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1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan: Half The Price, Twice The Fun

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air before work began

The deception begins as the car is purchased and trailered home surreptitiously

Tony King had been waiting for years to get his hands on a 1955 Chevy Bel Air coupe, just like the one he had driven in high school. According to his son, Tim, his dad was one of those guys who’d walk around a car show, see a 1955, and say “I used to own one of those. I never should have sold it.”

After two heart surgeries and his retirement after 35 years in the construction industry, Tony figured it was time to hook up with his old girlfriend, and started looking for a ’55 Bel Air coupe. Unfortunately, as the Bel Air two-door moved up from enthusiast’s car to collector’s car to iconic All-American status, prices rose accordingly and out of Tony’s budget.

After hour upon hour of scouring Craigslist and eBay Tony spotted a 1955 that met all his criteria: the car was about 90% complete and the current owner had done all the hard work of installing an LS1 small block and a 4L60E automatic. The only downside was the car was a four-door model and not the coupe he’d lusted after for so long. Offsetting his disappointment was the fact that the four door was selling for about half what a two door would. So Tony could both afford to purchase the car and travel around the country with his wife in their motorhome.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air completed

The completed project, in all its four-door glory

With his father and mother out on an extended road trip, Tim drove the hour from his home to check out the ‘55 and on the way hatched a fiendish plot. He called his dad after viewing the car, which was exactly as advertised, but told Tony instead that the car needed a lot more work than had been indicated, and they should take a pass. Tim bought the car and quietly towed it home, letting only his mother in on the secret. Tim’s plan was to enlist his brother and his best friend to finish the car in 30 days. While it was 90% complete, as the seller stated, anyone who has restored a car knows 10% is still a great deal of work. To complicate matters, work and other commitments pulled Tim away so he had only 12 days to work on the car. Needless to say there were plenty of late nights spent on the car.

One of the several items the car needed was a full wiring harness. In addition, there was no practical way to connect the LS1 to the original gauges. Tim has Dakota Digital gauges in three of his cars, and Tony had always admired them. So of course Tim ordered a VHX gauge set specific to the Chevy’s cluster – which is comprised largely of analog gauges, to fit the theme of the car, somewhat contrary to the company’s name. Another electrical upgrade was an Optima battery, mounted in the trunk. Tim chose Optima because it didn’t require a battery box, plus the LS1 needs more than a few amps to crank it over, and the air bag suspension needs juice to raise or lower ride height. Further plans are afoot to add more electrical components like air conditioning and a stereo to make the Bel Air a true daily driver for Tony. A powerful, reliable battery was key.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Spectre Performance intake

The custom Spectre cold air intake kit installed. Anyone can call Spectre and get the same personalized service from one of Spectre’s knowledgeable customer service members

One task the previous owner had left Tim was getting air into the engine. Tim called the folks at Spectre Performance and was told “no problem” and asked to call back with a few dimensions. Tim provided Spectre with the information requested and an order was placed. When the box arrived, Tim found everything he’d need to install a high flow conical Spectre Performance air filter in the car, including elbows, tubes, fittings, braces, and adapters for the MAF and IAT sensor were all in the box. According to Tim all he had to do was trim the pipe to the correct length and he had the entire intake system installed in the car in about 15 minutes.

While Tim was thankful for the quality and amount of work done by the previous owner, he came across one odd item. The linkage for the gas pedal wasn’t straight and didn’t travel in the correct arc. A call to Lokar solved the problem, as Tim was able to order a linkage from Lokar that was both straight and swung in the proper arc. Problem solved.

The day had arrived when Tony was to return home. The boys cleaned out the garage and positioned the ’55 front and center. When the motorhome rolled up, Tim hit the button on the garage door opener and the ’55 was revealed. Tony swung around and asked his wife if she’d been complicate in this plan. Then after walking around, climbing in, and crawling under the car for an hour, Tony suggested to Tim they take a ride. Not wanting to break his new toy on the first day, Tony took it easy on the throttle, but Tim admits that the car is fast, faster than he’d expected. So excited was Tony that he kept waking up several times that first night and checking the garage to make certain the car was still there (or perhaps to make certain it wasn’t a dream).

If you go back to the headline, the “Half the Price” reflects the savings in purchasing a four door. “Twice the Fun, on the other hand, refers to Tim’s sheer pleasure in completing and giving this car to his father, and to Tony’s joy in finally owning a ’55 again, which he now drives every day.

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