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The Revolutionary ’55

As popular today as it has always been

Joe Greeves - April 26, 2012 10:00 AM

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A 1955 Chevrolet convertible was his very first car and it clearly got the nod when it came time for a new addition for his collection.

When Chevrolet introduced its groundbreaking new models in 1955, it was the perfect convergence of style, handling and power.

Chevrolet’s chief engineer, Ed Cole, created “The Hot One”, boasting a new frame, new front suspension, new rear springs, new brakes and Chevrolet’s quick new 265 overhead valve “Turbo-Fire” V-8. With fresh new styling that transformed the Chevrolet brand from dull and durable into sizzlin’ hot, General Motors sold a record 1,704,000 Chevrolets that year. It was easily the most exciting car to wear the Bowtie since World War II.

The iconic ’55 still has fans to this day and there’s no sign it will end anytime soon.

St. Augustine, Florida, businessman and car collector Ron Rivette remembers those cars well. A 1955 Chevrolet convertible was his very first car and it clearly got the nod when it came time for a new addition for his collection. Teaming up with his good friend and car builder Rick Potete, they worked out an approach to create something unique, retaining the iconic lines but with modern reliability and at home on today’s interstates.

Starting with a matching-numbers car with an older restoration, the team established a plan and began ordering parts. The vehicle was fully disassembled for a rotisserie restoration. Once the minor sheetmetal repairs were completed, new Danchuk replacement components were added. The list included the front bumper, grille assembly and surround moldings, parking lights, flush-fitting fender skirts and new LED taillights.

Since everything begins with a firm foundation, the vintage frame on the convertible was scrapped in favor of a complete Art Morrison chassis, equipped with tubular A-arms and a quick ratio power rack and pinion steering up front, a four-link in the rear and four-wheel disc brakes. A RideTech air suspension set-up gives the driver fingertip control over altitude.

Under the hood, the original Turbo-Fire 265 V-8 may have created quite a stir back in ’55, but the team had another option in mind. A modern LS1 Corvette V-8 took its place, fitted with OEM electronic fuel injection, a Painless wiring harness and a March Industries pulley and bracket kit. A K & N air filter accelerates breathing in, while ceramic-coated long tube headers blow it out through a Dynomax dual exhaust system. A carbon fiber engine cover reinforces the engine’s new millennium look.

The Vintage Air air conditioning compressor, Classic Performance power brake booster, alternator, radiator support cover and more were chromed, adding sparkle to the engine room. Keeping temperatures in the green is the role of the Griffin aluminum radiator with integral A/C condenser. The V-8 uses a Tremec T-56 six-speed manual transmission to multiply the power sent to the Strange Engineering nine-inch rear, fitted with 3.40 gears.

Once performance and handling needs were complete, Chuck’s Hot Rod Interiors in North Carolina created the beautiful full custom interior. Rivette gave him a few basic ideas and Chuck did the rest. Every inch of the stripped interior was covered with Dynamat before the individual custom touches began. Supple gray leather with coral inserts was added to the reconfigured 1984 Cadillac power seats and matching rear buckets. A new center console runs between all four seats and holds the outsized manual transmission shifter.

The door panels were handcrafted to match and fitted with billet accents. Fast power windows replaced the slow-moving originals. Classic Instruments on the dash provide up-to-date monitoring of the underhood activity. The ididit steering column and wheel keep the driver in close touch. Entertainment in this modern cruiser centers around the DVD audio-visual system, beginning with a JVC KW-AVX838 head unit, 7½-inch monitor, five-inch component sets in the doors and 6½-inch versions in the rear quarter panels.

Because space is always at a premium, many of the car’s components were hidden behind the rear wall of the trunk. The five-gallon reserve tank, valves and switches for the air suspension system, and the yellow top Optima battery are out of sight, but the upholstered-to-match trunk still has room for golf bags or luggage. The continental kit on the back was a popular ’50s option and holds an aftermarket Chevrolet emblem with a center-mounted brake light.

Completing the list of upgrades was the new convertible top and boot, fitted to a restored and painted frame. The new pump and slave cylinders update the original convertible top mechanism, ensuring trouble-free operation. With all the amazing upgrades employed to modernize the car, the paint choice returned to a traditional favorite, Coral and Shadow Gray, one of Chevrolet’s best-selling two-tone combinations.

After a long ten-month build, the completed car is a joy to drive. With its long list of modern upgrades, it is as reliable as it is good-looking. Rivette sends special thanks to Rick Potete, who oversaw every element of the build.

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