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1956 Chevy Utility Coupe - Ultimate Utility

Patrick Hill Mar 5, 2012
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AMSOIL presents Super Chevy 2011 Best of the Best National Champion

It's hard to imagine a car from the '50s being lightweight, but the 150 utility sedan was the featherweight of the lineup in its day. With a listed curb weight of 3,117 lbs, the front bench-seat-only model was only about 300 lbs heavier than its Corvette sibling. It was no wonder these models were ultra popular for racing. On the sales floor not so much though, as only 9,879 were built in '56, with only the Nomad seeing fewer units built among the '56 models.

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Craig Smith had been a '56 nut ever since he got into the car hobby. Call it brotherly influence, since his two older siblings both had '56s they wrenched on with the help of their younger brother. But oddly enough, Craig never did own a '56, at least until he scored this one back in 2008.

To that point he had built a nice '62 Impala wagon, then a '71 Nova through Cassidy's Rod & Custom in New Caney, Texas. Father Mike Cassidy and his son Jeff crank out cool cars just outside Houston, and one day Mike treated Craig to a ride in a Tri-Five he had just finished with an Art Morrison chassis. Before the ride even ended Craig told Mike to start the order process for another Morrison chassis, he was putting the Nova up for sale and starting the hunt for a '56 to build.

The search took a little while, with Mike preaching patience to Craig that he would find the right car. At one point, Mike and Craig got a lead on a '56 that had been lurking around the Houston area for 25 years and had come to rest at a shop in south Houston. The then-owner, Joe Pigford, had plans to turn it into an old-school drag car. At first sight, Mike told Craig to buy the 150 however possible. After a week of negotiating, and telling Pigford what he planned to build, the deal was struck for Craig to take the '56 home—always a great feeling.

The super clean and unmolested classic was still running and driving, so getting it on the trailer was easy. While the new AME chassis was prepped along with motor and trans for installation, Craig enjoyed driving the 235/three-speed Tri-Five around to shows and cruises—that's how clean and solid it was. Finally the time came to park the car for the next stage of its life, and mating the body to the new chassis.

Here's where the story gets interesting. Originally the plan was to build a rat rod with faux patina, Mexican blanket seat covers, the whole grungy look in flat primer on top of the AME frame. The entire time leading up to the stripping of the car's body, Mike Cassidy had been working to convince Craig to go restomod instead since the '56 was in such beautiful shape. After seeing the body in bare steel and how great it really was, Craig was convinced, and Mike started the body prep for a full paintjob.

The color chosen was PPG Sun Burst metallic. Both of the '56s Craig's brothers (by this time deceased) had owned were Sierra Gold, so he wanted a color reminiscent of that. Once painted, all the original trim, now in pristine condition, was reinstalled and the body attached to its new skeleton.

Inside, the factory front bench was yanked and a pair of Pontiac Sunbird seats, re-covered in ultra leather, were bolted in place. Some had tried to convince Craig to install a rear seat, but knowing the car's rarity, he stood firm that his '56 would stay a two-seater. Duke's Upholstery in Porter, Texas, handled the interior installation down to the custom door panels and rear panels for the package area. Jeff Cassidy installed a Kenwood head unit pumping tunes through a Sony amplifier and Infinity speakers.

Powering the shoebox is a Chevrolet Performance LS2 crate engine bolted to a Tremec six-speed trans. The motor cranks out 470 horsepower with an LS6 computer tune. Wilwood binders at all four corners bring the fun to a stop and are hidden behind Billet Specialties wheels wrapped in Nitto NT-450 rubber.

All finished by early '09, the '56 was ready to hit the road. In the three years leading up to our photo shoot, Craig had racked up over 8,000 miles on the car, driving it all the way from Houston to Fort Worth for the Goodguys show three times and plenty of cruising and events in between—just the way a trick Tri-Five like this should be enjoyed.

(We especially love the special "Thriftmaster" plaque on the LS engine covers that pay homage to the utility sedan's humble beginnings.)

The crowning achievement for the car was when it was picked by the Super Chevy staff for our AMSOIL Best of the Best competition at the '11 Super Chevy Show in Houston. In our online poll, the 150 was chosen the Best of the Tri-Fives from that event. This sent it on to the end-of-the-year national eliminations, and it garnered enough support to be voted the overall champion in that category. Quite an honor for a car with such humble beginnings.



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