Tri-Five Chevys are, without question, the most popular ’50s cars around. Far more than just cult favorites, these machines have become automotive pop culture icons. Few will argue that they look sharp in stock form, yet somewhere along the line their designs have been deemed so sacred that most enthusiasts are intimidated to customize them anymore. That’s too bad, because it means we don’t get to see enough built like Harvey Bagshaw’s tasty tangerine ’55.
Harvey is no stranger to ’55-57 Chevys. The Mattituck, New York, resident started customizing them as a young lad back in 1962, and has owned a string of them through the years. But it wasn’t pure nostalgia fueling the build of this custom; fate and practicality also played their parts. “Parts are readily available; this is one reason this ’55 was chosen,” Harvey says. “The other reason is that it was for sale locally for the sum of $1,000. The car had the usual rust, but had been severely damaged on the left side and right rear. Previous repairs were marginal at best.”
In other words, the Chevy was a prime candidate for the custom treatment because it needed so much metalwork anyway. Harvey says he drew inspiration from early ’60s California customs when he began modifying the sheetmetal by welding the fenders to the body and raising the wheel openings. Then he gave the car a facelift by sectioning the grille opening 1 1/2 inches, removing the hood peak and sectioning the hood 2 inches, extending the fender eyebrows over frenched headlights, removing the parking lights, and filling the cowl. A bullet grille and shaved one-piece bumper added the right amount of shine.
Heading aft, Harvey removed the signature dip in the Chevy’s beltline, added shortened ’58 Chevy side trim, frenched ’54 Merc taillights into slightly extended quarter-panels, and formed a stylized license mount in the decklid. He eventually laid down a finish of House of Kolor Candy Tangerine on all the sheetmetal, accenting it with a lace-painted insert on the roof. All of this work was done in the two-car shop behind Harvey’s house.
While he may be handy with a welder and spray gun, Harvey prefers to let others turn wrenches. So before the bodywork was completed, he shipped the Chevy down to his son Scott’s shop, Planet Customs, in Kannapolis, North Carolina. There, with some help from his brother Jason, Scott got the chassis in shape by C-ing the rear framerails and building a custom four-link with air springs to hang the 10-bolt Malibu rearend. The front suspension also got ‘bags, along with a 605 steering box and sway bar. A set of deep-dish 15-inch Astro Supremes and skinny whitewalls (205/70 in front, 215/70 in rear) were chosen to provide the proper ’60s flavor.
To give the ’78 Chevy 350 mill an equally vintage vibe, Scott installed a solid-lifter COMP camshaft, roller rockers, and a dual-quad intake with Edelbrock carbs. Then he dressed the engine up with finned aluminum accessories from Mooneyes, backed it up with a Hurst-shifted Muncie four-speed, and gave it a classic rumble with 2-inch pipes and Smithy’s mufflers. Harvey altered another signature ’55 Chevy design element when he took the passenger-side hump and all the trim off the dash, leaving only the original speedometer peeking from behind its modified opening. This sparse approach made the flashy ’58 Impala wheel stand out even more. Finally, R&R; Auto Upholstery got the call to stitch the parchment-colored vinyl in a traditional manner before laying down orange carpet.
While Harvey’s custom Chevy may seem unorthodox by today’s standards, the results speak for themselves. Perhaps the neatest part is that it retains its ’55 Chevy identity through all the modifications. It also demands attention, or at least it did when it debuted at the 2005 Goodguys Southeastern Nationals in Charlotte. In fact, it got more notice than many high-tech ’55-57s that likely cost two or three times as much to build. That’s the good thing about the dearth of traditional-style Tri-Fives; cars like Harvey’s just get more attention.