The '55 Chevy has been high on the list of cars that guys have aspired to have since it first hit the streets. As a kid, it was exciting to see a gold '55 Chevrolet sedan, representing the 50 millionth GM car, sitting in front of the Harrison Radiator plant in Lockport, New York. That was my first look at the '55, and I can still see it in my mind. Some time later, the son of my fifth-grade schoolteacher was one of the first around to stuff the '55 265ci small-block in a '52 Ford. Low and red, the Ford sedan was a local car you didn't choose to go up against at a stoplight.
It was several years before I finally achieved every boy's dream and found a '55 post. It seems the tudor post was always the bad boy car for street or strip, as depicted in the movies Two Lane Blacktop and American Graffiti. In Jimmie Smith's story, it was his dad who got him in gear and inspired him to build a car. A couple of years ago, Jim's dad, then 81, had been going to car events with him, and without a cool car. He finally put it to Jim this way: "Hey, I'm running out of time. If we're going to have a special car, you need to get with it!"
Father and son started to look in earnest for a good car to drive. More than a year passed and no acceptable drivers were found. But they did find a very good project car. It was at a rod shop, looked like it was solid, and all the parts were there. Wanting to do a quality build, the "boys" got together with Mike Cochran at Kreative Images in Wilsonville, Oregon, and put together ideas to make a finished car from a lot of parts. Mike is one of those builders who goes all the way when it comes to quality and style. With so many of these models still on the streets, it is not always easy to improve on what someone else has already done.
Jimmie and Mike have made the smooth transition from a 50-year-old car to a classy street machine, and achieved a balance of subtle changes with modern upgrades that makes this old post a show winner.
Starting with a fairly straight original '55 post, the idea was to build a nice driver that would haul Jim and his dad to car events in style. The guys at Kreative Images smoothed the stock frame and, after narrowing it 1 inch, installed a Heidt's IFS with polished steel A-arms, and a dropped front crossmember. All the brake brackets, suspension points, and shock mounts were made specifically for this car. The one-off trailing arms were fabricated from solid steel, chromed, then set into pockets in the framerails; all this to hold down the Currie 3:73 axle with custom-fabricated brackets for the e-brake caliper and four-piston calipers to match the front SSBC brakes. Go power was then added with a 405hp LS6 Corvette small-block from Street & Performance with a complete show package. The LS6 was then mated to the 4L60E GM transmission, which makes for a package that is so much better than what the GM engineers of the '50s could possibly have imagined. To the rear is a handfabbed mirrored-stainless steel fuel tank and stainless custom exhaust. Jim was ready to roll on 18-inch Budniks with Nitto tires. Now it was time for the body to be gently dropped on a frame so perfect it could be shown by itself.
Sometimes when you look at a car, you know it looks different and very straight, but can't quite put your finger on what you're looking at. Well here it is. The horizontal crowns in the doors, fenders, and quarter-panels were removed for a straighter appearance front to rear. The stock bracing under the hood was replaced with an inner liner for stiffening. After the firewall was reshaped and smoothed for engine and transmission clearance, a one-off aluminum engine cover was built, along with a matching air-intake out of round tubing. A new radiator cover and core support for the Griffen radiator round out the underhood goodies. The original floor was dropped 1 1/2 inch to accommodate and lower the power seats. Also the cowl vent and wing windows, still around in '55, plus the gas filler and door handles were removed and filled and replaced with a keyless entry system. Beautiful beyond belief is the two-tone PPG Red and Beige paint by Mike Cochran. Out on the edges, the front and rear bumpers were widened and narrowed to tighten clearances for alignment to the body.
In the cockpit, a custom-designed and -built dashboard and console by the builder include one-off gauges by Classic Instruments. Kreative Images then cut down the stock steering wheel and attached it to the ididit column, which controls the 605 SAG steering box. Added to this are seats pirated from a Lincoln and covered in suede and leather by Creative Custom Design out of Salem, Oregon. Not bad for wanting a nice '55 post to drive your dad around in.
Apparently, the judges at the 49th Portland Roadster Show thought so, too, as they called it Best in Show over 300 other cars! The Northwest is often overlooked by the rest of the country as being so far away that nothing could possibly be happening up there. The truth is that the cars from up here in the woods are second to none anywhere. Jimmy Smith's '55 Bel Air post is a classic example of the best, and the rest can take notes.