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Cashing in on the Tri-5 Chevrolet Phenomenon

Whether you call them Tri-Fives or Shoebox Chevys, the 1955-57 Chevrolets continue to bring in customers.
Friday, February 1, 2008 - 00:00

Whether you call them Tri-Fives or Shoebox Chevys, the 1955-57 Chevrolets continue to bring in customers.

Anyone who can remember the "Fabulous 50s" most likely has a classic Tri-Five (1955-57) Chevrolet story to tell. Perhaps you rode to grammar school in one. Or maybe you were one of the 4.67 million GM loyalists to have purchased either a new Tri-Five Chevrolet or a used Tri-Five down at your friendly neighborhood used-car lot. Then, too, you may have fallen in love with the Tri-Five Chevrolet your older sister's boyfriend once drove. Everyone, it seems, has a Tri-Five Chevrolet story to tell.

Classic Tri-Five Chevrolets are ingrained in the American consciousness right along with mom and dad, baseball, and apple pie. The 1955-57 Chevrolets are a pop-culture icon and loved the world over. Chevrolet Division's public relations agency, Campbell-Ewald, summed it up when they posted a series of billboard ads along Woodward Avenue during the 26-mile-long 2003 Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise, near Detroit, depicting a red-and-white 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible along with the copy reading, "They don't write rock & roll songs about Volvos."

It seems as though any Tri-Five Chevrolet (once considered the low-priced leader in its market segment) is well worth having these days, and there's tremendous profit potential in buying, selling, servicing, and restoring these cars as many regard the 1955-57 Chevrolet to be the first affordably priced, American-built muscle car.

HOW THE TRI-FIVE CHEVROLET BECAME NO. 1

The 162-hp, 265-cubic-inch Chevrolet pushrod V-8 engine made its official debut between the frame rails of the all-new Chevrolet shoebox in late 1954 (as a '55 model), and in the process, forever revolutionized the high-performance speed equipment (as it was then known) market. While Henry Ford is widely recognized as the father of hot rodding, there's no denying the fact that Zora Arkus Duntov was the motivating force behind all Tri-Five Chevrolet (and Corvette) high-performance engineering programs. From the Tri-Five Chevrolet's humble beginnings, Duntov's personal signature was on the 180-hp, 265-cubic-inch four-barrel, dual-exhaust "Power Pack Option" Chevrolet Bel Air pace car convertible used to pace the 1955 Indianapolis 500. Then later that year, Duntov and company released the new 195-hp, 265-cubic-inch "Corvette Engine Option," which likewise proved an instant seller.

The following year (1956), Duntov and his team turned up the wick when Duntov personally assaulted Pike's Peak covering the 12.5-mile course and setting a NASCAR record in the process at 17 minutes 24 seconds. He had a pair of 1956 Chevrolet Bel Airs powered by a 205-hp/265-cubic-inch Power Pack V-8 engines at his disposal.

At Daytona Beach, Florida, Duntov and company assaulted the "Flying Mile," driving a 222-hp Corvette Engine Option 1956 Chevrolet, a 225-hp 1956 Chevrolet Corvette, along with a similarly equipped 1956 Chevrolet Cameo pickup, all of which set records in their respective classes.

Both late-year production 1956 Chevrolet passenger cars and Corvettes could be optioned out with the highly desirable 260-horsepower Rochester Dual Four Barrel Option.

Things really got exciting in 1957 with the introduction of an even larger size small-block Chevrolet pushrod V-8 engine, the 220-hp 283, which was available with optional twin four-barrel carburetors and power-rated at 245 horsepower. The addition of mechanical lifters and a Duntov mechanical cam upped the horsepower quotient of the new 283 Chevy small block to 270 horsepower. However, the biggest news of all was the release of GM's new Rochester (mechanical) Fuel Injection system, available in hydraulic lifter configuration rated at 250 horsepower, or in mechanical lifter trim power-rated at 283 horsepower.

With a veritable plant load of small-block V-8 power plants to choose from, the classic Tri-Five could be found competing in all arenas, ranging from the local drag strip, to Pike's Peak, to NASCAR. Some of the more memorable Tri-Five "factory specials" produced during that illustrious era included the 283/283 Rochester Fuel Injection-equipped "Black Widow" R-model, 1957 Chevrolet 150 business sedans, which made a brief appearance in NASCAR before being outlawed, along with a smattering of 283-hp/283-cubic-inch Hydra-Matic transmission-equipped 1957 Chevrolet sedan deliveries, which dominated the lower Stock Eliminator classes in NHRA championship drag racing.

PARTS IS PARTS IS PARTS

The speed equipment industry was quick to jump on the Tri-Five Chevrolet high-performance aftermarket parts bandwagon with the release of Chevrolet's 265-cubic-inch pushrod V-8 OHV engine. Companies like Iskenderian Cams, Clay Smith Cams, Moon Equipment Co., Crower-U-Fab, Crane Cams, Chet Herbert Cams, Racer Brown, Weiand, Edelbrock Equipment Co., Cal Custom, Forgetrue Pistons, Offenhauser, Jahns Pistons, Ansen Industries, Grant, Perfect Circle, Mickey Thompson, Schiefer, Hays, Spaulding, Mallory, Vertex, Joe Hunt, Holley, Rochester, Hurst, Milodon Engineering, Mr. Gasket, Doug's Headers, Jardine, and countless others brought "small-block specific" high-performance Chevrolet parts to market practically overnight. Even some 52 years later, the small-block Chevrolet V-8 engine (although factory versions have now reached as high as 400 cubic inches), still represents a huge percentage of the SEMA & PRI-supported "hardcore parts segment" of the high-performance aftermarket.

Newer players, like Competition Cams, Barry Grant-Demon Carburetion, DART, Fuel Air Spark Technology, Manley Performance, Moroso Performance, MSD, NOS, Nitrous Supply, the Nitrous Works, Trick Flow Specialties, K&N, ZEX, and more make the small-block Chevrolet segment a very healthy and competitive market in which to be involved. So healthy, in fact, that about 10 years ago, General Motors launched its own GM Performance Parts product line.

ENGINES: Aside from looks, one of the most appealing factors about the Tri-Five Chevrolet is its massive engine compartment. Over the years, high-performance Tri-Five Chevrolet enthusiasts have successfully installed virtually every Chevrolet "mouse motor" combination known to man from multiple carburetion to superchargers.

With the 1964 introduction of the 396-cubic-inch "semi-Hemi/porcupine big-block engine," or "rat motor," as it is more commonly known, Tri-Five Chevrolet enthusiasts have likewise run the gamut installing everything from single-carbureted 454 big blocks to 502 Ram-Jet EFIs inside the engine bays of their Tri-Five Chevrolets.

With both Chevrolet's small-block and big-block engine patents becoming public domain in recent years, a whole new industry of aftermarket cylinder heads and engine blocks have come to the forefront. Donovan Engineering, Edelbrock, DART Industries, TFS, and World Products are just some of these participating SEMA manufacturers that have replicated the Chevrolet small-block and big-block cylinder heads and engines.

Of course, engine stroker cranks and complete rotating assemblies, or "kits," are also available for both OE and aftermarket big- and small-block Chevrolet engines with SCAT, Holley-Lunati, Sonny Bryant, Eagle, and Calles immediately coming to mind.

In recent years, the crate engine segment of the Tri-Five Chevrolet high-performance aftermarket has made huge inroads. Crate engines offer a number of advantages:

  • Price: The sum total of the whole is more often than not considerably less than buying and installing engine parts piece meal.
  • Peace of mind: No more problems dealing with the local machine shop or engine builders.
  • Overall quality: Most Tri-Five Chevrolet crate engines are built using all-new engine components and, in many cases, are fully warranted against defects in parts and workmanship.
  • Convenience: All one has to do is pick up the telephone or log on to the Internet, place an order, and your crate engine is on the way. Key players in the high-performance crate engine aftermarket segment include Edelbrock, GM Performance Parts, Smeding Performance, Street & Performance Inc., Summit, JEGS, Shaver Racing Engines, and World Products.

DRIVETRAINS: Classic Tri-Five Chevrolets are notorious for hooking up, and a great part of this has to do with installing the correct powertrain and suspension. When it comes to automatic transmissions, classic Tri-Fives use the tried and true GM Powerglide, while Tri-Five street machines use either a modified version of the Powerglide, the GM Turbo-Hydramatic, which comes in small-block TH350, or big-block TH400 applications. In recent years, Tri-Five Chevrolet enthusiasts have also gone to the GM 4L60E/4L80E or the electronically controlled GM700R4. High-performance versions of these transmissions are available from A-1 Automatics, ATI, B&M, Hughes Performance, Mike's Transmissions, TCI, The Converter Shop, Trans-Go, RaceTrans.com, and others.

While most Tri-Five Chevrolet enthusiasts prefer an automatic transmission for street and strip, there are still some who prefer banging gears, especially those gearboxes featuring a five- or six-speed overdrive. Participating SEMA-member companies, such as Keisler-Tremec, Richmond Gear, Liberty, and Gear Vendors, sell these state-of-the-art manual gearboxes. Compatible clutch assemblies and clutch "cans" are available from Centerforce, Lakewood-Mr. Gasket, McLeod, Trick Titanium, Zoom, and others.

Four types of rear ends are generally used underneath a Tri-Five Chevrolet. First, there is the GM 10-bolt or the heavier-duty GM 12-bolt rear end. Some Tri-Five owners prefer a DANA series rear end, like the Dana 44 or the Dana 60. However, from the hot rodder's perspective, the most popular rear end of choice is the Ford 9-inch live rear axle, whether it's a modified OE version, or an aftermarket unit like Currie Enterprises 9+, or the Trac Nine live rear axle. Nine-inch Ford axle manufacturers/remanufacturers include Currie Enterprises, Mark Williams Enterprises, Tom's Differentials, Precision Gear, Strange Engineering, and Moser Engineering.

SUSPENSION: Suspension systems for the Tri-Five Chevrolet usually fall into two categories: mild (meaning close to stock) and wild. OE front and rear suspension pieces, like front spindles, rear springs, etc., can be ordered from companies like Eaton-Detroit Spring, Danchuk Manufacturing, Year One, Eckler's Classic Chevy Club International, and others.

Serious street performance enthusiasts looking to lower their Tri-Fives have a number of suspension components available to them, including dropped front spindles, complete front suspension systems, four-wheel disc-brake systems, heavy-duty anti-sway bars, spring kits, four-bar or coil-over rear suspension, and the like, offered by participating SEMA-member companies, including Air Ride Technologies, Aldan-Eagle, Baer Brakes Inc., Bilstein, Chris Alston Chassisworks, Chassis Engineering, Competition Engineering, Energy Suspension, Fatman Fabrications, Flaming River, Global West, HAL, Heidt's Hot Rod Shop, Hotchkis Performance, Ididit, Jim Meyer Racing Products Inc., KONI, L.A. Speed, and Unisteer Performance Products.

THE ERA OF THE REPRODUCTION TRI-FIVE CHEVROLET CHASSIS

Since the chassis on many Tri-Five Chevrolets have either been corroded, bent, damaged beyond repair, or too butchered up to deal with, participating SEMA-member companies, including Art Morrison Enterprises, Jim Meyer Racing Products Inc., Fatman Fabrications, Double Nickel Classic Chassis, and the Roadster Shop, offer a complete reproduction Tri-Five chassis, albeit with modern refinements.

For example, Jim Meyer Racing Products, Inc.'s new 115-inch wheelbase, Worldwide Gen-IV jig-built and mandrel-bent Tri-Five Chevrolet Chassis is a direct replacement chassis for those wishing to build either a Pro-Street or Pro-Touring Tri-Five. Meyer's chassis utilizes beefy 2x4x.120-inch wall thickness side rails and a 2x4x.120-inch thickness tubular thru-frame cross member, which supports the rear of the chassis and houses a hidden anti-roll bar.

The HAL QA1-suspended chassis features multi-position mounting brackets to achieve the desired effect or stance you're looking for. For smooth handling and power launches, a polyurethane-bushed four-link-suspended Ford 9-inch rear-axle housing and low-center Panhard bar keep the rear suspension tuned to the chassis.

To achieve the lower stance desired for Pro Touring cars, Meyer's Gen IV features an additional 1-inch rise over the front suspension and a 1.5-inch rise over the rear. Up front, Meyer's Gen-IV chassis features a 2x4x.180-inch wall thickness box tube cross member that secures a set of 1-inch diameter x .156-inch wall thickness drawn over mandrel (D.O.M.) tubular upper A-Arms and 1-1/4-inch diameter x .156-inch wall thickness D.O.M. tubular lower A-arms attached to a set of Jim Meyer Racing Products dropped front spindles, which are set up to run a set of 12-inch diameter GM disc brakes or any of the aftermarket models manufactured by Baer Brakes or Wilwood Engineering.

Furthermore, Meyer's G-4 chassis can be tubbed to any width and is available with any engine or transmission mounts desired. An Air Ride Technologies "Shockwave" airbag air suspension option is also available. For further information, you can log on to www.jimmeyerracing.com.

THE CLASSIC TRI-FIVE RESTORATION PARTS AFTERMARKET

Tri-Five Chevrolets are big-ticket items with some of the more collectible examples often selling in the $100,000 price range. Regardless of the year or body style, the particular model Tri-Five Chevrolet in question was most likely completely or partially restored at some point in time during its 50-plus-year lifespan and that's where the Classic Chevrolet Club International (CCCI) comes in.

Founded in the early 1970s, the CCCI has grown by leaps and bounds. Although the club initially favored classic Tri-Five Chevrolet restorations, it quickly evolved to accept any and all Tri-Five Chevrolets. In its earlier days, the CCCI was initially engaged in remanufacturing hard-to-find trim parts, like the 1957 Chevrolet bullet spears on the hood and multi-colored hood crest and accompanying "V," although they appear to have phased out parts manufacturing leaving it up to companies like Eckeler's Classic Chevrolet Club International, Danchuk Manufacturing, Year One, and others. CCCI also held its own yearly conventions and maintained a registry of classic Tri-Five Chevrolets. However, in recent years, CCCI has gone through a number of internal reorganizations. At the present, it you were to visit www.classicchevy.com, the site would redirect you to www.ecklersclassicchevyclubinternational.com, so apparently, change at CCCI is still very much in the wind.

'PROJECT X' THIS '57 CHEVY PROJECT IS REBORN WITH THE NEW GMPP ANNIVERSARY 427 ENGINE

Project X, the most famous 1957 Chevy ever built—and rebuilt—has served as a rolling, evolving test bed of high-performance parts and a bell weather of automotive culture trends. But while this perpetual project car has never absolutely been finished, it has undergone several complete rebuilds—transformations that have contemporized its performance and styling. GM and Popular Hot Rodding (PHR) collaborated during the past year to redesign, restore, and re-power the iconic yellow shoebox.

PHR entrusted Project X with GM Performance Division, which took the car to its Warren, Michigan, home for a frame-off revitalization. The car was updated with a contemporary spin on the Pro Street theme, with a modified Corvette front suspension, four-link and mini-tubbed rear suspension and more.

While Project X has traditionally been a platform for aftermarket performance, GM Performance Division restored it with a great balance of OEM parts and craftsmanship. Nestled in at the front of the frame rails is the all-new Anniversary 427 big-block crate engine from GM Performance Parts. It is a modern re-creation of the mythical, all-aluminum ZL-1 427 engine. It is underrated at 430 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque. Only 427 of the special engines will be built.

Production of the Anniversary 427 is based on the aluminum block's original tooling, which was thought to be lost after production of the original ZL-1 engine halted in the early 1970s. GM Performance Parts oversaw the refurbishment of the tooling and updated some design features of the cylinder block, such as the addition of screw-in galley plugs. The block casting also was strengthened in key areas.

The Anniversary 427 has a 10:1 compression ratio, all-forged reciprocating parts, a roller camshaft, aluminum oval-port heads with 2.19/1.88-inch valves, HEI ignition, and an 850-cfm four-barrel carburetor mounted atop an aluminum dual-plane intake manifold. All of the limited-edition engines come with natural-finish, "427 CHEVROLET" script valve covers that are serialized, per their build in the 427-unit run. Also, every engine comes with a matching-number owner's kit.

Exhaust exits the Anniversary 427 through custom headers routed through the front fenders. They are connected to a remote-activated cut-out switch that allows the gases to pass through a conventional exhaust system to the rear of the car during street driving, or through more direct, unrestricted openings behind the front wheels.

Backing the Anniversary 427 in Project X is a heavy-duty Richmond five-speed manual transmission, which channels torque to a Strange Engineering S60 rear axle that's fitted with 3.73 gears. This all helps spin a set of 20x15-inch rear wheels. Budnik built the one-off rims for Project X, which melds period five-spoke styling with contemporary proportions. They have satin-finished center sections with polished outers, including the matching 18x7-inch front wheels. The tires are from Mickey Thompson.

To hold up the heavy-duty drivetrain while also ensuring safe, comfortable, and responsive driving performance, the GM Performance team created a rear suspension featuring a triangulated four-link design with QA-1 coil-over-shock components and Art Morrison control arms. The rear frame rails were narrowed five inches to accommodate the oversized tires.

At the front, sections of C6 Corvette rails are used. They were spliced onto the Chevy's original frame, enabling a complete Corvette front suspension system to be used, including the disc brake system with 14-inch rotors (Wilwood discs with 10-inch rotors are used at the rear). Addco created a custom front stabilizer bar for the car.

The Corvette suspension provides Project X with improved ride and handling characteristics—attributes that were enhanced with a strengthened front-end structure.

GM Performance Division engineers and technicians added a new subframe and reconstructed the core support area at the front of the chassis, while also adding structure to other sections of the Project X's front end, including a pair of additional body mounts. The new core support structure also integrates a custom Griffin radiator and the condenser for the Vintage Air climate system. To free up more space under the hood the stock hood latch was replaced with Solstice latches. Also, the stock hood hinges were swapped for Cadillac STS trunk hinges and hydraulic support lifts.

The body was removed from the frame during the restoration and completely reworked. At the front, the iconic bumper/grille was re-done with a custom, billet aluminum grille bar—outfitted with a "427" emblem—while the grille has a unique mesh pattern. On the hood, the iconic "gun sight" ornaments were removed and their housings enlarged by 50 mm. They now serve as ram air induction inlets, feeding a custom air box mounted to the underside of the hood. When the hood is closed, the air box fits over the Anniversary 427's carburetor, which is fitted with an L-88-style flame arrestor.

Along the flanks, the signature '57 Chevy side trim has been re-created in CNC-milled billet aluminum. In fact, the rear trim section was reproduced as a single piece more than seven feet long. And though Project X is a "210" model, the builders "filled in" the rear trim section with a stylized version of the Bel Air insert incorporating countless brushed-style "X" insignias.

As with the exterior, Project X's cabin was completely dismantled and rebuilt with plenty of subtle details and tricks. The dashboard, for example, was custom-built with billet aluminum inserts that carry the same "X" logos as the exterior Bel Air trim panel. A full set of Custom Rod Gauges instruments—built specifically for Project X—fills the panel in front of the driver.

The front seats began life as Cadillac STS units and were modified to give them a chopped-down, slimmer look, including the removal of the headrests. The rear seat is from a 1956 Buick and it was modified with an aluminum center trim panel.

Additional interior details include door panel trim that mimics the design of the exterior trim, a sporty steering wheel from a 1963 Impala SS, and a '64 Impala center console that was widened to fit the space between the late-model STS seats. Rising out of the console is a classic Hurst shifter used to stir the Richmond five-speed.

Some of Project X's best interior details are hidden in plain sight, including the power window switches. They're connected to the original-type manual window cranks, which require only a quarter-turn to lower or raise the windows giving the interior a blend of vintage style and modern technology.

DANCHUK MANUFACTURING, INC.

Next to the classic 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird, the Tri-Five Chevrolet reproduction parts business is the oldest 50's-era aftermarket reproduction parts business going. Like many companies specializing in the reproduction of obsolete automotive parts, Santa Ana, California's Danchuk Manufacturing Company started from very humble beginnings. Recently, Styling & Performance magazine spoke with Danchuk Manufacturing General Manager Steve Brown.

"Dan and Art Danchuk have been in business together since 1968. That's almost 40 years now. Art and Danny have always been classic Tri-Five Chevrolet muscle car restorers, and in the early 1970s, they recognized they were having trouble finding good restoration parts," said Brown. "Being that they were tool and dies makers and did jobs for many top-name companies like General Motors, Teledyne, Cragar, etc., they thought, 'We've got the expertise, we've got the equipment, and we've got the time. So why not get involved in the Tri-Five Chevrolet reproduction parts restoration business ourselves?"

Danchuk Manufacturing's first product was a clear plastic parking light lens for the 1957 Chevrolet, which sold quite well. Then the guys started remanufacturing other crucial lenses, like the '55 Chevrolet taillight lens, for example. Once they had completely replicated the entire Tri-Five Chevrolet parking light, turn signal indicator light, and taillight lens lineup, they moved on to bigger and better things.

"Being that the guys were tool and die and mold makers, they instantly recognized the fact that to expand their product line, they needed forgings, castings, zinc and chrome-plated parts, and gasketry. Whatever it was they needed to do, they jumped right into it instead of jobbing out various phases of component manufacturing, giving them (and the manufacturing process) total control. That's always been our claim to fame. When we make the lenses we make the mold ourselves. We inject the plastic ourselves. We paint the lenses and hot stamp them ourselves. Or, when you see the tri-color red, white, and blue lens on the front or back of a 1955-57, you know that it's all been done in-house," said Brown.

Danchuk Manufacturing is also proud of the fact that 100 percent of its total production is American made. "We have our own 70,000-square-foot manufacturing facility located in Santa Ana, California, and have a staff of about 80 employees. We've just taken delivery of our first HOFF CNC machine, which is made in the USA, and we're quite proud of it. We now have total control over the manufacturing process and that is a huge benefit," said Brown.

Danchuk has recently opened a 15,000-square-foot warehousing facility or central shipping hub located in Brownsburg, Indiana, to better serve its ever-expanding customer base.

"We have customers buying our products from all over the world. We sell wholesale, retail, and jobber. When it comes to shipping parts, we've found that if people have to wait eight days and pay twice as much for shipping, it kind of takes all the fun out of the buying experience. We kind of felt bad about that and established this centrally located shipping warehouse facility. We wanted to supply our customers with cheaper shipping and a quicker delivery time," said Brown.

"At Danchuk Manufacturing Co., we manufacture nearly 1,000 items for the classic Tri-Five Chevrolets and we are a member of the GM Licensed Restoration Parts program," said Brown. "It's true, sometimes we don't realize nearly the profit margin on our parts that some of the companies that have their parts manufactured overseas get. Sometimes a product like a classic 1956 Chevrolet hood bird might cost $20 more, but in keeping a tight reign on the quality, we achieve total customer satisfaction, and when you get total customer satisfaction, you grow your business through the most inexpensive and effective kind of advertising there is—word of mouth."

A HOBBY TURNED LIFESTYLE

In 1957, Colleyville, Texas, homebuilder (now retired) and Tri-Five Chevrolet lover Carl Mitcham bought his first new Chevrolet right out of high school. The car was a brand-new black 1957 Chevrolet hardtop with three-speed overdrive.

"When a new car comes into town, everybody's got to go out and challenge 'em," commented Mitcham. "We spent about every night out drag racing. That was the big thing in those days. At the time, I was living in Lubbock, Texas. All I had to do was just cruise through the local drive-in and I got all the races I could handle."

Of the three years of Tri-Five Chevrolets, Carl Mitcham likes the 1957 models the best. "These are simple cars to work on. They're easy to sell. They hold their value well and they're fun to drive."

Over the years, Mitcham has owned and restored more than 40 Tri-Five Chevrolets, some of which were national award winners. "I've built fuel-injected Tri-Fives, I've built ones with dual carburetors on them. I've built overdrive cars. I've built air-conditioned cars. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject. Of course, nobody could know it all, but I try to thoroughly research the subject and do things as correctly as possible."

Although Mitcham primarily specializes in concourse restorations, a modified Tri-Five Chevrolet will sneak in there every once in awhile. "I put together several cars for other people. I just finished a '57 modified for the Be Cool radiator folks, but I prefer the restorations. I'm currently finishing a black-on-black 1957 Bel Air convertible for a friend who started restoring the car himself, but became paralyzed from a stroke. The car features a 270-horsepower 283 with dual Rochester four-barrel carburetors. It's going to be a high-dollar car."

Whenever it comes to so-called "experts" claiming the restoration of a certain classic Tri-Five Chevrolet was done using NOS Chevrolet parts, Mitcham is quick to debunk the subject.

"There's no NOS stuff left. If they've restored a particular car using NOS parts, they must have had the stuff sitting on the shelf for over 20 years. I haven't built a Tri-Five Chevrolet using NOS parts for a long, long time. I buy my reproduction parts through an old friend named Pete Sawatzky from Route 66 Restoration Supplies, located in Stroud, Oklahoma. Pete deals in Tri-Five Chevrolet reproduction parts and buys from Danchuk and a whole bunch of others."

When we asked Carl to sum up his intense love and lifelong interest in Tri-Five Chevrolets, he said, "It's my hobby and it keeps me busy. It really keeps me involved, and when you stay busy, you stay young, at least in spirit. I enjoy building them, I enjoy going to car shows, club meetings, and I enjoy talking to people such as yourself. These cars mean a lot to me. They're one of the most recognizable cars on the road today. Why would anybody not like a 1957 Chevrolet?"

THE "NIFTY '50S" REVISITED

Imagine building a brand-spanking-new 1955 or 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air convertible with no rusted hulk to blast, clean, weld, and straighten. This is a "body-in-white" (BIW) Chevrolet convertible built with newer, better metal than the original.

No, this isn't some '50s flashback you're having, and no, you haven't died and gone to bow tie heaven, but you're darned close. Thanks to the folks at Sterling Heights, Michigan's Experi-Metal, Inc., it's now possible to take a blast into the past by ordering one of the company's reproduction 1955 or 1957 Bel Air BIW convertible replicas. New car smell is not included.

"Experi-Metal, Inc. has been in business for over 50 years. Originally, the company started off manufacturing body panels and related stampings for OE. Then about 30 years ago, Experi-Metal, Inc. expanded into the replacement sheet metal stamping aftermarket, and that included re-manufacturing a lot of the Tri-5 Chevrolet stuff," said Mark Mondine, aftermarket sales director for Experi-Metal Incorporated (EMI). "So, when it came to Experi-Metal replicating an entire car, it was only a matter of time.

"It got to the point where we were missing only a couple of pieces before we could build an entire coach or body in white. So, we decided that we would tool up, build those missing pieces, and bring an entire body to market," Mondine said.

Two years ago, EMI introduced its '57 BIW to rave reviews at the 2006 SEMA Show. However, as popular as Experi-Metal, Inc.'s '57 BIW has been, the manufacturer is banking heavily on the fact its new 1955 BIW will be even more popular.

"The development of the 1955 BIW underscores our passion for Tri-Five Chevrolets," commented Al Sharp, Experi-Metal, Inc.'s vice president of sales. "We analyzed supply and demand and came to the realization that the 1955 would most likely exceed that of the 1957, and it (EMI's newly introduced '55 BIW) represents a significant investment in resources, fixtures, and tooling."

"All of the parts used in the construction of either BIW have been reverse engineered direct from the originals; not from reproductions," said Mondine. "That's how we were able to achieve the correct factory tolerances and dimensions and arrive at (and in some instances improve upon) the overall fit and finish of the final product.

"If you were to take a door off one of our cars, you'd find it would fit on an original, and if you were to take a deck lid off an original, you would find it would fit on to one of our cars. Everything is interchangeable," continued Mondine.

Of course, the proverbial $64,000 question is, will one of Experi-Metal, Inc.'s '55 or '57 BIWs fit onto an original Tri-5 Chevrolet chassis?

After Experi-Metal answered with a resounding "yes," we pressed our luck a little further and asked whether either body would fit any of the existing aftermarket Tri-Five chassis manufactured by SEMA-member companies, such as Art Morrison, Jim Meyer Racing, Heidt's Hot Rod Shop, and Double Nickel Classic Chassis?

"Although we don't do our own chassis, we work very closely with The Roadster Shop in Mundelein, Illinois," says Mondine. "We've mounted our bodies on not only a number of OE Tri-Five chassis, but also on their (the Roadster Shop) own design Tri-Five chassis with absolutely no problems."

And what about price and availability?

"Two options are currently available. We offer a 'cowl-back' model for those guys who have their own (1957 Chevrolet) front sheet metal. It retails for $29,900. Then we offer our 'full body option' (which includes the hood and front fenders) for $34,500," he said.

At this time, only the cowl-back option is available for Experi-Metal, Inc.'s new '55 BIW at $34,000, as Experi-Metal, Inc. is still tooling up the front sheet metal, which should be available later in 2008.

Both EMI's '55 and '57 BIWs are distributed by the Roadster Shop, CARS, Inc., Sherman & Associates, and Cross Canada Auto Body Supply.

SOURCES

Addco (custom front stabilizer bar) (800) 621-8916 www.addco.net

Akzo Nobel (powder coat) www.akzonobel.com

Chris Alston Chassisworks (916) 388-0288 www.cachassisworks.com

American Auto Wire (vehicle wiring and harnesses) (800) 482-9473 www.americanautowire.com

A1 Automatics (956) 682-4573 www.a1automatics.com

ATI Performance Products (800) 284-3433 www.atiperformance.com

Air Ride Technologies (812) 481-4787 www.ridetech.com

Aldan Shock Absorbers (310) 834-7478 www.aldeneagle.com

Art Morrison Enterprises (rear control arms) (888) 642-8380 www.artmorrison.com

B&M (818) 882-6422 www.bmracing.com

Baer Brakes (602) 233-1411 www.baer.com

Barry Grant-Demon Carburetion (706) 864-8544 www.barrygrant.com

Bilstein (858) 386-5900 www.bilstein.com

Budnik (custom wheels) (714) 892-1932 www.budnik.com

Carl Mitcham Restorations (817) 929-4441

Centerforce (928) 771-8422 www.centerforce.com

Chassis Engineering (561) 863-2188 www.chassisengineering.com

Clay Smith Cams (714) 523-0530 www.claysmithcams.com

Chet Herbert Cams (714) 750-1211 www.chetherbert.com

Classic Industries Parts & Accessories (1963-64 Impala components [interior]) (714) 847-6887 www.classicindustries.com

COMP Cams (800) 999-0853 www.compcams.com

Competition Engineering by Moroso (203) 453-5200 www.competitionengineering.com

The Converter Shop (TCS) (928) 453-6571 www.tcsperformance.com

Crane Cams (386) 252-1151 www.cranecams.com

Crower (619) 661-6477 www.crower.com

Currie Enterprises (714) 528-9410 www.currieenterprises.com

Custom Rod Gauges (dashboard instruments) (559) 277-3560 www.customrodgauges.com

Danchuk Manufacturing Co. (1957 Chevy restoration parts) (714) 540-4363 www.danchuk.com

DART (248) 362-1188 www.dartheads.com

Donovan Engineering (310) 320-3772 www.donovanengineering.com

Doug's Headers (909) 599-5955 www.dougsheaders.com

DynoMax (2.5-inch stainless steel mufflers) www.dynomax.com

Eaton-Detroit Spring (313) 963-3889 www.eatonsprings.com

Eckler's Classic Chevy Club International (800) 284-4096 www.classicchevy.com

Edelbrock (310) 781-2222 www.edelbrock.com

Energy Suspension (949) 361-3935 www.energysuspension.com

Experi-Metal, Inc. (replacement sheet metal) (586) 977-7800 www.experi-metal.com

Fatman Fabrications (704) 545-0369 www.fatmanfab.com

Flaming River (440) 826-4488 www.flaming-river.com

Fuel Air Spark Technology (877) 334-8355 www.fuelairspark.com

Gear Vendors (800) 999-9555 www.gearvendors.com

Global West Suspension (877) 470-2975 www.globalwest.com

GM Performance Parts www.gmperformanceparts.com

Grant (714) 996-0050 www.grantpistonrings.com

Griffin (custom radiator) (864) 845-5000 www.griffinrad.com

Hays (clutch) (216) 688-8300 www.haysclutches.com

Heidt's Hot Rod Shop (800) 841-8188 www.heidts.com

Holley Performance Products (270) 782-2900 www.holley.com

Hotchkis Performance (888) 735-6425 www.hotchkis.net

Hughes Performance (520) 624-4411 www.hughesperformance.com

Hurst Shifters (818) 483-1366 www.hurst-shifters.com

ididit (tilting steering column) (517) 424-6577 www.ididit.com

Iskendarian Camshafts (323)-770-0930 www.iskycams.com

Jardine (951) 739-5900 www.jardineproducts.com

JEGS High Performance (800) 345-4545 www.jegs.com

Jim Meyer Race Car Products, Inc. (541) 994-7717, (800) 824-1752 www.jimmeyerracing.com

Joe Hunt Magnetos (916) 635-5387 www.huntmagnetos.com

K&N (951) 826-4000 www.knfilters.com

Keisler-Tremec (865) 609-8187 www.keislerauto.com

Kenwood (audio system) (310) 639-9000 www.kenwoodusa.com

KONI (859) 586-4100 www.koni-na.com

Lakewood (transmission scatter shield) (216) 688-8300 www.mrgasket.com

L.A. Speed Shop (626) 795-1744 www.laspeedshop.com

Mallory (216) 688-8300 www.malloryracing.com

Manley Performance Products (732) 905-3366 www.manleyperformance.com

Mark Williams Enterprises (303) 665-6901 www.markwilliams.com

McLeod (hydraulic throw-out bearing) (714) 630-2760 www.mcleod.com

McGaughy's Suspension Parts (559) 226-8196 www.mcgaughys.com

Mickey Thompson (tires) (330) 928-9092 www.mickeythompsontires.com

Mike's Transmissions (661) 723-0081 www.mikestransmissions.com

Milodon (805) 577-5950 www.milodon.com

Moon Equipment Company (562) 944-6311 www.mooneyesusa.com

Moroso (203) 453-6571 www.moroso.com

Moser Engineering (260) 726-6689 www.moserengineering.com

Mr. Gasket (216) 688-8300 www.mrgasket.com

MSD Ignition (915) 857-5200 www.msdignition.com

Nitrous Oxide Systems (NOS) (270) 782-2900 www.holley.com

Nitrous Supply (714) 373-1986 www.nitroussupply.com

The Nitrous Works (706) 864-8544 www.barrygrant.com

Perfect Circle www.clevite.com

Precision Gear (734) 946-0524 www.precisiongear.com

QA-1 (coil-over shocks) (952) 985-5675 www.carrerashocks.com

RaceTrans.com (818) 767-3021 www.racetrans.com

Richmond Gear (five-speed manual transmission) (864) 843-9275 www.richmondgear.com

The Roadster Shop (847) 949-7637 www.roadstershop.com

Route 66 Restoration Supplies (918) 968-2366 www.rt66restorationsupplies.com

Royal Purple (engine oil and lubricants) (281) 354-8600 www.synerlec.com

SCAT (310) 370-5501 www.scatcrankshafts.com

Shaver Racing Engines (310) 370-6941 www.shaverengines.com

Smeding Performance (916) 638-0899 www.smedingperformance.com

Street & Performance (479) 394-5711 www.hotrodlane.cc

Strange Engineering (S60 rear axle) (847) 663-1701 www.strangeengineering.net

Summit (800) 230-3030 www.summitracing.com

TCI (662) 224-8972 www.tciauto.com

TransGo (626) 443-7451 www.transgo.com

Trick Flow Specialties (330)630-1555 www.trickflow.com

Trick Titanium (248) 588-9430 www.tricktitanium.com

Tom's Differentials (208) 265-8111 www.tomsdifferentials.com

Unisteer Performance Products 330) 425-9080 www.unisteer.com

Vintage Air (air conditioning system) (800) 862-6658 www.vintageair.com

Weiand (270) 782-2900 www.holley.com

Wilwood Engineering (805) 388-1188 www.wilwood.com

World Products (631) 981-1918 www.worldcastings.com

Year One (706) 658-2140 www.yearone.com

ZEX (888) 817-1008 www.zex.com

Zoom Performance (704) 799-0577 www.zoomperformance.com

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