When you see a classic car built to this level, you don't expect it to be driven often—if at all—but tearing up the tarmac is exactly what owner Chris W. Schmidt had in mind when he put this stellar '55 together. According to the owner/builder, when he bought the '55 it came as advertised, and he was enjoying the heck out of it. The Bel Air ran and drove great, but he couldn't accept the lack of detail in the Tri-Five and "wanted to improve a few things."
Fateful words. You know where this is going, right? "One thing led to another and soon we had the whole car apart," Chris told us. "These projects just seem to escalate."
What you see on these pages is the end result of nearly 10 years of painstaking labor. Chris had owned several classic cars, but this was the first one he built himself. One of the reasons for the lengthy gestation was the project was built on a budget, believe it or not. By doing the much of the work himself (with friend Mike Graham), and saving in certain areas, he ended up with a show-winning beauty. For example, the suspension benefits from simple bolt-on parts, whereas many high-end Tri-Fives these days are rolling on a full $20,000 aftermarket chassis. Rather than going with a trendy LS engine or some high-end big-block build, he kept the built 1970-vintage LT-1 that was already under the hood, which still runs strong enough to win burnout contests.
Speaking of the engine, it wears ported and polished Brodix Street heads, a Duntov 30-30 cam, Edelbrock Performer intake and 650 AVS carburetor. A Mallory Unilite distributor lights the mixture and Southern Rods headers carry away the exhaust through a 2.5-inch system. Chris estimates the engine's making about 425 horsepower, which seems entirely possible, if not conservative. A Doug Nash five-speed also came with the car and remains behind the small-block.
Of course, when we spotted the ragtop at our Super Chevy Show in Bakersfield last June, we were drawn immediately by the striking red and black paint job and matching interior. The PPG Fast Red and black were laid down by Jim Ramirez of Stockton, California, who also did the flawless bodywork. (Ramirez performed his handiwork on the dash, too, fabricating the custom A/C vent outlets in the dash.) The smoothie front bumper and grille came from Danchuk, while the rear bumper's from Classic Chevy. All the lettering, emblems and hood ornament were removed by the bodyman/painter. The side moldings, paint dividers and all stainless trim were polished by Chris and Turner's Stainless Polishing in Fresno. All the final fit and finish work was done by the owner and Mike Graham.
Chris is most proud of the interior, which he designed specifically to blend in with the rest of the car. The seats came out of a Lexus SC400 (covered in Ultra Leather), while the console is from a '70 Pontiac GTO (custom fit by the owner and "Stereo" Steve Castro. Chris had Ernie Gee of Fresno cast one-of-a-kind set of seat medallions. According to the owner, Carlos and Art at Wall and Eades Upholstery made his interior design come to life. They also fit the custom top and glass rear window, making this '55 even more elegant when it's driven as a closed car.
Chris is most proud of the interior, which he designed specifically to blend in with the rest of the car.
The majority of the suspension components came from Danchuk and the front and rear drop is 3-inches lower than stock. Wilwood 12-inch rotors and four-piston calipers bring the action to a quick halt when required. Budnik Gasser D rims (17x10 and 17x7-inches) are wrapped in BFGoodrich radials (275/40ZRs rear, 235/45s front).
After winning a number of shows, Chris has started piling up the miles on this two-tone beauty. He's added QA1 adjustable shocks in the front after our photo shoot and this, he says, greatly aided driveability; he also used them to raise the ride height by about an inch (it was a little too life for life in the real world). Perhaps the only thing he may change in the near future is switch from carburetion to FAST's EZ EFI-2.
Having been born in 1957, Chris originally wanted a Bow Tie of the same vintage. Other than getting a ‘55 instead, he ended up with exactly what he wanted—even if the car wasn't born the same year he was.