Built to showcase Art Morrison's new Tri-Five replacement chassis, the GT55 project was conceived during a conversation with SUPER CHEVY editor Terry Cole and publisher Tim Foss at the 2002 SEMA show. At that time, the chassis only existed on Art's CAD system as a few rough draft drawings and a business plan that I had drafted. To get the project into full swing we needed to design and build a prototype chassis, design and build a jig table and numerous sub-assembly fixtures, build a production frame and start working on the car so we could begin to meet editorial deadlines!
Art's '55 Chevrolet 210 Sedan sat collecting dust in the garage for nearly 8 years. It was always a project that we "were going to get to," but neither Art nor myself had any definite plans for the car. Now, that the new chassis was on its way and SUPER CHEVY was covering the action, the old Chevy was brought out of mothballs. While we wanted a car that could perform out on the track, Art also wanted something that was comfortable to drive long distances. With some searching I found the definition of "Grand Touring" on autorepair.com. "...A car combining sedan and sports car features in which engineering is the dominant feature. Combines excellent road handling qualities with relative comfort...." This described our goals perfectly, and the GT55 name was born.
The first stage of the GT55 build-up went relatively fast. With the stock trim, glass, paint, interior and wiring all there and in decent condition, we just had to focus on the chassis swap, and sorting out the new drive train and cooling system. In this configuration, the GT55 was the ultimate sleeper car: killer suspension, a high horsepower Bill Mitchell small block and a bulletproof T56 six-speed from Keisler Automotive and a faded, crusty paint job. In the weeks before testing was to commence, Art flogged the car to reveal any weak spots before its big test, which was to be conducted at Fontana, California, in October of 2003.
The GT55 was beginning to show its true Grand Touring soul when we drove from Tacoma, Washington, down to LA for the performance tests. Even at triple-digit speeds, the car was smooth and tame. During the trip, both Art and I were wondering just how well the car would perform. While we weren't sure how the car was going to do, Art and I were blown away that the GT55 produced a 0.94g average on the skidpad, and a slalom course of 48.37 mph. Riding shotgun through the slalom course with test driver Andrew Schear was one of the best "E-ticket" rides I have ever been on!
With the testing over and the mechanicals sorted out, it was time to perform the cosmetic transformations. In December 2003 the disassembly of the car began. From January to July, the thrash was on. Somewhere along the way, the project began to snowball and the car went from being "just a driver" to a detailed show car. Sixty to 80 hour weeks became the norm as Art, myself, a few friends, the guys at Byers Custom & Restoration and McFarland Custom Upholstery all worked together to complete the project. There was just 12 hours to spare before it was loaded onto the trailer where it was taken to Columbus, Ohio, so it could make its big debut at the Goodguys PPG Nationals.
With our new level of detail and its documented performance, the GT55 made an impression at the show. The car was given one of the prestigious spots in the top five for Street Machine of the Year. With well over 2,000 hours into the car of late nights, early mornings and 7 days a week, it was a great reward to be given this sort of recognition.
So now what? Since its maiden voyage just over 3,000 miles of asphalt have passed under the GT55. The suspension and steering deliver an unending amount of confidence. The great thing about the GT55 is that it is now like driving a new car, the suspension and steering deliver an unending amount of confidence no matter how hard you push it. The car just begs to be thrown into corners and around freeway onramps. The interior of the GT55 has all the features of any modern, high-end car; sound deadening material, air conditioning, a state of the art sound system and very comfortable seating. In Grand Touring fashion the car has been driven long distances, including the 700-mile round trip to the Goodguys Rod & Custom show in Spokane, Washington. With tunes cranked, it was nothing to cruise along at 95mph with the motor humming along at only 2,300 rpm. There are a lot more journeys planned for the GT55 and hopefully they will have a lot of twists and turns along the way.