Speaking of sweet memories…
In 1950, Chevrolet introduced the Bel Air designation as a unique model. Early in production, the car was popularized by a pillarless hardtop with the look of a convertible. The first-generation Bel Air also was available in many trim levels, and continued through 1952 with minor changes.
In 1953, GM started paving the way for the second generation of the Chevrolet Bel Air. The knee action suspension and splash-feed engine of the pre-World War ll-era Chevys had become obsolete and badly needed a refresh. With new running gear and extremely attractive new styling, Chevrolet marketed the new 1955 model as “entirely new through and through.”
The “Hot One” ad slogan gained notoriety in a new campaign that blanketed the country. From the Ferrari inspired grille to the crisp, clean body lines, the car was an instant hit and rocked the automotive world. The new OHV 265ci V-8 engine was the frosting on the cake.
This beautiful, bright red ’55 Bel Air of Steven Kirk Sr., is incredibly appealing. Everywhere this car goes, it draws a crowd. Kirk, a plumbing superintendent who spent over 37 years in the industry, decided to retire after the production facilities where he worked moved to Asia.
The upside? Now he had time to spend playing and showing hot rods.
A life long car enthusiast, Kirk explains his passion for cars, “I loved them from the word go. My father and I ran go-karts until I was 13 years old”.
Kirk and his Dad eventually built their first car together to run on the big tracks. His father drove the car for a few years until Kirk was experienced enough to take over the wheel. Since then, he’s spent 35 years racing, and says, “I’ve been into this hot rod and racing bit my entire adult life.”
The restoration and build of his red ’55 took a little over five years to complete. When asked why a ’55 Bel Air, Kirk responded “It was my first car. I loved them, I have owned a lot of ’em. I even had a ’57 but it wasn’t my cup of tea.”
When looking for the ’55 Bel Air of his dreams, Kirk didn’t have to search far.
Just down the road about 15 miles from where he lived, in the little Georgia town of Social Circle, a ’55 two-door sedan sat under a shed for a number of years. It had been owned by the same couple for more than 30 years. Kirk recalled, “I’d seen the car multiple times, and finally stopped by, introduced myself, and we struck a deal.”
When found, it was in pretty good shape. Other than having a small-block 327ci engine under the hood, it was completely stock. “I knew that I was going to tear it all down and build it like we wanted it. And that’s what we did”
Kirk’s son Steve, owner of SKJ Performance Engineering, told us, “the restoration was a complete frame-off, built between jobs in my shop.”
One of the biggest challenges of the build, was getting the car back from the body shop. They spent two years getting all of the panels, seams, and gaps in the doors, trunk ,and fenders absolutely perfect before applying the fresh, new coat of bright red paint.
The rest of the build took another three years of meticulous, time-consuming work. All of the fabrication work was engineered and performed at SKJ Performance Engineering in Monroe, Georgia.
Work on the Bel Air was a true labor of love. “The biggest challenge for me, was fitting a late model LS3 crate-engine package within the stock frame rails. We scalloped the frame and profiled it for strength.
We used the OE LS3 front-drive, air compressor, and lower drive stuff incorporated into the build” according to Steve. Papa Kirk said, “Junior put a lot of time, effort, and thought into the build of this ’55. He’s younger and his thoughts are a little sharper than mine, but we both collaborated on where we wanted to go with this Chevy.”
The Bel Air has taken quite a few First Place trophies, Best of Show, and Preacher’s Choice Awards around Georgia and surrounding Southeast areas. From local car shows to events sponsored by Good Guys Rod & Custom and the Tri-Five Nationals in Bowling Green, this car has a lot of fans and raises a lot of attention. “It’s sweet validation that your hard work is recognized. That’s all the reward you need,” says Kirk.
The list of goodies is long and distinguished. The 480hp, LS3 crate engine spins the aluminum flywheel in front of a Tremec six-speed transmission. Kirk bangs gears with a Hurst shifter while releasing the power through a carbon fiber 1350 driveshaft connected to the 9-inch rearend. Then, all of that torque is sent to a pair of Budnik custom wheels and a beefy pair of Michelin Super Sport tires, as it hits the pavement.
Inside, the interior sports a Dakota Digital dash, AutoSound tune system with satellite reception, and JBL speakers. The custom, power leather seats, power windows, tilt wheel, and the upgraded R134 air conditioning make drive time much more pleasurable.
When it came to making the ’55 handle and brake like a late-model Corvette, several issues had to be overcome. A challenge arose finding the new center of gravity after the engine, transmission, and drivetrain were positioned to sit lower in the chassis, which took some serious effort.
With the Heidt’s stainless front suspension and rear four-link suspension in place, it turned out to not be a big issue at all. The Wilwood brakes at each corner give the ’55 some serious stopping power, with 14-inch rotors on the front and 13-inch rotors at the rear. The completely upgraded suspension and braking package on this Chevy changed the car’s attitude once and for all.
From the custom, lipstick-red leather interior, to the chassis and undercarriage, no detail was spared. If it isn’t painted, it’s chrome plated or powdercoated.
Nothing has been overlooked to make this car an eye catching, engineering marvel of perfection that isn’t afraid to be driven on a daily basis.
TECH SHEET – SKJ Performance 1955 Chevrolet
- 480 HP GM LS3 crate engine with a hot cam and aluminum flywheel
- Tremec six-speed transmission with Hurst shifter
- 3.89-geared 9-inch rearend with Trutrac differential, Wilwood brakes
- Heidts stainless four-link rear suspension
- Heidts stainless front suspension
- Cooling system by PRE
- Remote E-Stop emergency brake system
- Custom carbon fiber engine cover by SKJ Performance Engineering
- four-wheel coilover suspension system
- Rock Valley stainless gas tank
- SKJ Performance Engineering profiled ’55 frame for LS engine and six-speed conversion
- SKJ Performance Engineering custom rack-and-pinion steering
- SKJ Performance Engineering cold air induction system
- SKJ Performance Engineering custom stainless headers and exhaust system
- SKJ Performance Engineering custom vintage heating and air conditioning system
- Power windows and seats
- Autosound Slidebar Radio with Satellite and JBL sound system
- Custom “Lipstick Red” leather interior by Steve Holcomb of Pro Auto Custom Interiors
- Paint and Bodywork by Brad Bradley
- Ceramic coating by Glasslife Atlanta
- Frame powdercoated in silver vein by Sunset Powder Coating
- Budnik custom wheels with titanium center caps
- Michelin Super Sport tires
- Budnik custom billet steering wheel
- Dakota Digital Instruments
- Flaming River stainless tilt column with all stainless link system
- Lokar billet clutch and brake pedal assembly
- Billet hood and trunk hinges by Eddie Motorsport
- All fabrication and design by SKJ Performance Engineering of Monroe, GA
- Mucho sweat and toil over many years