There's an unmapped part of the brain in most guys that biologically knows when we reach the age of 14 or 15. This mysterious area of cells, synapses, and neurons starts releasing special chemicals that make our right feet itch, giving us a unique drive to (for once in our lives) save money and make willing sacrifices in the effort to achieve an emancipation of sorts ... buying our first car.
Most times it doesn't matter what badge that set of four wheels has on it. Just the simple ability to travel on our own (depending on how much gas money you have) is a feeling akin to what the first men who took flight must've felt.
The year 1962 saw a young Mike Reeves looking for his first piece of Detroit iron. After saving, as Mike puts it, "nickels and dimes" from his job shining shoes in a local barber shop, he and his dad went to look at a '57 four-door hardtop, or sport sedan.
Definitely uncool was Mike's reaction, and he made it clear that a four-door anything didn't fit into his driving dreams. As they were getting ready to leave, the seller's wife pulled up in a coral and gray '55 hardtop. Sporting a '57 Corvette 283 and three-on-the-tree trans, Mike's father asked if the Bel Air was for sale.
"Everything I've got's for sale," the owner replied.
The asking price was $550, but Mike only had $500. But dad saved the day, loaning his son the extra cash so the '55 could go home with them. Mike would spend the next 10 years fixing up, improving, hot rodding, and enjoying his first automobile. "In high school, we used to spend all our extra money fixing up our cars," he says.
In '73, marital bliss turned to painful separation, and the custody battle for the '55 saw Mike on the losing end. By '82, fully recovered and enjoying life, he decided it was time to find another '55 that he could build to look like his old one.
After talking to people in the local car clubs, Mike got wind of a wrecking yard in Dublin, Texas, that had a lot of '55, '56, and '57 Chevys for sale. A trip to the yard found only one incomplete Tri-Five that the yard owner had bought from a local man. The car was slowly being parted out, and when Mike saw it, the right door, hood, and windshield were gone, but the car was relatively rust-free.
The story takes a turn for the surreal here. Mike was poking through the interior, and noticed there was a dual water temp/oil pressure gauge next to the speedometer. Old memories quickly came back from when Mike and his dad installed some gauges in his original car, along with a tach. The car he was looking at was missing the tach, but the very same bracket was still there. The realization hit-it was Mike's original car!
After sharing the story with the yard owner, which Mike believes probably raised the price a bit, a quick negotiation followed that had the '55 going home with him. As soon as the hardtop was back in Mike's garage, its rebirth was quickly underway.
The stock frame was treated to a full rebuild, with the factory A-arms being refreshed and Danchuk offset cross-shafts installed for improved camber. A pair of Master Power 2-inch drop spindles was installed, along with Master Power's 10-inch front disc brake kit. The factory steering box was pulled in favor of a rack-and-pinion conversion.
Out back, Mike made a set of 2-inch lowering blocks for the rear to get the car's tail down, along with a custom made set of spring shackles. The original '55 rear was fully rebuilt with 3.55 gears, along with its drum brakes.
For power, the '55 uses the short-block from the GM Performance 290hp 350 crate engine, with GMPP fast-burn aluminum heads, GMPP valvetrain, and topped off with a Street and Performance EFI system. Backing this up is a 700-R4 trans built by Vaughns Transmissions in Cleburne, Texas, spinning a shortened '55 driveshaft connected to the factory rear. Larry's Automotive built the custom cold air system to feed the 350 plenty of oxygen.
The body was given similar treatment, with all rust, dents, and other flaws repaired. Then it was sprayed in DuPont coral and gray paint by Donny Bright in Burleson, Texas.
Danchuk was sourced for the grille and some other trim pieces. Another modification was the installation of a station wagon rear bumper, so the license plate could be moved from the decklid to the bumper.
Inside, Mike went full restomod. An ididit column and Billet Specialties steering wheel help control the car's direction, the front and rear bench seats were yanked in favor of late-model buckets, Dakota Digital readouts replaced the factory analog gauges, and a custom center console was installed. Almost everything minus the floor and dash is wrapped in a combo of coral and gray leather.
If he had anything to do differently today, Mike says he'd swap in an LS motor with an electronic trans. And who knows, it might happen one day, as Mike plans to always be upgrading and improving the car to be the best driver it can be. One thing's for sure though: He'll never let his first car ever get away again.