55 Alive was a road safety campaign designed to help the aging baby boomers in America to stay safe on their roads by helping them better understand the changes in road safety since they first received their ticket to drive back in the fifties and sixties.
For a guy like Rohan who has six 1955 Chevs in his garage, it’s bound to have a completely different meaning. To Rohan, 55 Alive could well be his slogan and the reason he rolls back his garage door every weekend! Rohan has always loved the look of the initial Tri-five Chevs. “I’ve had plenty of sixties Impalas and the odd 57 Chev but I’ve always loved the fifty fives. They just look tough.”
The automotive radiator and air con installer started his collection about seven years ago with the purchase of an original 71,000 mile, one owner, factory black four door sedan. The plan was to keep it in its original condition explains Rohan. “. I wasn’t going to modify it but now it runs 10.6 sec at a 129 mph with the aircon on and baby seats in the back.” Whoops! Running a 383 c.i. Chev with alloy heads built by Coastal Engines in Mornington, it’s only natural that the heavy Chevy would see some track time! Backing up the stroked V8 is a Turbo 350 and 5,000 RPM stall through to a 9 inch diff running 3.9:1 ratio. To ensure this big bow tie stays straight and true, Rohan installed Calvert Racing suspension running Caltrack bars and one piece single leaf springs. Stiff 90/10 shocks work in conjunction with Moroso front coils while stock steering turns the original Centerline wheels mounted to ½” studs on drop spindles in the right direction. 275/55/15 Micky Ts ensure all that power launches the beast off the line while Wilwood brakes bring the 1800 kg machine to a timely stop.
With some patina on the roof and guards but not enough to be a cool look, Rohan decided to have the sedan stripped back and resprayed. This is always a risky proposition as you never know what you’re likely to find. To his surprise and to Exotic Customs in Carrum Downs surprise, this American icon had never had an accident nor rust repair giving the panel beaters a beautiful bare metal body to lay on the factory black paint.
While the interior remains in its factory cloth and vinyl guise as it left the dealer, sixty one years of bums on seats has taken its toll and there are plans for a refresh but back to the original specs. This 55 is the cherry in Rohan’s eye when it comes to choosing a favourite amongst his automotive clan.
Obviously, the need for speed wasn’t enough in the dark horse and Rohan set about purchasing a rolling chassis 55 Chev coupe drag car. Located in Washington, the chassis was cherry but the rest wasn’t. “It was orange with radius wheel arches and no mouldings. Looked ugly as a rolling shell but all the chassis work was spot on”. Once again, coastal Engines were called upon to add the HP to the purpose built machine and a super tough, supercharged 550 c.i. big block pushing out a healthy 1000 horsepower running on BP Rue16 race fuel was mounted under the fibreglass flip front.
Rohan prefers the look of a pro street machine to a pure drag car and set about reinstalling the factory bling. R T Rod & Chassis gave the partially fibreglass and metal monster its old school red over black paint job before all chrome and stainless was mounted back on.
Running the Sports coupe Belair mainly at Heathcote dragway in central Victoria, Rohan’s suitably impressed with its performance. “I’ve had it on the track for the past 12 months and it’s ran 8.93 @ 158 mph is its best so far and it’s very consistent but there’s plenty more in it.”
With two quick cars to play with, one further advanced than the other, I asked Rohan what it was like to step from an 8 second car back into a 10 second car? “The black Chev feels like a family car. You get used to it pretty quick. The G force from the first 60 feet in the black car after a while you don’t feel it but with the drag car, you get that effect all the way to the end of the track. It’s fun and you know you’re alive. Once you go red and black you can’t back to black?
The wagon is the family car as most wagons are. It’s the vehicle that gets loaded up with luggage and kids and heads to the weekend rod runs or family days out. Running a cruisy 283 small block, and Turbo 700 along with aircon and power steering, it’s the perfect family machine giving the Hutson family both style and comfort when out and about. “We drive it everywhere” boast Rohan,” rain, hail or shine, we’re in it all the time.”
Located in San Francisco, the pale blue body and white tuck n roll interior had been professionally finished right down to the gaps between the panels. “I was really happy with the wagon when it turned up as I had purchased it off photos that weren’t real clear. It was better than I thought. I just changed the wheels, lowered it and detailed it including chrome work”.
The darling of the 55 fleet would have to be the white over orange factory looking convertible. I say “factory looking” because while the outside retains that sweet convertible stance, under the bonnet is anything but! I’ll explain shortly. Picking the topless tri-five Chev up locally five years ago, it had good sheet metal but required a full restoration. While Intercept Panels in Mornington tidied the body before respraying the chosen colours, Rohan had Ciadella from the States work with him on the original style interior except they never came out in orange. “Ciadella sent out some material samples which we matched with the paint and they stitched up the colour in the original factory trim before sending it back over for me to install.”
Nestling comfortably between the frame rails is a 454 c.i. big block Chev backed up by a healthy Turbo 350. Finishing off the wolf in sheep’s clothing theme, Rohan threw on a set of Coker white walls and redid all the bright work. She looks cruisy but she bites!
As if having four running fifty fives isn’t enough to fill in your spare hours, Rohan has two ongoing projects on the go and yes, you guessed it, both 1955s. The sports coupe has been an ongoing project for a while now. “I’ve been building it on and off for a couple of years. Every now and then I get a different idea and do something to it.”
Currently sporting an LS2 6tlr and 6 speed manual out of a wrecked VE SS wagon with 35 spline axles and full floater rear end by Extreme Drivelines tucked under mini tubs, it’s destined for the pro-touring look and design. There’s thoughts of a Harrop under bonnet supercharger to come but no idea of what hue she’ll be.
The other project is a highly sort after Nomad. “It’s another project car without a deadline. I’ve been wanting one for a long time and had my eye on a few. Then this one came up in Adelaide. It needs a full restoration. I’ve just had all new floors put in it. It’s a long term project. There’s not many Nomads around so I’m happy just to have one.”
While Rohan has flipped his cars in the past, he assures me these six are all keepers! He has his eye out for two more to complete the series. “I want to get a sedan delivery and a two door post and then I’ve got one of everything.”
And when it comes to family favourites? “My son likes the black one. My daughter likes the drag car. My wife’s just happy to be cruising in any of them.”
So being a one make builder, does it get any easier? “Once you’ve done a few, you know where to go. Chevs are pretty simple. Engines, gear boxes, they’re all the same. I’ve got plenty of spare parts laying around too which helps. They all do drive differently though. It’s just the nature of each car. They have their own personality.”
Keep rockin that 55 Alive feeling Rohan!