Most rodders are persistent people, as they'll continue to work on something (like block-sanding a car) until they get it right or, in the case of Tom Joseph, they wait forever to get the right deal. Tom, known to most in the hot rodding world as the owner of Southern Rods (a source of aftermarket hot rod parts based in Greer, South Carolina), learned from a friend about a 1955 Chevy convertible that was being sold. It turned out a grandmother was the owner, and the car had been stored in a barn for over 35 years and Grammy figured it was time to sell it. But on the advice of those around her, she thought the car was worth a lot more than what it truly was. It wasn't kept very well through the decades but, on the other hand, it didn't have any rust, which is a very rare find in the hot and humid South.
Here's the car just after...
Here's the car just after Tom Joseph bought it in 2003. His son, William, is 13 and in eighth grade in the photo, but he's now a 6-foot, 5-inch senior at Clemson University.
Though it took three years, Tom was finally able to purchase the car in 2003 and he soon delivered it to Lee Atkins at Lee's Body Shop in West Pelzer, South Carolina. Tom calls Atkins "a master" when it comes to bodywork, and Atkins performed his magic on the Chevy with a nose and deck job, filling the cowl vent, and shaving the rocker trim as well as the front fender stainless trim. Atkins massaged the body until it was picture perfect, and then applied several coats of PPG black and Chiffon White paint.
Tom, being the patient man he is, wasn't in a hurry for the body-he just wanted it to be right, which is exactly what he got when he picked the body up from Atkins. And even though the refinished body was more than 50 years old, Tom was able to take advantage of improvements in chassis design and suspension theory when looking for the proper foundation to build upon.
It looks fairly stock, but...
It looks fairly stock, but that's because upholsterers Jerry and Sharon Noone made it that way. They used Gypsy Red and Shoreline Beige vinyl to cover the stock split bench seat and simple door panel design. Red loop carpet also looked factory fresh, although the dash shows signs of the 21st century. A Classic Instruments BelEra gauge cluster tells Tom what's up in the engine compartment, and Southern Rods provided the 15-inch Impala-type steering wheel (which is bolted to a polished stainless steel column from Flaming River). The Kenwood stereo system is hidden, as is the A/C system from Southern Air.
The chassis is a combination of stock GM framework along with an X-member that was replaced with a square, street rod-style X-member by Horton Race Cars in Belton, South Carolina. A RideTech four-link system was fitted along with a 9-inch rear (3.90:1) and up front a Heidts IFS with tubular A-arms went in, along with another 'bag system from RideTech and a Unisteer power rack-and-pinion. Wilwood 12-inch discs are found on each corner, as are chrome American five-spokes (16x7 and 17x8) that are wrapped in 255-16 and 275-17 rubber.
Once the chassis was complete, the project moved back to Southern Rods where over the next five years it went together. Tom stuck with the GM theme with the installation of an LS1 engine, which is basically stock internally but dressed up with a dual SPAL cooling fan, an Auto Rad radiator, and a PowerMaster alternator. A Street and Performance induction system was used as was an ignition system from MSD. Street and Performance was also tapped for their headers, but Southern Rods provided the stainless glass pack mufflers and Hawk (a local specialist) did the custom exhaust. The 350 is backed to a T56 Borg-Warner six-speed, which is equipped with a McLeod clutch disc and pressure plate. It's shifted via a stick from Lokar, though it was moved forward 3 inches (to clear the bench seat) with the addition of a special kit from McLeod. Getting the power to the rear is the job of the polished aluminum driveshaft from Inland Empire Driveline.
Once the body was again reunited with its chassis, the rest of the exterior pieces (H4 flat lens headlights, one-piece boltless chrome bumpers, a stainless grille from Gene Smith Reproduction Parts) could be added and the work on the interior could begin. Jerry and Sharon Noone, who run Noone Custom in Piedmont, South Carolina, have upholstered a full spectrum of automobiles, from Concourse-winners to everyday drivers, so the big Chevy wouldn't be a problem.
Tom wanted to go with a more factory look, so the Noones used an original-style Gypsy Red and Shoreline Beige vinyl to cover the original split bench seat in a two-tone reminiscent of a '50s-era car, and the pattern was carried over onto the door panels, too. Hush Mat insulation was installed before the red loop carpet went in, and the Noones also stitched the custom black top for the car.
The dash, though it still has its factory dual humps, now sports custom chrome panels through the middle section, and a Classic Instrument BelEra multi-gauge setup. An Impala-style steering wheel (a 15-inch item from Southern Rods) bolts to a polished stainless steel column from Flaming River, while a Southern Air direct fit, all-electric (no vacuum), climate-control system was also installed. Rob Hyson, using a harness from Rebel Wire, electrified the hidden Kenwood stereo system as well as the rest of the car.
After a total of seven years of construction, Tom's goal of having the straightest and nicest car he could have had been achieved. Through the years he has owned and enjoyed many types of hot rods, but the path Tom took to get this one done was not only a bit longer than most, but probably one of the most satisfying, considering how the finished product turned out.
The factory stainless steel...
The factory stainless steel trim along the rockers and front fenders were removed for a cleaner look, which is augmented by the PPG paint (black and Chiffon White) and showcases a perfectly straight body both prepped and painted by Lee Atkins. RideTech suspension helps give the car its too-cool rake.
An LS1 is found underhood,...
An LS1 is found underhood, and is complemented by a PowerMaster alternator, headers, and induction system from Street and Performance. The whole shebang mates to a T56 Borg-Warner six-speed transmission.