"Likefire" 55 Chevy BelAir
In Louie's words..... So it must have been about 1984 if my memory is correct. I’m a concrete contractor of course and I was doing a job for my Dad’s best friends son by the name of Johnny Cortez. This job was a favor and he just covered the expenses which was cool as his Pop was tight with my Dad. So this one afternoon we got to talking cars and I mentioned that I really wanted a 56 Chevy two-door hardtop, Johnny said what do you know, I got one out back, I’ll give it to you. So I go out there and low and behold its not a 56 . . . . A 55 hard top that had been hit in the driver door and in need of a chassis. What the heck, it’s a 55 not a 56 but it’s free. Truth is I’ve never been in love with that car, but I went forward with it anyway.
I took it to Jose Diaz at Quality Automotive in Glendora for the needed chassis swap and door replacement, spent a lot of time chasing the fitment and gaps with the whole car and getting the bodywork ready for some color. By this time it was the late 80’s and the “Lime-Fire” 32 roadster of Pete Chapouris was fresh on the scene and making a big show! I loved that paint scheme with the candy green lime and the Dennis Ricklefs flame job just put it over the top! . . . I wanted my 55 to have that same feel, Jose Diaz shot the candy lime while Larry Fator “by Quicksilver” shot the similar flame job but instead of the blue pin stripe on Pete’s roadster I liked the idea of a Magenta pin stripe so that’s what we did. Hard to believe that paint job is 25 or 26 years old and still looking good!
So yeah, now it’s the early 90’s and after years of work in different shops we finally fired up the 454 BB Chevy and made some noise! Next stop was Tony at Covina Auto Trim for the Grey leather and Velour upholstery job, now don’t judge me. Velour was very much the shit back then and we all had Velour in our cars. The difference is I still have mine so it’s kind of a survivor in my eyes. Until I decide to change it if I ever do.
The 90’s were fun but as I’ve said before the car never really clicked with me and it just kind of assumed a spot in my corral of other cars. Never inclined to sell it but also not inclined to do any more with it.
That changed one day when I was speaking to my friend Louie Morosan over at LGE in San Dimas and asked him if he would recommend anyone to possibly work on the 55. He said I ought to call Jimmy Shine who now has his shop down in Orange. I knew of Jimmy and also knew he had worked with Pete for many years at So-Cal Speed Shop in Pomona. I made the call and we met to review the car. I had my core hit list of changes and adjustments I wanted done and first on my list was to install my 502 Chevrolet crate engine but top it off with 48 IDA Webers and pull out the TH-400 and install a Tremec T-56 Super Magnum 6-speed trans. That’s when things seemed to grow and additions made, I’m not known for being one to “pull punches” especially when I’m having fun. We decided to go with Accuair and put it on bags so I could run down the highway at speed but once I’ve arrived at my destination I can park it down in the weeds. Just like I like!
We sent the intake down to Jack Sacchetti @ JAYCEE in Santa Ana for his magic work on the Webers then to Mike Johnson at JRE in El Monte, Ca. did the engine work even porting the heads to match my Inglese intake manifold and run on the dyno before painting and putting in the car. It made 521 HP @ 4900 and 622.3 TQ @ 3700.
The drive-train was exactly what I wanted and the stance of the car was adjustable, but I was still missing the key ingredient of attitude that can only come from the right wheel and tire combo. Lime Fire had original Halibrand Sprints and spindle mount rims on the front, but how do we achieve that? Jimmy contacted Jaun Hernandez who owns American Rebel Wheels in Anaheim to see if he could machine something up for us. He could and he did. He makes a spindle mount rim that fits a 40 spindle but not a 55 Chevy. He cast a blank set then using a spindle and bearings from my car cut a custom set that are truly “one off wheels”. Only thing missing now is how to stop it. Brakes, Jimmy figured out how to utilize Wilwood calipers and rotors that bolt to the rim but then had to fabricate a caliper mount to attach to the stock spindle. They look awesome in gold zinc and do an even better job than they look!
The revisions took more than a few months but well worth the time and effort. My son AJ and I made weekly visits to check up on the progress and count the days until delivery. The Shine crew under the direction of Jimmy, shop foreman is Branden Johnson, lead tech was Mike Arnold who did the majority of the build, Paulo Dosdoglirian, Nikki Shine for keeping the paperwork and parts straight, and Jeff Allison for the creative design concepts that painted the picture of the finished car.
So far my wife Joann and I have put on just over 500 miles and AJ has taken her for a few “hot laps” too. We drove it to the Nitro Nationals at Irwindale a few weeks back and the car got a warm welcome by many people that followed the build via Instagram or the Interweb or whatever it’s called. Very cool and becoming very fun. Might not have been my favorite car to start out with . . . . but now I think I’m warming up to her.
Louie Lopez .