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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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