HAILING from the beautiful Tauranga region on New Zealand’s North Island, Steve and Leanne Milne are proper car folk. The couple previously ripped eight-second quarters in Steve’s ’69 Camaro Doorslammer, but now they collect tinware with their highly detailed ’56 Chevy 210.
This article was first published in the December 2020 issue of Street Machine
“I got out of racing cars and figured it would be cheaper to build hot rods and street machines,” says Steve. “But I was wrong. Like everything else, building the ’56 cost a bit more than I first expected, but I’m very happy with how it turned out and the value for money.”
Steve and Leanne managed to take arguably the most popular era of Chev and create something that boldly stands out from the crowd, and that takes quite some doing. Not only is this shoebox finished to an elite standard, it’s backed up with a stout driveline and turn-key driveability – a perfect mix of pro tourer and restomod.
Plenty of elbow grease was required to get the job done once Steve had sourced a suitable steed. “I spent six or seven months looking for a ’55 or ’56 two-door post,” he says. “eBay cars weren’t up to par, so a local importer found this in the US for me. I didn’t see any photos of the ’56; I just trusted him.”
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“Both Leanne’s ’54 Pop Anglia and my ’69 Camaro Doorslammer were orange,” Steve explains. “Adding silver to the two-tone combination is different; I wanted that look.” Joel Kamo laid on the Spies Hecker paint after Brett Forster smoothed and gapped the body. Jason is responsible for the smoothed custom firewall, sleek radiator support panel and mirror-imaged inner guards
The leap of faith paid off, at least in Steve’s eyes. “Leanne wasn’t too happy when the ’56 arrived,” he laughs. “The Chev had cost reasonable money and it looked a bit rough in brown primer, with a shot interior and jacked-up rear end sitting on Cragars. But it was an honest car with little rust and solid bones; structurally the chassis was good.”
It was time to treat the ’56 to one heck of a makeover, based around a few stipulations: Steve wanted to retain most of the factory offerings while adding reliability and a ground-hugging stance without ’bags or hydraulics. “I wanted to be able to jump in and drive the ’56 like you would a new Commodore,” he says, “although there aren’t any race parts on this car. I’ve saved that for my next project, a pro street ’55 Chev.”
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“At first the ’56 wasn’t going to be this fancy with things like billet hinges, but when the engine bay started coming together, we couldn’t stop,” Steve shrugs. I wonder if recessing the Wilwood brake booster was the tipping point. Or perhaps it was that smoothed radiator support panel, set-back firewall, hidden wiring or colour-coded block and dizzy cap
Power-wise, the Chevy’s motivation is spirited yet not totally crazy. Under the hood sits 400 cubes of Dart goodness thanks to engine builder Bruce Ericksen. Topped by a 950cfm Holley and super-shiny Weiand dual-plane intake, the Chevy block houses the right stuff, from Scat crank and rods to Mahle slugs and a Lunati bumpstick. Steve reckons she’d be around 450 neddies at the flywheel – just enough poke for an ex-drag racer.
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Steve liked this style of rocker cover, but preferred his own livery, so he had a mate CNC the number plates in alloy before drilling and tapping them to the covers
Further down the line, a trusty TH350 is linked via a custom tailshaft to a Ford nine-inch with 3.5:1 gears and 31-spline Strange axles – albeit with a limiter of sorts; it’s an open-wheeler. “That keeps me honest,” Steve laughs.
Jason Sellars of JSE Custom Fabrication is the mastermind behind the lion’s share of the chassiswork, metal fabrication and trick tweaks on this sweet ’56. Jason was Steve’s go-to guy for race fabrication, so it was a fitting transition to involve him in the show project. He certainly put in the hard yards to turn out a stellar result. The chassis is a work of art, incorporating a bunch of Art Morrison-style cues and suspension alterations suited to the lowered ride height. Among the plethora of mods are tidy mini-tubs that allow those fat 28x12 Mickey Ts to tuck right under the rear arches for a perfect stance.
The custom JSE-fabricated alloy fuel tank has a thick top plate to mount directly to the boot floor without straps. The brake and fuel lines run between the chassis and body. “The lines still come apart at each end, so if we need to replace one, we could pull it through,” Steve says
All of that chassis and driveline work has been perfectly balanced with a killer paint and trim combo. Outside, the glistening pop of orange over silver commands your attention while complementing the iconic stainless trim and ample chrome. Inside, tan leather adheres to most of the surfaces, making for a comfortable yet luxurious space.
The cabin is swathed in up to eight tan-coloured hides, including the internal firewall and split bench. Above is a bespoke bowless hoodlining thanks to Shawn from Action Canvas & Upholstery. Shawn also added a bunch of other custom touches, including mimicking the swooping stainless exterior trim throughout the interior design. The classic-look New Vintage USA gauge panel fits the factory vibe perfectly
The build was a collaborative effort that has been well rewarded with a bunch of accolades. “We have won a few shows now, and have also taken Top Street Machine at the Street Rod Nationals – twice,” Steve says.
“I looked for a front split bench for ages; it was a lot of hard work,” Steve says. “The factory ones were $1200 in New Zealand and still needed upholstering, so I bought a new Glide Engineering split-bench frame instead.” The factory rear pew has had the base modified around the mini-tubs
“The ’56 has been on the road for five years now, has clocked up plenty of miles and done numerous driving events,” he continues. “I get great pleasure when people say to me that the car doesn’t look like it gets driven – that shows the effort we put in to keep it clean. I’m lucky that my wife is into it too.”
“When I got the ’56, all I did was fire it up and back it straight into the shed to start pulling it apart,” Steve says. “I had my blown alky 427-cube Doorslammer motor sitting there and thought about putting that into it, but I decided it was a fair bit of work. I wanted to do this once and do it properly”
So, how has the drag racer handled the lack of racing? “I have done a few short bursts in the ’56 on the eighth-mile track at Masterton Motorplex. It was heads-up grudge racing and I did four or five laps. The ’56 is no slug; it hooks up well,” Steve smiles. “But it’s too flash for me to race it. I’m a bit hard on the gear – hence why I’m building my ’55.”
A killer ’56 Chevy and a pro street ’55 – mate, that’s what dreams are made of!
“My ’69 Camaro Doorslammer ran a basic old engine, on a budget,” Steve says. “The pistons were for an aspirated engine, so we milled them down to change the compression to suit the blower. My best pass was 8.07@170mph on the quarter-mile”
STEVE is currently bolting together a ball-tearing ’55 Chevy 210 (above) complete with a Kinsler stack fuel-injected 615ci Shafiroff big-block, TH400, transbrake, nine-inch and full-floating hubs set on a chrome-moly chassis. “It’s just gone to the chassis builder for design and engineering for the street,” Steve says.
It’ll be a pro streeter shod in Mickey Thompson’s largest tyre – 33x22 on 15in rims. “It should put out about 900hp on pump gas – all motor,” Steve says. “This will see Jase at JSE kept busy for a while!”
STEVE & LEANNE MILNE
1956 CHEVROLET 210
Paint: Spies Hecker orange & silver
Engine: 400ci Dart
Crank & rods: Scat
Pistons: Sealed Power 10.5:1
Heads: Edelbrock E-Street
Intake: Weiand dual-plane
Carb: Holley 850cfm double-pumper
Diff: 9in, 3.5:1 gears, 31-spline axles
Front: QA1 adjustable coil-overs, modified control arms
Rear: Triangulated four-link, Strange adjustable coil-overs, custom sway-bar
Brakes: CPP discs and calipers (f), EL Falcon discs (r), Wilwood master cylinder and CPP booster
Rims: American Racing Torq Thrust II; 18x7 (f), 18x11 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson SR; 26x8x18 (f), 28x12x18 (r)
Wayne Hirini for his magic trick of making all the wiring disappear; Leanne for supporting my bright ideas; Jason, Bruce, the late Shawn Horwood and Brett Forster, who all made the ’56 something special