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Eternal Tri-Five

They say a good foundation is where to start. With this classic five-five, it's better than ever

Craig Morrison Nov 3, 2003

EDITOR'S NOTE: Morrison Enterprises has developed a new state-of-the-art, completely bolt-in chassis for Tri-Five Chevys, and we're fortunate to have been given an exclusive first-hand look as Craig and Art Morrison convert a low-mileage original '55 into a modern performance machine. Editorial coverage will come via Craig's first-person account and will include such things as lifting the body off and replacing the original frame plus segments on the drivetrain, wheels and tires, electrical, detailing, custom exhaust and interior. We think this inside look at one of the premier chassis builders in our industry assembling a cool classic is something everyone will enjoy--and benefit from.

The first and most important step when starting a project is to create a plan and a set of goals. Without a vision of how the car is going to look, perform, and cost, it is easy to lose focus, and end up with something that isn't necessarily what you wanted. Without a plan, your project may easily turn into a very expensive dust collector, which ends up being sold off at a swap meet. Art Morrison of Art Morrison Enterprises, Inc., has just started a new project and has a pretty impressive plan.The project car is a '55 210 Chevy that was found in the mountains of southern New Mexico. With only 47,000 miles on the clock and protected by dry, warm air the sedan body is in near-pristine condition with the exception of a few obligatory parking lot door dings. While 48 years of intense sun and high temperatures have faded the paint, the steel is rust free. The 265 V8 comes to life without any hassle and runs like a proverbial Swiss watch. Inside, the interior has been well looked after, the seats and headliner all look like they are new, while the package tray and dash are a bit faded from the desert sun. The original rivets still hold the grill in place and the instructions for changing a tire are still mounted in the trunk.

While many traditionalists would argue that this car would make a prime candidate for a frame-off restoration (or even a "survivor"), the plan is to create a g-machine driver with sports-car handling. That's right, we said a '55 Chevy sports car. While "'55 Chevy" and "sports car" have not had the chance to go together in many sentences, it is Art's goal to change all of that. Designed to maximize handling performance, Art's new replacement chassis will be the foundation for the GT55. His plan is to build the car from the ground up using currently available Tri-Five aftermarket parts to create a modern-day performance car with a few traditional touches. To prove that his '55 is truly going to be a performance car, Art has also set some lofty goals. Those goals are: 0-60 in under 4.5 seconds, quarter-mile times in the 12s, and most importantly, a skid pad of 0.85g.

To ensure that this project is a successful one the drivetrain and related components include such things as a Bill Mitchell 427 small-block, Keisler Automotive T56 trans, super sticky BFGs, large-diameter Wilwood brakes and Strange adjustable coil-overs. The rest will come down to the engineering of the chassis and the setup of the suspension. Stay tuned, because in upcoming issues of SUPER CHEVY, we are going to follow the entire buildup from the construction of the chassis to the on-track tests.


0401sc_01z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Left_front_view_drawing 2/22

A rendering of what the car is going to look like always helps maintain focus and provides inspiration. Don King of King Graphix of Kels, Washington, took Art's ideas and turned them into this great drawing.

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All design work is done in-house at AME utilizing the latest CAD technology.

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After the front suspension was designed specifically for this chassis, it went through extensive computer testing to ensure it would perform like it should.

0401sc_04z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Gauges 5/22

Through the cracked gauge face you can see the odometer at 47,965 miles. Judging from the condition of the car, it is a safe bet that this is the actual mileage.

0401sc_05z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Front_view 6/22

This front-end shot reveals how pristine the sheetmetal is. Note the sun-bleached front emblem.

0401sc_06z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Interior_view 7/22

The interior of this car is immaculate. While the carpet is a bit rough, the seats, headliner and door panels are all in great condition.

0401sc_07z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Left_front_view 8/22

Here's how the car looks today. Old school wheels, decent trim and a straight, rust-free body; the perfect candidate to transform into a sports-car killer.

0401sc_08z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Engine_bay 9/22

The 265 V-8 still runs great, but soon a 500-plus hp Bill Mitchell 427 small block will be resting in its place.

0401sc_09z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Trunk_view 10/22

The trunk sans rubber reveals a few little cancer spots, but nothing to get too worried about.

0401sc_10z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Frame 11/22

To ensure repeatability, 400 hours of labor was used to create one serious jig. Here Dion loads the driver's rear framerail into the tool.

0401sc_11z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Frame 12/22

The transmission bracket with its various mounting locations is bolted in before it's welded into place.

0401sc_12z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Frame 13/22

The pre-fabbed front crossmember is loaded in the jig. One of the most important parts of the chassis this piece locates the AGR power rack, lower A-arms, and is the mounting location for the engine mounts.

0401sc_13z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Frame 14/22

The last few welds are put into place before this particular chassis is loaded onto a palette and shipped cross-country.

0401sc_14z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Brake 15/22

12.9-inch Wilwood discs with 6-piston calipers will bring this car to a very quick stop.

0401sc_15z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Wheels 16/22

The tire & wheel package consists of 17"-inch Boyd Magnetos with BFGoodrich 245/45ZR17s up front and 18-inch Boyd Magneto with BFGoodrich 275/45ZR18s out back.

0401sc_16z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Transmission 17/22

The 500-plus hp is shifted through a Keisler Automotive T-56 six-speed transmission. Note that Keisler has moved the shifter position forward so it will be in the correct position in relation to the driver.

0401sc_17z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Small_block_engine 18/22

Hardcore says it all. 500-plus hp and 500-plus ft-lb out of a Bill Mitchell 427 small-block will definitely get this shoebox moving.

0401sc_18z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Pulleys 19/22

March's all new "Ultra" kit is high-tech, compact and looks cool.

0401sc_19z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Header_view 20/22

The Borla-designed stainless headers were made to clear the steering, clutch and frame while providing a restriction-free path for the exhaust.

0401sc_20s 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Frame_view0 21/22

The assembled rolling chassis is ready to go under the body.

0401sc_21z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Frame_comparison 22/22

Next to the stock chassis, the differences between the two frames are very apparent.

0401sc_22z 1955_chevrolet_bel_air Frame_body_view 23/22

Separated from its Eisenhower-era chassis, it is ready to be lowered onto AME's new high performance replacement frame.


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