Saturday, January 13, 2018

1955 Chevy project turns into barn find gold: Episode 1

Before and After photo collage of moss-covered 1955 Chevy on rollback, gold-painted shell, detail of cartoon retro “Prospector” on trunk lid.

Prospects are high for our 1955 Chevy Bel Air hot rod. “Whatever became of the black ’55 Chevy that Junkyard Life rescued from a pole barn seven years ago?” That question usually gets directed to me (Ron). Life, not the cool Junkyard Life, just gets in the way sometimes. Hold on, before I show you where we are now - let me give you a brief history. You may not even remember this car. 
  When I brought it home, I was only kind of sure it was black. With our hot rod hearts fluttering, we began the adventure. But first, what is this?

Covered in mold, moss, dirt and dreams, the black hot rod Tri-Five was a beauty to behold.
The ’55 Chevy landed with all the barn find goodies in place. Rust, rodents and some minor floorpan rot.

Decoding trim tag
  A little Junkyard Life number decoding revealed this as a 1955 (we knew that!) 2-door Bel Air Post Sedan. Factory born in solid white (India Ivory) paint and powered by a six cylinder engine backed by a manual 3-speed transmission.
  Purchased new in Birmingham, Alabama, the car changed hands by the mid-1960’s. Sometime around 1969, it also has a change of personality and received a flat black paint job, a hot-headed 327, and a 4-speed. 
  It raced around local haunts and drag strips until sidelined in the mid-1970s due to a balancer bolt on the crankshaft that gave the owner fits. For three decades it was parked under a homebuilt shed until I declared, “Your coming with me!” and pulled it up on a flatbed to embark on a new life. I bought it!

After a date with the pressure washer, the ’55 Chevy is shiny and clean.

Now, for a trip back in time
  Under the green paint was indeed a black sedan. How cool! The body was in considerably good condition with just a few things to worry about. I wish I would have left it like this. Oh no, not me. I must tear it down a little. That couldn’t go wrong, could it? Ask me again in 2018.

4-speed, V8 1955 Chevy.
Turquoise and white interior is original 1955 issue but not original to this car according to trim tag.

Aerial view of Ron Kidd and some of the Junkyard Life crew.

Time to yank the 327 and 4-speed 
Dare we? It was locked up tighter than a tennis racket, so, yes. Lets do.

Ron Kidd outmuscles the 327 Vette engine.

Done! Dr. Yank’em wins again!
  Somewhere around this point was where I had the bright idea to redo the suspension and brakes. I do want the car to roll again and stop safely. Well, the only way to do that is to remove the body and work it from the frame up! Well, that was our thought process at the time.

A hot 283-V8 engine awaits delivery into the engine bay.

Calling all engines
  I could not find a useable 327-cu. inch engine to replace the one found in the car. I wanted (actually purchased) a 454 big block, only to realize my other fellow hot rodders with ’55 Chevys and big blocks must have a shoehorn and a degree in Chinese jigsaw. I knew it would fit, but please... To save myself from removing the brake booster just to change a valve cover gasket, I hunted and found a 283-V8 from a 1966 Impala with Powerpack heads and a decent cam. A high-revving 283 seemed appropriate for our hot rod.

Pans needed
  Before the body came off, I sent it half-naked (Editor’s Note: the CAR was half-naked, not Ron himself. See Fun Facts) to have floor pans installed. Why before? Well, for those of you inclined to do a frame-off on a car, it is wise to do the pans before the body comes off. Thus, helping insure the darn thing will fit back on. So, off it went!

With the front end removed, the ’55’s original white paint is visible on firewall.

355 geared rearend ready to roll under the 1955 Chevy frame.

Out back
  My sincere rear that will always follow me (unless something goes horribly wrong) is kind of a funny story. I was going to order the brakes (disc all around) and they asked me which carrier I had. Hmmm... I hadn’t shopped for that yet and had a few in mind. That is not specific enough to tell an aftermarket brake salesman. They had to know now! So I answered with the only rear I had for it... the original 1955 unit. Eaton provided a 3:55 posi and new internals. 
  This came after a failed lesson on “planetary gears.” What are those? Ask your granddaddy. We certainly didn’t know. Now, I may be the only guy in town with a ’55 rear carrier with four-wheel disc brakes!

Holding the 1955 Chevy replacement heavy duty coil springs.
Ron Kidd, left, and Michael Clay get ready to spring into action.

Who needs a spring compressor when you have Ron and Mikey? 
(editor’s note: The answer to that question is “They did.” They needed one bad. Those are a lot stronger than you think and can be somewhat dangerous)

Time to work and clean-up the frame for paint and new components.
’55 Chevy frame is a dirty, rusty mess. Time to work and clean-up the frame for paint and new components.

Dirty work
  Off comes the body and now time, attention, and a boat load of money go into the frame. New suspension, new brakes, new bushings, a relocated rear shock brace mounted in the frame rails, new leaf springs, new coil springs, modern motor mount install, power steering box install and much more. Including sandblasting and new coating!

I have been framed! 
  That just doesn’t stop being funny. Here it is shown with 15-inch steelies wearing 1949 Bel Air hub caps. They look plain from here, but are actually quite unique. On the trailer with the rear end mounted, the brakes and suspension in place and the 700R4 transmission. I have yet to pick a converter. I am actually looking forward to what they come up with for a high-revving 283-V8 with 3:55 gears.  

1955 Chevy body stripped of paint as it sits on homebuilt wood stand ready for  a coat of primer. Notice the remnants of turquoise paint?

Unoriginal paint under the paint
  Meanwhile, back at the ranch the body work begins. But hark! The Junkyard Life Automotive Archeology Department uncovers evidence of yet another life! It seems this Bel Air spent some time cleverly disguised in a turquoise and white two-tone. When was this? We knew the ’55 was purchased new by an older lady in solid white paint and by the late 1960’s, it wore a flat black during its street racer/street machine days. So, which owner painted it this very popular color combination? Whoever did, also went to the trouble of installing a matching interior. We knew the seat was for a 1955 Chevrolet, but according to the trim codes, not THIS 1955 Chevrolet. What else is this car not telling us?

A team of Junkyard Life friends and family lift the ’55 body back onto the refinished frame.

Body ON!
  After endless chemical stripping, sanding, primering, patching, augmentation, sneezing, swearing, asking myself, “why?,” body filler, more sanding, the time finally came to put the body back on. So, I called everyone I knew and we heaved that Bel Air back onto the frame where it should have been the entire time. My entourage included Ford guys, computer car guys, old school hot rod guys, drag racers, and most other genres of the hobby. Thank you all so much!

Primered body on and new floor pans shine.

Back where you belong! 
  Welcome home! Now the next stumbling block was me. I always felt the car was not ready for paint. I was never completely happy with my amateur body work. That was the confusing part, because I never wanted to it be perfect. I just wanted it to be ready. And was it ready for paint?  

Color chosen 
  During my research for the perfect hot rod hue. I fell in love with the matte finishes and the wonderful things people were doing with flat finishes. I am a hardcore Pontiac guy and I have always loved every hue of gold that Pontiac ever used. I chose 1966 Pontiac Tiger Gold. All that glitters...

Spray time
  This was not a natural progression in the resurrection of this Bel Air. If not for longtime gear head friends, Gavin Parks and Jason Trammell, this wouldn’t have happened. We marked-off time, bought spray guns and went to town. By “town” I mean the driveway — and by the painter vested in me — we painted it!

Door jambs, firewall, trunk painted.
First, the firewall and jams are painted. Under the fenders, under the deck lid, behind the ears and everywhere.

Underside of front clip painted while off the car.

Keith Lively and I bolted the front clip back on and the ’55 Chevy and it looked like a car again!

The 1955 Chevy was rolled into Junkyard Life’s outdoor paint booth.

Kidd and Trammell are determined to lay some paint on the ’55.

Now to paint the outside
We decided to do a Hot Rod two-tone with a flat black roof. 

Jason Trammell sprays the roof of the ’55 Chevy.

My “One Lane Black Top. Now to go for the gold (pun intended! High-five to self).

Painting the hot rod 1955 Chevy Junkyard Life style.

Junkyard Life is all about budget-friendly hot rods. 

Layer after layer was applied. Then the matte finish clear coat again. Layer after layer until finally Junkyard Life had a two-tone black and gold ’55 Bel Air hot rod, circa 1965. Just as it would have looked as a hand-me-down street machine, like you would find in a high school parking lot! 

Tiger Gold paint dried and tape removed.

The 1955 Chevy in newly painted Tiger Gold with a black roof.

The Prospector
  This is the point where I lost focus somewhat. I got obsessed with 1960’s gassers. Jody and I could not come up with a “gold” theme that has not been done several times over. It needed something that would have a cool Junkyard Life representation. Then came the idea for “The Prospector.” We finally came up with a character that was not gonna cause a copyright infringement lawsuit. All we needed was a professional painter that could pull it off and would stripe the car like they did in the sixties. 
  In steps Michael Swann of Swann Graphics. We all hit it off right away and may have gotten a bit carried away with the prospector theme. (Video coming soon of the art.)

Ron Kidd
— Junkyard Life

Painted by Micheal Swann.
Artist Micheal Swann delivered “The Prospector” artwork. We dig the sixties and old school hot rod art. 

Junkyard Life’s 1955 Bel Air Restoration Fun Facts:
  • Everyone who worked on the car signed their name under the deck lid.
  • The “half-naked” editor’s note earlier in the story is a reference to this incident: Ron got expelled from an auto-body class when the instructor said to “strip the car.” Ron thought he said “strip in the car.” 
  • The Prospector character on the deck lid was originally going to be about one-quarter size of what it actually became.
  • After we painted the roof, we covered it with newspaper to protect it when we painted the body gold. Unfortunately the paper settled into the black. Leaving us with 1990’s funny pages and department store ads melded into the paint. We thought about clearing over it and keeping it that way.
  • The relocated shock tower brace changes the location of where the top shock bolts and bushings live. Originally, they actually went into the body of the car. The harsh bumps were actually softened by the body of the car. Bad idea. Your friends in the back seat better hope the road is smooth or they use stadium cushions. 
  • In the quest for unique hub caps several interesting things happened:
A: The first one was found on Anthony’s garage wall and I wanted it.
B: Jason solved the mystery of what they were. 1949-1952 Bel-Air fully dressed hub caps when equipped with rare 15-inch wheels.
C: I bought two more for $50 EACH from a collector who knew what he had and how bad I wanted them. I have no poker face.
D: A dealer in Charlotte had a set, but refused to sell them to me because they “didn’t need to be wasted on a 55.” He was a purist.
E: I finally bought an entire set to complete the ¾ set I had acquired. That whole set was $20.00. I now have three spares hub caps.
  • The headers were installed several times. Interestingly, they were special ordered for a ’55 Chevy with power steering, which I added. They fit awesome on the side with the power steering box. It was the passenger side that gave us tantrums and things had to be cut, trimmed, bent, and compromised. Jody Potter/Ron Kidd/Cutting Wheel/Big Hammer Solutions Inc!
  • Going with the gasser theme paint accents, we researched what class this full-bodied sedan would have raced in back in the day and came up with "B" class stock. Only we didn’t want to put “B/S” on the side of the car, so we went with “B/GS.” The only thing is we don’t know what that means. Hopefully not “big girls” or “bacon grease salad.” 
  • The body of the car was significantly lighter than what we anticipated. The night we initially took it off, we had about five guys per side and on the count of “three!” we almost tossed it into the rafters.
  • After sandblasting the frame and before the new stuff was installed. I wanted to coat the frame. However, we are Junkyard Life and on a budget so we did it with with spray on bed liner. Spray on and brush on. Again, ventilation is important. Just ask the giant talking bunny that helped us. 

Ron Kidd’s 1955 Chevy in primer, view from the rafters.

Project cars can take on a life of their own. What else would we do if we weren’t working on cars? 

Not the safest method to paint the roof of a ’55 Chevy? How would you do it?

The 1955 Chevey hasn’t run since the 1970s but will soon return to the streets.
This was the beginning of what has become a seven-year journey with a barn find ’55 Chevy. Stay tuned as “The Prospector” continues its road to gold!

Look back at original story of when we found the Barn Find 1955 Chevy.

Do you have a great classic or muscle car barn find story? Send us details and we’re on the way!  Send emails to Jody Potter at & Ron Kidd at

Saturday, December 23, 2017

1973 Pontiac Grand Am project: Part I

Regatta Blue Grand Am on jack stands with wheels off.

Devil in a blue dress. A couple of years ago, I was contacted by Ken McColligan of Somerdale, New Jersey. Ken needed help finding a buyer for his 1973 Pontiac Grand AmAll potential buyers in New Jersey had immediate plans to yank the stout, Pontiac 400/4-barrel/Turbo-400 transmission and scrap the body. This was a deal breaker for Ken. The Grand Am had been stored in his heated garage for 23 years and he wanted no part in killing one of Pontiac’s luxury-performance underdogs. 
  Ken’s mission was to connect the solid running, Regatta Blue Grand Am with some energetic, low-buck gear heads who would put it back on the road. He searched the web and found several stories about GM’s colonnade cars, including elusive ’73-’75 Grand Ams, on our page. 
  “Was Junkyard Life the answer?,” said Ken. “Maybe those guys in Alabama could help sell his Grand Am?” 
  Yes! We were guys that love to see these oft-overlooked Ponchos back on the road. But unfortunately, timing and finances did not align with Ken’s plan. Not one of the Junkyard Life galoots was willing to make the 840-mile trip to New Jersey to see a car that suffered from sheetmetal cancer (a.k.a. rust) caused by numerous winter on salty roads. Despite our best intentions we failed to spread the word outside of our circle of friends.   
  Two years passed and Ken hit me up again this past July and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. $1,000 cash and the blue devil from New Jersey was mine. Ken needed the space in his garage and the time was right to turn the Grand Am loose. But wait, I’ve got rules when I buy cars... 

You guessed it, I broke two of my Rules of Car Buying: 

  • Never buy a car before you drive it. (this rule applies to cars that supposedly run under their own power)
  • Never buy a car you haven’t seen in person.

Delivery driver unloads the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am. It stands out like a sore thumb compared to the other vehicles on the car hauler.

Transportation turmoil
  The car was mine but I had to get it home. Could I drive the car 840 miles? Unlikely, without risking life and limb and emptying my checkbook on repairs along the way. Trailer it myself? No. I decided navigating the New Jersey turnpike and various toll roads with my truck at 235k miles was not the best idea. My time and safety trumped the hassle of spending 3 days on the road. 
  I searched the web to find an auto shipper but it was far more complicated that I wanted it to be. I was looking for a cheap ride for my cheap ride. No rush, open carrier. But every site I encountered was a broker who worked from the same network of carriers. Nobody could tell me who would be bringing the car and when it would arrive. 

Who do I trust? 
  Like a shell game of sorts. Pay a deposit and the “shipper” would get back to me on who and when my car would ship. Prices varied from $900 to $1,500. After 10 days and dozens of calls, I went with my gut. A reasonable sounding guy in New York promised to make the deal happen at a good price – $800. I kept my fingers crossed that I hadn’t tossed the $100 deposit in the toilet.

Friendly driver from New York delivered the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am to Alabama from New Jersey.
  The blue Grand Am left New Jersey on a Thursday at 5 p.m. and arrived in Alabama at 7 a.m. the following Sunday. Who knows where she went during her 61-hour ride? I do know she arrived about a half mile from my house with a hospitable, young driver who was happy to see the Grand Am unloaded. He dealt with a few issues on the old Pontiac that the other six, modern vehicles on his car hauler did not encounter. 
  The Grand Am’s trunk lid latch would not stay closed. Ken had tied a gallon jug of water to hold the deck lid down before it left New Jersey. Needless to say, no water was in the jug when it arrived in Alabama. The flopping trunk seemed no worse for wear but I’m sure it attracted a bit of attention along the way. Also, there was no battery installed to crank car. The delivery driver used a jumper box each time he moved the blue Grand Am on and off the car hauler. But, before he could move it, he had to make sure that their was air in all the tires. The left front tire had a decent leak. All in a days work for the young man from New York. He smiled and wished me luck.

A filled water jug was used to hold down trunk. It did not work.
A water jug was used to hold down trunk lid. 

First impressions
  The throaty, dual exhaust announced that this was definitely a V8. Wearing rusty, Pontiac Rally wheels and good and bad repair patches of sheetmetal. The blue exterior and white interior is a combination not seen on modern cars. I settled into the cushy, reclining, lumbar-supported, driver’s seat to watch the functioning tach, and finger roll the barrel control A/C knob. 
  I slammed the door, powered the windows down and wheeled the Pontiac away from the car hauler with a bit more torque than the old tires could handle. Even at 30 MPH the rear end squirmed as I matted the go pedal. The short ride home put a smile on my face.

The beige/off-white interior with chocolate-colored dash pops on the Regatta Blue 1973 Grand Am.

Poorly repaired quarter panel features aluminum can patch and bondo.
Beer can body work on the Regatta Blue 1973 Grand Am. Poorly repaired quarter panel features an aluminum can patch with a garnish of bondo.

Plenty of work to do
  Before the day was out, my top two colonnade cohorts, Ron Kidd, and Anthony Powell, arrived to climb all over the new Pontiac in my driveway. Kidd owns a 1973 Grand Prix, Powell owns three Grand Ams. They both own lots of other vehicles but they have a fondness for the ’73-’75 era. Before they left I had bought a new alternator, replaced rubber fuel lines, and made plans to replace the brake lines. 
  My buddies pointed out that the woodgrain on the dash was not the one-year-only African Cross-fire Mahogany, but a replacement from ’74-’75 Grand Am which used a woodgrain decal. The console wears the wood lid, albeit not in great condition. They noted the power windows/locks, barrel roll A/C control, remote mirror, rear defrost, along with complete interior with sport steering wheel and tach as high points to celebrate.
  A few spare parts Ken had included, were an extra tachometer, wrapped in the South Jersey DEVILer newspaper, and a ’73 Pontiac Service Manual. The DEVILer became inspiration for the Grand Am’s nickname, The Blue Devil.

Plenty of surface rust on the flat hood.
Endura “rubber” flexible nose is missing like many other worn, unrestored 1973 Grand Ams.

Nose job
  The most distinctive element on the ’73-’75 Grand Ams is the flexible, rubber nose. Mine is missing. Most of these “endura” noses crumbled after the first 10-15 years of daily driver use. A reproduction fiberglass piece is available for $744. That’s a large chunk of cash to spend on a $1,000 car, but the nose remains a must-have item to keep your Grand Am "grand”. 
  However, I’ve always been fond of the one-year-only design of the 1973 Pontiac GTO, which featured a Lemans-based header panel (nose). 1973 GTOs were sold in far smaller numbers (4,806 built) than Grand Ams (34,445 2-dr; 8,691 4-dr) of the same year. A Lemans nose would be cheaper to clone my GA into a GTO. That argument is ongoing but I’d kick myself at car shows for taking the easy way and depriving people from seeing Pontiac’s daring design.

A Pontiac 400-V8 with a 4-BBL carb and backed by a Turbo-400 transmission. Plenty of power to propel this 1973 Grand Am. That’s 230hp and 325 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm for those keeping score at home.

To be continued
  I plan to drive this car, warts and all, as a work-in-progress. I’ve found that the best way to source parts and sometimes cars is to drive an older vehicle. You’ll make new friends and witness the conversation-starting ability an old car provides. I guarantee you that the first time I drive the blue Grand Am to a gas station, I will be approached by someone wanting to “talk” cars. Hopefully they know, or maybe you know, where I can find another ’73 Grand Am? Stay tuned.

Jody Potter 
— Junkyard Life

Warning sharp edges. The Grand Am has some jagged, rusty metal around the rear wheel wells.  

Brake job time for the 1973 Grand Am. New hard lines all around and pads/shoes. Old lines were rusty and weeping brake fluid when bled.

Under dash hush panel removed to observe the wiring and Taz air freshener. Note the factory brown carpet. Seems like an odd combo but remember this was when 1973 tastemakers were in charge. I dig it!

Rear seat and louvered quarter windows. Faded red, now pink, carpet adorns hat rack. Note rear defrost on glass.

A glance at the stunning color combo not seen in modern times. Regatta Blue exterior paint, white (light beige) interior with brown carpet and dark brown dash, black console.

Patriot theme carried over in graffiti scribbled on back of front seat back. Red pinstripes would make this a red, white and blue Grand Am.

Close look at nose mounting area and fender on the battered body of the 1973 Pontiac.

Patch panel on lower front fender below first edition Grand Am emblem.

1973 Pontiac Grand Am in all its beater glory. A survivor who will keep on surviving!

Grand Am gets put on lift for underside inspection.

1973 Pontiac Grand Am console clock and in-dash tachometer are some of the extra parts shipped with car from New Jersey.

Plenty of tail-wagging fun to be had in this posi-traction equipped Pontiac sporting a 400-V8. Stay tuned.

Have a Grand Am or parts that you want to sell/donate to the project? Know a junkyard that we need to visit? Tips for our projects? 
Send emails to Jody Potter at or Ron Kidd at