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.)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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?
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.
however, had other ideas.
Up Next: 1978-79:
Hey! Where's my car?