Do you remember what vehicle you piloted when you first started driving? Of course, you do. We all do. When every young person gets their driver’s license – and ultimately – their independence, that day leaves a lasting memory. Sometimes, the recollection of that memory induces a long line of sarcastic verbal jabs about how uncool the vehicle really was. But then, there are those who were lucky enough to have had one of the coolest rides in the school parking lot.
For Doug Ward of Lutz, Florida, the memory is as clear today as it ever was. “Ever since I first started driving back in 1968, I have owned a 1955 Chevy,” he stated with a chuckle. It was 1968, and having the coolest car in the parking lot was not an easy accomplishment, but we’re certain that ’55 Chevy was a definite stand out.
Doug’s claim is not one that many can make, as that would entail ownership of a particular model for nearly 50 years. Since he can make that claim, and the fact that it is about a Tri-Five, makes it that much cooler. However, we don’t want to be misleading, so we do have to say his story doesn’t revolve around a single ’55. In fact, the story of this particular post-car starts much later than 1968.
The Cycle Begins
“In 1977, I decided to sell the ’55 that I was driving at the time. After the car was gone, I purchased a new 1977 C10 pickup truck with a 454 engine,” he said. As cool as a big-block hauler can be, seller’s remorse kicked in roughly six or seven months later. Doug soon realized the car he sold was one he should have kept. He wanted another.
This caused him to begin checking out classified ads in various periodicals. Remember, this was long before websites like eBay or Craigslist were even an idea. Then, it finally happened. “I was living in New Jersey at the time, and one day, while reading the classified ads in the local newspaper, I found an ad that listed a ’55 Chevy for sale. The owner wanted $585, so I checked it out,” Doug said.
He contacted the owner and set up a meeting time to give the car the once-over. This was 1977, and Doug wasn’t expecting a pristine example of a Chevy icon, and that was a good thing. “When I got there, I found out the car wasn’t very pretty,” he stated. It might not have looked very good with its tattered interior and faded paint, but overall, “It was a very solid car,” he stated.
The car had spent most of its life in New Jersey, and as hard as it is to believe, the floors, rocker panels, and trunk area were all nearly, rust free. “The only serious rust on the car was around the headlight buckets and the lower quarter-panel areas,” he said. Since he found a car that was structurally sound, he didn’t even try to negotiate the price. “I paid the gentleman what he wanted, and the next day, I had a running ‘55 Chevy in my driveway,” he declared.
“The first thing I did, was drive to Pine Belt Chevrolet in Lakewood, New Jersey, and purchase a pair of new fenders. Back then, they cost me $72.00 apiece. Looking back, I wish I had bought all I could get,” Doug remarked. He stripped the car down to bare metal, and he and a friend, Walt Wombough, sprayed the car the original Cashmere Blue in Doug’s home garage.
The first thing I did, was drive to Pine Belt Chevrolet in Lakewood, New Jersey, and purchase a pair of new fenders. Back then, they cost me $72.00 apiece. – Doug Ward
Since the interior was showing its age and the cloth was completely deteriorated, after several months of ownership, Doug finally found the original cloth material at C.A.R.S restoration parts. After he acquired the material, he was able to have the seats reupholstered by a local shop. Doug drove the car like this for several years, until 1985. Like happens to so many cars, as much as he enjoyed it, he decided it was time to give it another update.
“In 1985, I took the car to a local body shop and had it repainted. This time, when it rolled out of the shop, it was red and white,” he stated. Again, the car was thoroughly enjoyed, that is, up until the engine started informing Doug it needed some attention. “Sometime in the early ‘90s, the little 235 cubic-inch engine let me know it was getting tired. I learned this when the oil pressure gauge started to read very low. I was contemplating the purchase of a crate engine to install,” he articulated. That idea changed when a friend of his, George Mielock, purchased another ’55 Chevy. “His car had a 235 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine under the hood and he was planning to change that. I bought the engine for $50.00, and it is still in the car today,” Doug remarked.
Yet Another Update
When the year 2001 rolled around, Doug once again decided to give the car another facelift. The cruiser was again taken to a local paint shop, and this time, painted a Turquoise enamel. The way the stance of the car is presented right now is courtesy of the stock frame with spindles, front coil springs, and rear leaf springs that lower the car 2 inches. The front also benefits from a disc-brake upgrade.
The 235ci engine under the hood also received a few upgrades. Godwin and Singer Machine in St. Pete, Florida, rebuilt the inline mill with items like forged 9.0:1 pistons, a mild hydraulic flat-tappet camshaft, and a Clifford four-barrel intake with a Holley 390 cfm carburetor. While it might not be a powerhouse when compared to a V8, Doug attests that it is just as reliable, and has been on many long-distance road trips.
Many moons ago, Doug had a four-speed behind the little six-cylinder, but swapped it for a Borg-Warner five-speed transmission that he removed from an S10 pickup. Finishing the drivetrain is a 10-bolt rear with 3.36 gears. “The car cruises down the highway at 70 mph, and the engine is only turning 2,000 rpm,” he stated. It’s dependable and definitely different.
Since Doug spends a lot of his time driving, the interior is as comfortable as any 1955 Chevy when it was delivered. The Delray-style upholstery is from C.A.R.S, and a Secret Audio from Custom Autosound makes the reliable cross-country drives just a little more enjoyable.
While most guys would have ditched the six-cylinder engine in favor of a V-shaped powerhouse, we applaud Doug’s desire to keep the little mill that can. The often overlooked six-banger can, evidently, deliver as much fun as any V8 on a road trip. Be that a trip around town or crossing this great country.