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TWIN-TURBO LS1-POWERED 1955 CHEVROLET BEL AIR

By Andrew Broadley | Photos: Chris Thorogood, 23 Mar 2017 Features

1955 chevrolet 1896 nw

There's more than a big set of rubber hiding under this classic-looking '55 Chev

Travis Grace has had a lifelong love affair with '55 Chevs. This is his latest and greatest

This article on Travis's Chev was originally published in the February 2017 issue of Street Machine

GEELONG’S Trav Grace has a deep-seated affinity for tri-five Chevys that dates back to his formative years. “My cousin, Paul Henderson, owned the ex-Super Plus ’55 Chev that ran 11-second passes back in the early 80s,” he says. This connection to such a storied ’55 Chev kick-started an enduring appreciation for the model and Trav has owned several in the years since, but none have been built and refined to the level of his current toy.

Video: Trav's twin-turbo Chev up close

He’s owned this one since 2011, when his wife spotted it advertised for sale by the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois. He was midway through the build of an HT Holden at the time, but the Chev was sharply priced and the exchange rate particularly favourable, which made it too good a deal to pass up. The HT was pensioned off to a mate as a roller to finance the purchase of the Chev, and after lengthy delays during importation, the car eventually landed in Trav’s shed in January of 2012.

1955 Chevrolet side viewThat killer stance is at the centre of the Chev's appeal. The factory leaf springs were reset three inches lower than standard and moved inboard of the chassis rails and the car was tubbed to accommodate 15x10in Weld Alumastars & 28x12in hoops

“I kept the car with a classic look for a year or two, then I set about mini-tubbing it, modifying the brakes to four-wheel discs and changing the wheels from the original whitewall rags to Convos,” Trav says. The car remained that way for a year or so while he weighed up his options for upgrading the powertrain.

1955 Chevrolet bonnet up“At first I was looking at putting a 434ci small-block Chev in it,” Trav says. “Then one night I went for a spin in Harry Haig’s freshly built turboed big-block HQ. The thing was mad and I was quickly bitten by the turbo bug.”

A snail was definitely on the agenda, but which motor to hang it off was the subject of great deliberation. Eventually Trav tracked down a used LS1 on eBay, and sourced a pair of twin 64/62mm Turbonectics billet 60-series turbos through Adam and Luke at MPW.

1955 Chevrolet rearHe then began to stockpile parts for the build, and ended up pulling the Chev off the road in mid-2014 to get down to business. With an LS engine and Powerglide transmission dummy-fitted, the car was shipped off to Darcy Stafford and Fraser Hall of KillaBoost manifolds to fabricate the turbo system, and the engine was sent to Dave Butcher at Frankston Engine Centre for a birthday.

1955 Chevrolet rear wheelMuch has been made of the resilience of stock-bottom-end LS engines in boosted applications, and while Trav’s LS1 isn’t entirely standard, it does rely largely on factory parts, with slight upgrades made where it counts. For example, the stock rotating assembly has been retained, with the addition of Hastings rings, ACL Race Series bearings and ARP 2000 rod bolts to help it all hang together under duress.

The valvetrain was upgraded with a COMP camshaft boasting .614/.610in lift and 227/223 degrees duration, along with Manley pushrods and PAC dual valve springs.

1955 Chevrolet engine bayThe stunningly crafted turbo system and twin Turbonetics billet 60-series snails look the business, but the engine itself is surprisingly mild, with stock 241 heads and rotating assembly

The turbos are mounted to custom stainless KillaBoost manifolds, with the entire cold side also fabbed in stainless, utilising a Turbosmart race-port blow-off valve and twin Turbosmart Comp-Gate 40mm wastegates. From the dump pipes back is a custom three-inch twin exhaust system by Trav’s mate Luke Lingard.

1955 chevrolet radiatorThe Powerglide is rated to 900hp and features a Pro Tree transbrake and 3500rpm Dominator converter, funnelling grunt rearwards to a nine-inch diff via a three-inch chrome-moly tailshaft with Strange unis. The diff has all the fruit, including Dutchman 31-spline axles, a Strange Pro Iron case, Eaton Truetrac, alloy pinion support and a 3.50:1 final drive ratio.

1955 Chevrolet engine detailWith the engine and driveline all sorted, Trav and an army of mates kicked on with the rest of the build. Brad Stray and Ryan ‘Dozza’ McDermott got stuck into the engine bay. They ridded it of all the factory imperfections, welding, smoothing and prepping it for paint. Troy Zerbato lavished countless hours on polishing the stainless-steel turbo plumbing, and Clint McInnes rewired the whole car, set up the EFI harness, relocated the coils and set up the Vintage Air system, all the while ensuring the wiring was hidden from view wherever possible.

1955 chevrolet interior frontRetaining the factory 50s flavour was important to Trav, and as such the original seats and steering wheel still have pride of place

“I am very grateful to have awesome mates, as it was in the late stage of the build that we decided to relocate the family from Shepparton to Geelong,” Trav says. “My good mate Steve Bonham took on the remainder of the build, including fitting the remote brake boosters, fuel lines, and a massive list of other last-minute finishing touches. He was left holding the baby – so to speak – and did an awesome job to get it up and running and ready for tuning.”

1955 Chevrolet gaugesThe twin-turbo LS burst into life on the first hit of the key, then the car was taken to Sass Automotive so Mark Sass could sort out some teething problems and perform the run-in tune. A preliminary figure of 419rwkW (562rwhp in the old money) and 1000Nm on 9psi and pump fuel was a great result.

1955 Chevrolet dash“It’s yet to go back for its final tune, though currently it makes more than enough power to have some fun,” Trav says. “The suspension set-up needs some sorting out before it hits the track, but I’m looking forward to racing it.”

The build soaked up 14 months and more cash than Trav would care to talk about, and was completed just in time for the 2016 Bright Rod Run. The car has clocked up 3000 trouble-free kays since, including hours of bumper-to-bumper cruising in warm weather at Bright.

1955 Chev speedo“I wanted to keep the 50s feel, but it still had to look tough while being user-friendly,” Trav says. “It really is the best of both worlds – it sounds like it has a standard crate motor in it, but when it hits boost it suddenly turns into a 10-second car. It makes great power with great driveability and awesome fuel economy – it gets up to 11L/100km on the open road.

1955 Chevrolet onroadThe Chev sees plenty of road miles and never misses a beat. Despite its impressive power output, the twin-turbo LS1 is quiet and even returns credible fuel consumption figures

“It’s by no means a show car, nor will it ever be the fastest car out there,” he continues. “I’m just rapt to have a well-presented ’55 Chev that I can jump in and drive down the highway with the AC on, or cruise to a car show with the family, or – even better – blow the tyres off it at the drop of a hat. It should have enough power to run in the low 10s once the boost is turned up, and when we take it to events the missus drives it more than I do. It’s the ultimate all-rounder.”

1955 Chevrolet - Trav Grace