After totaling out my 83’ GMC S-15 pick up my buddies convinced me into buying an older ride that I could fix up. I settled on a 56’ Chevy step side pickup, it wasn’t long before the “rebuilt” motor was smoking like a chimney and the truck got the name “Smoke Show” not for doing smokie burnouts but for the plume of blue smoke that billowed out of the exhaust when I started it up, from there the old 350 came out and a pretty stout 500hp 454 went in with the help of my friends we put a Camaro clip on it and back halved the truck to make it Pro Street style which was the trend at the time that I fell in love with and to this day love that style of build. It took me 3 ½ yrs. to complete and I got a lot of notoriety for it and it was in several magazines and was actually a Final Four competitor in the very first Good Guys Street Machine of the Year in 1993 when it was held in Pleasanton, Ca.
While in High School I was able to learn a lot of skills through classes I took welding, auto repair and Machine shop program my Jr.& Sr years in High School and worked in a machine shop for 16 yrs. that taught me a lot of valuable skills and with the help of some very talented friends I got further into fixing up cars.
I eventually sold my 56’ pickup and went on to building something bigger and badder I started a fiberglass Pro Mod body 37’ Chevy and had Chris Alston’s Chassisworks do a full round tube chassis for me and it wasn’t long after I realized I bit off way more than I could chew eventually trading a half finished car for a custom Harley that I lost my butt on. One good thing that happened during the process of the 37’ build I met a very talented fabricator named Dan Crisp from Waterford Ca. who is now one of my best friends and the head fabricator at BRE Rods & Classics/Race Cars in Salida, Ca.In the early days of Dan’s and my friendship he built cars out of his home shop where my 55’ Chevy started it transformation. When I sold the Harley I asked Dan if he knew of anyone selling a 55’ Chevy one of my favorite cars and he said “I got one in my shop for a roll cage right now, let me see if the owner wants to sell it” Luckily the owner did and I purchased the car for $6,500 in 2005. Shortly after purchasing the car Dan and I started tearing into the 55’ I was going for the early 90’s style Pro Street cars from the Fastest Street Cars in America Shootout that Flowmaster/Hot Rod Magazine put on. Like most guys I didn’t have a ton of money and saved up and then do some work on it when my money and time was right.
The first project Dan back halved the car after that he wacked the front half off and put a Mustang ll style front clip with rack & pinion steering and tubular a-arms that Dan made and put some Strange Engineering Double adjustable coil overs on all four corners.I was definitely at the right place at the right time and one of Dan’s customers was selling a motor that I ended up purchasing it was a Scott Shafiroff built 598 cu. in. motor. We slammed it in modified the center of the car so that I could run the exhaust back and dump them out in front of the rear tires from here I bought a fiberglass 4” cowl hood and trunk lid from Glasstek. I had a buddy Jim Berg who worked on my 37’ Chevy and happened to also work on Monty Berney’s 55’ Big Bertha ll which had a really trick wing on it I called Jim and asked if he had built the wing for Monty’s car and he did and he was actually building one for another PSCA racer so I asked if he had enough material to build another and he did so I was blessed to get the same wing that was actually had the template pulled from Monty’s car I brought my 55’ to Jim’s shop we put the wing and made a parachute mount.
At this point I’d pick attainable projects to further progress the project things were going well, until when life happens and kind of kicks you in the gut, 2010 lost my job when they shut down the auto plant down that I worked at (NUMMI) as you can imagine it was quite the blow and took quite awhile (4 yrs.) to get back up and start working on the 55’ again but it did eventually happen. I picked some small projects at first and eventually got to the point where it was ready for body and paint, I took it over to Brent Mcllroy of Brent’s Custom Paint in Merced, Ca. and he started off by shooting Lizardskin sound deadner on the inside of the body panels once that was done we painted the motor and transmission I put them back in the newly powder coated chassis (Billington Powder Coat Modesto, Ca.) and then put the body back on the chassis. I then took it back to my buddy Dan Crisp at BRE Race Cars where he put in the Tim McAmis carbon fiber tubs and made a set of wheelie bars and an access panel so I could leave the main part of the trunk and wing on the car when refueling. It went back to Brent’s and he was able to lay down a custom silver metallic paint on the front and a pitch black on the roof and rear quarters for the traditional 55’ two tone paint scheme.
Once paint was complete I took the 55’ to my buddy Curt Van Laar Curt’s Custom Auto Repair in Waterford , Ca. that was responsible for completing the electrical work and making the ol’ girl make some noise we started with a K&R Performance super duty kit with switch panel to handle all the business end of the wiring (Water/Fuel pumps, Trans brake, line lock and such) and also a American Auto Wire kit for the normal stuff (Lights , turn signals, horn) once it was all wired up for the first time in 16 yrs I got to drive the 55’ under it’s own power and it was a memorable day to say the least. Now that she ran and drove it was time for upholstery, I took the 55’ to Hot Rod Hall of Famer Howdy Ledbetter Linden, Ca. to do the deed. Howdy and I go back 30yrs I first met Howdy when he upholstered my 56’ Pro Street Chevy pick up, and we just clicked we both would feed off each other’s ideas and this time was no different. Howdy is known for his sculptured panels and inlays and at 78yrs young he still gets down. Howdy started off by using Dynamat on the floors and firewall then got after it, traditional style headliner and then worked his magic on the door and kick panels made a custom console with cup holders of course along with Carbon Fiber inlays and finished off with some square weave carpet. The doors use all Lokar window/door handles which finished off the interior, while it was there at Howdy’s I had Tim Dalton of “The Shinning” Riverbank, Ca polish all the stainless steel trim to perfection this guy is incredible, I then had Carl Pearce of Carl’s Auto Glass Modesto Ca. put in the smoke grey tinted glass to finish up the 55’.
I would have never thought it would have taken 17yrs. To complete this build but am extremely satisfied and glad I was stubborn enough and had the perseverance to see it through completion.
Unbelievable 55 Chevy Phil! Something to definitely be proud of! This is the ultimate expression of perseverance, having a dream, a great build plan and the will to se it all through no matter what life throws at you!
Text by: Phil Quinn
Photos by: Annette Bauer Creative