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1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Hardtop - Silver Sultan

Mike Mendoza's 'bagged Tri-Five

Jake Amatisto May 12, 2014
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Novas, Chevelles, and Camaros often hog the spotlight when it comes to feature cars in Chevy High Performance, but there are a few less common body styles we watch for when we're cruising car shows or events; one of which is the '56 Chevy hardtop like the Lexus Silver one you see here.

We feel like the '56 is sometimes overlooked; not getting the attention from the Two-Lane Blacktop fans and drag racers that adore the '55, and it often gets overshadowed by the glitz of the legendary '57.

When we spotted Mike Mendoza's clean machine on the rollers at Westech's chassis dyno, we had to share it. “I had '55 when I was 18. It had a 283ci small-block running 13s in the quarter-mile back then. It had a four-speed and 15-inch slicks with the fenderwells cut out. That thing was fast,” he said when we asked how long he's been into Chevy's most iconic classics. “The '55 was a race car, but I've always wanted a nice '56,” he said. “In 2004 my brother was selling his project, it was in half primer. He had it in pieces, but it had a motor out of an El Camino and a TH400, so I picked it up,” Sadly his brother passed, but Mike says he would definitely like what became of his car.

Mendoza's version of Chevy's '56 hardtop is a mix of classic and modern styles, and the slammed stance can be controlled with the flip of a switch. “The car sits low because I lowered the airbags themselves down past the axle as far as they can go,” he said when we asked about the stance. It also helps that the frame now houses a four-link suspension setup instead of leaf springs.

But it's not just a wicked stance and a clean paint job that makes this car cool. Under the hood is a hot little 406ci small-block that puts about 390 horsepower to the wheels. We had the pleasure to cruise in this classy ride before the photo shoot and were impressed with the ride quality and the power, and what's really cool is, Mike's not afraid to romp on the throttle, either.


Star Machine in Redlands, California, handled the machine work on Mendoza's engine block, while Glenn Ganter put the conventional 406ci together. At the top of the combo is an 800-cfm Edelbrock carburetor, Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap intake manifold with EnduraShine finish, and World Products cylinder heads that were port-matched to the intake for added power. Inside the stock block is an Eagle crankshaft and connecting rods, and forged Sealed Power pistons that produce a pump gas-friendly 9.5:1 compression ratio. The valvetrain consists of a Thumpr cam and Magnum roller rockers from COMP Cams and a timing chain from Cloyes. The polished goods throughout the engine bay include a Fatman radiator setup and a Classic Performance Products master cylinder. Behind the powerplant is a worked-over TH400 that's shifted with a Lokar shifter. A narrowed 12-bolt with 3.55 gears and a posi unit are bolted in the rear.

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Hardtop Engine 5/13


Under the ride is a modified stock frame that is suspended by a four-link and convoluted Firestone airbags at all four corners. Jimenez Bros Customs in Riverside, California, handled the wiring and assembly of the brakes on the '56, adding Doetsch Tech shocks on all four corners and bolting up the steering components and dropped spindles from Classic Performance Products.

Wheels & Brakes

The wheels Mike chose are American Racing's classic Torq Thrusts that measure 17x7.5 in front and 18x10.5 in the rear. For tires, Mendoza went with Continentals on all four corners: 245/40 in front and 285/40 in the rear. For brakes, Classic Performance Products supplies their 13-inch discs and power master cylinder.

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Hardtop 9/13

Interior & Exterior

A mix of black vinyl and cloth by Ron Magnus adorns the interior of Mike's '56, while a custom console is at the center. The old wiring was replaced with a kit from American Autowire and a dash from Dakota Digital monitors the engine's vitals. A Flaming River steering column guides the car in the turns. Pacific Stereo in Riverside, California, installed a Pioneer touchscreen to control the tunes and a multitude of other multimedia options to keep the passengers entertained. Two 12-inch subwoofers, two mid-range, and two tweeters make up the rest of the sound system. Lexus buckets, custom door panels, a handmade back seat, and German square weave carpet makes up the rest of the classy cockpit. On the outside, the '56 sports Lexus Silver paint by Don Mincet in Rialto, California; smoothed bumpers; and shaved door handles, antenna, and trunk lock.

1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Hardtop Front Side View 13/13



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