LIKE HELL ON WHEELS

It All Goes To Prove You Can’t Keep A Good Chevy Down
Words/Photos Rod Short

When teenager Jerry James was a young kid sitting in the grandstands at a racetrack, he was enthralled by the sights and sounds of drag racing. When he grew up to serve our country in Vietnam, one of the things that helped him thru those times was the memory of seeing cars like Ron Ricaro’s original Blown Hell scream down the quarter mile. After mustering out of the Navy in 1970, he went on to refine his mechanical skills racing stock cars and hydroplanes. Then one day out of the blue, he was presented with an opportunity to recreate that memory with a tribute to that very same car.

“I came across the car at a friend’s shop in 2008,” James remembered. “It was pretty ragged.   It had a fiberglass nose that needed replacing and it needed new quarters. It had no doors, glass or interior and the floors were all rotted away. Really, turning it into a race car was the only thing to do.”

Of course, Tri-Five Chevrolets had always been popular for a long time before they were known as “shoebox” cars. California’s Dave Riolo was a racer who helped to get the ball rolling in the in these less-than-aerodynamic fan favorites with his Temptation 1955 Chevrolet while running against Bob Bunker’s blown Folsom Flash Tri-Five Chevy in Pro Gas and match race action.

Back East, relative unknowns such as Rob Vandergriff and Charles Carpenter electrified the sport with seven-second timeslips from their Tri-Five Chevrolets. Seeing these nostalgic body styles run big numbers despite having the aerodynamics of a brick packed the stands and helped lead to the birth of Pro Modified racing as we know it.  

James carried on that tradition by grafting a S&W Race Cars mild steel back-half kit to the original frame. The rear axle, which was moved up 20-inches was the anchor point for a Dana 60 differential with Strange Engineering spool/axles, a Richmond 4:56 gear set and Wilwood brakes.

The front suspension was fitted with a semi-elliptical straight axle kit using Chevy spindles and disc brakes. Afco coilover shocks were installed front and rear. Classic American Racing wheels up front lead the charge while wide Weld wheels shod with 14x31 Goodyear slicks launch car off the line.

When photographed, the car had a 427 Rat bay which was based off a stock deck height Merlin block. Out of the box Brodix BB-2X cylinder heads , a Blower Drive Service intake and a Mooneyham 8-71 blower with a Hilborn fuel injection set-up and period-correct bug catcher attracts a lot of attention to the engine bay.

Magazines and vintage photographs provided all the clues that were necessary to make this Chevy a close replica to the original car which has been lost over time.

The finish and detail certainly draws a lot of attention, but the fact that there weren’t a lot of altered wheelbase Chevys around in those days makes the car stand out even more. At the time, General Motors was officially on the sidelines while the Fords and Mopars made history during the golden age of drag racing.

Thanks to James’ memory and vision along with some money and hard work, this tribute brings back to mind an era when privateers like Ron Ricaro and others kept the Chevrolet name going.

We think it’s an effort worth remembering.