Just the Facts

Year: 1956
Make: Chevrolet
Model: 210
Owner: John Emacio
State: Washington

You may own your car but is it really yours? To rational people who buy cars as transportation that’s an easy question to answer: They make the strokes therefore the car is theirs. Why would they think otherwise?

Things don’t quite work that way in our world. We’re fully aware that other people—probably lots of other people—owned our cars before we came along. And we’re especially aware of prior owners if they ran in the same social circle as we do. In fact, some cars never shake their lineage. Ask the guy who paid nearly seven figures for a car that everyone will eternally refer to as Tom McMullen’s roadster.

He owns it legally but we never assumed that John Emacio’s chopped 1956 Chevrolet sedan was really his, so to speak. In fact he confirmed as much. “I bought it from a farmer in Wenatchee [Washington] named Dave Poirier,” he recalls.

Poirier continues the story. “I bought that car from Jesse Anderson, another farmer in Wenatchee,” he begins. As the story goes he bought it from another guy who initiated the 3-inch chop some time earlier. “It was all cut up when I got it but I finished it.”

Poirier retained the stock frame but stubbed it with a Scott’s Hot Rods Tri5 Clip. The company offers it with tubular arms and Aldan Eagle coilover dampers but he updated it with an antiroll bar, Wilwood 11-inch rotors, and four-pot calipers.

He dispensed with the parallel-leaf suspension, opting instead for a TCI Engineering four-bar setup. The assembly mounts a Currie Enterprises 9-Plus housing. It sports a Strange Engineering alloy gear case, a 3.00:1 gear on a Detroit Truetrac gear carrier, and 31-spline Currie Enterprises axle shafts. It, too, benefits from Wilwood 11-inch rotors, four-pot calipers, and Aldan Eagle coilover dampers.

Though he initially had another big-block Chevrolet in mind, Poirier went with a Chevrolet Performance HO 502. “You know, that’s an interesting story,” he recalls. “I was going through the local paper when I found this ad for a 502. It was up in a little town called Riverside.”

Riverside isn’t exactly next door to Poirier. In fact it’s 100 miles away. A goose chase down 50-plus miles of dirt roads charted by landmarks rather than road signs landed him in a place that wasn’t next door to anything. “I got all this cash in my pocket,” he says. “I tell the wife, ‘You know what? We’re dead! They’re gonna rob us, they’re gonna scrap out our pickup, and they’re gonna kill us.’” Of course the seller wasn’t an axe murderer—in fact he thoughtfully left the engine in the crate the engine came in.

The engine backs to a TH400 built by Arizona Transmissions in Tucson. “It’s got just about everything you can do to a 400,” Poirier observes. He built the 2-3/4-inch-diameter exhaust that flanks it. He also built the 1-3/4-inch headers that feed those pipes. “There were so many things done to the car that nothing fit,” he says. “I tried five or six different types.”

As mentioned earlier Poirier finished the chop initiated by the car’s prior owner. He also straightened the body but left the detail work to Wenatchee Body and Fender. It applied the PPG Concept-series Torch Red finish. He then delivered the car to Ron Lytle and Mr. Upholstery and Stuff for a bone-colored trim job. With a set of 17- and 19-inch Intro wheels he convincingly made the car his own.

But was it really? Poirier encountered a piece of the car’s history at a small car show in remote Libby, Montana. “This old guy walks up, looks at the car, and says, ‘I chopped that car,’” he says. Still slightly flabbergasted at what developed, “I told him, ‘Well I’m from Wenatchee and he says, ‘well I lived in Wenatchee.’” As it turned out he sold the car to someone else who sold it to Jesse Anderson. “That car got passed around, chopped, for 20 years unfinished,” he says.

A car deemed finished might be reward enough for most of us but Poirier sees it differently, specifically as an opportunity to make the car someone else’s. “I build a car a year,” he says, “sometimes even two.” He put the car on the market.

“A friend of mine called me about a hell of a car for sale,” John says. He liked what he saw. “I asked him how much he wanted. He told me so I just told him, ‘I’ll take it.’ I think I just surprised the hell out of him.

“The first thing I did was change the wheels,” he continues. “Those Budniks completely changed the car. Then I took the car to Ellensburg to Judge’s Custom Auto Upholstery.” He retained the Mazda MX6 buckets and the console Poirier fabricated and trimmed them and the rest of the cockpit in a combination of red and camel-colored leather. “The trunk didn’t have anything in it so I had him do that too,” he says.

John also personalized the engine compartment. “[Poirier] had a bit of an aircraft thing going, a real subdued brushed look,” he says. He had the aluminum core support that Poirier built painted. “We took everything else apart and polished it,” he says. “I took the bumpers down to Jay at Tripleplate and had him fill everything and re-chrome them.”

Then the damnedest thing happened. “I went to this tiny car show out in the middle of nowhere, way up in Montana,” John says. “I’ll be damned if some old geezer strolls up and tells me, ‘I chopped that car.’” He was just as incredulous. “I told him he was full of it,” he says. As the old timer explained, he sold the car when he moved to Wenatchee but built it when he lived in Elk, Washington. “Well Elk is about 10 miles from where I live right now,” John says, explaining how the story is too specific to be coincidental.

John made this chopped ’56 his own but is it his? Or is it Poirier’s? Or the guy who chopped it? And what about the next person who signs the title? Whoever that may be, we probably won’t refer to it theirs, either. Like everyone else who buys an old car, they’re just taking care of it for the next owner.