Project Shoestring has been in the works for so many years now that it was beginning to be an unbelievable idea. As I noted in the project introduction – Project Details, the line on this car has changed over time and whether that is good or bad remains to be seen. The car was never a good candidate to be restored and while I like looking at restorations, my heart has never been in putting the labor and money into them. The one attempt that I made with an early Corvette caught so much flak for having an aftermarket part on it from the snobs of that world that I lost all interest in ever attempting it again.
So currently I am finishing up a house flip with a few minor details that should be accomplished within the coming week – which is another reason I am writing this – as that major project concludes it will allow me the time and resources to finish up a couple of other vehicle issues and move on to this project for the coming fall and winter months. My goal is to have a running vehicle ready for the first test and tune sessions come mid-March. I work slowly so that is a major commitment on my part. I will turn 65 in January of the coming year and while I plan to drive my dragster for at least another 5+ years, I see the ’55 as my retirement ride for the coming future. Slower yes, but consistency is the key and getting back to the drag strips in a heavy dose is extremely important to me. I feel like between weather issues and the house flip that I completely lost this current season which was certainly not my plan last winter. I guess we have to see what happens this coming year but I am going to do everything I can to make this happen.
First issues with any vehicle project is finding the room to work on it. I am fortunate to have a 3 vehicle garage that honestly can only house 2 cars at time for all of the other bits and pieces in the way. The upside is that my youngest son moved to his new house so that is freeing up a lot of space that I have not seen in about 2 years. As I mentioned I have a couple of other vehicles to take care of first but one is an on-going slow project that runs and moves under it’s own power and the other is simply shooting some paint on my dragster body panels. Now that the weather is improving a bit, that should become a reality soon.
So with an open space available now, and the ’55 sitting at the edge of my property it’s time to move it inside. I don’t want to see snow on it again this year and the only thing I need to wait for is to get the ground dried out to where I can pull the car up to the garage and get it in place. At that time, I will probably question my sanity about starting another project but what the heck, it’s the last one and the one that I have been planning for a very long time. Another plus on this project is I have probably 90%-95% of what I need to complete it. That’s a big, big plus in itself.
Over a period of time the project objectives for this car have changed in my mind, sometimes flowing back and forth. Should it be an all-out drag car or should it be a street/strip car or even something in-between? I am not sure I will really know until the car is about done but obviously some choices are going to dictate how the car will be used.
Another item is while I reference the car that was featured in the movie “Two Lane Blacktop”, I am not building a clone of that car but rather a car that was maybe inspired by the movie car and the movie itself. I am not sure how many times I have viewed the movie since it originally came out but I can say that I know most of the details about the movie. The other piece of that is that the movie actually says a lot more than one might notice at first glance. It might look like a B-movie made for the drive-in theaters of the time but to me it actually shows a microcosm of life back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Things were a real mess back then, a bad political war and youthful unrest were just the tips of the problems. Driving a car across the country with a few bucks in your pocket and making a couple of dollars racing it along the way – just motoristic escapism? I am not sure but it didn’t seem like a bad idea at the time.
So yes, now at a later stage of my own life, the ’55 represents something maybe missed, longed for or at the very least, some fun that I think I should have had back then. It’s my last build, that I am sure of and how it turns out is yet to be seen. My hope is that I finally finish a build somewhat quickly as I feel that time is not exactly on my side anymore, so there is some urgency in it but with a dollop of wanting to enjoy it too.
Wow – I just looked back and it’s been just over two years since I wrote “Project Shoestring Begins”. Where does time go? Well in my case, I, like a lot of active, older people have learned to not sit still too long as it’s a good prescription for an untimely death. And since I am not ready for that one, I keep moving. Since I wrote that post, I have completely, save for the outer walls rebuilt a 3-bedroom house and sold it. That was a 8+ month project – they take a bit of time when you are doing 90+% of the work by yourself. And before I was quite done with that I started on a deck project for an old high school friend. One of those that started off rather small in scope and grew from there. Between weather issues, getting sick a couple of times and attending a wedding in Vegas, that little project went along for about 5 months but the owner was happy and that’s what counts.
So here we are again talking about my 1955 Chevy 210 bracket car. And I am sure there will be interruptions in this project again; it simply cannot be helped but we have made some really good progress. For starters just getting the car over to were I could work on it took a bit of doing along with some weather cooperation. We are back in our wet winter conditions again so you have to pick your days to do certain things carefully. I finally hit a few days where it didn’t rain and the ground actually dried out a bit. I grabbed the golf cart and decided it was now or never getting on with this project. First problem was the car had sunk it’s tires a bit into the ground and the golf cart was having nothing of it. I could rock the car a bit but there was no possibility that the golf cart had enough muscle to pull it out. So I went and got the truck but I had a slight dilemma there as I did not want to pull the Chevy out and have it smash into the back of my truck! I had to be very careful just to ease it out of it’s stuck spot and make sure that I kept any forward motion of the car to an absolute minimal. Thankfully I succeeded and was then able to hook the golf cart to the car to make the rest of the journey up to the garage. Now I admit that sounds easy but honestly I could only move the car about 20-25 feet at a time before I would have to re-adjust the steering of the front tires. Seems that one tire would point straight ahead and the other was about 30 degrees off in a different direction. Once I got the car up to the garage, I wanted to get it cleaned out before rolling it in to a bay but I also have to take one of the race cars out to make that happen.
The following day, I started cleaning up the interior and trunk space. The car came with everything from pennies and hairpins to replacement sheet metal panels. I was happy to see the replacement panels as those will save me a lot of money. And they were a surprise being buried under all kinds of other items. I also started removing the front roll pan that goes just behind the front bumper. All of these pieces are in pretty decent shape and as I get them cleaned up, you will find them for sale in my store area. There was still a lot more debris to clear out of the car but it would have to wait just a bit.
My grandson, Jackson, is now staying with us for a bit and I was happy to find out that he was a willing partner in helping get the car cleaned out. I really wasn’t too sure how it would go but he dug in and helped get not only the debris cleaned up but also got just about all the old wiring removed. The next day, we had some better weather and worked on the car again. My goal that day was to get the entire stock suspension removed from the car along with the radiator and support pieces. We placed the car on jackstands for safety, then proceeded with removing the disc brake kit that was on the car, the entire steering box setup, steering linkage and pulled the spindles off. None of these parts are going to be used by me again. Some stuff will be sold and the rest will go to the metal recycler. We then removed the radiator parts and pulled the a-arms off, top and bottom. Jackson did a lot of this work himself and learned a couple of new tricks along the way.
Right now the next steps are a bit confused. With my grandson’s help this part of the project moved along a lot quicker than I expected so as I said before, we made some really nice progress on it. I think I am at a point where I need to move the racecar out of the shop and prep that area to start constructing the new racing frame for the ’55. I am getting pumped up about this car coming together now.
The thoughts and ideas around the chassis of the car are another item that has changed over time. When I first acquired the car, the thought was a simple rebuild of the stock suspension, a back-half job with a 9″ Ford and some wide meats. Along with the back-half, a 6-point roll bar would be part of the package too. A bit later, the stock front suspension build moved to a 2″ lowered spindle deal with a stocker style disc brake setup on the front. Things were making good sense, we lower the front of the car a touch and get some decent brakes on the front of it. I then found a disk brake kit for the rear for little more than the price of the caliper mounting brackets so now we had disc brakes on all four corners.
And of course this is not the end of it yet either. The next step was replacing the upper and lower A-Arms with tubular ones to lighten things up a bit. It was at this point that things really changed up a bit. I had been looking at the chassis kits that Chris Alston offers and while I wasn’t totally interested in doing the whole deal, the idea of lightening things a bit more by going to a 2×3 chassis along with improving the roll bar to a roll cage had a lot of appeal. Unfortunately the shipping cost on the kit was killing the deal – I couldn’t see spending almost the same amount for shipping as what the kit cost. I then found out that the kit Jegs sells as the Jegster is actually the Alston kit – interesting. But the problem was still the same, the shipping was crazy. That’s when I found Jegs selling Jegster chassis kits on Ebay with free shipping. But the kit I needed wasn’t listed so I called them to find out if I could get the same deal and as it turned out, it took a bit of talking but I got free shipping too. So with this we are getting closer to a full race car but part of me doesn’t really want to go there. I have a race car, a nice dragster but I do want to race the ’55 at times in the Modified class, footbrake style. So there has to be a small compromise. I have decided at this point that the car will have a combination of the back-half, the chassis rails will be 2×3 tubing, the full roll cage and I will graft the stock front clip to the rails. Now the front end will get some serious modifications but will retain the mounting for the A-Arms but the center section under the engine pan will disappear as will all of the stock steering stuff. The new steering will be a Ford Mustang manual rack and pinion mounted in front to a new crossmember. My idea and hope is that I will be able to flip the stock steering arms and tie the rack and pinion to it. If not then it’s Plan B time although I have no idea of what that one is at the moment.
Rear tires are going to be something around 32×15-15 and the fronts will be a narrow tire about 28-30 inches tall. Wheels are a basic Weld Wheel, Pro-Star type – sort of old but brand new in the box. Fuel tank is a narrowed early Mustang unit with a fuel sump added to aid fuel pickup by the pump. Most of the fuel system will be equipped with Magna Fuel items and will be capable of handling both regular fuel and methanol.
That about wraps up the chassis layout, at least until something else changes.
Well, as I previously mentioned interruptions happen and they just can’t be helped, or either I have finally given up worrying about them.
Other than trying to keep the car covered up with a car cover that kept getting blown off during the normal windy part of the Spring season, there hasn’t been very much done. We sold just about all of the front end sheet metal, the spindles and old disc brake setup plus a handful of other parts that came with the car that we are not going to use. We also had some leftover stuff that went to the recycler and I basically found out that I spent more in diesel fuel than what the metal was worth. Lesson learned.
I also came up with a novel idea of saving most of the repair panels that came with the car. As most of you know, vinegar is a really good rust remover – it just takes time. I measured the largest piece of sheet metal I had and then using some 2x4s and a piece of leftover 1/2″ plywood constructed a rectangle box that the sheet metal would fit in. I then took some heavy plastic and cut it so that it was larger than the box and doubled it. Using the plastic as a liner for the box, then putting the sheet metal in along with a few gallons of vinegar and then covering it with the second piece of plastic, I had a low-buck de-rusting facility. I let the sheet metal soak for about 3 days, then flipped it over and let it soak a few more days. At that point, I took it out and hosed it off. I wish I had taken photos of it but the sheet metal came out almost perfectly clean. I dried if off with compressed air, then used a can of spray rust reformer (Rustoleum Brand) and coated both sides of the sheet metal. I had 5 pieces to do, so I just kept repeating the process. These panels are going to save me a lot of money as a lot of the sheet metal around the rear wheel area is shot.
My next trick was to figure out how to get the chassis out from under the car. I admit I stewed on this problem for a number of weeks before I stumbled across another hot rodder online that is working on a Nissan 280 Z. He had constructed legs with dolly wheels and then bolted them to the Z allowing him to move the body of the car around his shop. With that inspiration I took an old piece of rectangular metal tubing I had and cut two legs that would fit at the outer parts of the firewall. I already had some very heavy duty rubber caster wheels and mounting plates. I welded the mounting plates to the tubing and put the wheels in place. I was hesitant to bolt these to the firewall as I think there might be too much flexing, so I decided to weld them in place. I am going to cut out a great deal of the firewall so a little extra grinding later on is not an issue. That took care of the front part of the car, but the rear was still a question mark. After looking things over, I decided that due to the weakness of the remaining floor that it might be a good idea to keep some of the frame under the car as additional support for the body.
I have a set of car roller trays – the type that have four casters and you put them underneath the tires of a car, then you can push the car around the garage. I took two of them and two more pieces of the tubing and tack welded the tubing to them with the idea that I can cut the frame just in front of the leaf spring shackle to remove the rear frame section and set the remaining center frame on these modified rollers. One problem is that they are a bit too short in height. I am going to have find some additional metal and add to this set of rollers before this part of the plan can be executed.
Next was moving the car to a suitable working area – which I am sure my neighbors are not totally thrilled about but I do keep the car covered up when I am not working on it. I decided that the front end of the driveway was flat and safe enough to continue. We used the remaining set of rollers and put them under the rear tires, then with the front leg rollers on the ground we were able to move the entire car by simply pushing it. It’s amazing what the power of a wheel can do for you! With it moved into place, we then supported the frame with jackstands right behind the original transmission mount. Our next move was to get out the plasma cutter and start cutting through everything that was holding the front clip to the rest of the car. It took a bit but after cutting through support pieces and then slicing through the frame just in front of the transmission mounts, we were able to separate the clip from the car. Mission accomplished! And just so you know, the “we” in my statements here is my son Phil and myself.
With the front clip off the car, it sure does look a lot shorter. The main reason for doing this is that I already have a number of parts that fit the front end clip. Tubular A-Arms, replacement bushings, ball joints, racing shocks and springs, 2″ dropped spindles, new steering arms, disc brake kit and a new manual rack and pinion from a SN95 Mustang. Switching to some other aftermarket front end would not only cost additional funds but I doubt if I could recover 50% of the money in the parts I now have on hand. Weight wise, this clip is heavier than a Mustang II replacement and certainly more than a strut front end. But again, the Mustang II front end would be in the area of a $1000 and the strut version would run about $2000 or more. I believe I can trim quite a bit of weight out of the clip and actually make it stronger than it is in factory stock form. Looking at a stock ’55 Chevy front end one has to realize that the engineers of the time had several things to deal with in the design. Starting at the front of the clip, they were providing a place for the heavy front bumper to attach to and supporting it in such a way that it could survive at least a low speed crash and protect the occupants of the car. They also provided a mounting for the heavy radiator, the radiator horse collar and the front roll pan. Moving back from there, we encounter the front crossmember which was designed to provide mounting for the a-arms, shocks, springs and front half of the engine/transmission combination. In 1955 the engine/transmission assembly was supported at the front of the engine with a mount on each side and just at the front of the transmission where it mounted to the engine – again with a mount on each side. This put quite a load on the front crossmember. Moving back again, we have the frame rail area supporting the steering box on one side and providing a mounting point for the idler on the other. We also have a mount for the cross shaft to operate the clutch.
No matter how you shake it that’s a lot of heavy lifting for the front clip of the car. My plan calls for cutting back a lot of that starting with the front rails that support the bumper and modifying a good portion of the center of the crossmember to now support the rack and pinion. The bottom of the crossmember has a very heavy plate surface that I assume was to handle any minor collisions with the road surface back in those days too. I will also be removing side mounts for rubber jounce pieces that are no longer needed, removing the radiator support piece, cutting out the support of the clutch cross shaft and then rewelding the upper a-arm supports and the frame rail where needed. I may also cut down the height of the rear part of the frame rail to match up with 2×3 tubing of the main chassis beams. A rough estimate is that I can remove about 10-15% of the weight currently in the front clip. There are also a number of areas in the front clip where pieces were hot riveted together and then some additional welding performed. I assume that on the assembly line that the rivets were intended to hold the pieces together in alignment prior to the welding operation.
Roughly a few decades back, I purchased my first 1955 Chevy. It was a pure stock, 4 door model with a 265 cubic inch motor and automatic transmission. The purpose of the car was for my girlfriend to have something to drive back and forth to school. I think we paid $175 for the car from a used car lot, but the car had vacuum windshield wipers on it and she hated driving it whenever it rained so it didn’t stay around too long. We had some fun cleaning it up and drove it for most of that summer and there’s no doubt that it was actually a pretty decent car.
Next up was a mess of a car that was a combination of sheet-metal and attending paint colors that all combined summed up the next ‘55 Chevy we owned. This one was actually spotted by my wife who was that girlfriend in the previous paragraph, not too long after we had seen the Two Lane Blacktop movie. And of course I was just positive I could turn it into that car on the screen. This particular car had parts from just about anything and everything that you could imagine. Wood 2×4’s were used under the bucket seats that came from something unknown so that you could see out the windshield and the radio was haunted. Kind of like that Christine movie thing, it would turn itself on and off, change stations, play weird songs, all of it very strange. The motivation for this one was a 350/4 speed Muncie transmission deal. The car was actually pretty quick and we enjoyed driving it around although I am sure the seven different paint colors on it made other motorists rather nervous. My wife and I still talk about the times that we would take our baby son to the drive-in, put a blanket on the hood and set him between us. We were dead-broke most of the time, but it sure is funny how we still managed to have a good time. I enjoyed that car probably more than any other that I have ever owned. Of course sometimes those long rear views can have a touch of romantic nonsense that can make it seem better than it really was at the time but none the less, we were doing a-okay.
A bit later on I had the notion that I wanted a full time drag car and the ‘55 was going to be it. We put a hotter cam in the engine, cut two coils off the front end (no, I don’t know why!), replaced the side glass with plexiglass and that was about the extent of the modifications. I would fire up the car on Saturday morning to check it out while every lawnmower in the neighborhood was running, but within about 15 minutes I would have another visit from the local authorities, compliments of a really nice neighbor down the street. We flat towed the car to the drag strip and normally spent our day there chasing one problem or the other. Most of the time the car ran great in the driveway at home, but by the time we got it to the strip we had used up all of our luck. After about one summer of this, I had tired of the “fun” and we had also decided to sell our place and move. The real estate person suggested that we might have better luck if we ditched the weird looking car in the driveway, so I pulled the engine then towed it to a local junkyard and turned over the title. The house sold just a few weeks later, but I’ll never know if getting rid of the car had anything to do with it or not.
So that brings us up to now and how did I manage to end up with another ‘55 Chevy? Well, about 20 years ago I thought that getting into street rodding would be fun, but I wasn’t quite ready to make the jump into the really old vintage tin stuff. However, the 50’s stuff was looking like fun so I found a ‘49 Ford. The only problem I ever had with it was that I wanted it to be a ‘55 Chevy. That’s just a bit difficult as you might imagine. So after having done very little with the ‘49, I decided it was time to sell it and just let the whole street rod type deal go by the wayside. I placed an ad in the local trader paper and to my surprise was contacted almost immediately. During the transaction, I was asked why I was selling the car and I simply said that I really wanted a ‘55 Chevy, but that I also knew that anything decent was completely out of my price range. The person that was buying the ‘49 surprised me by telling me that they happened to own one and wanted to sell it too. We worked out a trade of cars at that point and I found myself owning my third and final 1955 Chevy. This one is a 210 model, 2 door post ~ identical to the model used in the Two Lane Blacktop movie (and of course American Graffiti). I cannot believe my luck in finding one of these and while it certainly is in need of work, it’s no worse that the Ford that I let go, besides, it’s a ‘55 Chevy!!
The build plans call for a large motor, automatic, decent performance that can maybe cruise to the ice cream shop yet do some fun duty at the strip on a Friday night. My wife accused me one time of being a teenager that had never grown up – she’s actually dead right and there’s no arguing the point. But she’s also that same pretty girlfriend that I bought that first ‘55 for -so I think we’re going to be a-okay.