EMI reproduction Tri-Five bodies are available through Danchuck and Classic Automotive Res
Yeah, it’s fake, so get over it. The drop-top Tri-Five Chevy presented before you doesn’t have a single piece of original GM sheetmetal, and it never rolled off of a GM assembly line, either. To some hot rodders, reproduction bodies are imposters by nature, but when it’s possible to create something that looks this good, what’s the big stink about anyway? Experi-Metal’s long-anticipated reproduction Tri-Five bodies are finally here, and as Ironworks Speed and Kustom’s crimson ’55 Chevy proves, it was definitely worth the wait. As with most fake bodies, its smoothly flowing lines and voluptuous curves are just about perfect, and things get even hotter beneath the skin. There you’ll find an aftermarket chassis, C6 aluminum suspension, an LS3 small-block, and a 4L60E overdrive. Whether you’re merely admiring it from afar or stomping on the loud pedal like a hooligan, the last thing you’ll care about is that this ’55 started out life incubating in a shipping crate.
At the risk of getting all weird on you in a Laurence Fishburne, red pill or blue pill, The Matrix kind of way, what is and isn’t real is tough to define. Chevy Berettas and Pontiac Azteks rolled off GM assembly lines, for goodness sakes, but no one in their right mind would consider them real cars. Similarly, the whole “if it ain’t steel it ain’t real” line was a clever way to mock fiberglass street rods for about five minutes, but then the aftermarket started making steel kit cars shortly thereafter. Just like the street rod market experienced several decades ago, muscle cars and select pre-’64 machines of today, like Tri-Five Chevys, still fetch more money than many people can afford. The ugly truth in all this is that if you buy a decrepit jalopy just because it’s cheap, the only original parts you’ll have left after restoring it are the cowl tag and VIN number. It just makes too much sense to start with a nice car in the first place, and EMI’s repop bodies enable anyone to live the dream.
The Ironworks frame boasts rear framerails that have been kicked in for extra tire clearan
Like most good ideas, the direction for this particular ’55 Chevy was conceived in a room full of car guys chatting it up over dinner and several rounds of beer. As Roger Lee of Ironworks (www.IronworksSpeedandKustom.com) and Ed Capen of Goodguys were throwing back some brewskis, the subject turned to the 2011 Goodguys Giveaway car. Ironworks had developed a reputation for building cutting-edge chassis for both race cars and street machines over the years, and just happened to have a new production frame ready to ship for Tri-Five Chevys. All Roger needed was a body, and wouldn’t you know it, the first batch of reproduction Tri-Fives just happened to be coming out of the EMI stamping facility. To make things even more interesting, the dinner party decided that the car had to meet California emissions standards, and be titled and registered in time for its giveaway date in November 2011. It was an ambitious yet ingenious plan for sure, because if you can get a car titled and smogged in California, you can do it anywhere.
Since the ’55 would be built as a giveaway car, and tastes vary wildly from one car guy to the next, the Ironworks crew wanted to build a car with as much universal appeal as possible. “We didn’t set out to build a crazy, over-the-top show car to compete for the Ridler Award. At the same time, we didn’t want a car that was too much like a race car and unstreetable, or a car that was too nice to drive down the road,” Roger says. “Everybody likes red ’55 Chevy convertibles, and we didn’t care if people thought it looked like every other Tri-Five out there. The goal was to make people say, ‘Man, what do I have to do to win that car?’ Since universal appeal was the goal, the guys around the shop starting joking around by calling the car ‘Project Resale.’ ”
The trick Classic Instruments cluster houses the speedo, tach, and all the critical gauges
With the plan in place, Roger immediately got to work on the frame. Ironworks offers turnkey chassis for Tri-Fives, Chevelles, and ’58-64 Impalas, and since they’re brimming with the latest in modern technology, they serve as an ideal Pro Touring foundation. The company’s Tri-Five frames are built from laser-cut and TIG-welded flat steel plates, and boast revised suspension pickup points for optimized geometry. Up front are C6 Corvette aluminum control arms, and in the back is a custom four-link. RideTech coilovers man each corner of the car for easy on-track adjustments. “Our chassis weren’t designed to be the easiest to install, but rather they’re set up to achieve a very aggressive stance while maximizing ground clearance and optimizing suspension geometry. All of the components are tucked tightly into the frame, and the rails allow easily fitting big tires,” Roger says.
Not long after Ironworks completed the chassis, a magical wooden crate showed up from EMI. The team quickly mated the new ’55 Chevy shell to the chassis, and starting mocking everything in place. To hit the car’s emissions-legal goal, Roger installed an E-Rod LS3 crate engine from GM Performance Parts. In addition to the LS3 itself, the E-Rod package includes exhaust manifolds, catalytic converters, oxygen sensors, a wiring harness, and an engine management computer calibrated to smog-legal specs. Rearward from the cats, the exhaust exits through custom 2.75-inch pipes routed to Flowmaster mufflers. Although the Gen IV small-block is pretty much stock, it’s still plenty stout, putting out 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque. Ironworks matched it up with a Gearstar 4L60E overdrive transmission, and a Chassisworks 9-inch rearend housing fitted with Moser 31-spline axles. With the squeaky clean E-Rod motor underhood, Roger felt that a more appropriate handle was in order for the car. “Just calling it a Bel Air seemed too ordinary. With an emissions-friendly EFI motor in a convertible body, we thought ‘Clean Air ’55’ was a much better name for the car.”
After making quick work of transplanting the running gear, Ironworks shifted its focus on tying up the last of the loose ends. Since the chassis promised an ultra aggressive stance, wheel choice was critical to the car’s overall visual execution. In an effort to stick with the car’s theme of universal appeal, Roger opted for Intro Vintage wheels. Although they’re carved from billet in large diameters—18x8 up front and 20x10 in the rear—they lend a distinctly retro vibe. They’re wrapped in gooey Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber, and taking advantage of all that stick is a set of six-piston Wilwood clamps up front, and four-pot units out back.
Upon completing the initial assembly, the car was shipped off to Kenny Davis Hot Rods (www.KDHotRods.com) for a coat of PPG Red paint. Without floors to patch, fenders to straighten, or panels to replace, the process proved remarkably fast and painless. The next stop was Recover Room Interiors (www.RecoveryRoomRodInteriors.com), where the Clean Air ’55 received a fully custom, leather-lined cabin. Afterward, the car was shipped back to Ironworks, and the crew got busy with the final assembly process. Once again, putting the pieces together proved to be a mostly headache-free affair. “From start to finish, this car was completed in four months, and for much of that time we were just sitting around and waiting for parts to show up,” Roger says. “In fact, a large portion of the build was packed into the final six weeks because some parts were back-ordered. There were some trim pieces here and there that we had to spend some time tracking down, but otherwise almost every part in the car was ordered out of a catalog, including the body itself.”
As with the rest of the car, the Tri-Five’s interior stresses functionality over flamboyan
As intended, there’s nothing too fancy about the engine bay. The GM Performance Parts LS3
As is standard practice with Goodguys giveaway cars, the Clean Air ’55 toured the Goodguys show circuit all throughout 2011 before it was handed to its new owner at the Southwest Nationals in November. That meant that Roger got to log plenty of miles on it, and he reports that the ’55 has successfully exceeded all expectations. “With the Corvette parts that are in the car, it’s not surprising that it drives a lot like a new C6. The ride quality and steering feel are excellent, there’s no bumpsteer at all, and it handles great through the autocross,” he says. “It might be just like every other ’55, but that was the idea behind this car. We drove it 1,000 miles from Iowa to Kansas, and everyone was giving us the thumbs up. Oh yeah, the car also got 23 mpg on the trip.”
Despite how nicely the Clean Air ’55 turned out, there will still be those who say it would be even cooler if it were a real ’55 Chevy. If cool is defined as dealing with the headaches, time, and money involved with trying to rescue a hopeless hooptie, then the naysayers might have a point. From a practical standpoint, however, reproduction bodies just make a lot of sense, and if EMI Tri-Fives someday catch on like Model A and ’32 Ford kit cars, no one’s going to care that they started out life incubating in shipping crates. At the end of a long day of block sanding, can you really say it’s better to start with an overpriced lump of oxidation just because it rolled off of a GM assembly line many decades ago?
By The Numbers
1955 Chevy Bel Air
Built by: Ironworks/Roger Lee
Type: GM LS3 small-block E-Rod
Block: factory 4.065-inch aluminum
Rotating assembly: factory 3.622-inch crank, rods, and 10.7:1 pistons
Cylinder heads: GM rectangle-port aluminum castings
Camshaft: stock 204/211-at-.050 hydraulic roller; .551/.525-inch lift, 116-degree LSA
Induction: GM LS3 intake manifold and throttle body
Ignition: stock coil packs, plugs, and wires
Exhaust: GM manifolds, custom 2.75-inch pipes, dual Flowmaster mufflers
Cooling: stock water pump, PRC radiator, SPAL dual electric fans
Output: 430 hp at 5,900 rpm and 424 lb-ft at 4,600 rpm
Transmission: Gearstar 4L60E overdrive and 2,200-stall converter
Rear axle: Chassisworks Fab 9 rearend housing, Moser 31-spline axles, 3.70:1 gears, and limited-slip differential
Front suspension: Ironworks C6 Corvette control arms and sway bar; RideTech coilovers
Rear suspension: Ironworks four-link and RideTech coilovers
Brakes: Wilwood 12.2-inch rotors and six-piston calipers, front; Wilwood 11-inch rotors and four-piston calipers, rear
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Intro Vintage 18x8, front; 20x10, rear
Tires: Goodyear Eagle F1 255/35R18, front; 295/35R20, rear