It takes a village. The above photo shows a portion of the Brute Force build team, from left to right: Bill Brakman, Ryan Rivers, Paul Hattrup. Chris Brown, and owner Bob Matranga.
What does it take to build an elite-level custom vehicle in today’s hot-rodding environment? Countless hours of fabrication and labor. Creative design elements and thoughtful modifications. Experienced craftsmanship and fanatical attention to detail.
The 2020 BASF America’s Most Beautiful award winner, Bob Matranga’s “Brute Force” ’55 Chevy, was crafted using all of those qualities. Like so many projects, it started with a plan to build a “really nice” ’55 Chevy and snowballed from there. It ultimately took more than a decade to complete and resulted in the formation of Matranga Hot Rods so Bob could bring the right craftsmen on board to complete the project.
The Brute Force project was well chronicled in photographs as it was being finished, resulting in a beautiful hard-bound build book created by veteran automotive journalist Eric Geisert. The book offers a behind-the-scenes look at many of the intricate details of the car, from the custom-designed suspension and masterfully crafted interior, to the modified, lathe-tapered bolts used throughout the car for assembly.
We thought it would be interesting to pull back the curtain on the car’s build process and share a few details of the car’s construction. We hope they’ll offer ideas and inspiration for projects you might have, as well as insight into what it takes to craft a top-tier custom car.
Sheet metal modifications abound on this ’55 Chevy, from the quarter panels formed by metal masters Marcel and Luc DeLay early in the build process, to the dramatically tapered front fenders, dash extensions that flow through the doors, or the custom panels under the rear of the car.
The independent front and rear suspensions were designed by Chris Brown in conjunction with Kugel Komponents. The one-piece front suspension uprights were machined with integral caliper mounts, and dogbone-shaped profiles were used on the axle shafts and driveshaft.
Both the front and rear bumpers were flipped and tucked, but the process is more involved than it sounds. There was plenty of trimming, fabrication, and reshaping necessary to achieve the desired fit and finish.
Many details go unseen, like the custom ducting for the turbo intercoolers, which is sandwiched between the inner and outer fenders.
The Mike LeFever-built 540c.i. Merlin engine topped with Arias Hemi heads is the source of the “Brute Force” name. It’s capable of 1,400hp but is detuned to a more streetable 800hp. The extensive detailing process began with Paul Hattrup machining the fins off the aluminum valve covers.
The one-piece grille was machined from a 243-pound block of aluminum by EVOD Industries. Don Derler then hand-filed and sanded every inch of it to ensure the best chrome finish possible.
More one-off details came in the form of hand-crafted beltline and quarter panel trim by Lil’ Louie and Rick LeFever, plus one-piece front and rear window trim, shown here being refined by Bill Brakman. The custom taillights use LED-lit acrylic arches inside one-off lenses.
The team at Mick’s Paint spent countless hours refining all the custom sheet metal work before applying the brilliant paint, a custom-mixed PPG color called Brute Force Blue.
An early moment of achievement – reuniting the body with the frame.
Gabe Lopez at Gabe’s Custom Interiors worked his magic on cabin, covering the seats and other surfaces with custom-dyed leather. The detailed seat inserts were CNC stitched and perforated with a pattern of recurring V shapes. The floor is leather upholstered, too, as is the trunk. EVOD custom machined the steering wheel, which features a horn ring and integrated wireless paddle shifters, plus a reverse-machined acrylic logo button and ¾ leather grip.
Photos by Eric Geisert and Matranga Hot Rods | Video by Scott Council
Damon Lee began snapping photos at car shows when he was 10, tagging along with his father to events throughout the Midwest. He has combined his passion for cars and knack for writing and imagery into a 20-year career in the automotive aftermarket, writing for titles like Super Chevy and Rod & Custom and, more recently, working for respected industry leaders Speedway Motors and Goodguys Rod & Custom Association.