The classic Chevy Tri-Five is a well-known model across the industry but for Steve Luethge, his ‘56 Chevy 210 nicknamed “Panic Again” is more than just an automotive icon–it’s a piece of family history. As it turns out, Luethge’s father Bob bought the car back in the 60s to use it as a Division 5 Stock Eliminator race car but sold the car after just two years. But as luck would have it, Luethge found the car about five years ago and once again returned it to his family as a cherished tribute to his dad. Just looking at the car at the Super Chevy Show earlier this summer at Bandimere Speedway in Colorado, a place Luethge’s dad actually raced the 210, prompted us to want to know more and after finding out about the car’s colorful past, we just couldn’t let its story go untold.
“That particular car was my dad’s race car that he bought in 1969,” Luethge told us in a phone conversation, referring to the ‘56 he now calls his own. It was this car that started Luethge’s enthusiasm for the classic Tri-Five models way back when, but not the first Tri-Five his dad owned.
As Luethge explained, the car was called “Panic Again” even back when his dad was racing it because his father previously owned a ‘56 four-door wagon called Panic. So when the 210 two-door was purchased, Bob named the car after the first Panic Tri-Five that he had owned.
“My dad was always working on that car after dinner,” Luethge said. “That car meant a lot to him. That was his time alone – to work on the car and go racing.”
After racing the car in 1970, Bob sold the car to a guy in Omaha, Nebraska in 1971 where the Luethge’s were living and it was passed around to at least two other owners over the years, leaving hardly a trace of its previous existence behind. But about five years ago when Luethge was at a show in the Omaha area with a picture of his dad’s race car, a man came up to him and told him that he “knew a guy that knew a guy” that owned the car.
“I thought there was no way,” Luethge told us. “I’ve heard too many stories like that.” But, the man did in fact know where Luethge’s dad’s car was located, although it had been painted a different color since Luethge had seen it last. Getting the car back wasn’t as easy as locating it, however, as the brothers who owned the 210 and were storing it in a quanza hut weren’t interested in parting with it. But after a couple months with a bug in their ear and the need for a valve job on their semi truck, the brothers changed their mind, giving Luethge the opportunity he’d been looking for to buy the car back.
Upon returning the car to his family, Luethge decided to do a full resto-mod to the car, keeping some touches from the car’s past while updating it with plenty of modern features.
The entire build of the car was taken care of by Roger Burman of Lakeside Rods & Rides in Rockwell City, Iowa. It was there that Panic Again received a full frame off restoration with the original 1-piece frame boxed and smoothed. Burman also equipped the car with an air ride suspension system featuring 2-inch narrowed tubular control arms with Ridetech ShockWaves in the front and a Ford 9-inch rearend with 3-inch narrowed control arms and ShockWaves in the rear. The suspension is complimented by Wilwood disc brakes with polished calipers that give the car plenty of stopping power while 18×7 and 20×8.5-inch Budnik Illusion wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot 225/40 ZR18 and 275/35 ZR20 rubber.
With the help of Steve Focata of Omaha, Panic Again now features a GM 383 stroker short-block crate engine with Trick Flow aluminum heads, an Edelbrock RPM Air Gap intake manifold, Demon 750cfm carburetor, Comp Cam camshaft, Crane roller rockers and lifters, an MSD ignition system, Billet Specialties serpentine system and power steering pump with lines, and a Watson cross flow aluminum radiator. This is mounted to a Turbo 350 transmission with a shift kit for a little extra kick. This powerful combination gives the car about 480hp and 525ft-lbs of torque.
Although the 210 was originally yellow with a very unique paint job when Luethga’s father owned it, he opted for a classic red and white paint job for the car’s rebirth. “If I would’ve done that, the generation now a days wouldn’t have gotten that paint job,” Luethga told us of recreating his dad’s paint scheme. “They wouldn’t have gotten it at all. I wanted something that made sense for my generation.”
The PPG specially mixed paint is complimented by the car’s original stainless, redone by Kirk Bauman of Omaha, and the original bumpers, redone by Joe and Val Chickinelli of Omaha Antique & Job Plating.
The interior of the car is complimentary to the exterior with tan Ultra Leather bucket seats, a custom console and rear seat, Classic Instruments white-faced gauges, and a Budnik steering wheel mounted to an Ididit steering column.“This is what I wanted to do in honor of my dad,” Luethge told us of the chevy rebuild. Although this is the fourth Tri-Five he’s owned, it’s the most special and holds the biggest place in his heart. But that doesn’t mean he won’t sell it in the future or isn’t already making plans for his next Tri-Five build – a ’56 Nomad that he’d like to have as his driver, he shared with us. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky enough to see that one at a Super Chevy Show in the years to come.