"Welcome to 1985, buddy," isn't the most tactful line to use when breaking bread with new acquaintances. Nevertheless, the stimulus prompting this sort of gut reaction makes it awfully tough to be diplomatic. Standing before us on the fairgrounds is what looks the part of a quintessential Pro Street poseur. Blower sticking through the hood? Check. Ludicrous tubs? Affirmative. Flamboyantly plumbed nitrous unit? Present and accounted for. The only things missing are a pink paint job and the geezer old enough to pimp a Tri-Five Chevy. Fortunately, as it turns out, our hasty predispositions are totally bunk.
Closer inspection reveals an LCD screen protruding from the stereo deck that's playing video clips of the car immersed in heated combat, pulling the front tires and lighting up the scoreboard with 10.8-at-126-mph e.t.'s. That's without the nitrous. Once car owner Sonny Poteet arrives at the scene, he informs us that the 502 big-block has over 19,000 street miles on the ticker. Furthermore, the car sports an overdrive trans, power seats, A/C, power steering, and a capacious 17-gallon fuel cell. While it can't park itself, the Bel Air's posh trimmings are downright Lexus-like for a vehicle of its vintage. All those gizmos and doodads equate to 4,300 pounds of race weight, which makes the Tri-Five's performance even more impressive.
Different generations dig different rides, and at 65 years of age, Sonny isn't smitten with musclecars like most 40-somethings. He prefers the big boxy tanks from his youth, and has always had a soft spot for Tri-Five Chevys. "I raced everything I could get my hands on when I was a kid, and had a '55 Chevy that was very similar to the one I have now when I was in high school," Sonny recollects. "I did some street racing in it, and took it to bracket events throughout the country for several years. I had to sell it when I got older, but of all the cars I've had, it was always my favorite."
Overall, the '55 was relatively straight when Sonny first brought it home, but had a few scars from its days as a race car. The firewall had been mercilessly beaten back with a sledgehammer to make way for a 454, and the chassis was already given the Pro Street treatment with tubs and a four-link. The first order of business was fixing the butchered sheetmetal, and spraying the car with PPG Tennessee Blue and Peal White paint. Since the '55 would see more time on the street than on the trailer, the four-link was booted in favor of a ladder bar setup. "A four-link would definitely work better at the track since it's much more adjustable than ladder bars, but they don't work very well on the street," Sonny explains. "The joints on a four-link just don't let the rearend roll around enough for driving around town."
Having watched from the sidelines for far too long, Sonny's hiatus suddenly came to a welcome end when the balance of circumstance and luck portentously swung in his favor. He spotted a '55 Bel Air parked in his friend's garage that looked eerily similar to the car from his youth. His friend mentioned that the person he was storing it for was looking for some jet skis, and Sonny just happened to have a couple of Kawasaki 1100s he was trying to sell. "I couldn't get the car out of my head, and a few days later, I met up with the owner and we traded toys," Sonny explains. His original plans for the car were quite simple. "I always wanted to build a car with a blower and A/C that I could just cruise on the street. One thing led to another, and I ended up with a show-quality car that also runs hard at the track."