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1955 Chevrolet Bel Air - Youngblood At Heart

For Mert Beebe, Retirement is Cruising Around in a Modified '55 Bel Air

By Jerry Slattery

Mert Beebe's love for '55 Chevys started way back when most of us didn't know about cars yet. It wasn't until about 10 years ago, however, when he had a stock '56 Chevy and was showing it at a car show that he realized it was the modified Tri-Fives that got most of the trophies. His stocker didn't draw much attention unless it was among other stockers, and he wanted to be first every time.

He decided things had to change, and besides, he really liked the '55s better anyway. Mert looked for almost five years before he found a '55 clean enough to transform into the ride you see here. In the spring of 1998 while looking in the "Cars for Sale" section of the local paper, he found this '55 in Lincoln, California. The man had several different '55s and '57s in a weedy storage yard.

The '55 hardtop he picked looked to be rust-free and pretty straight, but had a bent frame in the right front, and all the front parts were missing. For $5,000, he got the car with the original 265 V-8, plus a used, but straight, frame. But after taking the car home, he found the firewall on the passenger side was pushed in.

The car went to the body shop to be repaired and straightened, while the second frame was sandblasted. His friend Ron Stenant of Yuba City, California, welded new 350 side-mount motor mounts, trans mounts, and shock mounts to the second frame.

Now the ball was rolling. Mert bought a '95 GM 350 LT1 and 4L60E transmission for the '55, and transmission instructor Alan Johnson rebuilt and assembled it. Next, he purchased a Griffin aluminum radiator. Then, he called Street & Performance to get a 125-amp polished alternator, polished A/C compressor, and front engine bracket kit with polished pulleys and idler, air cleaner, LT1 top plate with Corvette side covers, and ceramic-coated block hugger headers. A Vintage Air SureFit A/C unit for '55-'57 Chevys was his next buy, along with Zoops ball-milled valve covers. For spark, Mert got a Dynaspark optical ignition system.

For a front suspension system, Mert had a Jim Meyer Racing Products '55-'57 Chevy bolt-in IFS installed with 2-inch dropped spindles at Jim's shop. This unit adds 11-inch GM disc brakes, tubular A-arms, rack-and-pinion steering, QA1 coilover shocks, and bolts to the same factory holes. At the rear, Mert had Meyer install a custom-width 9-inch rearend using a Currie round-back housing with Dutchman 31-spline alloy axles, drum brakes, and QA1 coilover shocks. The new suspension lowered the car 4 inches in the front and 3 inches at the rear.

A Lokar floor shift and Dakota Digital gauge cluster with blue numbers for the '55-'56 Chevy dash were ordered next. All new tinted glass was also added. Sacramento Driveline Service built the new driveshaft for the 2.73 ratio rearend. Yuba City Muffler built the 2 1/2-inch-diameter exhaust system using Flowmaster two-chamber mufflers with a crossover.

For wheels and tires, Mert used Cragar SS wheels (17x7 fronts with 3 1/2-inch backspacing and 17x8 rears with 4 1/2-inch backspacing) and Bridgestone Potenza RE750 tires (235/45WR17 fronts and 245/45WR17 rears).

The bodywork and paint were performed by John at Hi Point Auto Restoration in Yuba City, California. The beautiful red paint is a '92 Mazda Classic Red, PPG Concept Acrylic Urethane-DCC73362 MAC. AAA Plating in Sacramento did the chroming on assorted parts for Mert. The six-way power bucket seats are from a '92 Acura Legend, and the steering wheel is from a Chevy Beretta.

Jon Lind Upholstery of Eugene, Oregon, did the interior in gray leather with gray tweed seat inserts. He also built the leather-covered console between the seats. For tunes, Mert installed an Alpine CD/DVD player with an external Alpine amp. Front speakers are Sony 5 1/2 inchers, while the rears are 6x9 Kenwoods.

Mert's most memorable show was the September 2005 Sunset Classics Chevy event, where he won . This is one straight '55 that stands head and shoulders above most Tri-Fives. Not bad for a kid of 70 years old.

By Jerry Slattery
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