1979-81: Delayed Gratification

I kept in touch with Paul and kept tabs on the Chevy. Paul left the Big O Tire store to start his own business not long after I graduated from UEI in March 1979. When I started my new electronics job (making a whopping $5.75 an hour), I set buying the '55 as my first goal.

For months I scrimped and saved money at my new job. By October I had most of the money I needed to buy the car. I tracked down Paul and arranged to go visit the Chevy again.

My enthusiasm was still high, but the car wasn't being driven much at this point. I found the Chevy sitting behind his house with the grass growing high around it. A few minor spots of surface rust were showing where nicks and scratches had taken it down to the metal in spots in the 18 months since I had seen the car.

Though he wasn't actively trying to sell the car now, Paul didn't alter the price. Paul was good enough to offer to put my earlier $100 deposit toward the purchase price of the car. He offered to touch up the car's paint for $100, a price I thought was fair. With the sale set for $1,600, we shook hands and I told him I would be back in a week with the cash.

Chevy fever was consuming me, and I couldn't wait any longer to buy the car. I borrowed a few hundred dollars from my hometown bank (my dad reluctantly agreed to co-sign for me) and the next week I went back to Paul's house with cash in hand. A friend drove me to Paul's to pick it up. I put the license plate off my car at home on the Chevy and headed to a gas station to fill the tank.

There are a few moments in your life that you can recall so vividly you can remember smells, tastes and sounds like they're in the room with you. I can remember the slightly musty smell of the interior, the smooth hum of horsepower coursing through the car as I accelerated, and the slight vibration of the one-piece fiberglass front end as I hit bumps along the surface streets heading to the Interstate. It was Oct. 13, 1979.

My dad, who still didn't like my decision to go ahead and buy the car, refused to allow me to park the car at his home. He didn't want it in his driveway, he said. I was forced to find other places to park it.

Connie, the older brother of best friend Earl Dickerson, agreed to let me park the Chevy at his place. Connie was a former drag racer and an excellent mechanic who had a knack for high performance and an ear for engines. I have to credit Connie and his brothers for tutoring me through Auto Mechanics 101 (and 102, 103, etc). The Chevy stayed at Connie's house while I was away in Southern Indiana at my job.

Connie drove the car when he wanted and he did quite a bit of work on the car, tuning and testing. He knew what he was doing, and had the expertise and equipment to do most anything. I'm still indebted to him.

Within a year, a rod started knocking in the Chevy's 327 small block engine. I found a replacement motor, a complete 350 four-bolt main engine that was in a '55 Chevy pickup truck.I added a Crane high-lift cam (.485 gross intake/exhaust lift) and hydraulic lifters, along with the double hump heads and intake and we dropped it in the Chevy. With the fiberglass front end, access to the motor was easy.

With my thirst for automotive knowledge, I wound up buying as many car magazines as I could. I bought Car Craft, Hot Rod, Super Chevy and Popular Hot Rodding every month, along with their special editions -- particularly if they covered Chevys, small block Chevy building, Muncie transmissions or autobody and painting work. I amassed quite a library of information, and I saved the magazines that I deemed important for future work on the car. It was in the pages of one of these publications that I discovered a national event — the Street Machine Nationals.

Since 1976, Car Craft magazine had been holding the Street Machine Nationals annually in Indianapolis.. By 1981, the event's reputation as the Mecca for hot street machines had grown. That June I decided to drive to Indianapolis as a spectator, along with my girlfriend. I left the 55 home, chosing instead to take my father's air-conditioned Dodge Aspen.

When we crossed the Ohio River to the shores of Indiana, I had no idea what a life-altering trip this would be.

Up Next: 1981-82: Hot Rod Heaven