racing Torq Thrust II wheels all round, but I replaced them with 20x8s on the rear and 18x8s on the front, and Pirelli tyres. The grille bars and bumper guards were period options which I bought in the States and had rechromed. Every bit of chrome on the car has been done by Butterworth’s Plating in Ramsgate, and all the stainless trim on the sides is new reproduction, including the gravel shields behind the wheelarches, everything coming from Classic Chevy in the States. I fitted the tri-bar headlamps, and while the side windows were already tinted, I had to do the rear screen.

“I don’t get to use it much – I tend to use the truck more – and it hasn’t been out at all yet this year! It’s a fair weather driver, I only use it 10 or 20 times a year. Last year I took it out to a couple of shows and came home with a couple of trophies. There are still a few jobs I’d like to do. I’d like to paint the underside body-colour, but that won’t happen this year, and I’d like to box the battery in the boot, but then I just shut the boot and forget about it! It’s spot-on to drive, really smooth. I wanted it to drive as good as it looks, and that’s just what it does. It’s lowered, and on low-profile tyres, but it’s still the best-driving ’55 I’ve ever been in. I don’t know what’s in the engine, but it flies – I’ve had the truck dynoed at 420bhp, and this will give it a run for its money.”

 

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

350cu.in. Chevrolet small-block

Edelbrock Performer manifold

Edelbrock Thunder carburettor

Double-hump ‘fuellie’ heads

Polished stainless headers

Dual custom stainless 3” exhaust

Griffin aluminium radiator

TH350 auto transmission

Front power disc conversion

2” dropped spindles

Tubular A-arms

Polyurethane bushes all round

Anti-roll bars front and rear

Custom tuck’n’roll interior

ididit tilt column

ARE Torq Thrust II wheels, 18×8 front, 20×8 rear

Pirelli tyres, 225/40R18 front, 245/45R20 rear

 

Thanks to: “My mate Mark and his son Michael for all their help, and Knowle Country House, Higham, for the location.”