The accent Ray Thenot’s mom has when speaking certain words can come through loud and clear. Born in Germany, the emphasis she puts on words or phrases really drives the point home for Ray. So when she describes someone as a “hoodlum”, the meaning isn’t lost on him.
This was the way Ray’s ride looked in 1988, just after he bought it for $4,000, took the f
Involved in hot rods and drag racing most of his life, the 54-year-old from Fairfield, Ohio, has always been around fast cars. At 17 he owned a ’57 Chevy, though not a lot of folks cared much about mid-’50s Chevys in the mid ’70s. He also liked the ’55 model, and looked around for the right one for years. In 1988 he found one only two miles from his home, advertised in the Auto Trader—a $4,000 gem that was red and white and had a straight-six and three-on-the-tree.
Ray bought the car, yanked the front bumper off, and pulled the engine out in favor of a small-block. Through the years, four different motors and three different transmissions found their way into the car, and Ray blew up more than his fair share of rearends before installing a 9-inch. He used it to take the family to the drive-ins, his kids to school, and back and forth to work but, at night, his ’55 was known to frequent the dragstrip.
After attending many a swap meet and gathering parts, Ray’s ultimate motor was about to go
Owning the car for more than 20 years, Ray wanted to change it up and felt putting a straight-axle under it would be the right thing to do. He met Dave Pleasant at one of the Ohio-based Goodguys shows after seeing Pleasant’s Gasser. Pleasant runs Quality Machine Company in Dayton, Ohio, and his ’55 had all the classic Gasser ingredients: straight-axle, flip nose, front fender dump headers, radiused rear wheelwells, rollcage, tach mounted atop the dash, and so on.
Pleasant and Ray worked a deal and soon a straight-axle setup was under Ray’s ’55. The next item was to radius the rear wheelwells, and Pleasant told Ray about Jake Burton at Burton’s Kreative Motorwerks, also in Dayton. Though he’s a young guy, Burton not only has the eye to see what good design is, but the talent to create it, too.
In going after the quarter-panels to radius the wheelwells, Burton found a lot of body filler. Wanting to see what was really underneath that red ’n’ white paint scheme, they were surprised to find the entire right side was sculpted from body filler. What’s more, it looked like 75 percent of the floor area was a mix of roofing materials and fiberglass! The rear crossmember was non-existent, as were the inner rockers.
The black with gold metalflake roll and pleat design used in the door panels carries over
Burton called Restoration World to order a laundry list of parts and pieces, which included a complete floor, inner quarters, rockers, outer quarters, tail pan, and more. Once the car was jigged up, the old parts came off and the new ones went on. Wanting the car to sit higher, Burton re-clipped the frontend with a design of his own. Burton also recessed the firewall, installed a Vega steering box, and added a steering column from Speedway Motors.
Continuing on the rebuild, Burton added a no-drop, 50-inch-wide straight-axle with Pro Street Rod shocks and chromed leaf springs while out back a couple of extra leafs were added so the body wouldn’t dig into the big slicks. Burton also used a set of 24-inch ladder bars, which were made by Pleasant and then chromed by Metalbrite (who did all of the car’s chrome). Once the chassis was dialed in, Burton had it sandblasted and then painted it himself.
Ray considers himself to be a “big-block guy” and he happened to have an extra 468-incher in his garage that needed to find a home, so it was installed, too. The motor, a 454 bored 0.060 over by D&D Racing in Cincinnati, is a monster with a forged LS6 crank, LS6 rods, Speed Pro domed pistons, a Crane cam, and a 13.5:1 compression ratio.
Ray found the Stewart-Warner gauges (located under the dash) at a swap meet to complement
The steel heads are ported and equipped with COMP double-spring valves and billet 1.7:1 rockers. Induction is accomplished with a pair of Holley 660 center-squirt carbs that sit atop a vintage TR2X tunnel ram intake manifold. Tall Moroso air cleaners bring air into the mix, and spent gases exit out fender-dump headers from Speedway. Vintage Purple Hornies mufflers are used with a 3-inch stainless steel exhaust system, and ignition is handled by a Joe Hunt magneto. Mike Williams set up the Muncie M22 rock crusher transmission with a Hurst shifter, Liberty Gears, a Center Force DFX clutch, and a billet flywheel from Hays.
Once Burton was done with the extra fabrication (adding a hole to the hood for the air cleaners, adding a four-point rollbar, and getting the wheelwells dialed in), “Big” Mike Reynolds and “Little” John Ostendorf got the job of prepping and painting the car, and the color Ray wanted was a hue found on mid-’60s GTOs: Tiger Gold. Reynolds and Ostendorf used R&M paint materials to give the car its distinctive color, which also helped tie the mid-’60s theme together.
After Jake Burton opened up the rear wheelwells for the big 31x13.5 Hoosier tires that wra
Other trips to the swap meet over the years also netted Ray a set of Stewart-Warner gauges (which came out of a ’60s-era ’57 Chevy drag car from California), which were now mounted under the radio-delete dash. A tachometer mounted in a chromed bucket above the dash works with the stock instrument cluster in front of a 20-year-old, three-spoke, deep-dish steering wheel.
Dennis and Shane Gamble, the father and son team from Sew What Interiors, understood what Ray and Burton wanted the car to look like, and they continued the Chevy 210 theme inside with a pleated black ’n’ gold metalflake vinyl over the split bench seat and door panels while using reproduction rubber mat to cover the floor. A wiring kit from American Auto Wiring ties all of the interior’s electronics together, though there is no radio and no air conditioning (Ray says, “real race cars don’t have air”).
To honor the spirit of the car, Ray nicknamed it “Hoodlum” and, while he was once known ’round town as the guy with the red ’n’ white ’55, he’s now known as the guy with the gold ’55, as this car makes a statement everywhere it goes. When it was debuted at the Detroit Autorama earlier this year, it picked up a STREET RODDER Top 100 award as well as other accolades since. But for Ray, it isn’t about the awards, it’s about mashing down on the go pedal and going along for the ride—something any hard-core hot rodder can understand.