One Man’s Idea of Better
Arvid Svendsen - January 17, 2013 10:00 AM
The General Motors 1955 vintage automobile that introduced the small block Chevrolet engine to the world in the fall of 1954 is still exciting today.
Iconic in every sense, the 1955 Chevy draws attention from even the most casual spectator. My wife occasionally notices cool cars (there is no way I would call her a “car person”), yet her high school yearbook description included the fact that she likes ’55 Chevys. Though “universal appeal” might be a stretch, the ’55 Chevy certainly possesses a strong following.
The ’55 Chevy looks great no matter how you slice it … bone stock, street/strip, pro touring, pro street, and straight axle gasser styles have been executed with precision. Nomads are highly sought after, the sedan delivery cars are evil, and even the pedestrian ’55 wagons are project car gold mines.
Bill Collopy is a Chevy guy from the Chicagoland area who has built a number of fine bowtie hot rods over the years. Bill wanted a “better” ’55 Chevy and he is one of those guys who is always working on something, while simultaneously dreaming up the next one. Bill had an idea for an ultimate, no-holds-barred build for a ’55 Chevy Bel Air convertible. He wanted to build a ’55 Chevy that would incorporate all of the best equipment available from the aftermarket while maintaining the classic lines of the timeless ’55 Chevy.
He already had a good handle on the local automotive talent who could help him achieve his goal. With the vision and the right people in place, it was time to locate a suitable recipient. Bill purchased a very nice ’55 Bel Air convertible, which, frankly, most would have left alone and enjoyed. As purchased, Bill’s “new” droptop looked great, had the typical red and white two-tone paint job, cool wheels, and a very strong small block motor. But in Bill’s hands, this ’55 was now destined for a major renovation.
Bill sent the car to Kevin Fielder and Joe Miller at Nostalgic Auto Body in Island Lake, Illinois. Nostalgic completely dismantled the car and perfected the panels. From that clean slate, Fielder and Miller made subtle changes to the body to make it as smooth as possible without eliminating the lines and trim of the ’55 Bel Air. The car is laser straight and gapped to perfection.
With body work completed, the car received its signature paint job. The color combination is a Dupont paint custom blend Red and Beige that brilliantly executes the “modern nostalgia” approach to the build. Stepping outside the OEM color combinations is always a risk on these cars. However, Bill and Nostalgic Auto Body hit the paint charts out of the park with the fashionable Red and Beige two-tone paint with beige fabric convertible top.
The dynamic exterior color combination is carried through to the interior, making this Bel Air an outstanding unified package. Bill called on Dave and Sally Schober at Schober’s Custom Hot Rod Interiors in Sandwich, Illinois, to handle the interior design. Custom color-coordinated bench seats, carpeting, door panels, and trim were all perfectly matched to the exterior hues. Modern conveniences include ididit tilt column, hidden stereo system, and Classic Instruments analog gauges nestled perfectly in the factory-style dashboard.
The engine compartment sparkles like fine jewelry. Billet parts, polished components, expert paint work, smoothed firewall, and attention to detail make this area a standout. Cleverly blending show car detailing with serious performance, the 383 Chevy develops 485 horsepower.
Chuck Barnes and Paul Crites at Barnes Automotive in Arlington Heights, Illinois, handled the mechanical work, including the installation of the Kinsler fuel injection system. The Ingelese induction system blends the old “stacks” look with contemporary performance and reliability benefits. The Billet Specialties Tru Trac accessory drive and a Be Cool Extreme Module cooling system signal the effort made to make this car a showcase for modern technology.
All of the 485 horsepower is sent to the tires via a 700R4 four-speed automatic transmission and a 2,500 rpm stall speed converter. The 12-bolt Posi rear spins 3.73 gears and is suspended by GM heavy-duty leaf springs. Front suspension features coilovers with Heidts tubular control arms and two-inch drop spindles. The stance is modern without taking anything away from the classic overall look of the ‘55.
Rolling stock consists of staggered 18-inch Nitto NT 555 Extreme ZR tires, complemented by Billet Specialties Turbine wheels. CPP provides the updated 14:1 ratio power steering box, while SSBC brightens up the smoothed firewall with a polished master cylinder and brake booster. Wilwood four-wheel disc brakes bring the package safely to a halt and inspire confidence. The entire drivetrain package provides the perfect compromise between acceleration, handling, and long-haul driving pleasure.
Building a car right is a matter of doing the entire package. In the case of Bill’s modern nostalgia ’55 Bel Air, the brush has been wielded with masterful results. With a heavy reliance on nostalgia, this ’55 Chevy convertible is an up-to-the-minute, rolling masterpiece of modern history.