Art Morrison isn't a guru, he's a suspension artist. Set aside the cliches on that one, and look at the fact Art and his self-named chassis company have become synonymous with taking classic Detroit iron and making it work since Art Morrison Enterprises was founded back in 1971. In 2008, the Washington State-based company wowed us with its 3G chassis-equipped '60 Corvette, and this year's '55 didn't disappoint, either.
After a few wrecks while driving wheelstanders on the exhibition circuit, Art was convinced it would be better to build cars rather than crash them. His first chassis builds were mostly involving drag cars, until the '90s street rod craze ignited that side of the business. The AME chassis feature fully boxed steel construction, with Morrison's own control arms front and rear.
The AME bolt-in GT-55 chassis was born using this '55 as the prototype. Out back is a triangulated four-link-style rear suspension, while up front is a short/long control arm suspension with coilovers and rack-and-pinion steering. Power comes courtesy a World Products monster mouse engine backed by a T56 Tremec six-speed.
Driver's Impression-On the Autocross Course
When I saw Craig Morrison [Art's son] the night before, I eagerly asked if they'd brought their Camaro. Sporting a sly grin, he said no Camaro this time, but something even cooler-a '55 Chevy with a Bill Mitchell 454 small-block powering their Morrison GT-55 chassis. Later, over a couple of drinks, I listened to Art describe the depth of this build, and couldn't wait to drive this car.
My part of this event is the most fun and involves putting each car through its paces in the autocross. And, as you're also probably aware, an autocross isn't usually associated with a Tri-Five Chevy of any kind. This one, however, didn't disappoint. It was a perfect example of a balanced, powerful, and well-mannered ride that can handle and stop with aplomb. No matter where I was on the course, this car was amazingly easy to drive.
The initial right-hander followed by a slalom found the Chevy taking everything I could throw at it. My first runs are always a "get to know you" to verify brakes and steering (as in, do I have them?), then power and traction, and finally are all the bits happy with each other. The Morrison Chevy produced an instant good, solid feel that gave me tons of confidence; this sedan was easy to position and move about, and it performed amazingly well through the slaloms for such a large car.
Under hard acceleration over the crossover, El Toro's center "hump" was hardly felt, and with no loss of traction or the vague, intermittent steering you'll get when the suspension sees full ranges of travel. At the end turn, the brakes quickly and predictably slowed the car. Under power coming back, the fast "thread- the-needle" transitional sections were uneventful. A driver's impression here is that no matter how much power I laid down anywhere on the course, the front end kept up. For an autocross car, this is huge and something I don't see often ... especially coming from a 3,600-pound family sedan! Each autocross run kept getting better and it was hard to turn over the keys at the end.
Coming out of the last sweeper into the center lane, I carried way too much speed into the first offset just before the finish and had no other options other than to brake while turning. Trail-braking usually produces oversteer, but if the car is balanced, gives rotation which can really help position the car for a good, fast exit. And, if the car isn't balanced? You get a tank-slapper, snap-oversteer, or in something really evil, even a rollover-none of which are good. And, the Morrison Chevy? Well, it was the most predictable, controllable, and perfect rotation I've had the pleasure of being a part of. Brake and turn, feel the rear come around, lift off the brakes and steer, then gradually reapply accelerator, and smoothly motor on out of the corner. Yes, folks, it's choreographed art and when done really well, it doesn't get any better than that.
I found the Art Morrison '55 extremely compliant, with good suspension travel and without the "leany" feel you can get with a softly-sprung suspension. The steering and brakes complemented this car quite well. Like other Morrison builds, this is an amazing car and if you want to have your own, definitely devote some research time here. -Mary Pozzi
Driver's Impression-On the Street
When your logbook is overflowing with superlatives, you have to tip your editorial cap to the builders, in this case Art Morrison, his son, Craig, and the crew at AME. It started with the overall comfort level, which I labeled, "sublime." In contrast to the Fatman Fabrications racecar-style throwback '57 we featured last month, the interior of AME '55 was anything but spartan. The ostrich print faux leather bucket seats, suede headliner, Grant wheel and perfect driving position put me in a good mood before I even started the engine. Once I turned the key things got even better.
Everything worked in perfect harmony. The steering was quick and precise, and the big '55 had a nice, tight turning radius. The McLeod dual-disc clutch, Viper six-speed and Hurst shifter were a match made in hot rod heaven, allowing snappy, accurate gear changes. Not surprisingly, horsepower and torque were abundant. Unlike those on some of our other Challenge entrants, the brakes were vice-free, with excellent pedal travel, modulation and whoa-power.
The word "harmony" could also be used to describe the way the suspension behaved. There was no nervousness, twitchiness or stutter. I went out of my way looking for broken pavement at El Toro and on the surface streets, yet still could not upset the chassis. The ride was firm, for sure, but firm like you'd find in a new Cadillac CTS-V.
The numbers in the spec box speak volumes, but you really have to drive this car to fully appreciate it. -Jim Campisano
Testing facility provided by AMCI at eltorofield.com.
Art Morrison Enterprises '55 210
Type: World Products Hardcore 454 small-block Chevy
Heads/Fuel Delivery: World Products aluminum heads, 750 Holley carb, World Products single plane intake manifold and Holley fuel pump.
Transmission: Keisler T56 Tremec six-speed
Rearend: Art Morrison 9-inch housing, Strange Engineering axles and third member with 3.70 gears and limited slip differential
Chassis & Suspension
Chassis: Art Morrison GT 55 Sport Chassis
Front Suspension: Art Morrison Enterprises (AME) IFS
Steering: Rack-and-pinion, 15:1 ratio
Spindles: Wilwood Pro 2-inch drop
Shocks: Strange double adjustable
Sway Bar: 1 1/8-inch hollow 999-lb-inch per degree rate
Brakes: Wilwood six-piston, 13-inch drilled rotors
Rear Suspension: Art Morrison Triangulated 4-bar
Springs: 285 pounds
Shocks: Strange double adjustable
Sway Bar: 3/4-inch solid 283-lb-inch per degree rate
Brakes: Wilwood four-piston, 12-inch rotors
Cost Of Chassis & Suspension: $15,398
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Boyd Coddington Magneto, front 17x8, rear 18x10
Tires: Nitto NT05, front 255/40R17, rear 275/35R18
|Total = 3,634
|LF = 849 pounds
||RF = 966 pounds
|LR = 959 pounds
||RR = 860 pounds
|Front/Rear Balance Percentage
|F = 49.9
||R = 50.1
||'10 Camaro SS