In the world of Tri-Fives, it can be tough to get one to stand apart from the rest. People have been building on these cars for over 50 years, so finding a way to make one unique requires some creative thinking. But sometimes the result comes from a simple solution.
Steve Babbitt's owned many cars over the years. A while back, he decided it was time to build a new hot rod, and started hunting the classified ads and eBay looking for the right car to start with. A two-door hardtop in Sacramento caught his eye, an unfinished project that the current owner had lost interest in. After getting the car home, Steve realized it needed just about everything, so he completely disassembled it and started out on a fresh build of his own.
Wanting the '55 to handle like a modern vehicle, Steve went to Jim Meyer Racing for one of its G-3 Tri-Five frames with fully independent front suspension up front and four-link suspension out back. For a rear, Steve had always liked the sound of a quick change unit with flat cut gears, so he found an old Winters Quick Change and dropped it right in. For plenty of stopping power, 14-inch Coleman discs and Wilwood six-piston calipers were installed up front, 13-inchers and Wilwood four-piston calipers out back. Steering is handled by an ididit column along with a rack-and-pinion unit.
For motivation, big-block power propels this hardtop. Originally the car had a Ramjet 502, but that was not enough, so Steve had KarCo build up a 555 Rat that used the Ramjet EFI system. The 555 sports 696 horsepower from a Merlin block with 5.125 bore and 4.500 stroke, Manley H-beam rods, Eagle crank, Isky Cam, Comp hydraulic roller lifters, Crane gold roller rockers, and port and polished GM Performance heads. Doug's headers spit the exhaust through Stainless Steel Specialties Mufflers and 3-inch custom exhaust tubing. A TCI 4L80E transmission turns an Inland Driveline carbon fiber driveshaft connected to the Winters Quick Change rear. The rear has 4.11 gears and Positraction.
On the inside, the hardtop features a plush interior based on the stock seats and dash. Gabe's Custom Interiors in San Bernardino recovered the factory benches in leather, and Mercedes carpet covers the floor. For the gauge cluster, the original '55 unit was modified to include two extra gauges, oil pressure and volts, and at first glance you don't even notice they're not original. A Budnik steering wheel lets the driver keep the '55 under control, and a Sony sound system with Infinity Kappa speakers provide cruising tunes. An under-dash A/C system from Antique Air keeps Steve and his passengers comfortable no matter what the weather.
For the exterior, Steve attended the local car shows trying to come up with some color ideas. After seeing so many red/white painted '55s, he didn't want his hardtop to be like all the others, so he looked at the House of Kolor catalog at the time and decided to paint the car an orange and silver combination. The painter begged him not to do it, but in the end Steve felt good about the choice once the car was finished. Finishing everything off is a set of Barry White aluminum wheels.
Steve takes the '55 out at least once a month, sometimes once a week, for daily cruising and car shows. At the Freemont Car Show in Las Vegas, the car came in second in its class, and has been a top finisher at other shows.