Beautiful Brute – Bob Matranga’s “Brute Force” ’55 Chevy
Hot rodders love to reimagine iconic cars. For decades, passionate enthusiasts and creative craftsmen have strived to reinvent the most popular models from our history, whether it’s a ’32 Ford, ’57 Chevy, or ’69 Camaro. The hot rod culture undoubtedly has its favorites, and builders truly showcase their creativity when they tastefully execute new ideas on one of them.
Bob Matranga’s “Brute Force” ’55 Chevy – the winner of the Goodguys 2020 BASF America’s Most Beautiful award – is a stunning blue example of this concept. Countless ’55 Chevys have been built through the decades, with memorable examples like the black street racer from “American Graffiti” and Scott Sullivan’s bright orange “Cheez Whiz” pro streeter coming immediately to mind. With so many great variations, is there really anything new to do to the iconic double-nickel Chevy? Bob Matranga certainly thought so.
You may be familiar with the Matranga name, as Bob and his son Kent have owned dozens of memorable and award-winning rides through the years and maintain an impressive collection in Southern California. “Some people like to play golf; I like to build hot rods,” Bob says. “I enjoy showing these cars, I enjoy driving these cars, and that’s what’s driven me all my life.”
Matranga has the means to commission the best builders for his projects, and for the Brute Force ’55 that actually meant hiring top talent to work inhouse – he formed Matranga Hot Rods specifically to complete this build. The team included craftsmen like Paul Hattrup, Ryan Rivers, Bill Brakman, and Don Derler. Designer Chris Brown was also part of the team and was tasked with a creative reimagining of the familiar ’55 Chevy platform.
The resulting design concept led to the alteration or custom fabrication of every panel on this car. New front fenders were fabricated with a gentle but dramatic slope toward the front, bringing the whole nose lower. The reverse-opening hood was also custom fabricated to follow the shape of the fenders, with a hood peak that blends into the body reveal on the cowl.
Below it is a custom grille machined by EVOD from a single chunk of aluminum, a flipped and reshaped bumper, and scaled-down signal lights. The custom headlight bezes are fitted with one-off etched projector lamps.
Working back, the front and rear wheel openings were resized, the front fender character lines extended into the doors, the rain gutters removed, and the top was chopped a subtle 3/4 inch. Lil’ Louie and Rick LeFever fabricated the custom beltline and quarter panel trim; the vertical portion of the trim leans forward like a ’56 Nomad, so the sweetheart dips in the quarter panels were cut out and rewelded to the opposite sides of the car to achieve the correct angles. Both taillight assemblies now swing out to reveal either the fuel filler or battery shutoff switch and contain custom lenses with internal LED-lit acrylic arches. The rear bumper is flipped, tucked, and modified, similar to the front.
The body received countless other one-off details and modifications, from the custom floors and inner fenders, to the rounded door corners and one-piece trim around the windshield and back glass. The sheet metal was eventually treated to a deep, glowing finish by Mick’s Paint using a brilliant custom mixed PPG hue called Brute Force Blue.
Naturally, the beauty is far more than skin deep on a car of this caliber. While all of those sheet metal mods were being made, an equally impressive chassis was coming together using a modified Art Morrison frame outfitted with one-off independent coil-over front and rear suspensions designed by Chris Brown and Kugel Komponents. There was fanatical attention to detail from front to rear, like machined one-piece front suspension uprights with integral caliper mounts, and custom stainless brake rotors clamped by reshaped Wilwood calipers. Chris Brown designed the one-off 18×7- and 20×10-inch wheels that were machined by EVOD and finished in a Brushed Unobtanium Bronze hue with a red pinstripe and secured using double center lock nuts.
The car’s Brute Force name comes from the Mike LeFever-built 540c.i. Merlin engine topped with Arias Hemi cylinder heads and force fed by a pair of Garrett turbochargers through a custom-built Hogan intake. Ducting between the inner and outer fenders transports air from the turbos to the intercoolers on either side of the radiator. Naturally, the detailing on the engine was precise and exceptionally clean, too, with bronze paint, polished stainless and chrome accents, and touches like a custom alternator housing and power steering pump hidden inside the reservoir. The headers, mufflers, and exhaust were all custom built out of stainless materials. The 1,400-horsepower engine is detuned to a drivable 800 horsepower and sends power through a 4L80E built by Lake Forest Transmission.
The approach to the cabin was equally elaborate, starting with a custom dash that now wraps around into the doors and is fitted with custom-built trim, one-off gauges from Classic Instruments, plus Vintage Air. EVOD custom machined the steering wheel, which features a horn ring and integrated wireless paddle shifters, plus a reverse machined acrylic logo button and 3/4 leather grip.
Chrysler Sebring convertible seats were chosen for their integrated seat belts, but were cut down and fitted with custom headrests and hand-made aluminum trim. Gabe’s Custom Interiors used 13 custom-dyed leather hides to cover the seats and custom door panels, including detailed inserts that were CNC stitched and perforated with a pattern of V shapes. The custom floor panels were also upholstered in leather, as was the center console, which is also fitted with a custom shifter and bezel and an integrated iPad to control the HVAC, stereo, navigation, windows and other systems.
More than a decade in the making, Brute Force is a spectacular achievement on many levels. It reimagines an iconic design while honoring its heritage. It blends classic beauty and race-bred brawn. And it integrates a wealth of details and technology in an exquisitely crafted package. “We really tried to push the envelope with the design and engineering,” Bob says, “so every part on the car became very challenging.”
That great challenge has led to great reward. Brute Force was honored as a Great 8 Finalist at the 2020 Detroit Autorama and won incredible praise from experts throughout the industry before capturing Goodguys 2020 BASF America’s Most Beautiful honor. No doubt this beautiful brute will continue to earn accolades as it muscles its way into the pages of hot rod history.
Photos by John Jackson & Damon Lee