At 6 feet 1 inch, your author certainly isn’t the tallest dude out there. Even so, while riding shotgun in Mac Bernd’s Tri-Five Chevy, it’s hard not to marvel in the copious legroom that trounces that of your typical ’64-72 muscle machine. However, the time for petty observations—the kind that would make Caption Obvious proud—doesn’t last long. Before you know it, the stroked LS6’s tenor rasp is wailing at the top of First gear before its 4L65E dance mate lays some big-time patch on the 1-2 shift, pitching the ’55’s backend halfway in the other lane. Yeah, baby. As the speedo eclipses the century mark, Mac looks over and yells, “See, I told you this car hauls ass.” There’s a distinct tone of vindication in his voice, and there’s good reason for it. That’s because just 10 minutes prior to our WOT jaunt, we stood mesmerized by the Tri-Five’s gleaming undercarriage and engine bay. Replete with polished, powdercoated, and chromed bits and pieces everywhere, we couldn’t help but doubt the car’s street worthiness. Mac must have sensed our reservations, but after one swift romp of the throttle, we’re now believers. And that goes for everyone else who’s crossed paths with this machine, too.
Although the ’64 GTO—and the flurry of intermediate-sized, big motor cars that ensued—often takes credit for inventing the muscle car formula, they merely ripped off that idea from their Tri-Five forbears. Speed-crazed youth of the day recognized their potential, and by the time the muscle car era rolled around, Tri-Fives were prime hot rodding fodder. Unlike many 40-something enthusiasts that think every kid in the ’60s drove a muscle car, as an older and wiser car guy of retirement age who was actually around back then, Mac doesn’t share the same distorted recollection of history. “Back when I was in high school, muscle cars were brand new so you had to have some money to buy them,” he says. “On the other hand, used Tri-Five Chevys were only $300. They were cheap enough that any teenager could get a summer job and save up enough money to buy one. Needless to say, there were far more Tri-Five Chevys in your typical high school parking lot during the ’60s than muscle cars.”
While legendary motors like the 454 LS6 and 350 LT1 had yet to be invented back when Tri-Fives were new, when combined with today’s engine and chassis technology, they’re arguably even more balanced machines than a typical muscle car. Not only does Mac’s ’55 Chevy go like stink, its combination of power, handling, versatility, and timeless good looks are tough to match these days. For scoot, it relies an all-aluminum 530hp LS6 small-block that’s been stroked to 383 ci, and it channels that power through a 4L65E overdrive transmission. Beneath the boxy sheetmetal is a state-of-the-art Walton Fabrication custom frame that boasts boxed rails, custom crossmembers, and a four-link rear suspension. Up front, the suspension has been fully revamped with goodies from Classic Performance Parts, and big disc brakes handle the stopping duties. Perfectly complementing the stance and filling up the wheelwells are Intro V-Rod rollers wearing Nitto rubber.