In my generation, the '55 Chevy kind of grew up between your shoulder blades; the bigger you got, the bigger that drawing became. Though not the very first car I owned, it was the most memorable. It took me places I'll never go again. It was a bridge, a slippery log, a narrow crossing from one sphere of consciousness to another.
Just at driving age, the '55 post car looked like a real bad dad. And it was. Had Street Eliminator painted all over it. All you had to do was snatch a look at Hot Rod. Listen to those duals crackling when he backs off the throttle. What did a 17-year-old's mind think about modern marketing? I hadn't a clue but my '55 seemed to be right in the middle of it.
One reason that the late-'40s and early-'50s Caddy and Olds were considered high-zoot was that they packed a relatively large, smooth-running V-shaped eight-cylinder engine years before straight-eight Pontiacs and Buicks became V-8s and Chevrolet introduced its revolutionary thin-wall casting V-8.
As today, Chevrolet owners were considered working class in search of versatile, inexpensive, and durable transportation, but for those who could see beyond the compound wall, the future looked nothing short of legendary. Light body, high-revving engine, cheap to buy, factory-built hop-up parts soon to flow like the Mississippi.
Zora Duntov's hallowed white paper is what happened. It outlined the Bow Tie's deep commitment of technical support and hardware, a highly-weighted prognosis that was revealed in 1953. Ford had just introduced its 239ci OHV V-8, and over in Highland Park, the hemispherical combustion chamber engine was entering its third year of production.
Duntov's reasoning: "Like all people, hot rodders are attracted by novelty. However, bitter experience has taught them that new development is costly and long, and therefore they are extremely conservative. From my observation, it takes an advanced hot rodder some three years to stumble toward the successful development of a new design. Overhead Fords will be in this stable between 1956 and 1957. The slide rule potential of our RPO V-8 engine is extremely high, but to let things run their natural course will put us one year behind-and then not too many hot rodders will pick Chevrolet for development. One factor which can largely overcome this handicap would be the availability of ready-engineered parts for higher output."
California might have Nancy Pelosi and the country's worst economy but it counters with the vast and captivating Mojave Desert, where the humidity is so low it'll peel the lips off a chicken. Humidity rots irrevocably, but dry, dry, and dry mummifies and preserves. Hot rodders, desert rats, pickers, car-nuts, and geezers like us have salvaged carcasses, familiar shells from those ancient sand basins and often riddled with bullet holes but nary a spot of rust.
K&N espouses that every aftermarket performance company should own "a killer '55," hence the revitalization of this 210, one that first served the company as a display vehicle. The car came from its original owner who lived in hot, dry Hemet, California. It was solid, hadn't a speck of rust, and retained all the original chrome and stainless trim.
The thing about K&N is that it likes to see people out driving in their cars, especially ones with K&N filters leading the intake tract. To give this idea some credence, the company encourages its employees to drive this cream-filled donut to local gatherings and runs. Not talkin' 'bout it bein' a Mary, either. Its stroker little-block makes 460 pound-feet at the crank. Plenty of beans to run amok. Just a little bit. Mostly, though, it's an extraordinary experience driving a 55-year-old veteran that goes, stops, and handles better than most modern-day cars and certainly a unique package in a world of store-bought, pre-fab, and injection molding.
The K&N techs got themselves a GMPP 383 short-block and worked it over some. A GMPP forged crankshaft now goes with Crower connecting rods. JE pistons squeeze a 10:1 compression ratio on 91 octane when pushed against GM Fast Burn cylinder heads (2.00/1.55-inch valves, raised runners, 62cc chambers). The bumpstick is the ever-popular Comp hydraulic roller with 292/300 degrees duration at 0.050-inch and a 0.550-inch lift across the board. The aluminum Fast Burn castings are fixed up with Manley stainless steel valves, Comp beehive springs, and GMPP 3/8-inch stud, 1.5:1 roller rockers. Induction is simple: A GMPP single-plane intake manifold schmoozes a Holley 750 and the 383 is protected by a K&N 14-inch Xtreme filtration system. On the bottom end of the motor, nothing less than a Jeff Johnston Billet Fabrication pump and aluminum sump oozing with Brad Penn oil as serviced by a K&N 3002 oil filter. Waste management is the responsibility of Dawson Headers (Nuevo, California) and a custom MagnaFlow 3-inch stainless exhaust system. Those snarky rocker covers are no-longer-produced sheetmetal props somebody found in the back room and may be the last pair in the universe. An Aeromotive A1000 pump, filters, and regulators mind the fuel volume and velocity; it flows through XRP Super Nickel stainless braiding hoses. To create the noise we all joyfully recall and anticipate from its mild though highly responsive ministrations, K&N tweaked the stroker to 475 hp at 5,500 rpm. An MSD Pro Billet distributor creates the explosions and 460 lb-ft of mucus-busting grunt at 4,500. To our way of thinking an automatic transmission is for a truck, not a street-driven alter ego. K&N wisely paid homage with the silky-smooth demeanor of the Tremec Ultra-Close ratio six-speeder as prepped by California Motorsport. The highly charged force cranking from the transmission punishes an Inland Empire aluminum prop shaft that turns 4.30:1 gears in the Currie 9-Plus rearend.
Wheels & Brakes
Baer 14- and 13-inch brakes burn energy off this relative flyweight via six- and four-piston calipers. More than gramps really needs perhaps, but more brakes than you need is never a bad thing. With a nod to the original Pro Street '55s, big Intro wheels (18x8, 20x10) are encased by hungry Toyo Proxes ST 245/45 and 315/35 friction makers.
Old meets modern, no kickin' or fussin' about it, cuz. A complete Art Morrison tube chassis underwrites this lucky shoebox. Formed within a 2x3 frame it is equipped with front and rear bars, specific spindles, Strange coilover shock absorbers, power rack steering, geometry-corrected tubular control arms up front, and Morrison's four-link suspension at the back end. Suffice that the K&N '55, with a 0.94 g average, has a lot of lateral grip. Through cones, the body remains uncannily flat, reducing wasted motion and fostering a confident, snake-like advance down the course ... or that favorite bunch of twisties out back.
More celebrities at work here, too. The folks at Ron Mangus gave it their best with custom leather applied as far as the eye can see. All the interior trim came from Danchuk shelves and the dashboard was thoroughly tweaked to look like nothing has been done to it at all. Crow Enterprizes lap belts lie in furious contrast with the biscuit theme. When the sound of the engine wanes, guests are urged to sample the Sony head unit and corresponding Xplod sound system.
K&N went to the best, Pete Santini down in Westminster. Santini Paint & Body is composed of a loose group of specialists, five or six individuals with very special talent. They smoothed out what little of the body that required it, rubbed on it a lot, and let fly with House of Kolor Sunset Pearl and opposing medium silver.