Chic Chevy – Steve Spang’s Candy Mocha ’55 Bel Air is a Tasty Custom Convertible
Tri-five Chevy enthusiasts typically fall into two camps. First, there’s the hardcore restorers. These folks spend hours debating shades of flat black paint and the placement of chalk marks on chassis components. On the other side are those who respect the iconic designs but want to add personal touches, modern elements, and a little more refinement to these popular classics.
Steve Spang of Prior Lake, Minnesota, definitely falls into the second group. His 1955 Chevy convertible is both a respectful tribute to the original design and a prime example of improving on the classic appearance without insulting its heritage.
The eight-year journey for Steve began when a friend from church approached him about a ‘55 Bel Air project car that he was unable to complete.
“First thought in my mind was it had to be a four-door or a two-door post,” Steve says.
“On, no,” his friend said, “it’s a convertible.”
“I immediately said, ‘when can I look at it?’” Steve recalls.
A week later the Chevy was on its way to Bowman Real Hot Rods in Brandon, South Dakota, where the four-year build process began. The car had only 54,000 original miles on the odometer, was complete, and had been in storage for years, but Steve says it had taken a hard hit to the rear. The trunk, rear quarters, and trunk floor were mangled and needed to be replaced. While handling the necessary metal repairs, Kevin Bowman and his crew also began making select modifications like larger wheel tubs to handle wider wheels and tires.
Other alterations were soon incorporated that would smooth and enhance the classic ’55 design. Custom smaller-scale front turn signal assemblies were fit into the fenders, and the hood was shaved with the peak extended. Emblems and door handles were shaved, and the front fender and door trim were deleted, along with the vertical trim on the rear quarters. The gas filler door was hidden behind the left taillight housing, the license place was recessed into the shaved trunk lid, and the bumpers were shaved and tucked tight against the body. Once the metalwork was perfected and the time-consuming body gap work complete, Gaven Bowman applied the PPG Candy Mocha paint.
The metal massaging continued under the hood, where custom inner fender panels were built, the firewall was smoothed, and the center recessed portion of the firewall was widened to accommodate a 427c.i. LS3 built by TPIS. The potent modern engine produces 624 horsepower thanks in part to a Callies Compstar crankshaft, Mahle pistons, and a cross-ram injection system.
The power is impressive, but the engine is also beautifully detailed with a polished aluminum block and heads topped with custom valve covers by G.W. Taylor. Taylor also produced the air cleaner and badging. Ultimate Headers feed exhaust gases through SpinTech mufflers and custom pipes built by the crew at Bowman. A Ron Davis Radiator handles the cooling chores, and a Vintage Air accessory drive system controls the A/C, power steering, alternator, and water pump. A Legend Gear & Transmission five-speed manual transmission is controlled by a one-of-a-kind shifter from Bowman Real Hot Rods.
The driveline and body rest on a frame custom built by Don Tesar and Larry Brunkala at Precision Hot Rods. Front and rear suspension systems are polished independent Heidts units, with a raised front crossmember to aid with the lowered ride height. A Flaming River steering rack turns the front wheels while a 9-inch Ford rearend with 3.73 gears puts the power to the rear wheels. Wilwood discs on all four corners bring the convertible to a stop. Eric Brockmeyer designed the one-of-a-kind 18×7- and 20×10-inch wheels that were machined by EVOD Industries and wrapped in Kumho front and Michelin rear tires.
A team effort produced the equally stylish interior. The stock dash was modified by Bowman Real Hot Rods, creating a tasteful result that is modern looking but preserves some of the classic ’55 Chevy elements. The passenger side speaker hump was smoothed, A/C controls reside where the stock radio would have been located, and the original trim inserts were replaced with custom pieces.
The driver’s side hump was replaced with a hand-built unit that houses Dakota Digital HDX gauges. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and column are from Flaming River. The seats, headliner, and convertible top were stitched by Steve Holcomb of Pro Auto Interiors in chocolate brown leather. Brown Daytona weave carpet covers the floor. The interior also features power windows, power door locks, and automatic trunk release controls.
The combination of stylish and well-executed modifications and hundreds of hours spent to achieve precise fit and finish produced a stunning custom convertible that earns awards and accolades every time Steve attends an event. It’s one of those customs that even resto purists seem to appreciate, as the changes made serve to enhance and refine the classic ’55 Chevy lines.
Photos by Damon Lee & Todd Ryden