When the '55 Chevy debuted in the fall of 1954 with its new 265 cubic-inch V-8, buyers loved the car, but some were skeptical about the new engine. Stablemate to the new powerplant was Chevy's tried and true workhorse, the 235 Blue Flame Six. It too saw some minor freshening for '55, but overall was the same staid engine that Chevy buyers had come to depend on for years. Skepticism had many buyers giving the nod toward the inline, and in '55 more six-cylinder cars were produced than V-8 models.
In the early '60s, when most Tri-Fives were starting their second lives on the used car market, Tom Gillen was one of the thousands of teenagers with newly printed driver's licenses and the burning need for a set of wheels. Eager to get something fast and sporty, parental authority played party crasher when Tom's dad made him buy a no-nonsense '55 210 two-door sedan with 235/three-speed overdrive engine/trans combo. Not that sporty by any stretch of the imagination.
"My dad was a heck of a mechanic and helped me transform that dog I didn't want into a pretty sweet ride. Somewhere, I don't know where, he found a dual exhaust header which, with a set of glasspacks, made for a sound that made me the envy of the Saturday night crowd in my sleepy little western Kansas town. Dad also found in his travels a floor shifter for the three-speed. After he worked some of his magic on the carb, I now had something that was giving the 265 cars and our Ford counterparts everything they wanted. My mom also helped me install black Naugahyde on the seats and side panels. Well, in '63 I sold the car. Shame on me!"
Fast forward about 45 years. Tom had been looking high and low for a '55 two-door sedan in decent shape, and in October of '08 a friend called with info about a '55 that was for sale in New Mexico (Tom was now residing in Denver). After calling the seller, he learned the car was a 210 two-door post that still had its original six-cylinder and three-speed overdrive trans.
After seeing some pics and determining the car looked to be in good shape, the deal was negotiated for the car to be Tom's for $8,000, as long as it met Tom's expectations when he arrived to pick it up. The trip to New Mexico was worth it, the pleasant surprise of a fairly rust-free, straight, and complete '55 Chevy greeting Tom. An added bonus was a four-speed with Hurst shifter that came with the car. Once back at home, Tom cleaned up the box and realized it was a Super T-10 heavy-duty trans. Bonus score!
After getting the 210 back to Denver, Tom drove it for a short time as it was before taking it to Wild Child Automotive in Castle Rock, Colorado, to begin a complete body-off rebuild in January of 2009. The overall theme of the rebuild? Simple, clean, and detailed.
"The shop asked me what I was going to do for the powerplant and trans. I said that I was going to stay with the six-cylinder and that a hot rod wasn't a hot rod if it didn't have three pedals. I think some thought I'd lost it."
The 235 was taken apart, the block bored 0.060 inch over, and the head milled down 0.020 inch to boost compression. A mild performance Howard hydraulic cam (in '55, 235 engines with manual transmissions had solid lifter cams) and all new internal parts were purchased. The oil pan and flywheel cover were cleaned up and chromed, a Clifford four-barrel intake was acquired along with an Edelbrock carb, Fenton headers, and an electronic ignition distributor installed. Once buttoned up and sprayed in Gypsy Red, the inline was mated to the freshly rebuilt Super T-10.
While the inline was being overhauled, the sedan was completely stripped down to its frame, then the body was mounted on a rotisserie. A thorough media blasting revealed some small spots of rust and one major area of trouble in the tail pan, which was replaced. The floor only had a few small pinholes on the passenger side, but it was decided to replace a whole section rather than patch-weld. The front fender eyebrows were also replaced, just as a precaution to prevent problems later on.
The '55's frame saw a fair amount of work too. Any section not originally boxed from the factory was, the bumper bolt holes were frenched in, all welds smoothed out, and the rear leaf springs relocated to inside the framerails for more tire room in the wheelwells. Once done, the stock '55 rear was fitted with disc brakes and painted Gypsy Red to match the rest of the car. The front end was revamped with chrome tubular control arms, a Unisteer manual rack-and-pinion, Heidts 2-inch drop spindles, disc brakes, and Edelbrock shocks.
With the rolling chassis back together with engine and trans, the rust-free and repaired body resplendent in its new Gypsy Red/Shoreline Beige PPG paint was dropped back down on its frame. All-new glass from Danchuk (along with seals and rubber) was installed. The windows were converted to electric power and their controls mounted in the new center console between a pair of Corvair bucket seats. Everything inside-seats, door panels, center console, and the dash-was covered in Ultra Leather material by Brian Groom.
Speaking of the dash, it was completely smoothed, the heater and radio control holes filled, and the stock instruments pitched in favor of new Auto Meter displays stuffed in the factory speedometer bezel.
In the end, Tom ended up with a Tri-Five that turned heads with its looks and the staccato beat of the inline six. He admits it was a team effort.
"I really have to give it to the guys, Bob (Clark), Justin (Clark), and Tyler at Wild Child Automotive. I was traveling a lot when this project started. They put up with me calling and saying 'You know, last night I was lying in bed and had a thought.' Everyone got on the same page as far as the theme of the car was concerned. It has definitely been a team effort."
We think Tom's '55 is the bomb and proves that you don't need to have eight cylinders and mega horsepower for your Bow Tie to be a real contender.