Drue Hutchy coaxed a legend from a 25-year slumber to prove that chopped, blown and badarse is timeless
This article on Drue's Bel Air was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Street Machine
TIMING is everything. For proof, just ask Drue Hutchy how he discovered this legendary 1955 Chevrolet.
The 4.5in roof slice is the maximum sensible drop, and gives the ’55 an unmistakeable profile. Drue switches between the original fibreglass scoop and a Hilborn scoop for variety
Its unmistakeable silhouette and styling are sure to have tweaked the memory banks of the old school, who are no doubt feeling a little happy in the pants.
The Chev burst onto the scene 30 years ago, scoring a cover car spot on the much-loved Super Street title in ’87 and a feature story in SM, June 1990. Certainly, when Drue chanced upon the car, he was pretty certain what he was looking at.
"I saw its arse hanging out of a Brisbane shed and thought: ‘It can’t be that car’,” he says. “For me to drive past in the 30 minutes it saw daylight had to be fate. I really was in the right place at the right time.”
Three weeks of negotiations proved fruitful and the ’55 was soon nestled at the Hutchy digs, where it’s all about revitalisation, not hibernation.
See, shed life was nothing new for this ’55. Between 1987 and 2012 it was holed up damn-near full-time, covering a meagre two – yes, two – kilometres.
Those couple of kays were most likely racked up during its time as the Penrite Oils poster child of the late 80s, when it toured as the star of their full-page promos.
The factory two-door was imported in the early 70s and punted around as a chopped blue-with-flames hottie for the next decade. It then copped a massive rebuild in the mid-80s, with the action centred around the town of Warragul, Victoria.
From all accounts, it was a big job, starting with a body-off strip and sandblast. The roof was re-chopped to improve its proportions and overall finish. The chop itself is as low as you can practicably go and retains working quarter-vent windows.
The one-piece ’glass front flips forward or lifts off for easy engine access and to better display the 454-cube LS6 donk and chromed front end
The chassis was smoothed and dipped in multiple coats of black Acran (remember that stuff?) and it was then tricked up with cutting-edge (for the time) Pro Street engineering. Up front is the usual mix of Chev and HQ parts, but the back end copped a McDonald Brothers ladder bar, locating a shortened nine-inch running 31-spline axles and Mustang discs. A Sigma steering box and tilt-adjustable column are from the days before Flaming River and the internet, when adaptation and tape measures were king. The whole shebang was detailed to the max using glorious amounts of toxic 80s chrome-plating.
The 6/71 blower is topped with twin Holley 660 carbs and detailed to period perfection. The additional chrome plates added to the firewall brace the chassis to the body for improved rigidity
The completed shell was sent to master body craftsman John Owen for final straightening and file-finishing, while Dick Cameron was entrusted with the eye-popping candy apple paint, laying down an alleged 43 coats of red and clear over a silver base.
Front seats are HQ Monaro buckets that were sliced and sectioned to better fit the cramped quarters, while the stock back seat was trimmed to clear the tubbed rear. The old SAAS sports wheel and VDO gauges are still up to the task
Squeeze your peepers through the slivers of glass that pass for windows and check out that interior – it’s true to the theme of the car and old enough to ooze period cool, kind of like wearing a Pacman t-shirt nowadays.
White vinyl & maroon velour feature throughout the interior, a perfect snapshot of 80s trends. “The trim is still immaculate,” Drue says. “It may be in no man’s land style-wise but any tackiness just makes it cool”
The white and maroon trimming both complement the exterior and acknowledge the Chevy’s 50s roots. HQ Monaro buckets were sliced to accommodate the tighter headspace, while the stock ’55 rear bench was reshaped to clear the tubbed wheelarches.
Under the bonnet it was all muscle – an LS6-spec 454 big-block Chev, filled with the good gear and topped with a Bob Fisher 6/71.
With the build completed in 1985 and two years of shows and about 2000km under its belt, the ’55 was sold to the Monk family, who drove it home to Sydney from the Bendigo Swap. Famous for their awesome US Mopars and collection of hot rods, the Monks christened the ’55 ‘Heartbeat of America’, then mothballed it for the next quarter of a century, its brief stint with Penrite notwithstanding. It was offered for sale in 2012.
“The Chev was floating around on eBay,” Drue says. “It was sold to a Brisbane drag racer who planned to build it as a seven-second streeter with a mega-cube turbo set-up, but luckily never got around to it. I bought it in 2014 and had it on the road within a month. I was so excited to drive it; I didn’t stop working until it was done.”
Sitting dormant for so long will affect any car’s vitals, so Drue spent this time rebuilding the brakes and replacing engine gaskets before leaning on it too much. “I’ve done 3000 kays in six months – 60 per cent of its total driving time ever – so yeah, it gets driven and driven hard. What else are you going to do with a blown big-block?” he laughs.
Some heavy pedalling has damaged the four-link, blown the diff centre to smithereens and snapped some of the chrome-plated bolts, but it’s all part of the gradual process of subtly modernising aspects of the car and making it more user-friendly.
“I replaced the twin-point Mallory with an MSD and slotted in a Truetrac centre, replacing the original 3.0 gears with some 3.9s for good measure,” Drue says. “The paint is pretty hammered; years spent under a tarp have done it no favours. I’m going to strip it right down for a respray, but it’s hard to know which way to go. It would look tough in black with a red leather interior and Auto Drags, but the undercarriage detailing and interior is still so mint it would be a shame to change it; it’s a full-on time capsule.”
Smokescreens come on thick and fast with Drue at the helm. “We met a bloke in Ballarat who was beside himself when he saw the Chev. He still had a poster of it on his garage wall. Next thing you know we’re at his place doing a huge shed burnout for him and his wife. It was really cool and kinda strange all at once,” he laughs
The ’55 is a family hauler for Drue, his wife Zoe and baby son Cash. It wowed the crowds at the recent Port Fairy and Armidale rod runs, and the respect and attention it receives has humbled Drue: “One thing is certain above all else – it will never be mothballed again.”
DRUE & ZOE HUTCHY
1955 CHEVROLET BEL AIR
Colour: Candy Apple Red
Make: Chevrolet LS6 454ci
Carbs: Two Holley 660 centre-squirters
Intake: Cragar blower manifold
Heads: Oval-port, cast
Camshaft: Sig Erson 1H grind
Ignition: MSD adjustable 6AL
Cooling: Commodore radiator, Moroso water pump
Exhaust: Custom 2in headers, twin 3in system
Gearbox: Turbo 400
Converter: Modified Chevy Vega
Diff: Ford nine-inch, Truetrac centre, 3.9 gears
Front: Stock double wishbone
Rear: Ladder bar, Panhard rod
Shocks: Koni (f), Koni coil-overs (r)
Steering: Sigma steering column and box
Brakes: HQ discs and calipers (f), Mustang discs and calipers (r); XY master cylinder and booster
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Simmons B45 three-piece; 15x6 (f), 15x11.5 (r)
Rubber: M/T Radial 185/65 (f), M/T ET Street 325/60 (r)
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Street Machine is the bible of Aussie modified auto culture, celebrating wild muscle cars, customs and hot rods – and the incredible humans who create them.
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