Sometimes automotive magazine type guys can become jaded against the very thing they seek to report on. Let us elaborate, while conversing with any given vehicle builder/owner in Anytown, USA, their particular vehicle is always the ultimate. Faster than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Isn’t that the way it should be; to take pride in your ride? When Dallas resident Tim Mason called us and gave us the skinny on his latest creation: a 1955 Chevy Bel Air street machine that will paste you back into the seat at the mere thought of urging down the loud pedal, we thought “yeah, that’s nice; we’ll take a look at it sometime.”
“The car is the ultimate sleeper,” boasts Tim. “It’s big, gray, and about as aerodynamic as a refrigerator box. It idles as smooth as glass and always starts right up. Nobody would have any clue what it was if I didn’t open the hood.”
Finally, after nearly a year of banter and text messages, our paths crossed in the wild river town of Memphis, Tennessee, and damned if he wasn’t right. Taking the “less is more” approach on this ’55 has made all the difference in the world. Bathed in PPG’s Storm Grey and running the ever-classic styling of American Racing Torq-Thrust Ds while still wearing all trim and chrome is a statement to the sublime. As understated as this Confederate cruiser may appear on the outside, it’s more akin to a stick of dynamite than a restored vintage Chevy. Taking a classic American icon such as this and updating it to hang with the big boys was no easy task. The process was long and sometimes painful. There were extensive mock-ups of frame and body (an independent rear suspension system from the Roadster Shop in Elgin, Illinois), and a trip back to the Roadster Shop for modifications to the ride height. It rides on coilover springs, giving it a very sporty ride and excellent handling, especially considering the size and weight distribution of this yacht.
“When we first mocked up the body and the frame, I took one look at it and was dissatisfied as the car sat too low for my taste,” remembers Tim. “I wanted something that would have modern handling characteristics but still retain some of the nostalgic look.” Neal Gerber from the Roadster Shop took the frame back and was able to raise the ride height just over 2 inches. This brought the frame closer to what Tim had envisioned. The balance of this extremely tight frame/suspension is made up from Heidts suspension components. “They put together an awesome package that keeps the car from going awry when you give it all she’s got.” It also features power rack-and-pinion steering with four-wheel disc brakes from Wilwood. The rear brakes are inboard, mounted next to the floating 9-inch centersection.
More modifications had to be made to the body as the rear seat floorpans would not clear the independent rear suspension, and the front floors wouldn’t even get close to clearing the giant scattershield around the McLeod twin-disc clutch. (It’s wrapped up in one of their SFI spec scattershields in case it lets all of its smoke out.)
Extensive fabrication was done on this car. Almost nothing went straight together. More time was spent modifying parts or making custom pieces than most people would put into a complete vehicle restoration. Even small things like air conditioning put up a fight, as the A/C system that was used was designed to go through the firewall, which had already been smoothed. Eventually, everything came together like a completed puzzle and all parts work in unison.
The jewel of this ’55 is definitely the blown 6.0L LS2 hiding under the hood. The roots-styled Magnuson intercooled supercharger lies in wait like a sniper ready to dispense on his target. Messing with this classic may result in 600 horses rearing to life while watching a pair of taillights fading into the horizon.
After meeting up with Tim in Memphis for the photo shoot next to the Mississippi river, we made a trip into northern Arkansas to check out the Ozark scenery and take in some local music. In all honestly, there is nothing quite like riding in a 600hp ’55 Chevy armed with performance suspension up and down the winding Ozark mountain roads while Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two are throbbing from the speakers. I’ve never had more fun riding in a car than this.