It's tough to look at old photos or footage of stock car racing from 40 or 50 years ago and watch all those Tri-Five Chevys bumping, scraping, and sliding their way around the track. Turning that perspective around, those racers from days gone would probably be surprised to hear that the "old" cars they were picking up for cheap to chase around a dirt oval would one day be venerated as classics.
You could say the same thing about whomever bought this '56 Chevy Handyman when it was new. He, or she, wasn't shopping for a classic-just looking for a no-frills workhorse. They'd think you were nuts if you told them their utilitarian wagon would one day be built with loving care into a top-shelf show custom, winning prestigious prizes and being photographed for magazines.
As a matter of fact, Oscar Gamble, who built, owns, drives, and shows this tasty tomato-red Handyman, didn't foresee his wagon turning into a trophy-winning show-stopper when he first started working on the car-and that was only five years ago.
It was the summer of 2003, and Oscar had just purchased the Chevy from a friend. During the several years his friend owned it, the chassis had been partially rebuilt, the body had been acid-dipped, a new was floor installed, and the ZZ430 engine was dropped into place.
Oscar continued to make sheetmetal upgrades once the wagon was his. A new flat firewall and inner fender panels were built at Randy's Body Shop, and all seams were sealed. A one-piece tailgate was created from the original two-piece parts, activated by an electric switch and actuator.
As work progressed on the body and upgrades continued with a rebuilt suspension, high-end interior, and a million custom mods, it began to occur to Oscar that the workhorse he originally intended as a daily driver was on the fast track to becoming a custom show car. That is exactly what it was by the time we got a look at it; the wagon had been making the rounds for a year by that time. A daily driver it isn't, but Oscar does let the wagon stretch its legs on the street now and then. He's hauling it to as many East Coast events as he can the rest of the time, picking up plenty of "Best of" awards along the way. All of this might seem weird to someone from 50 years ago, but it makes perfect sense to Oscar, to us, and probably to you.
Rod & Custom Feature CarOscar Gamble
'56 Chevy 210 Handyman Wagon
Wheels & TiresLow-profile meats and big-diameter rims look good on a classic Chevy. In this case, they're 275/35R20 and 225/40R18 Michelins mounted on contemporary five-spokes from the Billet Specialties Rail series.
ChassisThe '56 Chevy 'rails had already been plated and filled when Oscar took ownership of the Handyman. He and fabricator Brad Starks from Paducah-based Randy's Body Shop got rid of the old leaf-spring suspension, adding a Heidt's tubular A-arm frontend and replacing the 605 power steering box with a new rack-and-pinion system on a Starks-designed custom crossmember. The Currie rear houses 3.70:1 gears and rides on coilover shocks. Stopping is no problem with Wilwood polished disc brakes at all four wheels.
DrivetrainThe ZZ430 crate motor is great-looking right out of the crate, but this one got enhanced with Speed & Performance trim and is dressed up with a custom air cleaner designed by Brad, which covers the Holley four-barrel. At the other end, Street & Performance headers feed exhaust to 2-1/2-inch stainless pipes with Flowmaster mufflers. The transmission is a 700-R4 automatic.
Body & PaintThe Handyman sheetmetal was stripped of all emblems, ornaments, and hardware, with the exception of the horizontal portion of the distinctive 210 side trim, which breaks it up nicely. Not even the license plate interferes with the wagon's smooth lines; it was wired to retract behind the rear bumper. Bumpers were narrowed and reshaped to better fit the body. After all the body panels were straightened, the cowl vent filled, and the driver-side door reskinned, Kyle Wiersma covered everything with eye-catching red, with a sterling-gray matte finish on the bumpers and trim. It's a softer look than chrome, and Oscar got the idea for the color combo from the Chevy SSR pickup.
InteriorWhat might be the most muscular Handyman interior on the street started with a pair of late-model Camaro buckets, re-covered in black leather by Bobby Griffey Interiors in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Vintage Air controls and the Lokar shifter are built into a completely custom center console-another Brad Starks design. The steering wheel is the WaterFall model from Flaming River, and the modified dash is packed with Classic Instruments gauges. A one-piece reveal was worked into the center of the dash to hide the A/C vents, and the stereo is tucked underneath. All trim was finished in matte-gray to match the bumpers.
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