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This 1955 Chevy Replaced the One That Got Away

Second Chance: Dave Rudan’s wild 1955 Chevy replaces the one that slipped away in his youth

John Machaqueiro Dec 4, 2015
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Life is paved with stories of things that we have managed to let slip through our fingers. For the average gearhead, that usually means a car from our youth. For Pennsylvanian Dave Rudan, the one that slipped away was a ’55 Chevy. He recalls, “I put together a ’55 back in the ’70s that was a show car/race car before the term Pro Street even existed.” It was his first project—its style choice influenced heavily by the black ’55 in the movie American Graffiti. Originally destined as a show car, it was a continuous work in progress for a number of years. With the passage of time it became less of a show car as it gradually morphed into a streetable race car. As that transformation evolved the horsepower increased while many of the steel body panels gave way to fiberglass replacements in an effort to reduce weight. After a number of years doing double duty at shows and dragstrips, Dave’s focus shifted from the ’55 to a five-window ’34 Ford and a 7-second dragster. With too many toys in the stable, a new home was found for the Chevy in the mid ’80s.

1955 Chevy Bel Air Front Side View 2/18
1955 Chevy Bel Air Side View 3/18

For Dave, the ’55 was slowly relegated to memory status; however, a photo of it hanging in his garage was a daily reminder of the past. His wife, Marcia, knew him like an open book and was aware of how much he missed his first project. In 1990, with his 35th birthday on the horizon, she enlisted the help of Dave’s longtime friend Bill McElroy and both went on a mission to find another ’55 to surprise him with on his birthday. Weeks of searching eventually dug up a worthy candidate. She made the purchase and had the car stashed at Bill’s shop. As the date approached, the car was dressed up with balloons and wheeled into Dave’s home garage. With his brothers gathered, the car was given to him on his birthday.

It didn’t take more than a few minutes upon first setting eyes on the car before Dave knew exactly what he wanted to do with it, even if it was on the rough side. His wife, while filled with good intentions, didn’t exactly find him the best specimen to work with. He candidly admits, “It was a Fred Flintstone mobile. The floors were rotted out, and it was still wearing its original paint. It was a mess.”

1955 Chevy Bel Air Headlights 4/18
1955 Chevy Bel Air Side View 8/18

By the middle of 1991, he began to work on the car. Unlike many guys who have the vision but limited fabrication skills, Dave has the skills and was able to do much of the fabrication and assembly work at home. Since it was structurally compromised due to rust, his first task was to install new floors and repair any major rust damage. Once that was sorted, it was sent to out to be chemically stripped. Now with a rust-free body, the task of transforming the car began.

Keeping the classic lines of the ’55 was a key point. Particular emphasis on the visual appeal of the engine compartment was a top priority, as was the stance. He also wanted the chassis to be able to handle the 900-plus horses from the big-block that would eventually get tucked up front. That was accomplished, at the rear, with the installation of an S&W Race Cars rear frame with ladder bars and coilovers. Up front, a Fatman Fabrications subframe was added along with a complete ’85 Corvette suspension and power rack-and-pinion steering. Some subtle body alterations were also part of the plan. Dave wanted to slide the engine back so he recessed the firewall 12 inches. This eliminated the cowl and also allowed him to create a longer hood that hinged forward. At the rear, the license plate was frenched into the trunk lid. As the body came together, it became clear that some panels needed to be replaced. The sheetmetal removed from his first ’55 that he had stashed away saw a new life on this car. The final body and paintwork was done at Bill’s shop, appropriately called Bill McElroy Auto Body in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. There they applied the PPG basecoat/clearcoat Cape Cod Yellow paint.

1955 Chevy Bel Air Engine View 12/18

Under the hood Dave went big, with a balanced and blueprinted 509-cubic-inch big-block stuffed with 8.75:1 CP-Carillo pistons, forged crank, and Lunati solid cam. At the top, Chevy aluminum heads and a B&M Mega Charger blower crowned with a pair of Holley 4150 HP carbs help produce a stout 900 horses at the rear wheels. Those ponies are dispensed via a GM Turbo 400 with a 3,200-stall converter and a narrowed Ford 9-inch rearend with 4.10 gears and a Detroit Locker. Spent gases depart via a set of homemade headers that dump into 4-inch steel pipes mated to a set of Flowmaster mufflers.

The narrowed rear allows the massive Mickey Thompson Sportsman Pro (33x21.50-15LT) rear tires mounted on 15x14 Radir Bullet Spoke wheels fit into the tubbed rear wheelwells, while at the front, Radir Bullet Spoke wheels wear 28x7.50-15LT Mickey Thompson Sportsman Fronts.

1955 Chevy Bel Air Interior 13/18
1955 Chevy Bel Air Dashboard 14/18

Inside, Dave had Hot Rod Garage in Denton Maryland, install a set of TEA’s Custom Hot Rod Seats flanking a custom console. They used a combination of gray leather and tweed to cover the front buckets, rear bench, and custom door and side panels. Safety was also addressed with the installation of Simpson five-point harnesses and an S&W Race Car rollcage. Dave installed the rollcage with the assistance of his friend Fred Cutaiar.

Since he was doing all the fabrication and engine work on the car, it took him six years to complete this ’55. The 7-second dragster was still a plaything that kept him occupied during the summer months so any work done on the ’55 was saved for the long Pennsylvania winter months.

With no desire to have this Chevy as a race car, Dave has instead focused on traveling to as many shows as possible around the country with his family. Too much sweat equity has been invested, so there are no plans to let this ’55 get away.

1955 Chevy Bel Air Rear View 15/18

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