Of the 100 cars that won STREET RODDER Top 100 awards in 2015, 24 of them were Tri-Five Chevys. One of them, Billy Sampson's 1955 Handyman wagon, landed on our runner-up list for Street Rod of the Year. We spotted Billy's car at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds during the Back To The 50's car show. We knew it was from nearby Eagan. We didn't know it had originally come from California. Billy, a 34-year member of the Minnesota Street Rod Association, told us the backstory.
In the beginning, Billy's plans for the Handyman were similar to the people who bought these wagons new. A lot of Chevy Handyman owners in 1955 may have chosen the make for its style and the model for its function. Billy says it was going to be a driver, used to haul parts to and from swap meets and the local scrapyard. "That idea didn't last long," he admits. Soon the body was off the frame. With Billy's friend Gary Wirth helping, the frame was blasted and bodywork begun.
The Chevy was treated to some classic custom mods. The body was nosed and decked, and the Chevrolet script was left off the front quarters. The front bumper guards were removed and the bumper smoothed and rebuilt as one piece. Above it, the stock grille was swapped for 1957 Corvette grille teeth. At the other end, the factory taillight lenses were exchanged for 1955 Buick lenses.
Somewhere during the process, the progress slowed, then stalled. "The Handyman became an empty beer can container for a while," Billy says. Fortunately another friend, Brandon Hansen, showed up to jumpstart the project. The beer cans were evicted and the bodywork continued. One signature detail on Tri-Five Chevys—the body dip in the beltline—is found on every body style except the wagons. Brandon and Billy made sure that omission was corrected, transplanting the dips from a pair of sedan rear doors to the Handyman.
The frame and suspension work was completed using the factory frame and much of the stock suspension. The GM 10-bolt rearend is equipped with a 3.73:1 ring-and-pinion with unlimited slip. De-arched leaf springs with reversed eyes lower the rear. QA1 shocks are employed to smooth out the ride at both ends of the car. In front, TCI 2-inch dropped spindles and cut coil springs contribute to the hot rod rake. Steering is handled by a Classic Performance Products 500 Series power steering box. Stopping is provided courtesy of GM front discs and stock rear drums, and a CPP master cylinder and proportioning valve.
The wheelwells are packed with a time-honored wheel and tire combination. Billy likes the look of American Racing Torq Thrust five-spokes, and chose 18-inchers for the rear and 17s for the front. BFGoodrich g-Force tires measure 235/50R18 and 205/50R17.
The super sanitary engine compartment houses a carbureted 383 Chevy small-block. Steve Murgic at Murgics Automotive in Rosemount, Minnesota, performed the machine work and assembly on the 390hp engine, which is equipped with Dart heads and a Scat crank. An Edelbrock manifold and 750 carburetor feed fuel and air. Dress-up items include a pair of Chevrolet Performance valve covers and a custom air cleaner—finished with black granite paint with red pearl. The exhaust travels through a set of Sanderson cast small-block headers and fully Jet-Hotcoated exhaust pipes built by Troy Boettcher, and corked with Flowmaster 50 Series mufflers. A Be Cool aluminum radiator ensures against overheating. A Lokar short throw shifter selects gears in the 700-R4 transmission, built by Master Transmission in Rosemount.
Hansen made the initial mods to the dash. That's the original Handyman dash, but with the circular double humps removed and the flat top hump from a 1955 truck added to the driver side. A Mullins instrument panel and custom bezel surround the Classic Instruments speedo and quad gauges. A Mullins tach is mounted on the Flaming River steering column (with an Impy's Classic wheel on top). The rest of the dash has been smoothed, except for the heater controls. The glovebox was welded and the center panel got some flames over the body color paint. Hansen fabricated the console, using a pair of billet wheel center caps for the cup holders. At Mark Walter's Upholstery Specialties, a pair of 1965 GTO buckets were upholstered with cream leather, contrasted by bright red Corvette carpet. Behind the seats, the entire cargo area was covered in more leather and stainless strips made by Hansen. Kenny Ingram used a Haywire system to wire the 1957.
Billy decided to go on vacation before doing the final assembly on the wagon. To his surprise, he got home to find a completed car. Hansen had once again stepped in and got the Handyman finished and ready to drive. That wouldn't be the last surprise for Billy. His fellow members in the Minnesota Street Rod Association selected his beautiful wagon as the MSRA Custom Of The Year. That honor was followed by STREET RODDER's Top 100 award and SROY finalist finish. What's in store for the Handyman in 2017? That too, will be a surprise.