1956 Chevy Tri Five - Real Steel

A 3,800lb All-Steel Street Car Knocking on the 6-Second Door

Michael Galimi Feb 7, 2014 0 Comment(s)
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The classic Chevy model began its drag racing life in 1998 when Joe dropped off the rolling chassis to Jerry Bickel Race Cars, a famed Pro Stock and Pro Modified chassis shop. The company grafted a tubular chassis into the 1956 for severe drag racing action but kept the exterior factory appearing. The racing chassis enabled Joe to participate—and add flare—in the Heavy Street wars of the PSCA; a West Coast based street legal drag racing association. The lure of heads-up drag racing was strong for Joe as the rules were simple; a few limits on the engine combinations and a minimum weight of 3,500 pounds. The 1956 had been in its element with the racing inspired chassis ready to stick the near 2,000 horsepower to the ground with style. Heavy Street was littered with cars exactly like Joe's 1956 Chevy—full body models from the 1950s on, and even some late-model cars. Each one carried heavyweight, big nitrous motors, and exteriors that were highly detailed and more original than modified.

Joe would race up and down the Pacific Ocean and throughout the West as his car repeatedly dropped mid-to-low 7-second times for nearly four seasons. The Heavy Street party would end, unfortunately, as new SFI chassis certifications didn't address cars of that weight and running sub-7.50 times in quarter-mile drag racing. The officials of PSCA were forced to turn it into a 7.60 index category. "It was hard to go from heads-up racing to an index," commented Joe. The car was parked and he began talking with legendary street legal drag racer, engine builder, and tuner Chuck Samuel about his next move. The duo kicked around an assault on the NMCA category of Nostalgia Pro Street, which was built on a similar concept of Heavy Street but with lighter weights and nitrous-only combinations. "The car was too heavy for Nostalgia Pro Street, but around that time is when Drag Week was announced," he stated. The decision was made to put the "street" back in Pro Street.

1956 Chevy Tri Five 2/9

Chuck immediately began building a better big-block Chevy for the rigors of street duty and a barrage of boost from twin turbochargers. The veteran engine builder tapped into his expertise from an assortment of racing genres from the 5-second Pro Mod ranks to even offshore racing where durability and power is paramount. Eclipsing 2,000 horsepower was the easy part, getting it to live on the street was the bigger goal. Joe explained, "Drag Week allows us to go out and compete, have fun, and also drive the car." And Joe certainly drives the wheels off of it as we cruised the Las Vegas strip for hours preceding this photo shoot and he regularly takes the 1956 to cruise nights and all around town. "I get to race it and instead of put it back in the trailer and go home, I drive it all around," said Joe with a smile.

1956 Chevy Tri Five Drag 3/9

At an estimated 2,600 horsepower the car still knocks down 12-13 miles per gallon—"it isn't bad because it runs on pump gas thanks to the 10:1 compression," as Joe put it. He is also quick to give credit to Chuck for being a big knowledge base on the entire combination from the transmission ratios, clutch set-up, and of course the solid engine program. The car rarely goes above 190 degrees. Joe also gave a big shout out to Joe Oplawski of Hyperaktive Performance Solutions. Joe (Oplawksi) is the tuner of the Big Stuff 3 EFI system as well as the designer and manufacturer of the boost controller—Hyperkontrol. As the car is on the verge of going in the sixes, Joe remains loyal to the appearance, style, and validity of a 1956 Chevy 210 Super Coupe, just with a 200-plus mph set of modifications.

1956 Chevy Tri Five Cooling 4/9
1956 Chevy Tri Five Front 5/9


1956 Chevy Tri Five Rear 6/9

The Unlimited class is dominated by turbochargers for a good reason, big power and reliability. Joe didn't waste time with anything else and hired Chuck Samuel to be the mastermind behind the 598ci big-block that produces approximately 2,600 horsepower. The aluminum block was bore and stroked to those cubic inches but Joe was reluctant to reveal the exact specs other than final displacement. The short-block consists of a steel crankshaft and steel rods for durability and longevity. The pistons percolate at 10:1 compression to keep it friendly on pump gas for around town cruising but also suitable when under the pressure of the twin turbochargers. CFE was tapped for both the 11-degree Big Chief style cylinder heads and the company also built a sheetmetal intake specifically for Joe's combination. Greg Orr of GFAB is responsible for fabricating the turbocharger system that consists of two Precision 91mm turbochargers and an air-to-water intercooler. Joe from Hyperaktive handles the EFI tuning and general crew chief duties—according to car owner Joe, the other Joe is a big part of keeping this program running strong. Brawn, durability, and longevity are the keys to surviving Drag Week, of which this engine program has been designed specifically to compete in.


1956 Chevy Tri Five 7/9

Levers! Sitting directly to the right of the driver's seat are five levers connected to a Lenco CS2 transmission—four for the forward gears and one for reverse engagement. As most racers resort to an automatic transmission, Joe relies on a manual box that is sourced from the Pro Modified ranks. A RAM triple disc clutch with a ten-inch diameter transfers the power from the engine to the transmission. Thanks to the 3,800lb weight of the 1956, selecting the proper gear ratios and clutch tune-up isn't a cookie-cutter situation. Testing and patience is a big part of getting the big behemoth into the low sevens at over 200 mph regularly. The car has been really quick to the eighth-mile; in fact it is quicker to that point than some other heavyweights in the Unlimited class and some recent gearing changes has Joe looking to run in the sixes. The car used to run through low gear quickly, as in just .90 seconds. Some new ratios in the Lenco CS2 now have the car charging through first gear in 1.3 seconds, allowing the Hyperkontrol boost controller to pour more power in earlier in the run. "The automatic is definitely easier with the technology verse the clutch tune-up and power management. You can make one good pass but four bad ones. It is so easy to miss with the weight of the car and bringing the boost in," Joe concluded.


Jerry Bickel Race Cars is responsible for building the underpinnings and the only goal was drag racing but the 1956 has since been modified for street use too. To that end, a tube chassis was constructed under the half-century old body as it carries a SFI 25.2 certification and enough bars to keep it stiff enough to withstand the barrage of big horsepower and heavyweight. A four-link rear suspension is a given for this kind of chassis build and the rear-end housing is a fabricated one that is normally slung under Pro Modified cars. Rolling stock consists of American Racing Torq Thrust wheels for a nostalgia look that also carries function. The back meats are massive Hoosier 34x22-inch DOT tires that are run on the street and strip. The best sixty-foot time thus far has been a 1.10, showing the chassis works exceptionally well.

1956 Chevy Tri Five 8/9


The interior has to combine form and function because the car sees so many street miles—over 5,000 miles last year alone. Joe sits in a race seat and is surrounded by the SFI required bars but he looks to the outside world through the factory glass windows. The dashboard is stock appearing and it carries a Racepak dashboard to keep a tab on the engine's vitals. Hyperaktive mounted the Racepak data logger, Big Stuff 3 EFI system, and Hyperkontrol digital boxes out of the way so driver and passenger can stretch out. This year the icebox for the air-to-water intercooler was moved to the back of the car and a passenger seat was added. But outside of that, all of the sites and sounds of a street car on the cusp of the sixes is front and center—bring your iPod because there isn't a radio onboar

1956 Chevy Tri Five Rear Three 9/9


The classic Chevy model began its drag racing life in 1998 when Joe dropped off the rolling chassis to Jerry Bickel Race Cars, ...
Michael Galimi Feb 7, 2014


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