When the classic Chevy bug bites, it can really get under your skin. In fact, some folks even claim that if they don't take in a car show or swap meet on a regular basis, they're likely to go through a nasty withdrawal process. That's the type of experience that Indiana's Robert Day would just as soon avoid.
Back in the spring of 1999, Robert was getting ready to send his restored '55 Bel Air convertible into the shop for a complete re-do. He knew the process would take a while-likely more than a year-and the prospect of going through a car show season without a Tri-five was almost unbearable. So Robert decided to buy a modified Tri-five to drive for the interim. He knew the style of car he wanted-one that maintained its vintage lines and looks, but had such modern amenities as a strong V-8 engine, agile suspension, a comfortable interior, and air conditioning. It also needed to exhibit quality craftsmanship, just like the purple and blue '56 210 he had seen at several shows the previous summer.
As fate would have it, that very '56 appeared in the classifieds of Robert's next Classic Chevy International newsletter. Owned (at the time) and built by Larry Surratt, it embodied everything that Robert was looking for. It had been built from a 16,000-original-mile car, and Larry had spent the better part of four years making everything nearly perfect. The chassis was fully updated with a 9-inch rearend on Posies Super Slide springs, homemade quick-release traction bars, Heidt's dropped spindles, lowered springs, disc brakes, urethane bushings, tubular upper A-arms, and CCI rack-and-pinion steering. A 345-horse ZZ3 crate engine and 700-R4 transmission had been installed to provide power to the 16-inch Boyds wheels and BFGoodrich rubber.
While the updated engine and chassis had given the '56 a slinky stance and plenty of power, what really drew Robert in was the impeccable bodywork and paint. Though Larry had started with a straight, rust-free body, he had spent a lot of time massaging it absolutely straight before spraying the deep Portofino Blue and vibrant Iridescent Iris DuPont paint in his garage. The interior was almost as impressive, with leather and tweed upholstery over Grand Prix seats, a custom console housing VDO gauges, plus a Boyds wheel, a Sony stereo, and modern air conditioning.
Though the '56 was a much nicer car than Robert had anticipated purchasing (it was only going to be an interim cruiser, after all), it was also too nice to pass up. He eventually made Larry an agreeable offer and arranged to drive the car home. He has yet to regret the decision.
"This thing is very enjoyable to drive," he says. "I've put a lot of miles on it, but it still shows extremely well."
So what happens when the '55 ragtop comes out of the shop this summer? According to Robert, he'll probably start taking both Tri-fives to the shows he attends. In other words, it looks like this '56 Chevy hot rod has transcended its pro tem status and found a permanent home in Robert's garage.
"I'd probably sell the '55 before I sold this one," Robert says. "I fully intend to keep it."