Mr. Fifty-Five Fate
Randy Rosera’s Hardtop ’Vert
All too often, Tri-Five Chevys get scapegoated as muscle cars, and for the most part, understandably so—all too often, most Tri-Fives are muscle cars. In reality, as many of us know, they’re perfect candidates for mild or full-custom makeovers, especially the first-year offerings, the ’55 sedans, as Randy Rosera is about to reveal.
“I’m a car guy, and have been all my life. My first car was a ’55 Chevy [that I got] at the age of 14. My dad bought it from a farmer for $40. It was rough but my dad said as long as I stayed out of trouble, I could keep the car. Unfortunately, I didn’t have it too long. I have had seven other ’55s since then and countless hot rods in between. I keep going back to ’55s but I have never owned a hardtop or convertible—now I have both. I have had a variety of hot rods (a ’29 roadster, a ’34 coupe, a ’36 roadster, among others), a custom ’40 Ford sedan, chopped and sectioned, and in between more than my share of ’55 Chevys. No matter what car I’m driving, there’s another ’55 around the corner or in my mind. In the last few years I’ve had a ground scraping, ground pounding ’55 post-top pro-street car painted a deep purple. There was a ’55 two-door wagon with the original tired paint, which I ’bagged, upgraded the engine and trans, covered the seats with Mexican blankets, and drove the doors off. Another ’55 post car was a refugee from a museum … I sanded it, painted it with farm implement red primer, then re-sprayed it in the original green and white. I sanded through the paint to create the patina of age.
“I found this ’55 online in Idaho. It was clean and straight but it was 1,500 miles away. I couldn’t kick the tires or hear it run. A friend of a friend who lived near the car looked it over for me and drove it. His report was: ‘If you don’t buy this car, I will!’ There was no rust and it still had the original rockers, quarters, and floors. I beat on the owner until I got my price and shipping arrangements made. When the car arrived, I jumped in it and drove it the last 120 miles to my house. That’s a gutsy move for an unproven car, but it ran well and I liked it.
“When I got the car it was in black primer and had a very tired and sparse interior. It was missing some essential parts and pieces, but the engine was strong and the four-speed shifted smoothly. The front springs had been cut for lowering and it was a bit rough riding, but with my history with ’55s I knew who to contact and where to look for parts. It took a while but I got the trim, bumpers, and other parts needed to freshen up the car. A set of dropped spindles and lowered springs in front smoothed out the ride. Lowering blocks in the rear brought it to the right altitude and attitude. I spent some time smoothing the body, prepping it for paint, and had Norm Kranz spray it with House of Kolor Sunset Orange and white pearl, and then he covered it with flat clear. It gives the car a finish that’s velvety smooth with a sheen, not a shine.
“I also had the interior redone by Brook at Titletown Upholstery in Green Bay [Wisconsin]. Brook used a pearl white Naugahyde and contrasting (but paint matching) orange piping. It accents the car beautifully. I also had the floors done in Naugahyde as a throwback to the customs of the ’60s—I knew ultimately the roof would come off and that would help in the rain.
“With all that done, the car looked great, but I always wanted a convertible. But even the lowliest converts were priced beyond most wallets. I’m a frugal guy and I had an idea that had been floating around my head for years. I wanted to cut the top off the Chevy and make it a convertible. But [and this is the heart of the story] I wanted to retain the top so I could have the best of both worlds: a hardtop and a convertible.
“Luckily, I have an older friend named Carl Lindbeck who has a man cave hobby shop where I have access to all the tools and toys necessary to build a car. I also have a friend named Mike Kornowski who is a mad fabricator—he has the skills needed for the meticulous metalwork and was fully behind the project. He comes from a family known in the area for taking on difficult projects and making them look simple.
“So on a cold December day, I rolled the Chevy into Lindbeck’s shop, stripped out the interior and glass, and began cutting. Between Lindbeck and I, we had the top separated from the body in about two hours. It would be nice to say it was easy, but GM put in a lot of inner structure to secure the top and it took some close inspection and contemplation to figure out the right place and position of the cuts. The cut lines across the front and rear were kept tight to the window trim so that when the top was replaced the seams would be nearly invisible. Cuts to the inner structure were a little more difficult, but with perseverance everything came apart.
“Once the top was separated from the body and set on the ground there was a rush of elation that the job had been done. Then, and only then, did we celebrate with a beer (a clear head was needed for the cuts!). Guys would walk into the shop while we were working on the top and just start shaking their heads. They would say I was crazy to chop the top off. My goal was to have the top go back on and not be able to tell it comes off. I thought, worst case scenario, was that I’d have to weld the top back on.
“It seemed so simple, just cut the top off, add a couple studs, and bolt it back on. Luckily that’s where the fabricating skill and mind of Mike Kornowski came in. He has the ability to see the future … he can look at a project and see what’s needed to make things work as I would like. Kornowski’s skill at welding and fabricating parts and pieces is beyond the norm. He bent and twisted and smoothed out parts and made the whole concept come together. When he finished his magic, it was as if GM intended it to be.
“Once Kornowski was done with the fabricating, I moved on with the necessary bodywork to make the transition from hardtop to convertible look seamless. When all that was done, the car was taken back to Norm Kranz for repainting the pearl white.
“About three months from the day I rolled my car into Lindbeck’s shop, it was done. I had the best of both worlds, as I’d always wanted. Most people have no idea when the top is on or off, if it’s a hardtop or a convertible … I’d like to think it’s both. It is great to have the option of a removable hardtop—except when you get caught in the rain and the top is hanging from the ceiling in your garage ... you just have to drive faster to stay dry. Everyone asks me how I take the top off and on. I built a cradle that supports the top from underneath and installed an electric winch up in my garage rafters. I drive under the winch and lift the top off with the cradle. Otherwise, I can find two young guys or four old guys to lift it off manually.
“For a while, my wife, Debbie, wouldn’t even look at the car while it was in the reconstruction stage after we cut the roof off. Now, she is probably the only person who likes the car more than I do. She says I’ve turned down some pretty good offers for it and she has seen a lot of hot rods come and go—but this is her favorite so far.”
And just when you thought everything that could be possibly done to a Tri-Five Chevy had already been done … nice job, Randy!
Rob Paul’s Follow-Up ’29 Ford Roadster
It sure didn’t take Rob Paul long to rebound from his successful Model A coupe, which you may remember from our May ’12 issue where it proudly graced the cover. And rightfully so, as Rob’s execution efforts netted a near-perfect stance and profile, expert detailing, and so on. As the final paragraph in the feature claimed, “By the time you read this, Rob should have returned to Detroit with a ’28 A roadster he built and painted over the past year. If it’s anything like the coupe, we know it’ll be worth a closer look!” Well, that’s mostly true …
And like we did with the coupe feature, we’ll let Rob tell the tale in his own words—it’s his car and nobody knows it better than the person who built it from the ground up, right?
“I had just finished my Model A Hemi coupe and I was in the mood for a new project. Surfing the web in January 2011, I typed in ‘Model A roadster’ on eBay, searching newly listed items. A roadster project about 200 miles from home popped up and it had been listed for about 30 minutes. Had to be fate, right? I called the seller, talked him down a little from his ‘Buy It Now’ price, and a deal was made. I drove out and got it the next day.
“The package deal included a lot of stuff: a pretty banged up, sandblasted ’29 roadster body, new ’32 framerails, Model A crossmembers and springs, really nice ’32 K-member, F-1 steering, rebuilt Flathead, ’39 tranny, ’34 front axle and wishbone, and tons of other small parts. It was a great collection of parts to build a traditional hot rod. I loaded all the boxes and parts in the trailer and hauled it home. It sat in the shop for awhile because I was getting ready for the 2011 Detriot Autorama. I showed my Hemi Model A coupe there and you know the rest. I got back from Detroit full of energy to start a new car. I had the roadster built in my head before I set foot in the shop … traditional A-V8, right down to the nuts and bolts.
“The metalwork was a chore, but the body was blasted and I knew what I was getting into when I started. The wheelwells and most of the quarters were cut out and replaced, along with the lower cowl and sub floor. It was a righthand drive body, so I’m not sure where it came from. I swapped out the lower firewall to make it lefthand drive. I patched up some holes in the stock decklid skin and drove down to my buddy Louver Dude’s shop. He punches some great traditional curved-top louvers. I’m just shy of 200 louvers, but it’s close. (Thanks Louver Dude!)
“I tried hard to use all pre-’50 Ford parts while building. I have more fun searching out the right parts than anything. I chopped the stock windshield posts and frame 5 inches. A new steel floor was constructed in the rear, and oak plywood was cut for the wood front floor. I trimmed it in copper that I shaped on my English wheel. I grafted part of a ’34 Ford truck dash to the ’29 roadster dash rail. It runs a nice ’34 speedo with Stewart-Warner temp and oil pressure gauges.
“I set up the ’32 ’rails on my frame table and pinched the front and rear until the body looked good sitting on top. I cut some 1/8-inch steel and inset-boxed the rear of the frame only. The Flathead mounts were made, along with a master cylinder bracket. I modified a set of ’32 pedals just like Vern [Tardel]. I cut down the torque tube to fit a ’39 banjo rearend with ’46 Ford rear ’bones and I put it together with some stock 3.54 gears so it goes down the highway really nice. I sent the front ’32 axle to Titus over in Minnesota to get a 4-inch drop.
“With the rolling frame done I mounted the sectioned ’32 grille shell. I cut up a stock radiator and had a local shop (Valley Radiator) re-core it and move the outlets around. I cut up a Model A headlight bar and turned it into a stand for the ’29 headlights. I retrofitted some halogen bulbs in the stock reflectors to make night driving a lot easier.
“The engine came with the project; it’s a ’46 59A. I was told it was a runner, but I pulled the heads, intake, and pan just to check it out. It looked really clean and had a recent 0.060-over rebuild. And on top of it all, it ended up being a factory relieved block. I decided to bolt on a set of old Edmunds heads, an original Thickstun PM-7, and hope for the best. I sent the crab distributor down to Bubba’s Hot Rod Shop [Speedway, Indiana] for a full rebuild and had him eliminate the need for a vacuum line. I rebuilt a set of old chrome Stromberg 97s that I had laying around and bolted them up.
“When I tried to mount up the generator and fan I planned on using (no alternators here), I found out that it hit the front carb. This is when I found out I had a mid-rise Thickstun intake. Since the ’36 Ford Flathead generators were smaller front to back than the later models, I had Baylakes Rebuilders in Green Bay tackle the job of converting the mid-rise Thickstun intake ’36 generator to 12 V. In 1936, they had a cutout switch on top of the generator to regulate voltage. Baylakes converted it to use an external 12V negative ground mechanical regulator. It works great.
“I took a ’36 Ford driveshaft and cut it in half to make the headers. There are no baffles. Only chrome looks right on lake headers so I dropped them off at Chrome Plating Specialists in Brillion [Wisconsin]. They did a great job, and I coated the inside with a DIY ceramic coating to keep them from turning blue. It seems to be working good so far because they are still shining like the day I picked them up!
“With the car all put together and everything fitting like I wanted, I tore it back down for paint. I didn’t have a color in mind right away so I just kept plugging away on the bodywork. Once I got the body close I asked my painter friend Tom Salamonski to mix up a sample of a copper pearl. Instead of just shooting a test panel, we shot the tank and fender for my ’69 Triumph. The color looked great and my mind was made up. Everything was offset with a cream white.
“When it came time to lay the paint (I shot it all in my detached garage at home), Salamonski suited up alongside me and watched me lay the paint and clear. He gave me tips as I went, and was a huge help. On top of it all he let me borrow his new Sata paint gun. Talk about being helpful. Painting cars is a new thing for me and I have to say, I really like it. I wet-sanded it down and polished it out, and then bolted it back on the frame.
“I wired the whole car from scratch using cloth-covered wiring and asphalt wire loom. After I made all the interior panels and the seat I called Brook from Titletown Upholstery over to the shop. I drew lines where I wanted pleats and seams, picked the right color white, and he had it all back to me in two days. Randy Rosera (the guy with the orange ’55 Chevy) cut some laminated glass for my windshield. I picked up some old aircraft seatbelts and I was ready to hit the road.
“I sold my Hemi coupe to a big collector shortly after it was featured in R&C. I’m going to enjoy driving the roadster this summer, and then it’s back to the shop to start a new build. I’ve got two projects waiting for me to start: a ’31 A coupe and a ’34 Ford truck. I’m also doing metalwork and early Ford hot rod builds for customers.”
Don’t forget fighting fires in-between, Rob! We look forward to meeting again—very shortly—on your next build.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Green Bay, Wisconsin
1955 Chevy Hardtop ’Vert
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Green Bay, Wisconsin
1929 Ford Roadster