We’re celebrating Gassers this month. The good news is that the interest in these grassroots-level drag cars is still strong and rodders are continuing to build them, whether it’s for competing in nostalgia races or for driving on the street. The bad news is that many, maybe most, of the cars that raced in Gas classes back in the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s are gone. The ’55 Chevy you’re looking at is saturated with history, but might have suffered that same fate except for the interest and attention of Bill Fowler from Solo Speed Shop.
The Chevy’s history as a trophy-winning Gasser goes back to the mid-’60s and ends abruptly in December 1972. It had been originally built at the famous Blair’s Speed Shop. The late-Don Blair opened the shop (which is still in business) in Pasadena, California, in 1946. That was still a few years before drag racing as we know it even existed, but Blair was well known by the racers at the dry lakes. By the time drag racing emerged and exploded in popularity, Blair’s Speed Shop’s reputation was well established. By the time of the Gasser Wars, it was one of the most prominent shops building cars—particularly ’55-57 Chevys—for the class.
This ’55, however, was built for the street. The owner was a teenager with loads of money who wanted to drive a big-block-powered, tube-axle ’55. After the car was stolen twice in quick succession, he decided to sell it.
The interior is Gasser simple and ’60s nostalgic. Famed racer and builder Tony Nancy notch
Don Nunes was drag racing a ’57 Chevy at legendary Lions Drag Strip in Los Angeles when he met the street Gasser’s young owner and decided to buy the kid’s car, minus the drivetrain. Nunes transplanted a Hilborn-injected 301ci small-block into the ’55 and raced it successfully in various Gas classes at Lions and several other Southern California tracks. When Lions closed on Dec. 2, 1972, the ’55 was there. Then that was it. Nunes parked the Gasser in his yard and didn’t race it again.
Bill Fowler was looking for a ’55 Chevy Gasser to build when he learned about Don Nunes and the Blair’s Speed Shop–built car that had raced at Lions. Nunes was planning on moving out of state and the old Gasser hadn’t moved in almost 30 years. Even so, it took more than a year of phone conversations before the racer agreed to sell his car.
After all those decades of hibernation, rust, rats, and sap had camouflaged almost all traces of the Chevy’s history and glory. Remarkably, all traces have been restored. Not only restored, but improved upon in a few ways—in honor of Blair’s Speed Shop.
Hilborn injection fed the 301ci Chevy during its racing years. Now, a 780-cfm Holley 4V ca
Even though the old race car was worn out when Bill bought it, it was untouched and intact. The 301ci Chevy engine, Hilborn injection, and four-speed were there. Bill removed the injected small-block, replacing it in the ’55 with another 301 built by Fischer Engineering in the ’80s. Instead of injection, it runs a Holley 780 four-barrel carburetor on an Edelbrock Scorpion manifold. Bill found the Hooker headers on an abandoned ’55 Gasser in the Nevada desert. They’re now hooked to a Flowmaster exhaust, built at Royal Muffler in Chatsworth system. HP Transmission in Chatsworth, California, built the Muncie four-speed using M22 gears in an M21 case.
The chassis was cleaned up, but left essentially unchanged. The original ’rails and the Blair’s Speed Shop tube axle frontend from the mid-’60s are in place, with leaf springs and tubular shocks. The axles were replaced and the 4.11 gears in the Pontiac rearend were rebuilt by Curt Hamilton in Van Nuys, California, and Jerry Harris in Bakersfield rebuilt the rear suspension. The brakes are stock ’55 drums in front and Pontiac drums in the back.
The Chevy’s story can be told in decals. Lions, Bakersfield, Riverside, and Irwindale were
Anyone who remembers the car from Lions Drag Strip will recognize some original race decals in the quarter windows, but not the paint or the lettering. When Don Nunes was racing it in the ’60s, the Chevy was dark green with no lettering. Not anymore. Bill sent the car to Jack White in Campo, California, who straightened the sheetmetal and sprayed the gray primer paint. The race lettering was applied by Brad Barrie (who also owns a historic ’55 Gasser). The new appearance is part of Bill’s effort to build the car as well as he could instead of reproducing the original look.
The rear wheelwells had been radiused in the ’60s but were redone and flared during the revival. Bill filled those wheelwells with 10.00-15 Radir slicks on 8x15 chrome reverse wheels. A pair of original Cragar front runners, measuring 4x15, with 5.60-15 Firestones ride up front.
In the ’60s, guys would wait in line for an interior by the late-Tony Nancy. One of the signatures of a Nancy interior was a square cutout in the bench seat, to allow a floor-shifter conversion. This ’55 has that modification, and when Mike Ambrose Custom Interiors, in North Hills, California, reupholstered the seat that square was preserved. The dash is free of all non-essentials—just a Sun Super Tach II on the column and a trio of gauges in a below-dash bracket added by Bill.
The first time we saw Bill’s ’55, the door lettering said Blair’s Speed Shop—part of the tribute to the renowned shop that had originally built the Gasser. He changed the graphics to Solo Speed Shop out of courtesy after Blair’s started getting calls about the Gasser Don Blair built almost 50 years ago. But Solo Speed Shop is not a shop in the traditional sense. It’s the name of a website (www.solospeedshop.com), but more significantly, it’s the name for Bill’s participation in hot rodding. “Anyone can have their own Solo Speed Shop,” Bill says. All you need is a car, a place to work on it, and the passion to see a survivor revived.
The intake is a ’70s-vintage Edelbrock Scorpion manifold. Not hard to tell.
The front suspension is typical of competitive Gassers from the day, and Blair’s Speed Sho
This polished scoop is an original Offy from Bill’s inventory, added to the stock hood.