With marriage comes certain responsibilities. When you're a married Bow Tie nut, you get a few extra things tacked on to the normal marital requirements. Now, don't start grumbling, we know you came here to read about the '55 pictured across these pages. But, we've got to set the stage for our story first.
When George Keel married his wife Linda, the vow was "to love, cherish … and build her a '55 Chevy."
After retiring from his job with the federal government in 2007, George was ready to enjoy a peaceful, car-project-free life of leisure and tinkering with his '34 Chevy street rod. Linda had other plans. It was time for George to build her car, a '55 to match the street rod.
For a starting point, a '55 two-door sedan was chosen. After driving several hardtops and sedans over the years, George liked the more solid and rattle-free feel of the post car versus a sport coupe. After hunting around, he found the right candidate--'55 sedan rolling shell squirreled away in an old single-car garage behind an equally old house in one of Washington D.C.'s seedier areas. Even though the car had rust in the quarters, fenders, trunk, and rockers, the floors were fairly solid and there were no previous mods beyond a hole cut in the trans hump for a shifter.
Why not start with a more solid car, even if it had been modified? George didn't want to deal with band-aid fixing someone else's modifications or repairs, he wanted to build a car to his own personal specs. Thinking to the future, he also didn't want someone at an event going, "Hey, that used to be so-and-so's car."
When Linda first saw the car in its dilapidated state, she could see past the rust to what it was going to be. "It didn't look like much, but to me it was a jewel. It had no motor, no transmission, no interior, most of the chrome was missing, no bumpers, and the list goes on. But it was a '55 Chevy, and in the end that was all that mattered to me," she says.
The car was hauled to friend Willie Eustace to get the body straight. With torch and MIG in hand, Willie proceeded to replace the quarters, front floor pans, tailpan area, rockers, clean up the firewall, and hang brand-new front fenders. Two stock hoods were used to build one, with the factory hood bird being sent to roost elsewhere. The front pan was molded into the fenders to further smooth out the body. Once the shell was rust free and straight, it was coated in epoxy primer and sent back to George for dry-building.
While all this was going on, George had been hard at work prepping a '57 one-piece California frame to go underneath the '55. The rear leaf-spring mounts were relocated inside the framerails to make room for wider wheels and tires, and a Moser 9-inch rear with 3.70 gears replaced the old '55 vintage third member. Up front, CPP tubular control arms with Heidts 2-inch drop spindles were bolted on and Edelbrock shocks were employed to soften the ride. Wilwood four-piston calipers clamping down on 12-inch rotors were installed to bring the fun to a halt. Billet Specialties Rail wheels wrapped in Nitto Extreme ZR rubber make up the rolling stock.
The drivetrain for the car starts with a Chevrolet Performance 330hp crate engine as the foundation. On top of this is an Edelbrock Performer intake with matching 600-cfm carb, Billet Specialties Tru Trac serpentine system, and a Johnson Hot Rod Shop air cleaner assembly. Kenneth Keller Performance Automotive built a 200-4R slush box to go behind the mouse, with a B&M 2,800-stall converter, and Jamie's Driveshafts cut a custom-length unit to connect the rear to the trans.
With the dry-building complete, the '55 next went to George's friend James, who finished the body prep and laid down the two-door post's new Dragon Fire Red DuPont hue. After paint, a new egg-crate grille from Danchuk was bolted in place, along with other new chrome and stainless pieces. The car was originally a Bel Air, but George decided to go with the simpler 210-level trim pattern. Once ready, the body was mated to the new chassis, and the interior assembly could begin.
Custom-done brown plush wool carpeting was laid down on the floors by Kurt Underwood's Upholstery in Spotsylvania, Virginia, then a new Glide front bench in camel-colored leather bolted on top. The rear seat was custom-made to match the new Glide unit up front. A Custom Autosound stereo pumps tunes through a combo of Rockford and Kenwood speakers with an Infinity subwoofer. For readouts, George went with Classic Instruments Bolera series gauges with a tan face. The steering wheel is also Billet Specialties, bolted to a Flaming River column. A Vintage Air unit keeps the inside comfortable, even on the hottest days.
After about three years of patient building and tweaking, the '55 finally left the Keels' garage under its own power, but still with a few minor things left to finish up. It wasn't until early '11 that the car was completely finished. They proudly debuted it at the season-opening Super Chevy Show in Florida.
Says Linda, "George calls her 'The Money Pit,' but I think she is worth every dollar. He won't admit it, but this red raving beauty stole his heart, as well as his wallet."