The num­ber 13 is not nor­mally con­sid­ered lucky. but, af­ter wait­ing that many years for his '56 Chev cruiser to see com­ple­tion. David may just beg to dif­fer

If you were to meet David, it would be very pos­si­ble to talk to him and never cot­ton on to the fact that he owns a me­chan­i­cal mas­ter­piece such as this ’56 Chev. In fact, he never re­ally wanted to have his car fea­tured, but went ahead with it to give thanks to the peo­ple who helped him bring a 13-year dream to fruition. The bones of David’s build fol­low the fa­mil­iar route of a garage build snow­balling out of con­trol, but the story does fea­ture a rather re­mark­able point of dif­fer­ence. Built to an as­tro­nom­i­cally high stan­dard, fus­ing over-the-top at­ten­tion to de­tail with an ef­fort­less subtlety, the ’56 is the fin­ished dream of a man who works for his salary from Mon­day to Fri­day, just like most who will be read­ing this. A fan of the ’56 over the other Tri-5 mod­els, David knew just what he wanted — a ’56 Chev Bel Air Sport Coupe. “I pur­chased the car in 2003, with the in­ten­tion of car­ry­ing out the work my­self,” David re­calls — although it wasn’t long be­fore he re­al­ized that he was in over his head. As David be­gan to do his home­work, it quickly be­came ap­par­ent that he’d need the help of pro­fes­sion­als to com­plete the re­build to the high stan­dard he de­sired. “As it turned out, it needed a lot of work, in­clud­ing a new floor, which is prob­a­bly why the guy sold it!” David men­tions. With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, he also re­al­izes how close his 13-year re­build came to be­ing for naught! “The seller also ‘for­got’ to tell me the car had been red-stick­ered on ar­rival into New Zealand [from Aus­tralia] and would need pan­el­work cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, which would cause a hic­cup later on.” That’s a bit of an un­der­state­ment, although David didn’t re­al­ize it a decade ear­lier. Know­ing enough to en­list the aid of pro­fes­sion­als, David wheeled the ’56 to a panel shop, where the body was re­stored, epox­ied, and mated to the orig­i­nal chas­sis. This done, David rolled the project into stor­age for sev­eral years, giv­ing the funds a chance to re­cover. This down­time was not spent idly. As David re­searched fur­ther into what he’d like from the car, his orig­i­nal plan for a cus­tom chas­sis led him to Art Mor­ri­son En­ter­prises (AME). Do­ing the maths,

he re­al­ized that it wouldn’t cost much more for a full AME chas­sis spe­cific to the Tri-5 body and that would mean no drama with LVV cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in New Zealand. When funds per­mit­ted, David got back into it, recit­ing a 16-digit num­ber to AME in ex­change for one of its Tri-5 GT Sport chas­sis. While he was at it, he re­lieved Chevro­let Per­for­mance of one Ram Jet 502 big block crate en­gine, and Mal Wood Au­to­mo­tive kindly pro­vided a Tre­mec T56 six-speed man­ual gear­box with all re­quired com­po­nen­try to bolt to a big block. By this time, the panel shop to which David had orig­i­nally taken the ’56 had closed down, but the owner was work­ing on his own, so he was en­listed for the next step of the build. The body was fit­ted to the AME chas­sis, and the fire­wall and trans­mis­sion tun­nel were mod­i­fied for their beefy new in­hab­i­tants. While this was hap­pen­ing, Tony Marsh at Marsh Mo­tor­sport was re­build­ing the Ram Jet 502 crate en­gine, fix­ing up sev­eral fac­tory weak points, in­clud­ing the rock­ers and tim­ing chain, and bal­anc­ing the crank­shaft. With this done, the project — and credit card — re­turned to hi­ber­na­tion for sev­eral more years.

Th­ese lengthy pe­ri­ods of in­ac­tiv­ity saw David ar­rive at a point at which he had spent more time ac­cu­mu­lat­ing or re­cov­er­ing funds than ac­tu­ally work­ing on the ve­hi­cle. In 2015, with the bless­ing of his wife, Tina, he de­cided to bite the bul­let and get it fin­ished. Fel­low Tri-5 lover Tim Kerr at Pro Coat rec­om­mended Julie at Coun­ties Auto Painters to paint the car. She, in turn, rec­om­mended Steve ‘Chubby’ Mor­row at Mor­rows Metal Works to com­plete the build. Chubby’s first job was to per­fect some of the work done pre­vi­ously. He then moved onto the many in­con­spic­u­ous changes that have since been made. Th­ese in­clude the ’57 Chev–sourced rocker trim, which David prefers to the longer ’56 mould­ing, as well as the bumper over­rider back­ing plates — some­thing that took an im­mense amount of work for min­i­mal visual dif­fer­ence. While th­ese sub­tle mod­i­fi­ca­tions are un­likely to be picked up by any other than the most as­tute Tri-5 fan, it doesn’t take an au­to­mo­tive guru to ap­pre­ci­ate the pan­els Chubby has mas­saged to per­fec­tion or the silky Gla­surit Blue Mica and BMW Jet Black paint laid down by Julie. That flaw­less pre­sen­ta­tion con­tin­ues inside, of course. The front bucket seats are from a late­model Amer­i­can Pon­tiac GTO — the elec­tric con­trols are on the cor­rect side for a left-hand­drive ap­pli­ca­tion — and the head­rests were sim­ply mod­i­fied for more of an old-school look. Hav­ing this sorted, David en­listed the aid of Ian Han­d­ley at First Ave Auto Trim in Tau­ranga. Ian fin­ished the in­te­rior and boot in sup­ple black leather and plush car­pet, ex­ceed­ing David’s high ex­pec­ta­tions of what the in­te­rior had to look like. With bowtie-pat­terned ’55 Chev dash trim, a full suite of retro-styled Auto Me­ter gauges, and care­fully in­te­grated mod cons, such as the Vin­tage Air air con­di­tion­ing, heater vents, and Pi­o­neer stereo, the cabin re­tains a de­cid­edly vin­tage feel. How­ever, thanks to the Ididit tiltad­justable steer­ing col­umn, Bil­let Spe­cial­ties steer­ing wheel, and mod­i­fied shifter, David also en­joys a per­fect driv­ing po­si­tion — some­thing un­heard of in 1956! David’s at­ten­tion to the de­tail of the in­te­rior ex­tended to the en­gine bay. Although tidi­ness was the or­der of the day, he still wanted full func­tion­al­ity and ser­vice­abil­ity — traits im­por­tant

in a car built to spend more time on the road than on a trailer. The en­gine bay has been beau­ti­fully fin­ished, as has the huge 502ci Ram Jet–equipped big block Chev that takes pride of place — although not many are likely to no­tice just why the 502 sits so per­fectly. David al­ways in­tended the driver’s-side rocker cover to have proper clear­ance, both phys­i­cally and vis­ually. An un­der-dash brake mas­ter cylin­der was out of the ques­tion, due to David’s ser­vice­abil­ity re­quire­ments — not to men­tion the al­ready packed un­der-dash area — mean­ing that an out­side-the-box thought process needed to be fol­lowed. Chubby found a so­lu­tion by weld­ing two fac­tory pedal boxes to­gether, with the right-hand unit hold­ing the steer­ing col­umn as fac­tory and the left-hand unit hous­ing the brake and clutch pedal as­sem­bly. This ef­fec­tively off­sets the un­boosted Wil­wood mas­ter cylin­der by 100mm, while the new Core 10 brake and clutch ped­als are counter-off­set back to er­gonomic driv­ing po­si­tions — prob­lem solved! Not only that, but the re­sult also com­plied with LVVTA re­quire­ments. The un­boosted Wil­wood brakes work mag­nif­i­cently, and, with the full com­ple­ment of Strange Engi­neer­ing coilovers, power-as­sisted rackand-pin­ion steer­ing, and man­u­ally-shifted gear­box, David has the driver’s car he al­ways wanted.

The big push to get the ’56 com­plete paid off; it was back on the road in early 2017, in time for David and Tina to com­plete its maiden road trip — an 800-mile round trip to Taranaki for Ameri­carna. This long-awaited suc­cess hasn’t come easy, and David counts him­self among the myr­iad car builders and own­ers who have re­al­ized a dream af­ter a build span­ning mul­ti­ple years and a bank bal­ance stretched to the point of ema­ci­a­tion. He sum­ma­rizes the build process with the cor­ner­stone of au­to­mo­tive phi­los­o­phy — “If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have started, but if I hadn’t started, I wouldn’t know what I know now” — and has noth­ing but grat­i­tude for the world-class trades­peo­ple who have worked on the car and the friends he’s made in the process. Would he do it again if the dol­lars al­lowed? “Maybe — it’d be a shame to waste the knowl­edge gained!” Is he go­ing to drive it? To that, David re­sponds with a re­sound­ing “Def­i­nitely!”

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