There are a lot of good reasons for being a fan of classic Chevy cars today. For starters, a buyer can select any car from more than a century’s worth of models, and modern technology even lets us modify and improve those cars. Not only that, but there is always a good deal waiting to be found in someone’s barn. The biggest downside to collecting and restoring classic Chevys in 2015 is that, unless you are nearly 80 years old, you never had an opportunity to buy a brand new 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air or any of the other Tri-Fives for that matter. While that may have been true years ago, it is no longer the case.
Woody’s Hot Rodz is a company in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, that can not only build you a new Tri-Five Chevy, they can do so with all-new parts! They work exclusive with ’55, ’56, and ’57 model years, meaning that if someone wants to be the first owner of a flawless 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible, or a 1955 210 sedan, Woody’s makes that dream a reality. When you order your car, you aren’t going to get a cookie-cutter replica from the Tri-Five era with bench seats, a two-speed Powerglide, AM radio, and bias-ply tires. No sir, according to Chris Sondles, owner and president of Woody’s, “If you can think it, you can do it.”
For the most part, Chris likes to build traditional-style hot rods with a small-block and power windows, but the sky is the limit if that is what the client wants. He recently built a fully-custom 1955 Chevy convertible from all-new parts, and gave it 620 horsepower.
I am a firm believer that you can produce a better product if you do something you like. – Chris Sondles, Woody’s Hot Rodz
Why The Tri-Five?
When we asked if there was any chance of expanding the line of cars his company produces, to include other ’50s-era Chevy models, he said, “If there was a tremendous desire for a ‘54 or a ’58 Chevy, and we started producing them, the line would lack the one thing it needs most — passion. If I don’t have the passion for it, I‘m not going to be able to do it well.” For Chris, that really is the key to success in all that he does.
Looking at some of the junkers people try to restore today is tough, Chris tells us, “Years ago, someone wouldn’t even take a car for parts that was in that kind shape.” There really is something intoxicating about the dream of having a Tri-Five that some people just can’t let go of, and the opportunity to buy an all-new car has brought a different energy to the market.
Another reason why he specifically builds the Tri-Five, is brand loyalty. According to Chris, “The country has gotten away from the kind of loyalty people used to feel towards a brand. Whether someone is brand loyal to Ford, Chevy, or Mopar, there needs to be some kind of loyalty for the cars, both new and old.”
It is this loyalty to the Chevy brand that helps Chris see the licensing process as a benefit, where others in his position might see it as an obstacle. It also means that Chevy gets credit where credit is due. Woody’s is one of only three companies in the United States that can produce a brand new Chevy — and Chevrolet is one of them. Having the voice and support of Chevrolet Performance is important to him.
One of the factors that people often overlook are the numbers. By the end of its release, the 1955 Chevy represented almost 40-percent of all new car sales. Today, all of GM represents less than 12-percent of that same market. Part of the difference comes from the brand loyalty that Chris mentioned. Nowadays, it is all about the best deal and the newest car. There was a time during the automotive boom of the ’50s, ’60s, and into the ’70s, when people would define their persona by the car they drove.
Chevrolet built more than two million ‘55 Chevys, and during the three years of Tri-Five, they made almost five million cars total. Estimating that only 10-percent of those are still on the road, that is still 500,000 cars. When you divide that again by the 50 states, that puts about 10,000 Tri-Fives in each one — and that is a lot of cars.
There are a countless number of Tri-Five Chevys in the restoration process, and with so many people working on them, that brings the cost for parts down and drives the quality up. In fact, it costs about 30 percent less to restore a Tri-Five Chevy than it does to restore any other 1950s Chevrolet. What’s more, the new parts are made of a better quality material than some of the OE pieces ever were. The cost and availability of parts is an aspect of what makes a Tri-Five such a good project car, especially for young people just getting into the game. It is this same affordability of parts, quality, and demand, that make it possible for Chris and his team to do what they do with the newly built classics.
The Turn-Key Build
Woody’s has sold more new 1955 through 1957 Chevrolets than any other aftermarket dealer in the world. The company is successful because they excel at what they do, and they focus on being a car builder first, and a parts retailer second.
The Woody’s crew currently builds seven turn-key, ready-to-drive classic Tri-Fives: the 1955 sedan, hardtop, and convertible; the 1956 convertible; and the 1957 sedan, hardtop, and convertible. Each project begins a hand-crafted, Chevrolet Performance-authorized body shell, followed by the addition of either a completely-restored OE chassis, a Woody’s Cruiser chassis, or an Art Morrison chassis. Once the body and chassis are mated, the next step is choosing the engine.
Engine choice is one of the most personal aspects of any car. Some people like a lot horsepower, while some like good cruiser characteristics with great fuel mileage. Woody’s gives clients a range of choices, including a small-block, big-block, and LS-engine packages, with sizes ranging from 350 through 527 cubic-inches. The number of driveline options offered by Woody’s is sure to fit the needs of any customer.
The overall options and combinations are endless in these brand-new custom classics. Whether you want a weekend driver, a gasser, or a commuter car, Woody’s can build you exactly what you want, and you will be the first person to own it. So, instead of searching for the elusive 60-year-old, one-owner car, only to buy it and still be the second owner, you can buy one of these and be the original owner with a beauty fresh off the lot, with the added bonus of options that weren’t even a distant dream during the 1950’s.
If you could have Woody’s build you a complete turn-key custom Tri-Five, what would you choose? Tell us more about it in the comments section.