What is it about a Tri-Five Chevy—especially a 1955 Bel Air post—with a straight axle propping its nose up high in the air, fenderwell headers pointed right at the ground, and a paintjob that'll burn an impression in your mind as quick as its cheater slicks burn their hides? Oh, yeah—that's exactly what it is the stance, the attitude, the pretty much everything about them!
I don't think I've ever met a straight-axled 1955 Bel Air I didn't like. The very first time I ever saw a Gasser-style Chevy was with my dad back in the early '70s at Riverside International Raceway—he couldn't have been less interested (he preferred them more stock and with Mopar badges on the trunk); I was hooked. Not too long after that I discovered the art of Ed Roth—most specifically, his Mr. Gasser design screened on a T-shirt—which further solidified my fascination with these mean machines. However, unlike Steven Boschma, that attraction never became anything more than just that an attraction.
Heavily influenced by his late grandfather, John Spyksma, who campaigned a 1960 Pontiac on the quarter-mile strips of Pomona and Lyons in the early to mid '60s, Texas dairy farmer Steven Boschma got his taste of raw American horsepower at a very young age—back in the day when Fuel Altereds and front-engined dragsters ruled the tracks. Back when Gassers competed officially in NHRA national events, not just featured as a "nostalgia" attraction used to draw more spectators. Though their time in the spotlight as such was short lived, those cars would have a lasting impression for generations to come—including John's grandson, who had dreamed of one day building a Gasser with him though unfortunately, that day would never come.
As a fitting tribute to Grandpa John, Steven commissioned Austin Speed Shop to build him a 1955 Chevy Gasser in his honor. Named after John's race boat—a blown hydro, of course—"Showtime" also wears a similar color scheme on its Bel Air post roof, which is an interpretation by Travis "Tuki" Hess but more on that later. From the onset of the build, Steven and shop manager Kail Withers collaborated on getting every aspect of the car just right, starting with one of if not the most important part: the chassis and its proper stance. Now, it just so happened that, at the time this was all starting to come together, Withers was working on a 1955 Chevy Gasser of his own—an old '60s survivor they called "Master Blaster"—from which many Showtime's styling and design elements were gleaned from. (Contrary to some speculation at the time, the two Chevys are completely different cars!) As Withers put it, "The idea was to not just buy an off-the-shelf straight axle and jack it way up like an exaggerated 'Street Freak'. Instead, [we wanted] to have a stout, burly, strictly business stance with a nasty motor."
And that's exactly what Austin Speed Shop achieved with the 150's chassis: from the firewall forward, the stock frame was severed, and in its place grafted a new straight-axle conversion stub that Withers configured. It mounts a modified 1955 Chevy 1/2-ton axle on a pair of Model A leaf springs with Vega cross steer, while the rear was set up with extra-beefy parallel leaves and Caltrac traction bars locating a 4.11-gear Currie 9-inch. Halibrand and Hurst were the unanimous choice for rolling stock, which consists of vintage 15-inch magnesium Sprints and cheater slicks out back with narrow 4-inch-wide aluminum Sprints up front, concealing GM calipers and rotors. Local vintage engine/hot rod guru Keith Tardell handled the build on Boschma's 11:1 Dart-block 400-inch SBC with Air Flow Research aluminum cylinder heads (painstakingly textured to resembled early cast-iron heads), an original Edelbrock X-1 intake fit tuned with six chromed Stromberg 97s with OTB bug screens, a Joe Hunt mag, and polished stainless fenderwell headers fabbed up by the shop's very own Quiet Eric Anderson (who's also responsible for the car's stylish dimple-die grille). And because Steven does drive the 1955—well over 55—the decision was made to go with a TREMEC TKO500 five-speed trans in lieu of a Muncie or Hydro automatic.
Once the speed shop had done their thing with the Bel Air's exterior (including radiusing the rear wheelwells and fitting a one-piece 'glass tilt front end), the 1955 was shipped to Martinsburg, West Virginia—first to Bucky's Ltd., where John Shank did the final bodywork and prep, then over to Kolor by Tuki for the aforementioned paintwork. Working with House of Kolor materials, Hess based the sedan on a traditional silver flake followed by a brilliant Candy Red with turned gold leaf hand-lettered graphics. As for the roof, that's where Tuki's was truly tapped, as his race car elucidation of Grandpa John's Top Alcohol drag boat deck is what sets the entire paintjob off—that is, if you're tall enough to appreciate the work of art to begin with!
When Steven's sedan made its way back out to Austin, it was turned over to Phillip Cato (Cato's Custom Upholstery) for a period trim job. Using all black leather from floor to ceiling, Cato created the perfect setting with stitched diamond-pleat inserts on the seats, custom-made (stainless) door panels, one-piece headliner, and the entire package tray, piped in silver to match that chrome-plated rollbar oh-so well. A three-spoke Moon steering wheel atop the chromed stock column, Stewart-Warner green line gauges set in an engine-turned insert, Chassis Research lead-foot pedal, and the requisite bench seat Hurst shifter are all the amenities the Chevy's interior needed.
You know the old saying, "Pictures don't do it justice you need to see it in person"? Well, in this case half of that's true—you really do need to see "Showtime" in person, it's that kind of car the photos speak for themselves!