Back in 2010, Bob Squillari wasn’t looking for a ’56 Chevy but didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger when the beautiful example featured here found him. “I was selling a ’34 Ford three-window hot rod and was contacted by a gentleman who wanted to do a trade,” he explains. “He had several different cars but the one that caught my attention was a 1956 Chevy with a big-block engine. He sent me photos of the ’56 and it was love at first sight so we made a deal and a few days later the ’34 Ford was gone and the ’56 Chevy was in my driveway!”
The car hobby is certainly not immune from sellers who exaggerate or outright lie and we all know of instances when buying or trading for an out of state car without going to see it first results in profound disappointment after it arrives. Thankfully, however, that was not the case with the Ford-for-Chevy trade. “The car was very accurately described with a laser straight body and awesome black paint,” Squillari recalls. “It needed a few things because it hadn’t been driven very much in the nine years since the initial build was completed, but it ran great and the overall quality of the workmanship was extremely high.”
The car started life as a mid-range 210 model, with Chevy’s reliable but uninspiring 235ci Stovebolt Six. Its transformation into a show winner occurred in Kentucky, beginning with a powerplant transplant. A Chevrolet Performance 454 crate engine replaced the original inline-six. The big-block was bored and capped with Edelbrock Performer aluminum oval port heads. In concert with forged GM pistons the alloy heads deliver a healthy but still street-friendly 10:1 compression ratio. A Howards hydraulic roller camshaft and Crane lifters, pushrods, and studs round out the valvetrain. The engine builder took a traditional approach to the induction setup, combining a dual-plane aluminum intake manifold with a Holley 750-cfm double-pumper. The high-flow Holley carb is topped with a chrome-plated Walter Prosper Phantom air cleaner assembly that uses dual Spectre Performance filter elements.
The engine’s waste gases go through stock GM exhaust manifolds and custom 2.5-inch stainless steel pipes. Flowmaster dual-chamber mufflers deliver a deep, rich exhaust note Squillari finds powerfully satisfying without being overbearing.
This ’56 was built primarily for touring and show duty, not for racing, so the engine is designed to make good power while also being reliable under all circumstances. It idles very smoothly, runs well on pump gas without detonating, and still produces a 505 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 540 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm, which is more than enough to keep a big smile on Squillari’s face.
The engine’s twist goes through a beefed-up 700-R4. This overdrive automatic was in the car when Squillari took delivery of it but it proved too weak to handle the big engine’s torque and ended up with Second and Third gear problems. To permanently address this, he had A1 Transmissions in Merrick, New York, completely rebuild it with strengthened internals. Engine and transmission temperatures are kept within reason, on even the hottest summer days, by virtue of a high-capacity aluminum radiator and aluminum transmission fluid cooler. Both of these were sourced from Willmar, Minnesota-based Northern Radiator.
The 700-R4 is coupled to a custom driveshaft that delivers the motive force to a heavy-duty Currie Enterprises 9-inch rear with a limited-slip. In keeping with the car’s overall old-school theme, the rear is suspended with conventional leaf springs.
Up front, the suspension is also largely stock, with OEM Chevy upper and lower control arms and coil springs. The front is, however, lowered 2 inches courtesy of forged drop spindles.
When Squillari got the car it had power assist, late-model GM disc brakes up front and conventional GM drum brakes in the rear. Because the car was not driven very much before he took delivery of it, the brakes needed to be gone through. He rebuilt the stock drum setup in the rear, but up front he replaced the GM discs with a new Classic Performance Products (CPP) system.
Randy Coy of Coys Wheels crafted a set of black chrome C-5 rims for the car. The fronts are 18 inchers and wear 235/45/18 General G-Max AS-03 tires and the rears are 20 inchers shod with G-Max tires measuring 275/30/20. Mini-tubs enable the 10.4-inch-wide rear rubber to mount without rubbing on anything.
When acquired, the car had a nice, mildly modified interior that utilized upgraded materials while still preserving the overall look and feel of an original Tri-Five. Original-style bench seats are upholstered with high-grade leather and custom door and side panels have matching leather. An American Retro steering wheel and tilt and telescoping steering column increase functionality while modern seat belts with retro buckles enhance safety. The original gauges were replaced with a Classic Instruments Chevy Bel Era direct fit gauge set. AutoMat Auto Interiors & Tops in Hicksville, New York, fabricated a new center console complete with cup holders and air-conditioning vents. The A/C comes courtesy of a Vintage Air system. The 700-R4 automatic is shifted via a Hurst shifter sprouting out of a custom sewn boot matched to the red leather seat covers.
In keeping with the desire to maintain the interior’s original ambiance, a retro-looking Custom Autosound USA-230 stereo head unit fits in the car’s original radio opening. The sound system includes a trunk mounted CD changer with room for 10 CDs, and 10-inch Bose Infiniti speakers deliver sound from both the front and rear. “The stereo sounds fantastic, but I almost never use it because this car’s best music comes from its exhaust note!” Squillari tells us.
The trunk has been finished with custom panels that cover the mini-wheeltubs and hide the battery, which has been relocated from its stock location under the hood. All of the panels—as well as a custom embroidered, full-width cargo mat for the trunk’s floor, which was made by AutoMat—are finished in the same rich red color as the interior.
With the exception of a custom tubular stainless steel grille and the absence of original badging, the Chevy’s body is stock. And thanks to very careful surface preparation, the sheetmetal is virtually perfect. That, in turn, means the expertly applied PPG two-stage paint is also virtually perfect.
The incredibly straight body and gorgeous paint, in concert with the rest of the car’s features and finishes, have earned a lot of trophies over the years, including 18 Best in Show awards and dozens of awards for Best Paint, Best Interior, People’s Choice, and more. Moving forward, Squillari plans to continue showing the car and continue to drive it at every opportunity. “It drives every bit as good as it looks,” he points out. “It handles well, is comfortable, quick, and there’s not a single rattle or squeak. I really do love every aspect of this car! I’ve had a lot of offers for it, but I can’t give her up. In all likelihood, it will probably go to my grandson one day because he also loves it, but in the meantime he and I will both enjoy taking it to car shows and cruise nights every chance we get.”
Photography by Richard Prince