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1977-1978: We meet

I’ve owned my 55 Chevy since October 1979; to paraphrase a wise man, “What a long, strange trip it's been.”  Please read on! It was late 1977. I was 18, and a student at United Electronics Instititue, an electronics school in Louisville, Ky. When I enrolled at UEI in June 1977, their placement counselor told me I needed to work a part-time job to get some experience and references. She set up an interview at Automotive Supplies, an auto parts jobber and retailer on Jacob Street in downtown Louisville.My job was driving parts to garages, service stations (remember those?) and to other auto parts retailers. My territory covered Southern Indiana and the western half of Jefferson County (the dividing line was Preston Highway).I was a real greenhorn when it came to city driving. I had only driven once into downtown, and that was just a short hop off the interstate. Finding my way around the Louisville metro area seemed like an overwhelming task.I met lots of new people on my delivery route. One of the nicest guys on my route was Paul Woodruff. He was the front-end specialist at Big O Tires on Eastern Blvd. in Clarksville, Ind. Paul had a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door hard top that sat at the tire store from time to time. Being in the car parts business, I visited a lot of stores and saw plenty of hot street iron. Paul's '55 Chevy was my favorite.

My first Polaroid photo of the Chevy. I shot this to show my dad. He wasn't as impressed with it as I. (Click to enlarge.)

The Chevy was white and featured a one-piece fiberglass front end that tilted forward. A cowl induction hood scoop had been grafted to the doghouse; a Chevy bowtie had been cut where the grill would have been. A piece of black grillwork filled the bowtie, along with the Chevrolet script like that found on the front fenders of the low-end 150 trim level for that year.

The tilt front-end was one of my favorite parts of the car; it was a look that oozed horsepower. I never was hassled by the local law enforcement over the doghouse, but then I kept my foot out of it inside the city limits.

The rest of the body and interior was essentially stock As was normal for hot-rodded '55 Chevys, the hood and trunk lid emblems were removed, as was other non-essential chrome.. The original seats had been re-upholstered in black vinyl, and the side panels and door panels had been dyed black to match. The car had its original headliner.

Under the fiberglass doghouse sat a 327-cu in. small-block Chevy with 11:1 high compression pistons, high-lift solid-lift camshaft, double-hump heads, Offenhauser 360 aluminum intake, Hedman Hedders and a Holley 750 double-pumper. The tranny was a Muncie shifted by a Hurst shifter (and a Pontiac shift knob, for whatever reason).

That small block Chevy hit quite a lick when idling. Without all the shielding from inner fenders, etc., the motor seemed extra noisy. While it would easily fry the tires when you hit the throttle, it also pinged on regular octane gas. Leaded premium gas was still available then, but was hard to find.

I visited Paul's Big O store about three times a week. On one delivery I saw the Chevy sitting out front for sale and I knew I had to have it.

Paul wanted $1,600 for the car, which was a premium price for an old Chevy back then. It had been modified so much that it wasn't considered a good candidate for restoration (original and less-modified cars were still available for a good price). He had a lot of interest but no takers.

I had to have the car. I lusted after the car like only an 18-year-old can. I had to raise the money -- but how? I cleared $40 a week from my after-school delivery job, so saving the money would be a very long process. I decided to sell my car, a 1971 VW Type III. I had equipped the car with aluminum slotted mags and it looked pretty good. The car had a decent stereo, a Hurst shifter, and more importantly, selling it was the quickest way to raise $1,600. I figured it would be an easy sell, though my parents had other ideas.

My mom had received a small sum of cash from an uncle's estate, and she took $500 of that money and bought the VW from her brother. I had added wheels, stereo and other teen-age essentials.

I knew I needed my parents' approval to sell a car they bought for me. On a Saturday I drove to Clarksville and shot some Polaroid photos of the Chevy to show my folks the car I wanted. On the way home, I practiced my sales pitch, trying to highlight the car's positive points.

I was convinced it would be a fine daily driver. The car would certainly be the coolest one in the school parking lot. I also knew it would raise my stock with my hometown gearheads. I told Paul I wanted it and gave him a $100 down payment to hold it for me.

My parents (particularly my father) thought I had lost my mind. The photographs only confirmed their biggest fears. Not only was it a hot rod, but the car was more than 20 years old and likely very unreliable. I had to drive a 70-mile-a-day commute to school and work — how could this broken-down Chevy hold up?

In the end, they finally said yes, though only if I could find a buyer. My dad made it clear he wouldn't be giving any money to help me with such a large portion -- and I would have to pay my own insurance. How I would do that on $40 a week, I wasn't sure, but I was confident I would find a buyer for my VW.

Fate, however, had other ideas.

Up Next: 1978-79: Hey! Where's my car?