In this fast-paced world of instant gratification, “enduring” is a term used mostly to convey making it through a less-than-stellar movie. For Calvin Suttle of Franklin, Pennsylvania and his 1955 Chevrolet 210, that term has more lasting ramifications that can only be measured on calendars—many of them.
Chevrolet was in the midst of numerous changes in the mid-50s. Body styles that were hurriedly rushed out post-WW2 were getting long in the tooth, and all the auto manufacturers were burning up pencil lead and midnight oil, trying to come up with the next great design. Americans’ attitudes were changing, and folks at Chevrolet were hoping to tap into the heart of all the “Can-Do” attitude that still reverberated from winning the war.
At Chevrolet, bigger was better, making itself evident through increasing wheelbases, seating capacity, and engine sizes. In ’55, Chevrolet rolled out the first iteration of the body style that would be called the Tri-Five, and used the platform (along with Corvettes) to introduce the world to their newly designed V8. While lasting only three years, the design would cycle through much of the stereotypical cues of the ’50s, ranging from the understated lines of 1955 and culminating in the chrome-dripped and full-finned ‘57s.
While short in duration, the Tri-Five generation of Chevrolets has endeared itself to vintage and performance enthusiasts for generations. Even recently, events that celebrate this three-year production run of Chevys have been successfully fostered throughout the nation, in celebration of these timeless classics.
While not as old as the cars themselves, the story of Calvin and his gold and white Tri-Five Chevy started many years ago, while a man named Richard Nixon still hung his hat in a big white building on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Back then, Calvin shelled out $550 to a coworker for this ’55 Chevy 210. That would equate to just over $3,000 of today’s money. We’re not sure the exact condition of the car at the time, but Calvin admits that it languished in his garage for almost 30 years. Then, in 2001, they hauled the car to his brother’s shop, where he, along with friends and family, began a complete renovation of the Tri-Five, which took another five years to complete.
Complete would be the best way to describe it, as every nut and bolt was removed until the only thing left was a bare frame, which was then reconditioned and used as the foundation for the fine ride that Calvin enjoys today. Since a lot of technology has come and gone in the few decades that Calvin has owned this ’55, it made perfect sense to implement some of that technology when choosing the power to better suit his plans of “driving the car to shows and events.”
Calvin explains the ups and downs of such a project as only someone who has gone through the process can explain. “The most difficult portion of the build was the period after sandblasting the car. From day one to the finished product five years later, it was a continual pattern of working my usual 8 to 10 hour days at my regular paying job, then going to my brother’s garage, where we would work another 4 to 6 hours on the car. My wife was definitely a motor head’s widow during that time. I have to mention without the use of my brother’s garage and help, my car would have probably taken a lot longer to finish. And that was with my brother Roger and his son, Matt’s help. Thank goodness for family!”
…the combination is good for around 15 to 16 miles per gallon “until I punch it down, which is always a possibility, unless my wife is along for the ride!” – Calvin Suttle
Both the path into and out of the engine has been modified on Calvin’s LS2. A set of Edelbrock headers lead the fumes to the complete Stainless Works dual exhaust that exits out the rear of the car. Not only does the exhaust breathe a whole lot better than the factory single-straw system that the car left the factory with, but it sounds much better as well.
At each corner of the Tri-Five, the ride is adjusted by air, using RideTech’s ShockWave air ride system. This allows Calvin to adjust the suspension at will, and the fact that the shocks and the air ride assembly are integral, means that there’s plenty of room for meaty tires both front and back.
To fill that ever-changing void, he used 225/45/17 and 295/35/18 BFGoodrich tires all wrapped around a set of Billet Specialties Stiletto wheels. Just beyond those polished rollers resides a set of equally-polished Wilwood calipers that clamp down on 13-inch brake discs at each corner. Keeping those rear disc rotors separated is a 9-inch rearend that houses a street-friendly 3.50-ratio gear-set. A perfect match for that overdrive transmission and highway miles that Calvin planned on putting on the car. He reports that the combination is good for around 15 to 16 miles per gallon “until I punch it down, which is always a possibility, unless my wife is along for the ride!”
On The Inside
The 210 was a slightly higher grade than the miserly 150, but positioned well below the dazzling and posh Bel Air body style. Even so, Calvin’s current build puts the most well-apportioned for its time Bel Air wanting for more.That is thanks to modernized amenities such as rack-and-pinion power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning. Installing the power disc brakes and power rack was, in Calvin’s words, “one of the best things I ever did.”
Also, the Suttle-installed Ididit tilt steering column controls both the steering and shifting duties, and is topped by a small 14-inch steering wheel. There’s also a handy controller for the ShockWave system that allows Calvin to adjust the ride height of his Tri-Five at every corner and an upgrade that also allows him to do so by using his iPhone!
All the soft materials inside the ’55 were carefully installed by the craftsmen at Portage Trim of Revenna, Ohio, using coordinating gold and white leather upholstery and carpeting. Pleats keep the ’50s theme, and seating arrangements are thanks to the original frames with updated padding and support. That touch is just the thing to bring back the ‘50s feel when putting miles on the odometer that is buried within the Classic Instruments-supplied gauge cluster featuring a tachometer, oil pressure, and volt gauges, three items that were not found on factory ’55 Chevys. Instead, warning lights were issued to advise of any anomalies and Chevrolet didn’t feel engine revs were important to most Americans in ’55.
The Bottom Line
With the oh-so-fine lines of any Tri-Five Chevy, Calvin knew not to mess with an already perfect design. Instead, he had Chuck Irwin of Born Again Auto Body drape the GM-designed skin with a shade of “Gold and White” that makes the car stand out without shouting. We noticed it at this year’s Carlisle Events’ Chevrolet Nationals in Calvin’s home state of Pennsylvania. We’re not sure if it was the classic lines of the car or the flash of the chrome and colors that initially pulled us in, but one thing is for sure, both components come together in a tasteful combo that make it an easy feast for your eyes. Apparently, it’s a tasty treat that doesn’t lose its appeal, evidenced by the fact that Calvin has held onto his fine ride for so long. It took the better part of three decades to get it exactly the way he wanted it, and now that he has it, he’s well on his way to putting many more flips of the calendar under its belt.