The 1955 Chevrolet is, by any measure, a landmark car that profoundly influenced the entire auto industry when it was introduced, and for many years thereafter. Chevy advertising called the completely restyled and V-8–equipped ’55 “The Hot One” and the public certainly agreed. By year’s end, Chevrolet sold a total of 1,802,811 vehicles, which comprised a mind-boggling 24.2 percent share of the entire American market.
The very same traits that made 1955 Chevys so immensely popular when they were new still drive people to lust after them today. Even though a massive quantity were produced, good examples can be difficult to find. That’s why our feature car caught Jeff Barbieri’s eye when he came across it at an Englishtown, New Jersey, swap meet about 10 years ago. The car was super clean, with a lot of original parts and virtually no rust. He connected his friend Billy Chun with the car, and although Chun enjoyed it very much he had to sell it before moving to South Carolina in 2011. Barbieri told his good friend Anthony Romanelli about the car, and after seeing how nice it was Romanelli pulled the trigger even though he wasn’t really looking for another car. “Jeffrey told me it was in extremely good condition,” he remembers. “And that I would regret passing on it, and he was right. The car drove as good as it looked so I could have just left it alone, but I had a plan to upgrade its performance and give it a nostalgic gasser look.”
Working hand-in-hand with his pal Barbieri, and relying on the talents of a varied group of people, Romanelli spent many hours over the next six months transforming his newly acquired ’55 into the car he envisioned. With help from well-known hot rod builder John Flood at J&R Performance, they began by removing the body from the chassis. After refinishing it, they rebuilt the chassis with parts from Don’s East Coast Restorations, including new bushings, front disc brakes, and tubular control arms.
For bodywork and paint, the car went to Romanelli’s cousin, who is also named Anthony Romanelli, at Mid-County Collision in Massapequa, New York. Mid-County did relatively minor bodywork to prepare the car for paint, and shot it with semi-flat Hot Rod Black, followed by several expertly laid coats of low-gloss clear. For the finishing touch Romanelli enlisted the help of Tony at Tony’s Creations to do the car’s artwork and lettering. Tony, who’s known far and wide as The Mouse because his logo is a stylized mouse, added to the nostalgic gasser look by painting the names of everyone who worked on the car onto its body. He also hand-painted Double Nickels on the car in memory of Jeff Barbieri, who passed away suddenly in 2012.
“Jeff was an incredible person and a great friend to me,” Romanelli recalls. “Double Nickels was his nickname because he loved ’55 Chevys so much, and the car is a tribute to him and all the long days and long nights we spent working on it together.” In keeping with the gasser theme, Romanelli knew he had to replace his car’s stock interior but he wasn’t sure which way he wanted to go. Barbieri quickly convinced him to dress up the inside with a period correct diamond and button upholstery motif. Romanelli turned to Sal Puma and Tom Cook at Sal’s Tops & Upholstery in West Babylon, New York, for their expertise. Sal’s covered 1965 Impala buckets and the ’55’s original rear bench seat with custom-sewn Naugahyde covers. They also created new door panels with a matching band of button-tufted diamonds in the middle, installed a new headliner, and modified the rear seat to make room for stereo speakers.
Engine revs are monitored courtesy of a Sunpro Super Tach II mounted to the top of the steering column. Three gauges beneath the dash indicate volts from the 100-amp alternator, water temperature, and oil pressure. The stock instrumentation was left in place, but Romanelli replaced the factory radio with a modern stereo, and completely rewired the entire car.
When Romanelli bought the Chevy it was powered by a perfectly healthy 350 engine, but he wanted something with a little bit more persuasion. To that end, he connected with Big Sal’s Racing Enterprises in St. James, New York. Big Sal Kazalski built a 427-cid small-block that produces a very reliable 500 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque on pump gas. The engine was created using a four-bolt main Dart SHP iron block filled with forged parts, including 10.5:1-compression SRP pistons, an Eagle steel crank, and Eagle steel rods. A Comp Cams solid roller cam actuates Ferrea valves in Dart Pro1 aluminum heads.
Induction is old-school, with fuel coming into the engine courtesy of a 750-cfm Holley perched atop an Edelbrock Super Victor aluminum high-rise intake manifold. The height of the manifold necessitated the addition of a 2-inch high riser on top of the car’s stock hood. An MSD 6AL box and MSD coil help light the fire. Waste gases exit via Hooker headers feeding into mufflers and side pipes that tuck under the body, exiting just forward of the rear wheels.
The potent small-block sends its twist to a Hurst-shifted TREMEC five-speed through a Ram clutch assembly. With the TREMEC’s overdrive fifth gear this car is happy to cruise all day long at modern highway speeds without breaking a sweat. The classic Hurst stick mounts in a center console that was borrowed from the same donor as the car’s front seats, a 1965 Impala. A 12-bolt Chevrolet differential outfitted with a 4.11 ring-and-pinion set turns the engine’s spin 90 degrees, and sends it to 10-inch-wide Pie Crust Cheater slicks mounted on American Racing wheels.
Since completing the build about seven years ago, Romanelli has driven and enjoyed his ’55 gasser at every opportunity. “It’s really a great driving car, and it draws a lot of attention out on the road or wherever I go with it. Just as important to me is the fact that the build involved so many of my friends. We shared a lot of laughs along the way, and that means more than I can really explain. The car is even more special to me because of all the time spent working on it with my late friend Jeffrey. It’s very sentimental because of that, and it always will be.”
Photography by Richard Prince