As we sat in our car behind Jim Bostick's 1955 Chevy gasser, after-work traffic began to stack up around us, and we just had to laugh out loud as his 800hp, 476ci stroker aggressively idled at the intersection as if it were in the staging lanes at Pomona. We could only imagine the looks on the faces of the snobs in their Mercedes-Benzs as the faux-mechanical fuel-injected 1955 roared past them with a terrible whine from the Hampton supercharger and a rich whiff of 91-octane fumes. It's not every day you see a 1950s hot rod with a straight-axle sitting high next to you at a stoplight (especially in Southern California, where it seems hot rods are becoming more and more taboo), so when we learned about Jim's straight-axle Tri-Five we had to check it out in person.
The origin of the "Diablo en Asfalto" (devil on asphalt) started when Jim met hot rod builder Ron Cambra out of Orange, California, at the Grand National Roadster Show in 2011. Cambra built a 1956 Chevy for a customer and was showing it off when Jim approached him with intentions of purchasing the car right on the spot. Unfortunately for Jim at the time, it wasn't for sale, not even for a million. "My customer with the 1956 is a very wealthy man and wouldn't part with the car, so Jim asked what it would take to replicate it," Cambra says. Not wanting to build the exact car again, Cambra suggested doing something different, that's when Jim asked about a 1955. "I had never built a 1955 before, so I was all for it. A couple days later Jim had me pick up a car and the build began." Like a lot of guys we talk to with Tri-Fives, Jim's car at 16 years old was a 1955 Bel Air, so he was excited to have a car from his childhood back in his life. "I always liked hot rods growing up, always wanted one, but couldn't afford the hobby until somewhat recently," the asphalt contractor says. You could say he was pretty patient too; he only started collecting hot rods about a decade ago. "I have about four Tri-Fives and a Nomad that's been fully restored, but the 1955 is the most fun so far." Cambra is also building a customized Willy for Jim that should be just as fun.
The 1955 Bel Air Jim found for the build was not the complete hot rod you see in these pages, in fact, its reincarnation started with a floor-less shell. "We had to chop the whole car up, the front framerails were replaced, and we had to remove the floor; it was a basket case," Cambra says. Being a shell meant Cambra could build the car with some cool features, like a raised floor and a custom trunk area. For the straight-axle and leaves under the front of the car, Cambra contacted Larry Wagner out of Placentia, California, who is an expert at building frontends for gassers. "It's not like cutting a rearend for a car, the front axle needs to have the right amount of positive camber built in, otherwise the wheels won't align straight." We imagine the lifted frontend with skinny tires, pie crust slicks, and blown engine would be a bear to operate on the street, but Jim drives his gasser as if it was a normal car, not hesitating to hop right in it and take off.
For the engine, Cambra contacted Superior Automotive in Anaheim, California. Instead of the typical powerplant, a custom 409-based stroker was screwed together for the 1955 and topped with a Hampton 6.71 supercharger. Dyno testing the 476ci monster resulted in an impressive 800 hp with only 6 pounds of boost … and on California pump gas, too. There's no boring auto trans behind the blown bullet either, a "Rockcrusher" M22 Muncie and 1957 Olds rearend with 4.11 gears were chosen for the drivetrain, appropriately.
Living a few blocks from NHRA drag racer John Force's shop means Jim is a regular attendee with his gasser at the car shows there and has won quite a few awards with the car so far, including the John Force Pick and several Best of Show awards. "People love the car, Ron [Cambra] did a great job with it, and it fires up every time and I never have to worry about it," he says. The fact that Jim only got into hot rods less than a decade ago proves that it's never too late to get into a hobby that can make life more enjoyable, and judging by the smile on his face as he roared away from the photo shoot, we'd say he's enjoying it thoroughly.
Chassis & Suspension
Cambra Motorsports in Orange, California, assembled the Bel Air's suspension, which included bolting up the straight-axle and leaves from Larry Wagner, custom-making the ladder bars for the rear of the car, installing the custom Ford spindles and early drums, and even modifying the steering so it all works with the increased ride height. The factory front framerails were removed and replaced with new stock, and the stock frame was dimple died as well. In the rear of the car, Cambra installed mini-tubs and Monroe shocks.
Superior Automotive in Anaheim, California, put together one of the meanest 409-style engines we've seen in person. Pumping out close to 800 hp, this 476ci engine features some parts that would blow the racers away back in the 1950s. With a 4.350-inch bore and 4.00-inch stroke, the block was stuffed with custom-forged pistons from Ross that provide around 8.5:1 compression, while an Eagle crank and rods were used for a rotating assembly. Edelbrock Performer RPM cylinder heads top the block and a Don Hampton blower manifold and 6.71 supercharger make up the induction system. The valvetrain consists of COMP Cams rockers and a 4/7 swap mechanical roller camshaft, as well as Manley springs, retainers, locks, valves, and pushrods. A Hilborn four-port electronic injection assembly is bolted to the blower, which actually looks like a nostalgic setup, and a Joe Hunt Magneto that's actually an electronic distributor also adds to the gasser style. Easily seen, chromed fenderwell headers and cutouts from Cambra Motorsports direct the exhaust gases. The transmission is the classic M22 Muncie four-speed that when coupled with a 4.11 gear ratio, makes for a quick launch, even for a car as heavy as a Tri-Five Chevy. The clutch is a McLeod Racing design, while a Lakewood scatter shield covers the transmission. In the rear is an Olds 12-bolt rearend.
Steven Vandemon sprayed a House of Kolor's black and the signage in brown and gold. As an ode to Jim's business, which is laying asphalt for the SoCal area, the door says "Diablo en Asfalto". Shout-outs to Cambra Motorsports are also displayed down the side. The license plate reads "ANGRY55".
Westminster Auto Upholstery in Anaheim, California, did the black and brown leather upholstery while Cambra welded up the dash and smoothed it. The wiring system was done by Mike Swan and a custom steering wheel by Pete and Westminster Upholstery was also added. Other features of the interior include the Hurst shifter, a custom rollbar by Gregg Petersen, and customized Moon pedals by Cambra Motorsports.
Wheels & Brakes
In the front of the gasser, early Ford spindles have custom discs mated to them, while the rear uses Ford 11-inch drums. The rollers in the front are gasser-style 15x4.5 "ET" wheels, while the rear measure 15x10. The skinny tires are 5x15 Firestones and the rear cheater slicks are Mickey Thompsons.