After rehabilitating the Bel Air into road-worthy condition once again, Sonny drove it with the tired motor that was already in the car, logging 16,000 miles in just a few years. When GM Performance Parts released the 502 crate motor, however, he had to get it. Next came a Weiand 6-71 blower pulleyed to a pump-gas-friendly 6 psi of boost-a setup that works quite nicely with the motor's 8.75:1 compression ratio. Sonny eventually swapped in a larger Crane 230/234-at-.050 hydraulic roller cam and ported Edelbrock Performer RPM heads, but the short-block is completely stock. A tribute to the 502's durability, it doesn't burn a lick of oil or show any signs of blow-by after nearly 20,000 miles of abuse on the street and strip. According to Sonny, he thinks it's putting out close to 700 hp. "I'm not exactly sure how much power it makes, but I don't really care," he says. "All I know is that it takes a lot of power to make a 4,300-pound car run 10s. Even with the blower, I didn't think the motor could spin 22-inch-wide tires on concrete, but it will spin them anywhere."
Blower motors can be little demons to tune, but as someone who has done just about all the work on his car himself, Sonny wasn't intimidated. The first task was preventing the motor from hesitating when floored from idle. "I got the biggest accelerator pumps and squirters I could find, and that took care of the problem," he explains. "The biggest issue with blower motors is that you can burn them up real fast if you run even slightly lean. Using an air/fuel ratio gauge that I mounted on my steering column, I played around with different carb jets while hammering it on the street to dial it in just right. I ended up with 72 jets up front, 80s in the rear, and 32 degrees of timing."
Big power and big weight call for an extra stout driveline, and getting the job done is a built TH400 trans and a 9-inch rearend sourced from an old Ford pickup. Although the combo was plenty durable for the track, three cogs just weren't enough for Sonny's appetite for freeway cruising. "With 4.56:1 gears, I could only drive 50-60 mph on the freeway because the motor turned over 4,000 rpm," he says. "Now with the Gear Vendors overdrive, I can cruise at 80 mph at 3,200 rpm and have no problem keeping up with all the traffic. The fun of owning a car is working on it and driving it. If I couldn't drive it, I wouldn't own it."
There's no disputing that the Bel Air's mileage records prove that it's a driver. In the 12 years Sonny has owned the car, it has tacked on 36,000 miles. Nonetheless, the dreadful Gulf Coast weather means the car is parked during the summer, right? Not exactly. Tucked in the nooks and crannies of the '55 are electric cooling fans for just about everything. The radiator has four of them-two pushers in front and two pullers in the back-and the A/C condensers sit horizontally under the front bumper to prevent impeding airflow to the radiator. A trans cooler sits where the stock gas tank used to be, and is also cooled by its own fan. "It's just my way of giving the motor every chance it can get to run cool," he explains. "The trans fluid gets very hot with a 4,000-stall converter, so mounting a trans cooler or A/C condensers anywhere near the radiator isn't a good idea. I can drive for hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic and the motor never gets over 200 degrees."
Spend enough time around Sonny and his Bel Air, and it'll all just suddenly hit you. It's impossible to categorize a car like this because it doesn't fit the mold of any established subdivision of hot rodding. And it's not supposed to. There's the obvious fact that it does everything a Pro Street ride shouldn't: go fast at the track, cruise well on the street, and reliably carry its occupants in comfort. Less obvious is that it wasn't built to emulate a certain image. It's just the product of an older gentleman wanting to build a fun street/strip machine that just so happens to resemble a style of car building that's often ostracized in today's enthusiast circles. As you might expect, those factors can lead to some rather comical situations. "You should see the look on people's faces when I take my helmet off after a pass, and realize they just got beat by someone old enough to be their granddad," he quips. "They're shocked to see a big-and-littles car running this hard, and they can't believe an old man is still drag racing." We may still feel like idiots for judging this car before we knew all the facts, but we're not the only ones who have incorrectly profiled a certain blue-and-white Tri-Five Chevy.
The motor has yet to be run...
The motor has yet to be run on nitrous, but the juice will add at least another 100 hp once activated. Custom bits under the hood include a billet fuel log and remote valve cover breathers that Sonny built himself.
lthough it's difficult to...
lthough it's difficult to see from the outside, Sonny built a custom power brake booster canister that's mounted underneath the car near the driver-side door. He built it from a piece of pipe that he capped off on both ends. The paint scheme of PPG Tennessee Blue and Pearl White is very similar to that of the '55 Chevy Sonny drove in high school.
In order to keep a close eye...
In order to keep a close eye on the engine's vitals, an air/fuel ratio and knock gauge are mounted near the driver's line of sight. Sonny built the gauge pod and center console out of plywood, then covered them in leather. A camcorder bolted to the rollbar records the car's adventures. The seats and door panels are covered in leather as well.