Tri-Five Chevrolets (1955 – 1957) are the quintessential street rod. These cars were the first fresh GM designs after World War II as the previous model’s silhouette can be traced back to 1940. More importantly, they were fitted with Chevy’s game-changing small-block V8. Bob Mehler’s ’55 210 Del Ray hits all the high notes.
“The difference between a Bel Air and a Del Ray is the Bel Airs have more chrome on them, more trim,” quipped Bob. “The 210 was the middle step in Tri Fives. There was the 150 that had no chrome trim at all. The 210 is in the middle and it has more trim than the 150 but less than the Bel Air. Beyond that, the interior treatment is the big difference. The Del Ray had its own interior pattern… in the seats and door panels. It had squares and the material was vinyl, instead of the cloth found in the 150. But the ’55 Del Ray interior was only offered in green and white, blue and white, and black and white so for my car I added gray accents to match its custom paint job.”
The Chevy’s distinctive Del Ray interior has been updated in materials and overall comfort. Bob came up with the color combo and Arizona’s Ciadella Interiors out of Tempe, Arizona did the honors. We must admit the gray two-tone is both a departure from the norm and a perfect fit for the car’s paint scheme. The interior as installed by Bob at Auto Specialties in Tacoma, Washington.
The ’55 took a familiar path to Bob’s possession. “My wife worked at a printing company and one of the truck drivers came in who was retiring and he knew I was into cars. He said he had two ’55 shoes and wanted to sell one because he was downsizing. So she came home and I asked her to get a picture so we knew what we were talking about. Saw it and said let’s go look at it. I have always liked the ’55s, I’ve had three or four of them over the years. It was yellow and white with a six-cylinder and a three-speed. It was in good shape… next thing I knew I bought it and took it home. Then I had to decide what to do with it. I was just going to put a V8 and a four-speed in it and got carried away.”
Carried light years away, we’d say.
“It was a good little driver when I got… in around 1997. Took me about six years to get it on the road how I wanted it.” The engine is a Chevy small-block V8 stroked to 383 inches with a Scat stroker crank that spins 9.5:1-compression pistons and forged H-beam rods. The 383 is topped by a Carter 625 cfm carburetor and features a Comp 280-degree hydraulic cam and Comp roller rockers fitted in World Products 2.02/1.95 cylinder heads. A set of Street Performance headers handle exhaust duties.
The small-block is backed by a T56 six-speed manual transmission with a Centerforce clutch and flywheel combo. A stout Eaton LSD posi rear end puts the power down while Classic Performance Products (CPP) two-inch dropped spindles and one-inch lowering springs give the Bow Tie its hunkered look.
A set of 17-inch American Racing Torque Thrust wheels and low-profile performance tires give the old-timer a grippy contact patch. The engine has been modernized with CPP power steering and CPP power brakes and dressed to impress with a shaved firewall and plenty of billet and chrome. We especially like the air cleaner treatment.
“For the air cleaner I wanted to try to come up with something different,” quips Bob. “Thought up that design and just went for it. It’s diesel exhaust tubing and a friend of mine cut it up and formed it. Junior Nelson then pinstriped the ‘383,’ did the ‘Chevrolet’ script on the valve covers… and I couldn’t ask for a better job. It looks outstanding.”
We asked Bob what he liked best about his Chevy and without blinking an eye he pointed to the six-speed. “Before I built the car I had a four-speed in it because no one offered a six-speed at the time. With the four-speed it’s really hard to get the gearing to where you can take off from a stoplight and still drive on the freeway without the engine spinning 3,500 rpms. Really, it wasn’t fun to drive. So when the six-speed and more specifically the parts and adapters that allowed them to go into these cars came out I jumped at the chance. There’s a kit that allows the gearbox to bolt right up to the motor but the six-speeds are much bigger than the original gearboxes which meant cutting out the whole tunnel and parts of the floor and make a new one. It was all worth it. I can cruise 75 mph at 2,000 to 2,200 rpm. The car is sweet. I drive it quite a bit in the summer when the weather is nice.”
Due to how their exterior trim is laid out, Tri-Fives lend themselves to two-tone paint jobs. Bob says where many use white as the complementary color he veered off the beaten path and went with a gray secondary color. Orange was selected as the primary hue and Cooper’s Collision Corner in Tacoma sprayed the PPG at full speed.
The car represents a full circle for Bob. “As I said I have had ’55s before and I had a ’55 that I raced for a number of years when I was in my 20s called the Dirty Old Man. It was a gasser… the cool car to have these days. I had the motor laid back 10 percent… it was a straight axle, ran Hilborn injection. It was a handful… a full-on race car. It ran low 11s in the late ’60s.” This was the car that haunted Bob as his son Geoff can attest to. “He sold the gasser before I was born,” says Geoff, “and I’ve heard stories for 43 years. I live for hearing those stories about him racing back in the day. Would have been something to see.”
We think Bob has something to see here too and we would like to thank him for sharing his time and his car with us.