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It is amazing to think that three years' production of a bread-and-butter vehicle that last rolled off of the production lines sixty-five years ago has managed to not only attain legendary status, but almost push past into immortality. There is no way that Chevrolet Design Studio head Clare MacKichan and Staff Designer Carl Renner could have known just how iconic their lines would become. As far as they were concerned, they were just refreshing the Chevrolet car line for 1955, with GM design icon Harley Earl tossing in recommendations along the way (the 1955 Chevrolet's egg-crate grille one of them.) Sure, magazines like Motor Trend acknowledged that the new cars handled well, drove great and were quick for the day. Many cars have earned that praise, however. Some of those cars have, over the years, shown that the praise needed an asterisk with "for the time", as hindsight later acknowledges that the praise might have been a bit early.
The Tri-Five Chevrolets (1955, 1956 and 1957) do not suffer that fate. They have surpassed any magazine award, all the ink (both real and virtual) spilled over them in gushing waves, and more. They were great cars when they were rolling off of dealer lots with just a few tenths on the odometer. They were the dream machine second-hand rides for untold millions. They entered the realm of the automotive enthusiast and while they entered the market before the 1964 GTO by just under a decade, it is what racers made out of Chevrolet's cars that earned them their place in hot-rod lore. The 1957 Bel Air is one of the most iconic automobiles ever produced, in a rarefied league that includes the 1964 Ford Mustang, the Cord 810/812, the Duesenberg, the Shelby Cobra and few others. They are a masterclass in design without being overdone. They were at the forefront of technology....in 1957, you could get a Bel Air with a fuel-injected small-block Chevrolet and a manual transmission under the hood. That didn't become commonplace until the 1980s. You can have the most perfect convertible cruising California Highway 1 at sunset in Matador Red, and the primer-gray 1955 Chevy from Two-Lane Blacktop on some gritty backwoods dragstrip in the middle of the night, ready to do battle. Two totally different machines, as far apart as they can be, and they share the same lineage. Is it still a wonder in anyone's mind how these cars are still loved, even to this day?
The Tri-Five Nationals made their return to Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky for a weekend of camaraderie that included racing, giveaways, and a car show filled with the full range of what that era of Chevrolet is all about. Bowling Green locals know when the show is in town, because the local traffic gets a lot more interesting to look at all of a sudden...and that's a statement for a town that cranks out Corvettes daily and features some of the wildest events for any gearhead anywhere.
It isn't difficult to understand how Tri-Five Chevrolets wind up getting restored, hopped-up, or customized. It is difficult, however, to explain the reasons why, because there are a variety of reasons and a variety of inspirations that led people to dragging these cars out of garages, fields, and fencerows for untold hours under the shop lights before a trip into the paint booth. The variety to which one of these cars can be built is staggering. Do you go perfectly original? A clean restomod? A polished cruiser? Do you stick with the stock colors or do you go wild? Do you keep the chrome or not? Whether you like tall fins, twin aerials and lake pipes or fenderwell headers, a nose-high stance and enough tire out back that you could find grip on a glacier, the show fields had it. Be sure to bring your sunglasses, because the paint is going to be bright!
Not every car on the property was content with remaining quiet. The Tri-Five Chevy heralded in the era of the Small-Block Chevrolet V8, which was a home run for General Motors in every sense of the word. What was a standard sedan became a fire-breather, and horsepower freaks took notice quickly. The combination of a V8, a manual transmission, and a relatively light weight for a large car made for the perfect way for Chevrolet to shake off their stodgy image that they had up to that point. To say that the "Hot One" (as the ad hype called it) was a success was a dramatic understatement. One of Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins' first successes came with his prowess in building, tuning and racing these cars in the Junior Stock Eliminator ranks in the Northeastern United States. From that moment on, you can hand-pick your favorites. If you love the flip-hood '55 Chevy look that Hollywood loved, or you have dreams of the Stan Shaw/Tony Christian '57 Chevy that ran in Fastest Street Car ranks, it's there. If you love the show as much as the speed, then be sure to hang around whenever you see a green '56 and a red-and-white '55 pairing off, because Mike Bilina, Boyd Howe and many others like them are all about giving you a great look at the undercarriage of their machines!
The 50/50 Raffle held at the Tri-Five Nationals was raising money for the Alzheimer's Association, Hospice of Southern Kentucky, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). By the time the raffle was drawn, there was $40,091 in the pot, and the winner of the 50/50 split was Billy Griffith. Mr. Griffith walked away with $20,045 more than he had when he bought the raffle ticket!
Another giveaway that was up to win at the Tri-Five Nationals was this knockout 1955 Chevrolet. A whole host of companies, including Holley, LS Classic, Lokar, Danchuk, Painless Performance Wiring and many others teamed up on this Woody's Hot Rodz-built two-door sedan. A massaged LS3 wearing a distinctive 409 look under the hood lined up with the understated green tone and the absolutely knockout interior. Tim Boisture was the lucky winner of the raffle, and we hope he enjoys every last mile he puts on this machine!
Hall of Fame
Hot Rod Pick
Classic Performance Products Pick
Best Home Built