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Who doesn’t dream of getting a hot tip on a classic ride that’s been sitting out of site for the last fifty years. Steve Drucker of Shrewsbury, New Jersey is one of those guys who just can’t turn down a good game of chase when it comes to searching out and re-discovering hot rods, muscle cars and vintage drag cars around his home in the Jersey Shore area.
This ’55 Chevy Bel Air was turned into a race car by its young second owner. Nearly fifty years after the engine imploded and was taken off the road, it was discovered and put back into commission.
Recently Drucker got a tip from a good friend about an old drag car that was living out its life just a few miles from the famous beach town of Asbury Park, New Jersey. “My friend Dick Sapolus told me about a ’55 Chevy that was holed up in a garage just outside AP. The car was now owned by Russ Hamlin, a local builder. I soon found out the Chevy was a Raceway Park veteran, and had seen action in Englishtown back in the 60’s and 70’s. So, I decided I needed to take a closer look."
When Drucker got to the garage, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Sitting in the center of a massive amount of assorted wood planks piled around it was a ’55 Bel Air. It was a stripped-down racer wearing a wild ‘70’s paint job. It had no motor or trans and had an open rear. You could tell it was built to run the ¼ mile at one time. Amazingly, it was rust free. I think the wood acted like a giant humidor around it."
This Tri-Five just reeks of old school hot rod charm. The lacquer panel-paint job was a stunner back in the day. Unfortunately, most of its racing history preceded the wild outer skin.
Drucker wasted no time grabbing up the Chevy for his own. Over the next months he tried to get as much information about the car as he possibly could, to possibly piece together its past glories and relevant history. Hamlin was also helpful in getting the new owner moving in the right direction, giving him clues to the Chevy’s mysterious past. Slowly things started to fall into place.
Turns out this particular ’55 was built in nearby Tarrytown, New York and was put together with the new 265 V8 under the hood and was born with a two-tone Indian Ivory/Navajo Tan paint job from the factory. In 1965, young hot rodder Ray Estok from Woodbridge, New Jersey buys the ten-year-old used car and decides he’s going to turn it into a weekend racer. His dad had a service station called Shine’s Texaco in town on Fulton Street, and that was where the young gun would do his work on his new ride. He soon installed a Corvette 327ci powerplant with a cross ram up top to add a little motivation to the tri-five Chevy.
Estok and his good buddies had a car club called Performance Plus, which they put together in the mid '60s. These Jersey boys would take their cars over to nearby Raceway Park to do battles on the famous ¼ mile. Before heading over for the first time, Estok “painted” up the Chevy the best he could, lettering it with shoe polish to make it look more like a serious race car. The feisty ’55 did well at the track with its new motor, running high 12’s under the youngster’s command.
Prior to the paintwork that was laid down at Rich Diorio's "Magnificos" body shop, the '55 Chevy rocked it's worn stock paint with lettering that Ray Estok put on himself. With a 327 crate motor under the hood, the shoebox was good for high-twelves in the quarter.
After running the car for a few years, Estok decided the Chevy needed a new paint job. In 1972 he took it over to Rich Diorio’s “Magnificos” body shop in East Brunswick for its new skin. The trim had been removed, holes patched and was in primer. Diorio then basted the car in a custom lacquer panel paint job, done over a pearl white base. Once cleared, the car was a vibrant showstopper.
Estok then continued to take the car to the track. The paint had barely dried before tragedy struck. On a run at Raceway Park, the 327 powerplant decided it had enough, and grenaded itself on the track. The owner then took the car back home and thought about his next move.
Unfortunately for the Chevy, Estok’s next moves did not include the car. He soon got married, bought a home and raised his family. The ’55 was sold off to Russ Hamlin, who held onto the car in its wooden sarcophagus for the next nearly five decades.
The Chevy's original 283 went away for a crate 327, and the 327 called it a day in spectacular fashion shortly after the car was painted in 1972. Now a "snotty" 350 is under the hood, backed up with an M20 four-speed manual trans.
Drucker knew right away what he wanted to do with the ’55. “I decided quickly that I wanted to keep the Chevy in its present form, while finding period correct pieces to get it back to its glory days at Englishtown." He first needed a motor, which was remedied by good friend Ray Bruno, of East Coast Gassers fame. “It’s a snotty 350 and I’m backing it with a M20. I had friend Eric Green take them apart and go through them thoroughly to get them up to snuff."
The rear was open, so Drucker sourced a 3.73 posi center section to round out the drivetrain. The car also has some interesting add-ons, including EELCO front ball-joint extensions which give the car a “straight axle” look and feel up front, without actually having a straight axle between the front wheels. It’s now riding on a pair of 4” Fenton skinnies, as they were basically the only wheel that would fit the backspace needed with the extensions. Out back a pair of 15x8 steel wheels hold some big meats which fit courtesy of the rolled quarter panel lips.
All business...just how we like it. This low-fi hot rod sports some old school add-ons. The steering wheel is possibly an old EELCO model. New owner Steven Drucker added a classic Dixco tach where the last one sat. Fiberboard doors and bench seat overlay are “low-cash” items.
The interior is all business. “You can tell it was a budget car, from the fiberboard door panels to the bench seat covered in a Rayco seat cover," Drucker added a Dixco tach to the spot where another once was once installed. He also made the trans cover the old school way. “I had some sheet metal left over from my ’65 [AMC] Marlin build. I brought it outside and shaped it around a telephone pole using a mallet. Then I installed it with some vintage panhead slotted screws."
The car is now moving under its own power since the early 1970s and Drucker couldn’t be happier. “I’ve taken it out quite a few times, especially to The Circuit cruise nights in Asbury Park. It gets plenty of looks wherever I go”. And what does the future hold for this nifty ’55? “I want to hunt down a cross-ram for it and maybe even get a set of wild ladder bars like it had on it back in the day. That would definitely be a good first step."