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1955 Chevy Bel Air - Velvet Hammer

This Classic Five-Five Has Rat Power And An Oh-So-Smooth Black Body

Bob McClurg Jan 1, 2002
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Tri-Fives are reaching a new level among the performance crowd. Not only are they renewed into restored classics and cruisers, but there are those that climb to the level of, essentially, a high-dollar street rod. A byproduct of this willingness to invest large sums of money into these Shoeboxes has resulted in another model that's more inline with the everlasting Pro Streeter, a machine that features the best of everything. When Kevin St.

John set out to build himself the ultimate, classic Tri-Five, he didn't mess around. Kevin acquired his '55 Bel Air post in August 1998, and immediately set about the task of transforming the 45-year-old machine from mild to (totally) wild. All told, it would take St. John a little more than 15 months (and a lot of dough) to complete the project. But then, Kevin's '55 is a lot more car than your average five-five!

The foundation for this Wylie, Texas-based beauty is a John Bulba/Road Tech-modified '55 Chevy chassis featuring a Bulba-fabricated 2x4-inch box tube rear subframe. Attached to it is a Chassis Engineering four-link-suspended Currie Enterprises 9-inch rearend outfitted with a 3.91:1 geared Mark Williams Enterprises "chunk," a pair of Moser Engineering 31-spline axles, and Wilwood Engineering 12-inch disc brakes.

Up front, the black Bel Air utilizes a mildly modified stock suspension incorporating a set of Classic Chevy Enterprises front springs, later-model GM disc brake front spindles, Baer 13-inch cross-drilled front disc brakes, and a pair of Delco shocks. Brake bias is handled by a Chevelle power brake booster and Wilwood Engineering disc brake proportioning valve. Wheels and tires consist of a pair of 18x8-inch Colorado Custom five-spokers up front and a like-design 20x12-inch out back.

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The bright beauties are wrapped in 245/50x18-inch, and 295/35x20-inch Dunlop radial rubber.

Powering Kevin's '55 is a 600hp Jim O'Neal-machined '69 427 Rat motor punched out to 440 ci. The big-block employs a stock 427 crankshaft, riding on Federal Mogul Performance main bearings, and incorporates a set of ARP-equipped 427 connecting rods, oversize 12.5:1 compression TRW/Speed Pro-equipped forged-aluminum pistons, an Iskenderian camshaft, M-W high-volume oil pump, and Cloyes Tru Roller timing chain.

Up top you'll find a set of O'Neal-prepared L-88 cylinder heads sporting 2.250-inch Manley stainless steel intake, and 1.90-inch stainless steel exhaust valves. Also onboard is a complete set of Iskenderian valvetrain hardware, along with ARP head and rocker arm studs and a set of 1.7-ratio Crane roller rockers, protected by a pair of Brodix aluminum valve covers.

Nestled in between those heads is a Wieand intake, sporting a Holley 1050 Dominator and NOS "Big Shot," 350hp nitrous plate, topped with a K&N lifetime air cleaner. Ignition is handled by a Mallory Comp 9000 Uni-Lite ignition system firing NGK spark plugs. A set of 2-inch aluminized Doug Thorley headers exit the exhaust through a pair of 3-inch Flowmaster mufflers. Engine cooling is handled by a Wieand aluminum water pump and Griffin three-core aluminum radiator.

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Getting the horsepower back to the rear wheels is a 3,500 stall speed, B&M/GM Turbo 400 transmission prepared by Wylie's 5-A Transmissions. The final link in the drivetrain is a Driveshaft King custom-fabricated driveshaft.

When it came to the flawless paint and bodywork, Gary Grage gets the credit. Grage smoothed out the '55's sheetmetal and block-sanded it to perfection prior to repainting it in multiple coats of PPG Raven Black. With that done, St. John trimmed out the coachwork using a combination of new old-stock parts and Danchuck exterior trim.

Inside the '55 you'll find Custom Hot Rod Gauges instrumentation (with Classic Chevy wiring) along with an Infinity/Kicker-equipped Custom Auto Sound audio system, Vintage Air climate control system, Juliano's seatbelts, and Billet Specialties steering wheel. With all that done, upholster Steve Brinley lavished the entire interior and trunk area in light tan leather and tan nylon carpeting.

Since completion, Kevin's '55 has captured the top award at this year's Millennium 2000 edition of the Dallas AutoRama, and the Ft. Worth Rod & Custom Car Show. Moreover, it's also captured our interest. As '55 Chevy Showboxes go, we like this one plenty fine!



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