Despite previously owning a blown ’55 street machine, in 1992, Ken Welter decided that he wanted to change things up a bit and build his very own Pro Street Tri-Five. The blown ride was sold off, and the car you see here was purchased—in much rougher shape—from his good friend Bill Ingram. That decision planted the seed for the project that took over Welter’s life for nearly a decade.
“It took seven years to complete this project,” he says. “After all of the hard work and many nights in the garage, it finally paid off.”
His earlier ’55 used a blown small-block engine for motivation, and a large part of this project was the desire to run a big-block engine in the car, both for performance and aesthetic reasons.
The level of diligence required to complete a 7-year build has caused stillborn projects in garages all over this great country of ours, yet Welter had the vision in his head of how the car would look upon completion and nailed it to a T.
“With a lot of encouragement from my friends, a lot of help, and the funds required to complete the project, it took a lot of time to make it right,” he explains. “My friends would come over in the evenings, or Saturday or Sunday afternoons. We’d watch NASCAR and work on the car. The only bad thing about that was that the bar bill was probably as expensive as the car.”
The car was destined from the outset to be a driver; Welter doesn’t believe in owning a vehicle that can’t be driven regularly. That said, when this car was originally built, it wasn’t so easy to point to a part number in a catalog and just order the parts desired to back-half a car, or outfit it with a fuel-injection system complete with stacks on top.
The car went to Tony Bumbar in Wisconsin, nearly 300 miles away, to have the chassiswork performed, and Welter was unable to visit the car regularly. With Bumbar working on it in his spare time, the build process for the chassis took somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 years – with the succeeding 5 years dedicated to building the engine, cleaning up the body, outfitting the interior, and finishing up the car. Oh, and running up that bar tab.
“Nowadays it’s easy to buy a frame, and buy something that’s all done, but when we built this car we had to buy parts and pieces and do it ourselves. Nothing came assembled. People always ask me if the car’s on airbags because of the stance, but that’s the way we built it,” Welter says.
Finding the time to work on the car was one of the largest challenges to the whole build. Welter, a body shop owner by trade, spends his days fixing other people’s vehicles, so devoting the time to chase his own passion wasn’t easy. The end result, however, was worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do before we started. I could see the car – I could picture it when I bought it. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was the color,” he explains.
A frame from a ’56 Tri-Five was purchased for its strength; Welter says the ’56 body mounts are the same as the ’55, but the underlying structure is more robust. Once that frame was in-hand, the rest of the car was constructed in steps.
A new four-link suspension was built for the rear of the car, and a Mustang II rack-and-pinion steering setup was fitted to the nose of the car to improve the handling using a kit from Fatman Jack. Koni shocks and Jim Meyers Racing A-arms complete the setup. Koni shocks are also fitted to the rear of the vehicle.
Under-hood, a 512-cubic-inch big-block Chevy engine was built by Tim Ross, who set the compression ratio at 9.5:1 and topped off the short-block with Brodix aluminum heads.
A challenge from friend Dale Fidler sent Welter down the path to make a Kinsler fuel-injection system work on the street — the challenge set forth by Fidler became one of the focal points of the build.
“There were only two cars in the whole United States with injection like this when I started building this car. I had a unit that came off a drag boat and thought if I could get it installed on the car and make it run on the street, then it would be awesome. He told me I was nuts,” he says.
The injection system was sent off to be modified, then an Accel DFI fuel-injection system was selected to control the powerplant. The first time the car was fired with the injection unit on top, it backfired and blew out all of the fluorescent lights mounted to the shop ceiling. Needless to say, ironing out that portion of the build took some work, but a local tuner finally put the car on the dyno and tuned it up. Welter says it’s been 10 years since it was tuned and it still runs like a top.
MSD ignition starts the fire, and Sanderson 3-inch headers backed up by Flowmaster mufflers complete the package. Welter estimates the engine in its current configuration makes 625 horsepower, yet remains completely streetable. He drives the car to many local shows.
Transferring the power is the responsibility of a Hurst-shifted TCI Turbo 400 equipped with a 3,000-stall converter. Power is sent to the 9-inch Ford rearend that’s been beefed up with a 4.11:1 gearset and limited-slip differential. The car rolls on Hildebrand big-n-littles wrapped in Hoosier meats to complete the Pro Street appearance.
With this much horsepower on tap, the driveline is plenty satisfying when the loud pedal is matted, but Welter wanted the interior to be finished with a super-clean appearance. To that end, a complete audio system featuring a host of Rockford Fosgate components, including amplifier and subwoofers, was installed by World Sound. Gray leather seating surfaces were prepared by Bryan Buss of Lesco Top & Trim, and the dash is filled with a complement of Auto Meter gauges. Fidler built a custom console to house the shifter.
The car was painted its stunning teal/gray hue at his shop, Lee Body Shop, Inc., in Aurora, Illinois, with the door handles, trunk lock, and fuel door omitted from its countenance.
Without the help of Ken and Bryan Buss, Joe and Bill Hollmier, Tim Hoehn, Dale and Steve Fidler, Tony Bumbar, and many more friends, Welter’s vision of the perfect ’55 wouldn’t have turned into reality. And Ken’s most memorable experience with the car? Taking it down the strip at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. That’s the kind of adventure every hot-rodder should get to have at least once.