If there was ever a tale of rising from humble beginnings to an exalted position of honor and respect, it would be the story of Gordon Peters’ ’56 Chevy station wagon. Today, all Tri-Five Chevys are desirable to one degree or another; half a century ago, not so much. In 1956, a One-Fifty Handyman station wagon wouldn’t be the car you’d drive to make a statement, unless the statement was “hire me to wallpaper your living room.” The basic level of styling and standard equipment, and the utilitarian model name made its own clear statement—that these cars were work equipment, plain and simple.
The rear cargo area of the wagon features these dressed up panels—a nice finishing touch t
Gordon’s wagon was no exception. Not back then, anyway. In its early years, it was a workhorse for the Forest Service in Northern Idaho. When it was no longer needed, it was discarded. Gordon, who lives in Sunfish Lake, Minnesota, would have never known about the wagon had it not been for a friend’s son, who spent a summer working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (guess where) and spotted the forgotten ’56. “He gave me the phone number for the area manager and I contacted him,” Gordon explains. “He couldn’t believe that someone would want that car.” It cost less to buy the car than it did to have it hauled, not to Minnesota, but to Rods & Restos in Centre, Alabama.
The center console houses and conceals the door and window switches, in addition to the co
We first caught wind of the wagon when reporting on Gordon’s ’35 Ford—also built at Rods & Restos—for our sister mag, Rod & Custom. At that time, he indicated that the shop was making progress on a radical ’56. We had no idea how radical.
Gordon worked with illustrator Chris Ito to fine-tune his design ideas, and with Neil Lea at Rods & Restos to bring them to reality. Immediately noticeable are the wagon’s completely recalculated proportions and its searing paint. The top was chopped 1-1/2 inches at the front, with the windshield laid back 4 inches, and much of the crown was taken out of the roof skin. The body was wedge sectioned 3-1/2 inches and channeled 4 inches. The fender tops were re-arched and the wheel openings reshaped, with the rear quarters extended downward and rolled behind the rear wheels and below the custom rear bumper. The combined effect is a lower, sleeker, more aerodynamic profile. The custom-built chrome side trim further enhances the wagon’s stretched appearance.
Rods & Restos created the custom grille, bumpers, stretched doors, taillights, side mirrors, and every piece of custom chrome (plated by Jon Wright at Custom Chrome Plating). Scott Gifford at Valley Tool & Machine took care of the many one-off machined parts. Door glass was provided by Boring’s Glass, with Lexan quarter windows supplied by Pro Glass. All in all, there are 112 body modifications on the wagon (and 1,340 handmade parts), highlighted by Rods & Restos’ knockout two-tone paintjob; Sinful Cinnamon and the lighter Copper Sunset are DuPont Hot Hues.
The hood was modified to stretch all the way to the base of the windshield. Below the hood lies what you could call an “inner hood,” complete with trim and an ornament, that shrouds the engine. Gordon had paid an insurance company for the entire driveline from a totaled ’03 C5 Corvette. Rods & Restos built the custom brackets for the LS1 engine, along with the custom exhaust pipes that carry gases from the C5 headers to Magnaflow mufflers. Maintaining the C5 configuration, an extended torque tube connects the engine to the rear-mounted 4L60E transmission and transaxle assembly.
Screens on each side of the sheetmetal engine shroud match the custom grille and allow air
The wagon required a whole new undercarriage “to marry the body to the C5 driveline,” as Gordon put it. The 2x4 rectangular tubular ’rails from Art Morrison Enterprises form the structure of a completely custom chassis, designed and fabricated by Rods & Restos. The suspension consists of C5 components at both ends, including 13- and 11-inch front and rear disc brakes. ShockWave air suspension from RideTech was installed at all corners, with air controlled by an Intelliride system.
The factory handles were shaved and replaced with modified Corvette C6 door handles.
Gordon needed a tire and wheel combination that could keep up with the performance and aesthetic upgrades, and chose Muroc II rims from Budnik’s Surfaced series. The rear 20x10s have 4 inches of backspacing; front 18x8s are backspaced 5 inches. Dunlop SP Sport 9000 high-performance tires measure 295/40R20 and 235/40R18.
The one-of-a-kind custom interior includes all kinds of fabricated panels and components.
The interior is a combination of Rods & Restos’ fabrication and Paul Atkins’ upholstery. The custom aluminum and leather dash is a cleaned up and contemporary spin on the stock ’56 dash, and is split by a fabricated center console that extends the entire length of the interior. Factory gauges were replaced with Classic Instruments. Rods & Restos also created the pedals and door handles, as well as the custom shifter and surrounding bezel, which also houses the ignition switch. The Budnik steering wheel is mounted on a column from Flaming River.
When the wagon got to Paul Atkins’ upholstery shop in Hanceville, Alabama, the Lexus SC400 buckets were covered in copper-colored leather with textured inserts. The door panels received the same treatment, and square weave carpet was laid on the floor.
Now, the humble Handyman rides like a Corvette and looks better than anybody who ever drove it through the Idaho woods could begin to imagine. “Neil Lea from Rods & Restos is the guy who made this project what it is,” Gordon told us. “I was very fortunate to choose a builder who bought into my vision for this project. All of the fabricators, body and paint men at Rods & Restos went way beyond normal to provide their best efforts. The real benefit to owning this car is the incredible people who I have become friends with during the 37 months that it was in progress.”
But that’s not the end of the story. Since it’s been finished, Gordon’s ’56 has been earning impressive attention. The year it debuted, the former workhorse wagon earned a spot among the Pirelli Great 8 finalists for the Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama, and was Goodguys’ Custom Rod of the Year. Talk about making a statement!