Where were you in the summer of 1968? Tom Nolen was home on leave from the service and visiting his best girl and his favorite car, his ’55 Chevy hardtop. It was set up with a 348 with three Deuces and a three-speed but, since he was broke, he sensed this would be the last time he would get to see his ride before he sold it. So he and his girlfriend, Pat, took some pictures of each other with the car before he went back to Davisville, Rhode Island, where Tom was a Navy Seabee.

Out of the service in 1969, he married Pat and started his life but, as it is so often with hot rodders, Tom never forgot his first car. Even though the factory muscle car era drew him in, deep down inside he thought he’d like to build another ’55.

Now, 40 years later, Tom felt he needed to get back to his roots, and the groundwork for another ’55 began to be laid, but the process didn’t start with a car, it started with the motor.

Just up until a few years ago Tom was still pretty heavy into the muscle car scene. He had a ’70 Nova powered by a 427 but, when he ran across a headless 409 (a previous owner had stripped the heads and used them on a 348), he ended up buying it and then began to figure out what to put it in. In 2009 he looked around and found a rolling chassis and sheetmetal for a ’55 that not only included perfect California metal (the car had less than 48,000 miles on it!) but Nomad rear quarter-panels already added.

With the basics in hand, Tom began assembly on the chassis using Danchuk traction bars and a Currie 9-inch rear (3.50:1) with Monroe air shocks while the front used a set of heavy-duty coils. Tom also used a power disc brake conversion kit from Danchuk and set the car up on 15-inch Cragar S/S mags (4s and 8s) wrapped in Mickey Thompson Sportsman rubber (26x6x15 and 28x10x15).

For the engine, Tom relied heavily on both Rolla Competition Engines and Jim Evan Racing who went well beyond the call of duty to provide Tom with a spectacular powerplant. Originally the block came from a truck, but this block was bored and stroked to become a 476-inch behemoth that would have loads of torque.

Internals included a Callies Performance Products Compstar 4-inch crank, Callies Compstar 6.385-inch rods, and Ross 4.35-inch pistons dialed in at 11:1. A COMP Cams solid roller camshaft (one that swaps the 4-7 firing order) was also installed, and a set of Edelbrock heads (with COMP Cams Ultra Pro rockers) that were severally ported were bolted in place. Up top an Edelbrock aluminum manifold went on as did a pair of 500 Edelbrock Thunder Series carbs, and an MSD ignition delivers the spark.

Rolla Competition Engines finished up the assembly with a custom-built header kit from Schoenfeld, Flowmaster mufflers, and 3-inch exhaust. The engine was dyno’d by Evans, but the numbers didn’t make him happy. He reworked the heads and tweaked them some more until he was able to pull 647 horses out of the big-block and 602 pounds of torque! All that motor was bolted up to a Keisler TKO 600 five-speed transmission (equipped with a Center Force dual friction disc and pressure plate) that is rowed by a Hurst shifter (relocated to fit the ’55).

With the exception of the Nomad rear quarters, the metal on Tom’s ’55 was in good shape and now major massaging or modifications were needed. Gary Finney, from Hillsboro Hot Rod, helped with fitting the big motor into the engine compartment and a hole was added in the hood for a vintage Cal Custom scoop before Jim Hooker painted the ride with 9700 GM Black paint. RHR Graphics came by soon after to add the 409 graphics in gold leaf to the front fenders.

Inside the car it looks like 1955—with the exception of the vintage Sun tach and cup bolted to the steering column and a couple of Stewart-Warner gauges attached under the dash. Though it looks like the stock AM radio is still in the middle of the dash, it has been converted so an MP3 player with a small amp can be used for tunes. However, the black loop carpet and graphite vinyl on the split front bench seat from Arch Classic Interiors looks factory.

With fondness Tom looks back to a time and the car he once dated his future wife with (they’ve been married now for 42 years), and he knows you can never go back, but with this ’55 he has also proven you can get awful close.