Coral Cruiser – Reliving 17 in a Fine ’55 Bel Air
Bart Grange has been a diehard hot rodder since even before he got his license (he’s 77 now, so you can do the math). Over the years, he’s had a score of hot rods and classics including a ’40 Ford pickup and panel truck still parked in his garage. One car that he has always thought about recreating is the Coral and Shadow Gray ’55 Chevy Bel Air convertible he drove in high school.
You probably noticed that the Bel Air on these pages isn’t a convertible, which was one concession Bart could accept. In fact, he felt that the hardtop would make for a better driver, especially at highway speeds and on long hauls. With that in mind, the search was on for a ’55 to build into a time machine to being 17 again.
Eventually, Bart located a Chevy in the right colors that had also undergone a full restoration over 20 years ago. Since the Bel Air was restored to original condition, it was running the original 265c.i. V8 backed by a cast iron Powerglide trans, a combination that was just not going to cut it for Bart’s plans. He opted instead for a mildly built 327 topped with angle-plug heads, a GM high-rise aluminum intake and Edelbrock carb. Doug’s Headers flow into a set of Smitty’s mufflers and the engine is dressed with vintage Corvette valve covers and air cleaner. The engine bay is straight out of the ’60s except for the huge Mattson radiator and added luxury of an A/C system.
The updated HVAC system is needed when Bart is rolling through the Rocky Mountains and down into the plains states as one cruise can equate to four seasons of weather. One additional update to make the Chevy road trip ready was the addition of a 4L80E trans backed by a GearVendors overdrive to really drop the RPMs down on the highway, even with the 4.11 gears.
Not too much was done to the restored chassis other than a set of dropped spindles and a pair of disc brakes for smoother, consistent stops. A set of Wheelsmith 15×6-inch steel wheels are covered with’56 Olds hubcaps, just like Bart’s high school ride, and wrapped in a set of classic Coker tires.
Other than the hidden A/C and controls, the interior remains pretty much as new, just as Bart planned. The grey interior is a fairly rare color, especially when combined with the Coral exterior hue and Bart noted how he prefers the dash and garnish trim to be gray rather than the coral shade as is in most original applications. Stock seats, steering wheel, radio and more all add up to what Bart and most other hot rodders would work with back in the day.
Add up the restrained vintage vibe, unusual color, and the clean execution of the build with the passion and drive Bart still shares for hot rodding, and you can see why this Tri-five scored the Fuel Curve pick during the inaugural RaceDeck Salt Lake Nationals. If you’re driving through the Rocky Mountains and get passed by a coral ’55 Bel Air, give the kid at heart behind the wheel a thumbs up.
Photos by John Jackson