Haters have a way of complicating very simple things. Just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it sucks, and just because something’s different doesn’t mean it’s cool. Take Tri-Five Chevys, for instance. They’ve appealed to such a broad spectrum of hot rodders for such a long time that they’ve taken the shape of everything from street cruisers and straight-axle gassers to big ’n’ littles Pro Streeters and do-it-all Pro Touring machines. No other platform can make that claim. Instead of taking a conventional approach to building an oddball car, John Turbyfill prefers standing out from the pack by taking an unconventional approach to building a very popular car.
Understated, elegant, and devastatingly potent, John’s 1955 Chevy defies the two-tone paint schemes and Torq-Thrust rollers that are the Tri-Five norm. Instead, it conceals its supercharged, 930-horsepower LS small-block, six-speed automatic, big disc brakes, and cutting-edge chassis beneath stock sheetmetal and black paint. By shaving the emblems and ornaments to clean up the clutter, then dropping it all down on a set of well-proportioned wheels, the keep-it-basic approach lets the timeless beauty of the Tri-Five illuminate its surroundings, just like GM designers intended. The formula is so simple and so effective it makes you wonder why anyone would hack up the sheetmetal to try to make it look like an Italian exotic.
Although John could easily afford to park a couple of Ferraris in his garage, the car he’s always lusted after is a ’55 Chevy. “There was a kid back in high school that had a black ’55 Chevy that I really liked, and I’ve always wanted one, too. I have had several muscle cars since then, including a ’67 Camaro SS and an SS396 Chevelle, but I’ve never built a hot rod before,” says John. For decades, the demands of building a successful furniture company from the ground up left little time for hobbies, but the extended wait time meant that he had plenty of time to plan out the direction of his Tri-Five build. “I didn’t want to build a traditional car. No hood ornaments. No two-tone paint. I just wanted an ultra-clean ’55 Chevy with contemporary lines, lots of power, a nice stance, wide tires, and a modern interior.”
Once John reached the point in life where he could enjoy the fruits of his labor, he picked up a ’55 Chevy from Colorado that had been sitting in storage for 25 years. Unfortunately, a run-in with a budget bodyman turned what was once a solid car into a sad heap of its former self. Determined to get things right the second time around, John turned to Dooley and Sons Hot Rod Shop (www.dooleyandsons.com) to fix the mess. “The bodywork was so bad that you could put a straightedge anywhere on the car and fit your finger beneath it,” Jeff Cameron of Dooley and Sons recounts. “The body was already primered so we had to strip it down, dip it, and start all over again. We ended up replacing the doors, quarter-panels, hood, and fenders.”
Granted that the Tri-Five did indeed go under the knife, the cosmetic surgery simply enhanced the factory lines instead of fundamentally changing them. “To clean things up and modernize everything, we got rid of the wipers, changed up the cowl, welded up the side trim holes, built a new trans tunnel, and filled in all the seams,” explains Jeff. “All the underhood sheetmetal is custom, including the firewall and inner fenders. We also built custom tubs to make room for the 345mm-wide tires.”
As big as the rear meats may be, they’re still no match for the 427ci supercharged Don Hardy Race Cars LS under the hood. Based on a Chevrolet Performance LSX block, it packs a Callies Magnum 4.00-inch steel crank and billet rods matched with forged Diamond pistons. A big Lysholm 4.0L huffer squeezes air through a set of Dart LS3 cylinder heads, and a custom DHRC hydraulic camshaft sends a mean thump out a set of custom Dooley and Sons stainless steel headers and dual 3-inch Borla mufflers. Massive cubic inches and boost culminate in the form of 930 horsepower and 875 lb-ft of torque, which are routed to a TCI Automotive six-speed automatic and a Currie 9-inch rearend.
To bring the ride and handling up to modern standards, Dooley and Sons slid one of its Street Force chassis beneath the Tri-Five’s body. It features twin heavy-duty A-arms up front, a four-link out back, and adjustable coilovers all around. Beefy splined sway bars keep body roll in check and a Flaming River rack-and-pinion assembly improves steering feel tremendously over the floppy factory box. Sticking it all to the pavement are Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires that wrap around Schott Mod 5 wheels measuring 19x8 up front and 20x12 in the rear. Six-piston Wilwood brakes clamp down on 14-inch rotors to bring everything to a halt.
Open the doors and the understated elegance spills into the cabin as well. The interior is still unmistakably ’55 Chevy, but everything just looks cleaner and more modern. “The interior panels and center console are all handmade one-offs. The seats and headliner are also custom,” explains Jeff. “We covered the stock dash in leather and installed a support bar beneath the dash to mount everything to. We used a Kugel Komponents 90-degree mount to hide the master cylinder under the dash, and the Holley ECU and Vintage Air A/C unit are hidden as well.” Other enhancements include Dakota Digital gauges, power windows, an Audiovox stereo, a Billet Specialties steering wheel, and an E-Stopp electric parking brake.
After nearly 50 years of patiently waiting to build his dream car, what John enjoys most is stomping on the throttle. “I love how you can really get after it with a supercharged motor. You can hit the gas at 80 mph and break the tires loose,” says John. By aspiring to build a Tri-Five that isn’t too traditional, what John actually built is an unconventional version of a very popular car that stands out for all the right reasons. And doesn’t that sound way more appealing than building a Vega or a LUV pickup just to be different?