Matt Martinez's Classic '55 Chevy Chosen Tri-Five of the Year at the 2017 Tri-Five Nationals
"I had an idea in mind for the car," he said. "I knew where I wanted to go with it, but I didn't expect it to get this much attention. Priority No. 1 for me has always been my son's baseball, and I wouldn't have even been in Bowling Green if his season hadn't ended the week before. I sure didn't go there thinking I was going to win anything." Martinez, 45, who makes his living in paintless dent removal, didn't want a modern-looking engine under the hood of his venerable '55. He has one anyway – a Turn Key Engine Supply-built LS2 with LS3 cylinder heads – but with a period-correct air cleaner up top, you'd never know there's a complete Holley Terminator EFI system on board. "I didn't know too much about EFI before I started on this, but this Holley system is easy to use and did exactly what I wanted right away," said Martinez, who also runs a Holley mid-rise intake. "I like the big air cleaners NASCAR stock cars had, and they're perfect for covering the fuel-injection system. The whole idea was that it be something that in 10 years doesn't look out of date. That's why it has the valve covers it does – it looks like they're from some old small-block – and that's why the car's called 'Timeless.' "
Based on a chassis from Street Rod Garage, the all-black beauty has an all-steel body. "The chassis was already dialed in when I got it," Martinez said. "I just had to sand it a little before it was powder-coated. I can't afford to have anybody build me a car – I had to do as much as possible myself. If there was a slow day at work and I could get home early, or at night after work or on the weekend, I'd be working on it. It took about two years altogether. I had a lot of help from buddies like Lee Bumgardner at Zoomers Automotive, but I was always there helping them do it, and I learned a lot. My son and I put together the chassis, mounted the gas tank, mounted the exhaust, and painted all the little parts. We did a lot of things like that – things that, if you added them all up, probably would have added 20 or 30 grand to the overall cost."
One area where no expense was spared was the interior, which was handled by Mark Lopez of Elegance Interiors. "To me, the interior makes the car," Martinez said. "Not just the custom console, but the black leather '62 Impala bucket seats. The whole back seat looks like it came out of a '62 Impala, right down to the speaker in the middle." Martinez's award-winning machine rides on Budnik wheels and Bridgestone run-flat rubber and features Wilwood brakes and QA1 shocks. "The car just kind of 'flows' " he said. "Everything just works. It's subtly customized. If you don't really know '55s, you'd probably never even notice most of it. The bumper guards are sectioned and leaned back, it doesn't have license plate lights, and the gauges are customized. The radio looks stock, but there's 14 speakers in the car, as high-end as you can get, from Carlos Rodriguez at The Art of Sound."
"I've been a car guy forever, and I want didn't this thing to have anything trendy or anything too crazy," Martinez said of the spotless machine, painted by Steve Sheats at True Colors Customs. "I wanted something that looks good now and will look good a long time from now. I don't build cars for other people. It's just something fun to do, and I did it when time allowed. I didn't want anything to look like cars that are already out there. You see a lot of nice cars, and just by looking at them you can tell when they were built. Tri 5s are so perfect just the way they are – there's really only a certain amount you can do without screwing up what never needed to be changed in the first place."
For more information on the American Tri Five Association, go to www.americantrifive.com, and for more information about the 2018 Tri-Five Nationals, go to www.thetrifivenationals.com.
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