Building a '55 Chevy Gasser California Style

Part One of Four

 

Took a long time to find just the perfect '55 Chevy and finally found it on Craig's List. Couldn't resist stopping to celebrate at my old hangout, Tommy's Burgers in Glendale. Lots of thumbs-up!

Parked outside the shop, the car's first night in it's new home.

The dash is perfect, no butcher job here, everything has been done right. The car has a full folder of history and documentation and yes, the steering wheel is era correct.

It collected dust for about two months, got a lot of flack, but decided it was now or never...

Finally the front end came off. It just took me a while to build up the nerve to start cutting!

Once it was off, the real work would be in the preparation.

Lots of measuring and leveling...

Last step, making sure frame and body are level.

Pulling off all the old suspension and getting ready to remove front clip.

Tacked in tubing to make sure the frame stayed square.

Both ends tacked in place.

Double checking levels to make sure nothing has moved.

Constructed an out-rigger to ensure the frame ride height on the new clip would remain the same.

Started preping for the new frame section

The car must have been parked near an almond orchard for years. A squirrel made its home in the frame and when we cut into it, nesting material and almonds came tumbling out.

Preparation to permit new custom frame section to slip into original frame.

Front frame sections specially constructed by Earl Williams of Williams Classics. I wanted only the best for this project.

Located exact center and used a hole saw to insert front cross member.

Front cross member welded in place.

Frame in place and tacked.

Checking levels again,

...and again

Married and rosette-welded.

Grafted the new front clip on the original frame.

Welded the top and bottom of original frame sections in preparation for front clip.

All sheet metal and core support re-hung and alignment triple-checked. It was important to me that the front cross member and frame horns be positioned just in front of the valance. Didn't want them to protrude too far.

My special order axle is on its way so used a temporary one to assess alignment of caliper and rotor before corrections.

Getting measurements for the caliper mounting spacers. The washers are used only to get a proper measurement for a solid spacer.

Checking the rotor center line to the caliper and squaring the caliper for proper pad contact.

View from overhead shows no more washers, solid spacers are machined for rotor and caliper alignment.

Using the rod-end washers so the hind joint can rotate properly.

Mocking up everything to get the wheel base square.

Double checking wheel base once again to make sure everything is centered.

Temporarily mounted my wheels and tires to make sure axle isn't too far forward.

Decided to make a tubular core support mount.

Setting the motor in for motor mount mock up.

Motor mounts welded in place.

Center support welded in place and hole drilled. Jason and John at Whitefield Racing (909-608-7123) specialize in custom fabrication. They have done a fantastic job helping me with this project. Check out the quality of the welds!

This is the complete graft with the fish plates

This kind of reinforcement restores the integrity of the front clip.

The finished core support mount.

The axle, spring brackets and shock mounts have arrived. All parts were chemically stripped to remove crust, then prepped for plating prior to final welding in place. The work is exceptional, Bill at WAC Customs (860-459-0399) in Torrington, CT has done a remarkable job constructing this custom 50" axle with a 5" drop. I'll have a rolling chassis soon.

Chasing an issue with measurements, didn't think about measuring the springs, made the assumption they were paired. Didn't think about measuring the pin centers, but they were off by 3/8 inch. Would have saved myself two days of searching for an error if I would have checked the pin centers.

After correcting the leaf spring problem all angles fell into place. We wanted the front shackle at a forward angle of 72 to 73 degrees.

Next step is installing the steering.

Finished ride height. Everything in place.

Manufacturing defects can cause both minor and major problems. I can't stress this enough: check parts thoroughly before installation! Decided I wanted '63-'67 Vette steering knuckles. Got these on eBay, had to exchange one due to being bent, no problem with the exchange. The reason for my choice was the off-set. I could flip left to right, raising the center link, so it would be positioned above the leaf spring.

Building a '55 Chevy Gasser California Style

Part Two of Four

 

 

The next step was to set the castor to 6 degrees.

After some adjustments it was dead on.

Tack welded everything in place.

Couldn't afford a mistake, checked again with the wheel in place......ok, my wife is right, I'm anal when it comes to my cars....

Rechecked everything once again to get to this point, then had Jason Whitefield complete the final weld.

After final welding of the suspension, it was time to hang the shocks. Hand-fabricated shock mounts were tacked in place.

Shock mounts tacked in place. Steering knuckles and center link are also in place.

Lining up shock mounts before final weld.

Aligning shock angles.

Checking the swing of the steering arm to ensure no interference. Tons of room!

Checking steering arm and center link. Six inches of clearance between pan and steering linkage.

Used a 2 1/2 inch drop Pitman arm and everything came into place like magic.

Steering box tacked in place. Used a template and drilled two holes in the frame to accomodate through bungs.

Side shot of Pitman arm.

Double checked ride height and positioned the shock to ensure the shock valving was in the realm of ride height.

Checking the angle and clearance of the steering shaft.

Shock mounts tacked in place.

Shock mount final weld.

Outside hand fabricated shock mount welded in place. Next step is to fabricate inner mount.

Both shock tabs in place and welded.

Brake line tab final weld.

Double checked all measurements one more time. Now we can weld in the steering box mounts permanently.

Through bungs tacked in place for the steering box.

Steering box is in position, we can now fabricate upper mount.

Fabricated upper mount in position.

Ready to tack in place and permanently weld.

Finished upper mount.

Inside frame shot of steering box mount.

The '55 on the rack at legendary Scotty's Muffler in San Bernardino...finally!

After telling Dave how I wanted the headers and exhaust ran, his comment was, "You don't want much, do you!"

The result is a real work of art...just like I pictured how they would look in my head. Dave, you are a true artist!!

The 3 1/2" exhaust.

The mufflers positioned between the ladder bars. In tight quarters, Dave and Tom were able to install the mufflers and tubing without interference with the suspension.

The balance tube will help with the tone of the exhaust. Didn't want it to sound "pipey".

I wanted to have the tail pipes behind the tires.

The header configuration was a real challenge..... The exhaust had to flow smoothly.

Done and on its way home where it will sit for a while. Too much work to do and no room at the shop for now..... Next step, body work and paint.

Hover mouse over each photo to see an explan-ation of the work being done.

 

Slides advance auto-matically every 25 seconds.

 

Mouse over image to use the side arrows to see next or previous slide, or mouse over far left or far right thumb pics to search slides and click on the slide to view it.

 

I've been getting lots of questions about my front axel. I had trouble finding the right one, definitely Did NOT want a 48". As the slide mentions, I found the perfect fit with the exact look I wanted from WAC Customs. Here's the link to their Facebook page:

 

https://www.facebook.com/WAC-Customs-602766899798304/

Building a '55 Chevy Gasser California Style

Part Three of Four

 

SlideOnedimstart

SlideOnedimstart

The roof is perfect. This car is a true survivor and a credit to those who owned and raced it in the past.

The doors now hang perfectly, with an even gap all the way around.

The tail light assembly was metal-worked to fit perfectly.

This location is a common place for rust to form. None was observed. This door has yet to be aligned and the gap set.

The firewall was stripped of years of rattle can paint jobs. Welded up some holes, and metal-finished the entire firewall.

All body supports were taken down to bare metal and again, no rust or body rot.

All lead was removed from the seams between the deck lid and the window, then seams metal-finished.

The lead was also removed from the seam on the rear splash apron.

This is the finished section showing the seam has been metal-finished and repairs made to the splash apron.

Primer has just been applied. That gap is uniform from start to finish.

With the primer applied you can see just how perfect the lines are. Favio has done a great job and not a drop of bondo!

First application of color.

When a firewall is this perfect I just couldn't cover it with flat black paint.

This was the first time I saw the custom color in the sunlight. The diamond dust really makes it flash.

Can't wait to get glass in the window frames. These doors are laser straight.

Color and clear. The roof is perfect and hasn't even been buffed.

Waiting to get color sanded and buffed.

It's been a long time coming but it has been worth the wait. Should be home this week.

The original Snowflake heads had been angle milled. Took a pic of Mikio Yoshioka, the legendary ace fuel altered pilot of the world famous Stone T while he worked on the manifold. Three days of constant machining, cursing me every minute, he finally completed the work. The cross ram now has the proper fit.

Sitting on top of the Snowflake aluminum closed chamber heads is an old school Offenhauser cross ram and a pair of 660 center squirters.

LastSlide3

LastSlide3

Building a '55 Chevy Gasser California Style

Final Assembly

 

Final assembly of front end.

Final assembly of leaf springs and shocks

Plumbing front brake lines and line lock.

Final installation of new windows. Had to go through three pairs to get high quality glass.

Front end all together.

My son and I were able to install the motor without removing the core support. It took us 2 1/2 hours for the final engine install.

Offey cross ram, with two 660 Holley center squirters on top of a 496 cu in BB Chevy with closed chamber snow flake aluminum GM heads.

The master cylinder is not off-shore crap. It is a 69 Corvette master that we had chromed.

I wanted era correct interior, not today's fancy crap. Thanks to Marco's Interiors of Upland, the work is fantastic. He also installed a grey flannel headliner.

We re-worked old van pedestals for the seats.

Marco also re-sculpted the seats to be more period correct.

Standard traditional old school upholstery. The 150 Business Coupe did not come with a rear seat. This is the model I waited for and was lucky to find it.

Custom fabricated aluminum fuel cell with fuel sender and sump, then hard anodized, no off shore crap

The two 8 1/2 Americans were on the car originally, I just restored them. The two front wheels I have had for over 30+ years. They are 15 x 6 American D, otherwise known as "crows". The center caps are restored metal.

It's been 4 1/2 years since I brought her home, took longer than I thought, but this is the picture I always had in my head. The way it used to be done.

© 2013 by VanGordon Racing Engines, Inc. All rights reserved